They’re not the most attractive animals on the planet with their prehistoric, lizard-like bodies and toothy grins. But alligators, it seems, have a following of fans to rival Hollywood stars.
Next to dolphins, these menacing predators are the most popular wildlife attraction on the South Carolina coast. Everyone wants to see them—preferably from a safe distance.
While often found lazily sunning themselves along ponds and lakes in the Lowcountry and Coastal Plain, alligators in the wild are best observed from afar. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a closer look and learn more about these oversized reptiles.
Here are six not-so-scary ways to see an American alligator in South Carolina:
Edisto Island Serpentarium
Home to hundreds of slithering, scaly reptiles, this unique attraction features lots of gators on display in outdoor observatories designed to resemble their natural habitats.
You’re sure to view a gator or two from the 4 miles of boardwalks that meander through the backwaters of Biggin Creek and its surrounding swamp in this 195-acre park. Or rent a canoe and venture deep into the cypress swamp on a 3-mile paddle trail. Either way, be sure to check out the Interpretive Center where you’ll learn about alligators and maybe even see a young one on display.
South Carolina Aquarium
More than 5,000 animals make their home in the Charleston aquarium, among them, the American alligator. You’ll find several fine specimens in the museum’s Coastal Plain exhibit, a re-creation of the swamp at twilight.
Huntington Beach State Park
For those of you who can’t get enough of gators, this Murrells Inlet park has just the program for you. Take a one-hour walk with a guide to learn fascinating facts about these cold-blooded creatures. You also can see them in their natural environment, feeding, sunning or cruising through the water in Mullet Pond. Bring your binoculars to get a closer look.
This one is for the die-hard gator enthusiast. The North Myrtle Beach attraction offers visitors the opportunity to see countless alligators, including juveniles and an albino gator, in an array of outdoor exhibit spaces, as well as exciting live feedings from mid-April through mid-October. In the cooler months of the year when the reptiles don’t eat, trainers will show audiences how they handle alligators and invite guests to touch a live animal and have their picture taken with one.
Alligator Encounters in the Wild
If you happen to encounter an alligator outdoors, here are some things you should know to keep safe:
It is illegal to feed alligators in South Carolina. It teaches them to associate people with food, which can cause them to lose their natural fear of humans. If you see someone feed an alligator, contact the SC Department of Natural Resources at (800) 922-5431.
Avoid swimming or playing in areas known to harbor alligators, especially between dusk and dawn when they are more active.
Do not let your dog or child swim or walk near ponds and lakes where alligators live. They can be mistaken for alligators' natural prey.
Never approach an alligator. While they normally will not run after people, they can move in quick bursts over short distances. If an alligator hisses, it’s a warning that you are too close.