It will be a few more years before all 425 miles of South Carolina's Palmetto Trail are completed. But you don't have to wait to bike or hike the last section of the mountains-to-sea pathway.
The Awendaw Passage - the coastal terminus of the cross-state trail system - offers seven scenic miles ending at the Intracoastal Waterway. The trail follows Awendaw Creek through a maritime forest, crossing nearly a dozen footbridges.
When I rode it earlier this month with my husband, we started at the trailhead in the Buck Hall Recreation Area located in Francis Marion National Forest. It's easy riding for the first couple of miles as you wind your way into the woods and back out to the salt marsh - the edge between the estuary and the maritime forest.
Benches are provided along the way to allow you stop and enjoy the spectacular view of the creek and the vast stretches of cord grass that border it. At one footbridge, you can see the remains of an old rice trunk that was used to regulate the flow of water in what was once a rice field. You'll also come across a Sewee Indian shell midden that dates back three to five thousand years.
As you reenter the maritime forest, you'll find large live oaks, loblolly pines and southern magnolias shading an understory of saw palmetto, sweet bay, wax myrtle and yaupon. The trail meanders back towards the water and the cliffs one final time before taking a sharp right turn into the woods.
At this point, you'll come to the Awendaw Canoe Launch. Located at the end of Rosa Green Road off U.S. 17, this launch site offers another parking area for the passage if you want to skip the final two miles of the trail.
If you continue on, you'll traverse an elevated sandy ridge featuring large stands of native longleaf pine. Take a minute to check out the pine needles that cover the ground. They can measure up to 15 inches long!
At about the five mile mark, you'll get to U.S. 17. There's a large median in the middle of the four-lane highway, which makes it easier to get across. But be careful as this is a busy road, especially on weekends.
Another mile or so up the trail you'll hit the intersection with the 47-mile Swamp Fox Passage, the longest section of the Palmetto Trail. After that's it's just a short ride to the western trailhead of the Awendaw Passage located off U.S. 17 on Steed Creek Road.