I had the opportunity to enjoy the pristine stretch of coastline along Myrtle Beach State Park - an environmental jewel in the middle of the state's most popular vacation destination.
But there's a lot more to do at this Grand Strand attraction than tickle your toes in the sand. The 312-acre park preserves one of the last stands of maritime forests in South Carolina. A couple of short, easy trails traverse the woodlands, thick with oaks, wax myrtles, hollies, poplars and magnolias.
We started out on the Sculptured Oak Nature Trail and took a spur to an overlook at a small pond that was still iced over. After returning to the main trail, we diverted a second time to walk the .4-mile Yaupon Nature Trail. It ends at a parking lot next to the beach. It's a short walk along the pavement to reconnect to the Sculptured Oak Trail and the beautiful twisted oaks that inspired its name.
After our 45-minute hike through the woods, we headed to the Nature Center, the hub of fun educational programming on a wide range of eco-topics from shell dwellers to sharks to microscopic sea organisms. Visitors also are welcome to check out the center's saltwater aquariums, live reptiles and interactive natural history displays.
Unfortunately, the Nature Center was closed when we visited, but the birds and squirrels bustling about the outdoor wildlife habitat in front of the building provided plenty of entertainment.
The park also offers great surf fishing for flounder, king mackerel, whiting, trout, spots, Spanish mackerel, drum and blues. You'll need a saltwater fishing license to cast from the beach. They run from $5 to $11 and are available at bait stores and major retailers or online through the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
For those of you who prefer to drop your line without getting your feet wet, there's a great pier right off the beach.
Have RV, will travel? The park's 302-site campground is just 300 yards from the beach and accommodates trailers up to 40-feet long. An additional 45 sites are available for tent campers in June, July and August. Water is available at these sites; electric hook-ups are not.
The selection of accommodations also includes five cabins and two apartments, furnished, heated and air-conditioned and supplied with bath and bed linens, basic cooking and eating utensils and a TV.
Myrtle Beach State Park also offers beach access for horseback riding from the third Saturday in November through the end of February. You'll need to buy a $25 permit for each horse you bring into the park. Admission for two-legged guests is $5 for adults, $3 for children 6 to 15, free for kids 5 and younger.