During the busy summer season, Hilton Head Island can be a hub of activity, especially on the south end where you find some of the most popular restaurants, shops and beaches. In the center of it all is the Audubon Newhall Preserve, a 50-acre tract of woodlands offering a quiet spot to chill.
The preserve was established in 1965 after Caroline Newhall persuaded Sea Pines developer Charles Fraser to protect 50 acres of land from development. The restoration of a 14-foot deep pond in the middle of the property created the focal point for the preserve and a habitat for a richer, more diverse plant and wildlife population.
Visitors can pick up a trail guide at a kiosk near the parking area. From here, you'll set off on the Newhall Trail, walking through a woodland ecosystem known as Pine/Saw Palmetto Flatwoods. This rare South Carolina plant community features four species of pine, saw palmetto, fetterbush and bracken fern.
At the end of the trail you'll come to a boardwalk off to your right. It takes you to a pecosin, a small wetland once common on barrier islands. When you emerge from the loop, you'll be on the Pond Trail.
We walked to the farthest end of the pond and then veered off to explore the pine flatwoods at the back of property. Some 8,000 years ago, this oblong depression was probably located between two sand dunes. During the rainy months, water often covers the ground in this low, level basin.
As we wandered around the pine trees, we came across a teepee made from palmetto fronds. I'm not sure how dry you'd stay if you had to camp inside, but I was impressed with the resourcefulness of the builder.
Off the Pond Trail is the South Woods Trail, which connects with the North Woods Trail. We walked both loops and then returned to the Pond Trail. Along the path you'll find a number of hardwood trees, including the southern magnolia, southern red cedar, live oak and red maple, as well as a variety of hollies.
The Audubon Newhall Preserve is open daily from dusk to dawn. Admission is free. During the spring and fall, interpretive walks are offered for a fee. For more information, call (843) 842-9246.