Hitchcock Woods is one of the lesser known attractions that draw visitors to the city of Aiken.
One of the largest urban forests in the United States, Hitchcock Woods comprises about 2,000 acres that was once used for equestrian outings by wealthy northerners who wintered in Aiken. The woods features about 65 miles of trails used by hikers, runners and horseback riders.
The property was originally part of an 8,000-acre tract owned by Thomas Hitchcock and William C. Whitney, avid sportsmen who began the tradition of fox hunting in Aiken back in the late 1890s. Some 50 years later, Hitchcock's descendants committed nearly 1,200 acres to the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to preserve the forestlands. Over the years, the Foundation has acquired an additional 900 acres.
The Foundation still hosts the Aiken Horse Show, an equestrian competition founded by Hitchcock's wife Louise, as well as Aiken Hounds, a historic drag hunt. From October through March, the Aiken Hounds hunt every Tuesday afternoon and Saturday morning.
Hitchcock Woods is equally popular with hikers, joggers and dog walkers. As visitors approach the South Boundary Avenue entrance to the woods, they will pass Pineland House, the home of David and Holly Houghton and a certified wildlife habitat.
The Houghton's property, which is surrounded by the Woods, is a creatively sculpted and immaculately tended wildlife paradise that provides food for critters (including a family of foxes on the other side of a boundary fence), water for animal visitors (a gurgling waterfall is a main feature of the backyard), cover (brush, thickets, trees) and brooding space (lots of shrubs and wildflower beds) for birds to hide from predators and raise their young.
The Houghtons are Friends of the Woods, a group that provides financial support and resources for Hitchcock Woods. Most of the woods is protected by the South Carolina Heritage Trust but the woods are owned by the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, which relies on contributions from friends.
If you're going:
Hitchcock Woods is open to the public, on horseback or on foot, from dawn to dusk every day. Admission is free.
Hitchcock Woods has seven formal entrances. Three entrances are on Dibble Road (near the railroad crossing, across from Rhone Street, and at the Stable on the Woods). The other four entrances are located at the ends of South Boundary Avenue SW, Coker Spring Road, Berrie Road and Clark Road.