South Carolina has six wildlife refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants, these public lands and waters offer a wide range of recreational opportunities from fishing, boating and hunting to hiking, nature photography and bird watching.
The Lowcountry offers four wildlife refuges, among them Cape Romain located just outside of Charleston. More than 277 species of migratory and resident birds have been recorded on the 66,267 acres of barrier islands, salt marshes, coastal waterways, beaches and maritime forest. The refuge also serves as a habitat for the black fox squirrel, loggerhead sea turtle, American alligator and the rare red wolf.
One of the best ways to explore Cape Romain is to catch a ferry to Bulls Island for a full day of hiking, beachcombing and nature watching. This pristine barrier island features 16 miles of inland footpaths, including a forested trail to the beautiful “Boneyard Beach”. You’ll find a wealth of sand dollars, whelk, olive and angel wing shells on the long sandy shoreline. But don’t be greedy. Only one small bag of unoccupied shells per person, please.
Up the road toward Myrtle Beach is Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge featuring four tracts accessible by car. The wetland diversity of this refuge is what sets it apart from most others found along the east coast. You can expect to see lots of wildlife and migratory birds, including swallow-tailed kites, osprey and wood storks.
The Cox Ferry Recreation Area offers three trails of varying lengths — one of them a boardwalk that traverses a flooded cypress swamp. Hiking is also permitted along the Great Pee Dee River and Bull Creek at the Highway 701 bridge just north of Yauhannah Lake. Don’t forget to bring your camera and binoculars.
Be sure to check out the new state-of-the-art Visitor & Environmental Education Center on Highway 701 north of Georgetown. In addition, Waccamaw features canoe and kayak launching facilities at Cox Ferry and the Visitor Center and lots of places to picnic on the banks of the Waccamaw River and at Yauhannah Bluff overlooking the lake.
In the middle of the state in Clarendon County is the Santee Wildlife Refuge. Perched on the shore of Lake Marion — the largest lake in South Carolina. It is a major wintering area for ducks and geese, as well as a nesting and stopover area for neo-tropical migratory birds, raptors, shore birds and wading birds. Visitors will enjoy the educational exhibits, walking trails and wildlife observation areas found in the refuge.
For more information on any of these wildlife refuges or the four others located in South Carolina, click here.