Spend a relaxing day on the water - and get a little something extra - on some of South Carolina's best lake boat tours. Along with beautiful scenery, from cypress-tupelo swamps in the Lowcountry to unspoiled mountain wilderness in the Upcountry, you'll have the opportunity to experience marvels of man and nature.
Here are four not-to-miss lake tours in South Carolina:
Surrounded by protected mountain forestlands, Lake Jocassee in the South Carolina Upcountry is part of the Jocassee Gorges, a pristine wilderness named among the "World's Last Great Places" by National Geographic Magazine. The 9,000-acre reservoir is fed by four wild Appalachian rivers, creating a multitude of beautiful waterfalls. You'll have the opportunity to see several of them, including the 80-foot Laurel Fork Falls, on the naturalist-guided boat trips offered Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays by Jocassee Lake Tours. Each season brings a different experience - wildflowers in the spring, swimming in the summer, leaf peeping in the fall and migratory birds in the winter.
Each July and August just before sundown, nearly a million purple martins funnel into the Midlands to roost on Lake Murray's Bomb Island, the largest purple martin sanctuary in North America. You can experience the wildlife phenomenon on a Spirit of Lake Murray tour. The sunset cruise includes dinner and a front-row seat to the avian spectacle. As they make the long journey to their winter home in South America, the martins stop at the roosting site located just outside Columbia. They circle overhead for several minutes before descending on the island to hunker down for the night.
On this naturalist-guided "swamp safari," you'll spend about an hour in a beautiful cypress and tupelo flooded forest that serves as home to some 30 ospreys. Their large stick-and-sod nests can be easily spotted in the trees and deadwood that rise up from the shallow lake waters. Along with the fish-eating hawks, the area is prime habitat for alligators, egrets, herons, anhingas, ducks, American bald eagles and neo-tropical migrating songbirds, including the prothonotary warbler. On the two-hour tour, you'll also learn the history of Lake Marion - South Carolina's largest lake. The trip is offered by Fisheagle Nature Adventures every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from a launch site at Santee State Park.
On this fascinating 2.5-hour tour, you'll travel through the historic Pinopolis Lock connecting Lake Moultrie and the Cooper River. Fisheagle Nature Adventures' naturalist-guided trip begins in Moncks Corner along a section of the Cooper River bordered by former rice plantations. As you make your way upriver and the tailrace canal to the lock, you may see a variety of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, osprey, bald eagles, herons and egrets. The highlight of the tour comes when you enter the lock at sea level and are raised 75 feet to reach the water level of Lake Moultrie. From the top, you get a dramatic view of the tailrace canal below. After a short cruise along Lake Moultrie's shoreline, you'll re-enter the lock and make the eight-story drop back to sea level. Lock tours are offered throughout the month of October.