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 some unique marvels of nature.
Here are three not-to-miss lake tours in South Carolina:
1. Lake Jocassee Tour
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 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.
2. Purple Martin Tour on Lake Murray
Each July and August just before sundown, tens of thousands of 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 Lake Murray Adventures private guided pontoon tour. 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. The boats seats up to six passengers.
3. Wildlife Tour on Lake Marion
On this wildlife tour offered by Santee Boat Rentals, you'll spend 3.5 hours exploring the largest expanse of fresh water in South Carolina. One of the highlights of the Lake Marion tour is a beautiful cypress and tupelo flooded forest that serves as home to more than two dozen 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 habitat for alligators, egrets, herons, anhingas, ducks, American bald eagles and neo-tropical migrating songbirds, including the prothonotary warbler. During the tour, you'll also learn the history of Santee Cooper lakes.