Now's your chance to paddle in the still blackwater of a primeval swamp and experience nature as it existed a thousand years ago. The water level is up in Francis Beidler Forest this time of year, making it possible to navigate through the largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress and tupelo gum trees in the world.
Owned and managed by the National Audubon Society, Beidler Forest is one of only two old-growth floodplain forests remaining in the state. The other is at Congaree National Park.
When the water level in the floodplain is high enough, the Audubon Center offers guided canoe trips through this ancient forest, located within the Four Holes Swamp.
Trips are offered on a regular basis Friday through Sunday. Four-hour trips are scheduled each of the three days at 1 p.m.; two-hour trips are available at 9 a.m. Saturdays.
The tours start from a remote landing on Mellard Lake, one of the swamp's "holes". Paddling through this open section of blackwater, surrounded by dense, undisturbed vegetation, you'll feel totally removed from the rest of the world.
After just a few minutes, you'll enter the woods, thick with 100-foot bald cypress and tupelo gum trees. It's not unusual to see a variety of wildlife - from yellow-bellied slider turtles to brown water snakes to Prothonotary warblers.
Be aware, paddling through the swamp can be a bit tricky, especially at lower water levels. It helps to have some kayaking experience to maneuver through the floodplain's narrow passages. In the spring, you'll want to steer clear of trees covered with Poison Ivy. But it's a trip unlike any other in the Lowcountry and so worth the navigational challenges.
Cost is $30 for adults ($15 for children 8 to 12) for the four-hour excursion; $20 for adults ($10 for children 6 to 12) for the two-hour trip. The price for the tour also includes admission to the Beidler Forest boardwalk.
Reservations are required in advance. These trips are popular, so you'll want to book early. Call (843) 462-2150 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to reserve your canoe or kayak.
Francis Beidler Forest is located about an hour from Charleston and Columbia off Interstate 26 in Santee Cooper Country. For more information, click here.