Spend a day on Hunting Island and you'll quickly understand why this secluded Lowcountry sea island is South Carolina's most popular state park. More than a million visitors a year are lured to the 5,000-acre park, once a hunting preserve for 19th and early 20th century planters.
Part of the pristine ACE Basin estuarine reserve, the park features thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, 5 miles of beach, a saltwater lagoon and an ocean inlet. Add to that the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state.
In the winter, the park offers a quiet coastal retreat to de-stress and re-energize. There's nothing like a long walk along a deserted beach or wooded nature trail to clear the clutter from your psyche.
For outdoor enthusiasts, it's an oceanfront playground where you can enjoy fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and camping.
If you're into history, you'll love the 19-century lighthouse that once warned sailors to keep away from the island's shallow shoreline. Originally built in 1859, Confederate forces destroyed the structure to ensure the Union would not be able to use it against them.
A new lighthouse was built in 1875 using interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled and moved should the ocean ever encroach upon it. Severe erosion forced the lighthouse to be relocated 1.3 miles inland in 1889.
Decommissioned in 1933, it still retains a functional light in its tower. It's a 167- step climb to the 130-foot observation deck where you can enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding maritime forest. Due to safety concerns, it is currently closed to tours until repairs can be made. However, visitors are welcome to walk though several buildings on the site featuring exhibits on the construction of the lighthouse and life as a lighthouse keeper.
The park also features a fishing pier that extends 950 feet into Fripp Inlet. Or drop your line in Johnson Creek or the surf. If you're traveling with a boat, you can launch from a ramp at the south end of the park. It provides access to Harbor River and Fripp Inlet.
In the Nature Center, visitors will find live animals and exhibits about the habitats and natural history of the park. Educational programs are offered throughout the year, including walks with a naturalist, beach explorations and turtle talks.
Be sure to walk out on the Marsh Boardwalk - and bring your camera and binoculars. It takes you across the marsh to a hammock and a deck that overlooks a tidal creek - a prime bird watching perch.
Hunting Island also manages St. Phillips Island, a remote 5,000-acre island sanctuary once owned by Ted Turner. Coastal Expeditions offers naturalist-led boat tours to St. Philips, offering visitors the opportunity to explore a barrier island left in its natural state.
Want to stay more than a day on Hunting Island? No problem. The park features 186 campsites and one fully-furnished cabin. Click here to make your reservation.
To learn more about the park, call (843) 838-2011 or click here.