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How to See the Angel Oak Tree in Charleston – One of the Oldest Trees in the Southeast

It's 500 years old and covers 17,000 square feet. Find out where to find the Angel Oak Tree, when to visit, and where to eat after the adventure.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

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Explore Charleston, SC Series

This article is part of the Charleston, South Carolina series. Click the button to read more articles, itineraries, and travel guides in the series.

What’s almost 500 years old, 65 feet tall, and covers 17,000 square feet? The Angel Oak Tree is one of the oldest and biggest southern live oak trees east of the Mississippi. And it’s quickly becoming one of the most visited trees in the country.

An astounding 400,000 people stand beneath the shade of the tree every year. The tree, safely protected in Angel Oak Park, is only a fifteen-minute drive from Charleston to Johns Island. Picnicking, portraits, and open-mouthed gawking are a few of the things people do there.

Lynn and Cele Seldon listed the Angel Oak Tree in their book 100 Things to Do in Charleston Before You Die. And Ruth Miller and Linda Lennon wrote the 96-page The Angel Oak Story detailing the tree’s long history.

It’s more than just a tree. It’s a living witness to centuries of history from Colonial America and the Revolutionary War to Hurricane Hugo and encroaching residential developments. Here’s everything you need to know to visit the Angel Oak Tree in Charleston, South Carolina.

The first time I visited the Angel Oak Tree was in 2014. My jaw was firmly agape while trying to figure out how to capture photos of the ginormous oak tree.

Fortunately, I was equipped with an 8mm fisheye lens I’d bought just a few months earlier.

The fisheye lens let me capture the enormous tree in a single photo. The next challenge was to find an appealing framing. Limbs sprawled throughout the giant canopy, giving me several options for interesting framing.

My first visit to the Angel Oak Tree was productive and inspiring. But my following visits in the next few years produced the best photos. Keep scrolling to see those photos.

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Map of the Angel Oak Tree

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.

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Dozens of people roam around the giant Angel Oak Tree
Thick limbs spread along the ground from the Angel Oak Tree

Brief History of the Angel Oak Tree

The Angel Oak Tree is older than sliced bread, the American Revolution, and the founding of Charleston. If trees could talk, this tree would never stop sharing new and fascinating chapters of its life on Johns Island.

In 1717, forty-seven years after Charleston’s founding, Abraham Waight received a land grant near the headwater of the Wadmalaw River. The land was divided and sold, but most stayed in the Waight family. Then, in 1810, newlyweds Martha Waight and Justus Angel inherited the land, including the giant oak tree.

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The couple established a plantation but never touched the sprawling oak tree. Over time, the locals began calling it the Angel Oak Tree. The tree and property of the former plantation remained with the Angel family until Dr. Isaac Waight Angel died in 1904. Finally, private developments encroached on the tree for the first time in history.

On September 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo landed near Sullivan’s Island as a Category 4 storm. Wind speeds topping 140 miles per hour toppled trees and buildings alike. But the Angel Oak Tree, with roots as sturdy as steel, withstood the storm.

READ MORE: Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in Charleston, South Carolina

In 2012, a different kind of storm threatened the tree’s existence: commercial development. When plans were announced to build a housing development within sight of the tree, the Coastal Conservation League sprang into action. With the help of local grassroots organizations, the Lowcountry Land Trust purchased 17 acres surrounding the tree and classified it as a preserve.

Did You Know | In 2019, the city of Charleston trademarked “Angel Oak.” However, the trademark at the US Patent and Trademark Office notes, “No claim is made to the exclusive right to use ‘oak’ apart from the trademark as shown.”

The city of Charleston purchased the property in 1991. It developed a public park with picnic tables, a gift shop, and an unsightly chain link fence. Current plans, announced in early 2023, call for the development of the Angel Oak Preserve. The nature preserve will feature a welcome center, restrooms, and a boardwalk from the new parking area to the iconic tree.

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Dozens of people admire the giant Angel Oak Tree
Large limbs of the Angel Oak Tree
There is plenty of room in the park to roam around the Angel Oak Tree.

Angel Oak Park on Johns Island

After the city purchased the property in 1991, the Charleston Recreation Department built a public park around the tree. Angel Oak Park is contained within an unsightly eight-foot-tall chain link fence topped with a thick row of vines.

Admission into the park is free, but donations are always welcome. The park is open seven days per week, excluding holidays, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. except on Sundays when it opens at 1 p.m.

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Visitors park outside the fence along one of the few remaining dirt roads in the county. There are no paths or boardwalks or concrete sidewalks inside Angel Oak Park. The ground is covered with a fine mulch of brown leaves falling from the gigantic tree.

A one-room gift shop is packed with local arts and crafts. All proceeds directly benefit the public park, so buying something for yourself or a gift for someone else is an excellent way to support the iconic tree. Temporary restrooms – that have been there for years – are parked in the corner of the park.

READ MORE: How to Spend an Exciting Day at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, SC

Although food and drinks are not allowed near the tree, picnic tables scattered throughout the park are perfect for a picnic. Other items not permitted in the park are tripods, high heels, and unruly children who like climbing trees.

Pro Travel Tip | Get lunch to go at Blackbird Market, about five minutes from the Angel Oak Tree. The local scratch kitchen offers sandwiches, salads, pulled pork, and seafood platters.

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People take pictures of the Angel Oak Tree
Several large limbs sprawl across the giant Angel Oak Tree
Several tree limbs are so large and heavy they must be supported by bracing to prevent them from collapsing and snapping.

How big is the Angel Oak Tree?

If seeing is believing, it takes a lot of seeing to believe the sheer enormity of the Angel Oak Tree’s size. Typically, southern live oak trees grow outward more than upward, sprawling with long branches that seem to defy gravity. However, the Angel Oak has been around for hundreds of years – it’s grown up and out.

The tree stands about 65 feet tall. The tree’s trunk is an astounding 25.5 feet in circumference – you could park a Class A RV inside the tree.

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But the most astonishing size of all is the tree’s enormous coverage beneath the evergreen leaves. Sprawling like a dome, the Angel Oak Tree covers 17,000 square feet in a patchwork shade. That’s about 1/3 the size of a Neighborhood Walmart.

READ MORE: How to Visit (and the History Behind) the Iconic Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC

Tree limbs snake outward from the trunk, twisting and bending in random directions, almost like blood vessels. Sometimes, the limb’s weight forces it to the ground – and beneath it. The limbs disappear beneath the leafy surface and reappear a few feet away.

Some people like to count the stars in the sky. I like to count the limbs in the Angel Oak Tree.

Pro Travel Tip | Climbing on any part of the Angel Oak Tree is strictly forbidden and will likely incur the wrath of one of the specters haunting the grounds. So please do not lean on the trunk or limbs, swing from a limb, or step on a limb.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Large limbs of the Angel Oak Tree
Large limbs of the Angel Oak Tree

How Old is the Angel Oak Tree?

One of the most frequent debates about the Angel Oak Tree is the tree’s age. The most conservative answer is the Angel Oak Tree is about 300-400 years old. The wildest belief is that the tree is pushing 1,500 years old.

But the most commonly accepted answer is that the Angel Oak Tree is about 500 years old.

Whatever the tree’s age, it’s one of the oldest live oak trees east of the Mississippi River.

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Primitive dirt road beneath a canopy of trees
Primitive dirt road beneath a canopy of trees
The satisfyingly unpaved Angel Oak Road is passable for all types of personal vehicles.

Getting to the Angel Oak Tree

The Angel Oak Tree is located on Johns Island, about fifteen minutes from downtown Charleston. No public buses provide service, although rideshares can drop you off.

One way to get to the Angel Oak Tree is to take Folly Road toward the popular beach town and then turn onto Maybank Highway near the McLeod Plantation Historic Site. After crossing Bohicket Road, turn left onto Angel Oak Road.

It’s one of the last remaining unpaved roads in the county, and I hope it stays that way.

READ MORE: Leave the Cobblestone Streets Behind for One of These Beaches Near Charleston

Pro Travel Tip | If you continue driving along Maybank Highway, you’ll end up at the Charleston Tea Garden. The historic farm was one of the first places to cultivate black tea in America and was once an experimental farm for Lipton. Take a guided tour of the farm and sample their amazing tea.

Parking at the Angel Oak Tree is outside the chain link fence surrounding the park. A few handicapped spaces are available through the gate beside the gift shop.

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A little girl admires the giant Angel Oak Tree

The Best Time to Visit the Angel Oak Tree

400,000 people visit the Angel Oak Tree every year. On average, that’s 1,100 people per day or 136 people per hour. Like many attractions around Charleston, the Angel Oak has a crowding issue.

The best time to visit the Angel Oak Tree is before noon in the middle of the week. Photographers crave early morning or late evening sunlight, but they are typically gone by 10 or 11 in the morning. While others are taking guided tours of plantations or shopping at the city market, you might have the Angel Oak Tree to yourself.

READ MORE: When is the Best Time to Visit Charleston, South Carolina?

Fortunately, live oak trees are evergreen. Visiting in the winter months can be just as beautiful as the summer. With cooler temperatures and less humidity, visiting in January or February might be preferable.

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Interior view of the Angel Oak Restaurant
Buffalo chicken tenders and mac and cheese for lunch

Eat at the Angel Oak Restaurant

Nicole was a New York art teacher. Jay was raised in Mississippi and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. So when they met and fell in love, they decided to move somewhere in the middle – Charleston.

In 2012, Jay and Nicole Kees opened a farm-to-table restaurant along US Highway 17, about fifteen minutes from the Angel Oak Tree. The Angel Oak Restaurant is just as rustic and earthy as the restaurant’s namesake. It’s a small, unassuming building that gives way to a rustic, country interior with wooden floors, a metal ceiling, and craft paper tablecloths. Meals are served on white glass plates, and drinks come in Mason jars.

READ MORE: The Coffee Lover’s Guide to My Favorite Coffee Shops in Charleston, SC

Meals are served on white glass plates and feature southern portions – big, really big. Forks are required, but knives are optional for food that pulls apart without effort. Wear your stretchy pants, because you’ll finish every morsel of any meal at this restaurant.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Where to Stay Near the Angel Oak Tree

There are no shortages of hotel rooms and rental properties surrounding the Charleston area. But if you’re just visiting for the Angel Oak Tree, it’s better to get a room in Folly Beach or West Ashley than downtown.

In Folly Beach, the Tides Folly Beach is an oceanfront oasis for spending nights in luxury. The indoor swimming pool, on-site restaurant, and comfortable guest rooms with private balconies will leave you well-rested and ready to explore in the morning.

Booking.com | Expedia.com | Hotels.com

In West Ashley, the suburb across the Ashley River from downtown Charleston, the SpringHill Suites are an excellent place to stay. Take advantage of the heated outdoor swimming pool and soundproof rooms to help you sleep each night comfortably.

Booking.com | Expedia.com | Hotels.com

Nearby, the La Quinta is an affordable hotel with many of the same amenities. The outdoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, and convenient location are perfect for a weekend getaway exploring the area.

Booking.com | Expedia.com | Hotels.com

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the story behind the Angel Oak Tree?

The 500-year-old Angel Oak Tree is one of the largest and oldest oak trees in the southeastern United States. During the 1700s and 1800s, the giant tree was a favorite for locals and enslaved plantation workers for sightseeing and picnics. Purchased by the city of Charleston in 1991, the Angel Oak Tree is now a public park open seven days per week – and will soon become a nature preserve.

Can you touch the Angel Oak Tree?

No, you cannot touch the Angel Oak Tree. The 500-year-old tree has survived the American Revolution, Civil War, and Hurricane Hugo, but the one thing it might not survive is 400,000 people per year touching it, climbing it, and standing on it.

Can you climb the Angel Oak Tree?

No, you cannot climb the Angel Oak Tree. And, please, do not stand on the portions of limbs of the tree that are on the ground.

Where is the Angel Oak Tree?

The Angel Oak Tree is at 3688 Angel Oak Road on Johns Island, about fifteen minutes from downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

Who owns the Angel Oak Tree?

In 1991, the city of Charleston purchased about 16 acres surrounding the Angel Oak Tree.

Why is it called the Angel Oak Tree?

In 1810, Martha Waight – the descendent of the original owner Abraham Waight – married Justus Angel. Their wedding gift included the land surrounding the gigantic oak tree. When the couple established a plantation, they named it Angel Oak Plantation. Locals began calling the tree by the same name.

Is the Angel Oak Tree free to visit?

Yes, the Angel Oak Tree is free. However, donations are requested to help maintain the public park.

What time does Angel Oak Park open and close?

Angel Oak Park opens at 9 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays. The public park closes daily at 5 p.m.

How old is the Angel Oak Tree?

The Angel Oak Tree is about 500 years old. However, the most conservative estimate has the tree at just 300 years old, and the wildest claim is that it’s a whopping 1,500 years old.

How far is the Angel Oak Tree from downtown Charleston?

The Angel Oak Tree is about fifteen miles from downtown Charleston. With typical traffic, it takes about twenty minutes to get there. However, late afternoon traffic tends to slow down, which could take as much as forty-five minutes.

Can I take portrait photos at the Angel Oak Tree?

Engagement and wedding portraits require a permit from the city’s Recreation Department. However, anyone can capture portraits during a normal visit. But props and tripods are prohibited, and you cannot direct people away from your photo shoot.

Are there any restrooms at the Angel Oak Tree?

Yes, there are temporary restrooms at the Angel Oak Tree. The restrooms are on a travel trailer similar to those found at festivals.

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Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
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