A 20’ long alligator casually waddled across the paved road just a few yards ahead of me. I was frozen, more out of awe than fear. He paid no attention to me; after all this was his territory, not mine. This was Huntington Beach State Park, just one of forty-seven state parks across South Carolina, and I was having the time of my life.
The Palmetto State loves the great outdoors. In fact, they even have the South Carolina Ultimate Outsider program which rewards people for visiting all forty-seven state parks. The various parks offer different opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, options for spending a night or two, and breathtaking scenery.
Six of the forty-seven parks are located along the coast. Here are a few reasons why you need to visit the six coastal state parks of South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach State Park
Just a few miles south of the high-rise hotels is a quiet escape into nature at Myrtle Beach State Park. It’s a great alternative for visitors and locals alike to enjoy a day at the beach or a nice hike through the maritime forest.
It’s also the only state park in South Carolina wish a fishing pier. It is just one of the nine fishing piers along the Grand Strand.
The park has several covered shelters, some within view of the beach along a wooden boardwalk. These shelters can be rented for special events and make a great place for reunions and gatherings.
The campground is quite and cozy with full hookups and there are a few cabins to rent in the park.
Best Time to Visit: Avoid coming in the summer unless you are staying in the park. The line of cars waiting to get into the park will sometimes extend down the road for a mile. The best time to visit is late spring and early fall.
4401 S Kings Hwy, Myrtle Beach, SC | (843) 238-5325 | http://southcarolinaparks.com/myrtlebeach/introduction.aspx
Huntington Beach State Park
Huntington Beach State Park is one of my favorite state parks in the country. With two large campgrounds it is a popular place for overnighters. The park also features two beach accesses with plenty of parking for day visitors.
One of the most surprising features of the park is Atalaya Castle. This Moorish-style mansion was built by the parks’ namesake, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, as a winter home. Today the mansion is open for self-guided tours.
One of the most popular reasons people visit this park is the see the abundant wildlife. Several species of migratory birds pass through the park each year and at times flood the saltwater marsh with hundreds of hungry birds. With concrete sidewalks on either side of Causeway Drive it is safe and easy to view a lot of this wildlife.
Best Time to Visit: The migratory birds come to the park about mid-May and mid-September each year. During the summer months it is easy to get into the park for a day trip, but the campground tends to book well in advance. Best time to visit is April-May and September-October.
16148 Ocean Highway, Murrells Inlet, SC | (843) 237-4440 | http://southcarolinaparks.com/huntingtonbeach/introduction.aspx
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Hampton Plantation State Historic Site
This small historic site is tucked away from site along Highway 17 just south of Georgetown. Once a wealthy rice plantation, this is where President George Washington spent a night during his tour of the South.
The main attraction, and really just about the only attraction, is to take a guided tour of the plantation house. It is one of the most original and authentic plantation homes in South Carolina.
Best Time to Visit: This park should mostly be avoided during the summer because of the mosquitoes. Best time to visit is October – April.
1950 Rutledge Rd, McClellanville, SC | (843) 546-9361 | http://southcarolinaparks.com/hampton/introduction.aspx
Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site
Located at the site of the original colony that was established in 1670, today Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site includes hiking trails, the Animal Forest, and a recreation of a 17th-century trading vessel.
With paved paths throughout the park, a shuttle service to reach the further corners, and rental bicycles at the Visitor Center, this park is a great place for a day trip excursion from Charleston. The Legare-Waring House and the large lawn surrounded by oak trees in front is a popular place for weddings throughout the year.
Best Time to Visit: Summer months are good, but the heat and humidity tends to get to you pretty fast. Best time to visit is early spring around April and May or wait until autumn around September and October.
1500 Old Towne Rd, Charleston, SC | (843) 852-4200 | www.southcarolinaparks.com/ctl/introduction.aspx
Edisto Beach State Park
This coastal state park is divided between the mainland and the island in Edisto Beach. On the mainland visitors can enjoy a hiking trail and small museum at the Visitor Center. On the island there is a very nice campground.
The campground is the biggest attraction to the park. Some of the campsites are within sight of the ocean waves crashing on the beach. It’s a great place to spend a night or two if you enjoy sand, surf, and sun.
Best Time to Visit: Spring and Fall are great times because the campground tends to have more availability.
8377 State Cabin Rd, Edisto Island, SC | (843) 869-2156 | http://southcarolinaparks.com/edistobeach/introduction.aspx
Hunting Island State Park
The most popular state park in South Carolina has plenty to offer all kinds of visitors. The long, wide beaches on the island are mostly left to day trippers and campers. Several hiking trails explore various parts of the park.
The Hunting Island Lighthouse is the oldest original lighthouse in the state visitors can still climb. The views from the balcony 110’ high are amazing. The climb along the wrought iron staircase to the top is even enjoyable.
Best Time to Visit: This campground is the most-frequently booked in the state, so weekends, holidays, and summers might be tough. April – May and September – October are great times to visit.
2555 Sea Island Parkway, Hunting Island, SC | (843) 838-2011 | https://southcarolinaparks.com/hunting-island