Every time I return to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet I find a new adventure. Hundreds of migratory birds feeding in the saltwater marsh, alligators bathing in the sun in a pond, exploring Atlaya Castle, and just sitting back on a wide beach are just some of the things I find. Here are 8 things you could do at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.
Visit the Gift Shop
It may seem a little dull and obvious so suggest a visit to the Huntington Beach State Park gift shop but there are actually a couple of good reasons to make this your first stop.
First of all, this is where I found the South Carolina Ultimate Outsider stamp. The gift shop also serves as the visitor center with maps and brochures of the park. The gift shop has the usual items for sale like clothing, books, and toys, but they also have a few food items, sunscreen, bug spray, and water.
The restrooms are located beside the gift shop, but there are actually plenty of other restrooms in the park for later. The gift shop is also located on the second floor of the building and you have a pretty good view toward the beach.
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I’m not much for fishing, but I sure have seen other people cast a line at Huntington Beach State Park. One of the most beautiful hikes in the park is along the beach from the North Beach Access to the jetty protecting Murrells Inlet. People love to go there for fishing along the paved top of the rocky jetty extending a couple of hundred feet into the ocean.
Surf fishing is also really popular. The beach is long and wide so people will come with a wagon loaded with rods and supplies, toss out a couple of chairs, and sit back all day fishing in comfort. Just don’t be like me and walk between the rods and the ocean or you’ll end up with a fishing line around your neck.
There are plenty of swimming opportunities at Huntington Beach State Park! The park features two public beach accesses on either end of the park.
The North Beach Access is about a ten minute drive from the park entrance. This access point features a wooden boardwalk leading to the beach, restrooms, and a covered shelter.
The South Beach Access is about five minutes from the park entrance and is located near the gift shop and Atalaya Castle. This entrance also features restrooms and a covered shelter. It’s the more popular section of beach because it has a larger parking lot and is closer to the campground.
The beaches at Huntington Beach State Park are pretty amazing. They are wide, even at high tide, and usually pretty clean. Even on the busiest of days I only had to walk a few minutes along the beach to find a spot I claim as my own.
Have a Family Picnic
There are plenty of places for a family picnic at Huntington Beach State Park. There are covered picnic shelters located in the campground, South Beach Access, and North Beach Access. These shelters include a few large picnic tables, trash cans, and restrooms nearby.
But for a real treat for a picnic try one of the covered sheltered along the hiking trails. The Kerrigan Nature Trail has a covered shelter with two benches overlooking Mullet Pond, and the Boardwalk has a covered shelter with two benches overlooking the saltwater marsh.
There are four hiking trails at Huntington Beach State Park that offer a good opportunity to escape the crowds and see the wildlife.
The 0.5-mile Atalaya Road leads straight from Atalaya Castle to Highway 17. This road once connected the winter home of the Huntingtons with the area that is now Brookgreen Gardens. This paved road is easy to hike and accessible. On one early morning I even saw an alligator crossing the road!
The 0.1-mile Boardwalk Trail starts at the parking lot where the Education Center used to be. The boardwalk is easy to walk and stretches out across the saltwater marsh to Oaks Creek. There is a covered shelter about halfway along the boardwalk and a large observation deck at the very end. This trail is accessible and a great place to see some wildlife.
The 0.3-mile Kerrigan Trail is my favorite in the park. Beginning behind the Gift Shop the trail winds through the coastal forest to a covered observation deck overlooking Mullet Pond. This viewpoint frequently includes alligators and birds in flight. The trail is primitive and not accessible, though still easy to walk.
The 1-mile Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail is a primitive trail between the North Campground and North Beach Access. The best place to access the trail for non-campers is the beach access parking lot. The trail winds around massive oak trees, Sandpiper Pond, and is within hearing distance of the ocean.
Tour Atalaya Castle
Huntington Beach State Park is the only site in the South Carolina State Park system to include a castle. The Moorish-style castle was the winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, who first came to this location from New York for health reasons.
Today visitors can enjoy a self-guided walking tour through Atalaya. The tour includes many of the rooms such as the master bedroom suite, kitchen, servant quarters, and Anna’s studio. The inner courtyard with plush grass and towering palm trees feels like an adventure in a far distance land.
Not all the rooms in the castle are handicap accessible because of steps and uneven surfaces, but the inner courtyard and foyer are accessible. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk through the castle but I can almost guarantee you’ll want to take more time while pondering the question: what if this were my house?
The castle is the site of the annual Atalaya Arts & Crafts Festival, typically held in September each year. The festival brings out dozens of local artisans for three days spread throughout the castle.
My favorite thing to do at Huntington Beach State Park is bird watching. The park is a base for migratory birds flying back and forth each year for the seasons.
The best place to watch the birds is along Causeway Drive. Park at the end of the drive in a small parking lot and walk back along either side of Causeway Drive. One side is the Mullet Pond where dozens of alligators live and the other side is the saltwater marsh where hundreds of birds will feed during low tide.
A concrete sidewalk along either side of Causeway Drive makes it an easy and safe place to visit. There is a covered shelter with benches on either side near the far end.
Local birds like the great egret, snowy egret, and blue heron can be seen here almost all year. Around August and September each year the birds also include woodstorks and spoonbills. There are also plenty of shorebirds to enjoy along the beach and around the jetty.
Huntington Beach State Park includes two campgrounds with accessible sites, full hookups, restrooms, and access to the beach.
The North Campground features 133 campsites for RVs, travel trailers, and tents. The campground is built around several loops and side roads in a forested area with plenty of shade. 25 sites include full hookups while the rest include electricity only.
There are four handicap accessible sites located near one of the beach accesses and the restrooms. There are two beach accesses and also a side trail connecting to the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail and Boardwalk.
The South Campground is the latest addition to the park. It is located south of Atalaya Castle along a straight road with a cul-de-sac turnaround at the end.
This campground features 41 campsites with electrical hookups only, 2 handicap accessible sites, one restroom facility, and a single beach access.
A dump station is located near the North Campground.