I was a little out of breath and felt like I had just summitted Denali. Okay, so the hike wasn’t really that strenuous. But it had taken me forty-five minutes to reach the viewing area along Wonders Way on the Ravenel Bridge. I rested my elbows on the fence, let out a deep breath, and laughed at the ridiculousness of the gorgeous view.
Wonders Way is a 12′ wide multi-use pedestrian path on the south side of the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. The cable stayed suspension bridge between Charleston and Mount Pleasant is just called the Ravenel Bridge or, more frequently, the Big White Bridge. Since its completion in 2006, the Ravenel Bridge has become an icon of the Lowcountry.
Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge
I only have one not-so-clear memory of the Cooper River Bridge and Grace Bridge that used to span the river between Charleston and Mount Pleasant. One year, during family vacation in Myrtle Beach we took a day trip down to Charleston to visit Patriots Point. The only thing I can remember about the former bridges is that they were scary.
In 1979, the bridges were certified functionally obsolete. Then, in 1995 the Grace Bridge scored a frightening 4 out of 100 during a Department of Transportation safety test. Despite this revelation, it would take more than a decade to finish a replacement.
Construction began on the Ravenel Bridge in 2001. The 2.5-mile cable stayed bridge, the longest in the state, was built around the existing bridges. It was completed in 2006, and the locals partied like it was 1999.
Garrett Wonders was a sophomore at Ohio State University when he became interested in cycling. By the time he finished his master’s degree, he had started competing nationally with the university’s cycling team.
That passion continued when he moved to Charleston to work at the Nuclear Power Training Command as an ensign in the United States Navy. Still eager to compete, in 2004 he was assigned as one of two military personnel to compete at the Olympic Trails in California.
Wonders began training by cycling across the Cooper River Bridge. But the narrow bridge was not suite for bicyclists. One day while cycling across the bridge, he was struck by a car and killed on site.
A grassroots movement by local supporters immediately sought to make an addition to the Ravenel Bridge: a dedicated pedestrian path. The effort was a success, and when the Ravenel Bridge opened to traffic in 2006 it included Wonders Way, a safe path for hikers, joggers, and bicyclists.
Wonders Way is separated from the buzzing traffic by a solid concrete barrier. A metal fence along the outside prevents anyone from accidentally falling off the bridge. It is certainly safer than the conditions Wonders faced while cycling across the Cooper River Bridge.
Getting to Wonders Way
Wonders Way stretches the entire 2.5-mile bridge between Charleston and Mount Pleasant. Pedestrians can access either end, however the Charleston end is more difficult.
In Charleston, Wonders Way connects to a city sidewalk along East Bay Street. There is no public parking nearby.
In Mount Pleasant, there is ample parking near the end of Wonders Way. The easiest place to park is the gas station at Coleman Boulevard and Patriots Point Road. About a dozen parking spaces facing the boulevard are reserved for people hiking on Wonders Way.
The better place to park is at the Mount Pleasant Visitor Center and Fishing Pier. The free parking is underneath the bridge with a short access path to Wonders Way.
Tips for Visiting Wonders Way
Wonders Way is not exclusively reserved for jogging or bicycling. I have hiked to the first bridge support from Mount Pleasant many times, and I’ve never been the only slow trudging pedestrian. But there are a few tips I can give you to make the most of your visit.
- Always stay on the right. Bicyclists move fast, especially downhill, and you don’t want them to have to swerve around you.
- Always give way to the faster traffic. If you’re walking, you give way to everyone. If jogging, give way to bicyclists.
- Allow 30-40 minutes from Mount Pleasant to reach the first bridge support, and 40-60 minutes from Charleston.
- At each of the two bridge supports, the pedestrian paths hangs out from the side of the bridge, offering stunning views in both directions.