Hunting Island

Another postcard sunset at Hunting Island State Park. (Photo/James Denton)

Another postcard sunset at Hunting Island State Park. (Photo/James Denton)

How does a wild island, stunning beach, emerald marsh and a lookout tower sound? Does that bring out the pirate in you? If so, drive 185 miles south, a little over three hours, and the road ends at South Carolina’s most popular state park.

Hunting Island State Park, located on St. Helena Island, 16 miles east of Beaufort, has 5,000-acres that delight over one million visitors each year. Five miles of photogenic beach, rippling salt marshes and a picturesque lighthouse add to the park’s splendor.

The beach here is free of man’s clutter. A maritime forest, fallen trees and expanses of windswept shore give you the feeling that you’re on a stretch of African coast. Walk the beach and look for shark’s teeth. The island takes its name from the fact that it was a hunting preserve for 19th century planters. It’s rich with wildlife still and the island’s cinematic character has provided settings for movies.

In “Forrest Gump,” Vietcong ambush U.S. soldiers, and simple-fellow Gump earns the Medal of Honor carrying Lieutenant Dan to safety. We never see the VC, but Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” transports us back to 1967. It’s Vietnam all over again, only it’s not Vietnam. It’s Hunting Island.

Fishing, boating and camping here attract people with a love for scenic sweeps and grand vistas. Hiking and nature trails provide excellent ways to see the island’s wildlife up close. Don’t miss the marsh boardwalk. It’s a great place to watch a coastal sunset. If you swim in the Atlantic you do so at your own risk.

The lighthouse forms the island’s centerpiece. The original lighthouse, built in 1859, fell victim to the Civil War. Rebuilt in 1875, it has survived hurricanes. The historic Hunting Island lighthouse, the only lighthouse in our state you can climb, provides panoramic views. The lighthouse closes at times for inclement weather and repairs with no notice of closing, but when it’s open you can climb the 167 steps to the observation deck for a fee of $2. Typically, the tower is open for climbing March through October, beginning at 10 a.m. daily. The last admission is accepted at 4:45 p.m. each day. November through February the tower is open for climbing beginning at 10 a.m. daily with the last admission accepted at 3:45 p.m. each day. Children must be at least 44 inches tall to climb the tower.

People like to camp here. Hunting Island has primitive campgrounds close to the beach and spaces for RVs. It has campsites with electricity too. A 1,120-foot fishing pier reaches into Fripp Inlet. At the pier’s entrance, you’ll find a nature center with exhibits about local wildlife.

Nature is at her majestic best here. The beaches are some of South Carolina’s more photographed beaches. Since Beaufort is on your route, be sure to spend time in this beautiful town, perhaps South Carolina’s best-kept secret. You’ll see classic homes and find great restaurants to choose from.

If You Go …

From I-95: Take Hwy. 21 E. toward Beaufort. Drive 42 miles. Hwy. 21 ends at the park.

2555 Sea Island Parkway, Hunting Island, S.C. 29920. 843-838-2011. [email protected]

Latitude: 32.3585481

Longitude: -80.4521216

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]

 

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