After a memorable camping experience at Fort McAllister State Park in Georgia, I really wanted to explore another state park. Since we had to start heading north to get back home, we decided to take a short detour from I-95 in South Carolina to visit Hunting Island State Park, near Beaufort.
Hunting Island State Park is apparently South Carolina’s most popular state park (more than a million people visit it each year). Located on the Atlantic coast, the park showcases the nature of Hunting Island, protecting more than 5,000 acres of maritime forest, swamps, lagoons and islets, as well as more than eight kilometres (5 miles) of beach.
Hunting Island State Park also includes several kilometres of hiking trails. We only had a few hours to spare as we had to continue our journey north, so we decided to hike a short loop, combining some of the trails together, to explore different ecosystems in the park.
We started our hike from the park visitor center, heading deep into the forest on the Maritime Forest Trail. As its name suggests, this straight trail highlights the maritime semi-tropical forest of Hunting Island, with its dense and varied vegetation. Its palm trees, palmettos and the few snakes we passed along the trail almost made me feel like I was hiking in the jungle!
We then took the short Palmetto Pass Trail which brought us closer to the water, to the Lagoon Trail. As its name suggests, this trail follows a long saltwater lagoon and offers several viewpoints over it. We saw a few herons there, as well as a lot of small crabs that quickly hid under the sand when we approached.
What I especially loved about the trail was seeing how different the forest looked along the lagoon. The vegetation there was sparser, and the tall pines made a surprising and interesting contrast with the palm trees.
Initially, our plan was to hike to Little Hunting Island Trail, a short loop around a small island created by the passage of Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. This trail apparently provides a close look at the impact that erosion and natural disasters can have on shaping the landscape. But the intense heat and the beating sun finally got the better of us, and we rather wisely decided to turn on the Marsh Boardwalk Crossover Trail and return to the parking lot following the Maritime Forest Trail again (which was fortunately more shaded).
We will just need to come back at another time to explore the trails we weren’t able to hike this time!
There was no question for us of leaving without having seen the popular beaches and the famous lighthouse of Hunting Island! So once back to the van, we drove to one of the parking lots giving access to the beach. There were a lot of people there enjoying that warm day, and I’m not really a beachgoer person, but I took the opportunity to walk on its fine sand and to soak my feet in the Atlantic Ocean.
The lighthouse, emblem of the state park, is clearly visible from the beach. It dates from 1859, but was rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed during the Civil War. The lighthouse is the only one that can be visited by the public in South Carolina, but it was unfortunately closed on that day, as it needs some repairs.
Just one more reason for us to come back one day! Hunting Island State Park has definitely enchanted us and I can’t wait to come back to explore more of its trails, and maybe even enjoy its camping sites!