Hunting Island State Park

The Hunting Island Lighthouse, built in 1873, is the only one in South Carolina with public access; for just $2, you can climb it and get some great views of the island.
The Hunting Island Lighthouse, built in 1873, is the only one in South Carolina with public access; for just $2, you can climb it and get some great views of the island. ASSOCIATED PRESS

If you enjoy camping, hiking, cycling, fishing, kayaking, picnicking, swimming, beach combing, sight-seeing, bird watching or nature, Hunting Island State Park – 20 miles southeast of Beaufort, S.C. – has you covered. The bottom line: A weekend visit is too short.

Hunting Island’s 5,000-plus acres cover virtually the entire barrier island. Its large campground has more than 175 sites but is well laid out and many have an ocean view. Most sites have full hook-up capability.

With more than 1 million visitors a year – it’s South Carolina’s most-visited state park – you might imagine it crowded, but according to park manager Daniel Gambrell, the layout of the park and diversity of activities make it pleasant to visit any time of year.

The visitor center is a must-see with lots of interesting exhibits. You can also access some of the park’s trails there, with more than 8 miles of them dedicated to both walkers and cyclists. Some routes cover some surprisingly hilly and wooded terrain; many have recently been upgraded.

Bird life is exceptional; painted buntings, orioles, tanagers, black skimmers and wood stork are summer highlights. Loggerhead turtles nest here and deer and other mammals make cameo appearances.

The beach is cool, too. Despite coastal erosion, the park’s 5 miles of beach are still wide, giving everyone room to spread out. Gambrell notes it is not your typical tourist beach and that seeing is believing.

South Carolina’s only public-access lighthouse is in the park; for $2 you can climb and tour the 132-foot structure at your leisure. The lighthouse dates to before the Civil War. The park’s only remaining rental cabin is nearby, as are beach access and shaded picnic tables.

South of the lighthouse is a long tidal lagoon, a favorite spot for fishermen and kayakers. Kayakers can access the Fripp Inlet River from here and have a range of routes they can take. A public ramp (Rust Point Landing) is at the southern end of the park. As with all coastal/estuary boating, heeding the tide charts is a must.

Near the ramp, you’ll find a 1,120-foot fishing pier plus a nature center with live animal exhibits – always a hit with kids. Fish here for free and without a license … you can even borrow a rod and reel (S.C. licenses apply otherwise).

One “must” during your visit: Catch a sunset from the boardwalk across the marsh. That little treasure alone will make you come back.

Park admission: $5; $3 for ages 6-15; registered campers, free. Info: Camping reservations are highly encouraged via website or 866-345-7275.

Along the way …

Beaufort is a classic Lowcountry community. Europeans started visiting as early as 1520; the city itself has been in existence since 1711. Must do’s include visiting the waterfront park (it includes a playground), walking the historic district, visiting the Beaufort National Cemetery and attending festivals, which include the Taste of Beaufort in May and the Water Festival in mid-July. Area info:

If you’re hungry/thirsty …

Two worthy option are near the park. The Shrimp Shack is a casual Lowcountry seafood/steak place. It’s family-friendly; it takes cash only. A favorite spot for Robb Wells, the tourism VP for Beaufort’s Chamber of Commerce, is the Johnson Creek Tavern ( “You’ll love the food but the view is just incredible.” A wide menu is available and reasonably priced.