If you love to be immersed in nature, perhaps the Grand Strand – with all its glittering diversions – doesn’t immediately pop into your mind. But just south of Murrells Inlet is 2,500-acre Huntington Beach State Park, one of only four S.C. parks nestled against the Atlantic. Huntington Beach may be the most unusual: You pass through some of the most congested coastline in South Carolina ... and into an oasis of nature that’s far from traffic, noise and bright lights.
What’s the draw?
Of course, the beach is a big draw here; the park’s 3-mile beachfront is pristine. Wide and inviting, you’re not likely to have to rub elbows with your neighbor once you choose your spot. Fishing is popular on the beach and on a jetty at its north end; just make sure you have an S.C. license.
During summer, the southern end has lifeguards.
This park is widely known as one of the best birding spots in all of South Carolina and one of the best in the Southeast. More than 300 species of birds have been documented here primarily because of four distinct habitats (seashore, woodlands, fresh water lagoon and salt marsh) and the fact the park lies right along the Atlantic Flyway migration route. (Heads up: Spring and fall are especially great times to visit.) Want to see a bald eagle? Osprey? Spoonbill? Even if you don’t know the names, you can’t help but be impressed with what you’ll see, right from the moment you cross the causeway into the heart of the park. Be sure you bring your binoculars and rustle up a field guide.
More than 100 standard camping sites are here, all with water and electric. Some sites accommodate up to 40-foot RVs; some have sewer service. There are even a few tent-only sites. Because of amenities, site prices vary. Consider the season; choose wisely and make your reservations early (by calling 866-345-7275 or through www.southcarolinaparks.com).
Don’t want to fry in the sun all day? Take a walk. The park has several easy options, all with great wildlife viewing opportunities. Favorites are the 2-mile Sandpiper Trail, which traverses a woodland section of park, and the Kerrigan Nature Trail, which takes you across a section of the freshwater lagoon. There are also some nice boardwalks and observation towers that are easy to reach.
Interested in learning more? Definitely visit the park’s 2,500-square-foot nature center. It has a has a touch tank, a few living animals and a range of exhibits showcasing the park’s history, both natural and historical.
Besides exhibits, they offer a wide range of programming, most free or almost free.
A different option is a two-hour kayak trip run in conjunction with concessionaire Black River Outdoors; it’s $35 per person for the tour, which gives you an up-close look around a salt marsh. It’s worth it. Another popular tour is of a National Historic Landmark – Atalaya, once the winter home of Anna Hyatt and Archer Huntington, the namesakes of the park. Tours: $2, 2-3 p.m., Sunday-Friday through May 31.
Day-visit admission: $5; $3 for ages 6-15; park admission is free if you’re camping there. The park has several other amenities, including picnicking areas and a store. Info: 843-237-4440; www.southcarolinaparks.com.
Mark Alan Hudson
Just 20 miles south of the park is South Carolina’s third-oldest town. Take in Georgetown’s small-town vibe and explore its walking-friendly streets.
You’ll find 14 restaurants within five blocks of the welcome center, downtown on Front Street. For great views and causal Southern coastal fare for lunch and dinner, try The River Room (www.riverroomgeorgetown.com). The Ball & Cue (search for it at www.facebook.com) has an old-time vibe, complete with lunch counter. Basic comfort food, done well, is their specialty.
More than 60 structures in town are more than 200 years old; a great way to see them and learn about the town is via the Swamp Fox Tour (www.swampfoxtour.com). Open-air trolley tours are on the hour and cost $15 for adults. Check out the S.C. Maritime Museum (free; www.scmaritimemuseum.org) and the Georgetown County Museum (admission charged; www.georgetowncountymuseum.com).
Area info: www.hammockcoastsc.com.