In 1673, King Charles II of England wanted his American colonies better connected and ordered up “the King’s Highway,” to link Boston to Charleston. It’s called U.S. 17 today, and explains why stretches around Myrtle Beach are still designated by its old and regal name. In South Carolina, the coast-hugging road linked rice and indigo plantations. These days, it links Grand Strand communities from Little River south to Georgetown, runs through small towns in the sprawling Francis Marion National Forest, and re-emerges into modern times down in the eastern exurbs of metro Charleston.
The centuries enjoyably collapse on Bulls Island ( http://1.usa.gov/1kYnx1O), the largest of the four barrier islands in Cape Romain National Wildlife Reserve, off the national forest’s coast and about a half-hour north of Charleston.
The swampy, remote isle was reportedly a hideout for pirates in Colonial days; during the Revolution, it served as a provisioning spot for British warships. In 1925 it was purchased by a New York banker to serve as a hunting preserve. He built a house there, but 11 years later deeded the island to the federal government; it has remained wild ever since.
You can’t camp there, but you can play Robinson Crusoe. Take the mainland ferry at Garris Landing, on Seewee Bay ( http://bit.ly/1qtK6Ia). Through Nov. 30, it departs at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays-Fridays and returns at noon and 4 p.m. From Dec. 1 through the end of February, the ferry operates only on Saturdays, departing at 10 a.m. and returning at 3 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Round-trip cost (cash or check only): $40; $20 for 12 and younger.
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Low-lying Bulls Island has linked gravel roads that surround a swampy pond and extend along the ocean side. Also here: a 1-mile and a 2-mile nature trail. The terrain includes beaches, dunes and maritime forests with oaks, pines, cedars, palmettos and cedars.
The wildlife is astounding. More than 275 species of birds have been spotted, from woodpeckers and warblers to sandpipers and ducks. Alligators lounge close to the brackish ponds and Jacks Creek areas; deer, otters and raccoons are elsewhere. A wildlife-viewing platform on Upper Summerhouse Pond offers great views of birds and gators.
You’ll want to follow the marked and maintained roads to Boneyard Beach on the island’s northeast corner. It’s a wildly beautiful shore where bleached remnants of oak, cedar and pine look like dinosaur bones. You may have the whole primitive and pastoral scene to yourself.
(The first week in November and December, bow hunting for white-tailed deer is allowed. Details: http://1.usa.gov/1tpxZA0.)
Just keep track of the time. You don’t want to miss the last ferry back to civilization. John Bordsen