On the well-preserved, five-mile stretch of South Carolina coast you’ll find a maritime forest, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state, and the pristine sandy beach.
Hunting Island State Park is only 29 miles off Interstate 95, the main corridor between Florida and the Northeast, approximately halfway between Savannah and Charleston.
Approximately 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, the park encompasses 5,000 acres of sandy beach, maritime forest, and saltwater marsh. It is classified as a true semitropical island.
The island got its name because it was once used for hunting deer, raccoon, and other small game animals and waterfowl. Once used as the hunting preserve for wealthy planters’ families, Hunting Island was renowned for its hunting parties that lasted several days.
Hunting Island possesses the best developed slash pine-palmetto forest in the state and is one of the best sites to observe South Carolina’s state tree, the Cabbage Palmetto, in its native habitat.
Cabbage palmettos stretch out onto the sands of the magnificent beach, which is more than 400 feet wide in places at low tide.
The beautiful beach is not the only attraction at Hunting Island. The salt marsh is one of the most productive habitats in the world. Rich in nutrients, the salt marsh provides food and shelter for many different life forms. It is the home of waterfowl, small mammals, and many amphibians and reptiles.
Most marine life is also directly or indirectly dependent on the salt marsh. Some, such as the shrimp, live and spawn in the sea as adults but come into the shallow productive waters of the salt marsh to mature. Others, such as the fiddler crab, spawn in the marshes; then the young swim out to sea where they remain until nearly grown.
Many animals spend their entire lives in the marsh while others visit the marsh for food. There are few places on earth where plant and animal life are so varied, so abundant, so unusual, and so fascinating.
Probably the most spectacular feature of Hunting Island is its 19th-century lighthouse, which stands with three remaining original structures in the middle of the park.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hunting Island Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in South Carolina that is publicly accessible. From the top of one of the most distinctive lighthouses in South Carolina, guests can stand 130 feet above the ground to take in the breathtaking, panoramic view of the Atlantic Coast and surrounding maritime forest.
The lighthouse tower is open for climbing; hours vary seasonally. For an admission of $2, visitors can climb the 167 steps and walk around the observation deck for a lofty view of the barrier island and surrounding seascape.
The lighthouse was closed for repairs in May 2003 when cracks were discovered in several of its cast-iron steps. In a renovation that spanned more than 18 months, construction crews not only repaired the cracks, but installed steel braces beneath them for reinforcement. Left unpainted, the silver-gray braces stand out in sharp contrast to the black cast-iron stairs. The contrast helps distinguish between the original structure and modern improvements, which protect the lighthouse’s historic integrity.
The original structure was built in 1859 and rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed during the Civil War. A unique feature of the lighthouse is that it was constructed of interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled should it ever need to be moved. Severe beach erosion made it necessary to relocate the lighthouse 1.3 miles inland in 1889.
RV and tent camping is available at the northern end of the park near the ocean. Each of the 200 sites has water and electrical hookups; 102 sites offer 20/30/50-amp electric service. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; other up to 28 feet. In addition 10 trail sites with access to water are available for tent campers. Camping reservations are available. Complimentary Wi-Fi is now available in the campground. Dump stations are located at the exit of each campground area.
To begin and end your day, be sure to catch the splendor of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and the sunset over the salt marsh.
Although plenty of activities can keep you occupied, the true beauty of Hunting Island is its atmosphere—a blend of sights and sounds that almost forces you to relax, to escape the rush of today’s life, to forget that the interstate is less than 30 minutes away.
The park is open year-round, and in the off season its solitude and charm are even more pronounced.
Hunting Island State Park
Admission: $5; children ages 6-15, $3
Lighthouse admission: $2
RV Camping: $17-38
Address: 2555 Sea Island Parkway, Hunting Island, SC 29920
Phone: (843) 838-2011
Directions: If traveling north on I-95, take Exit 8 (SR-170); if you’re traveling south, take Exit 42 (US-21 south); both routes leads through Beaufort (state park is 16 miles east of Beaufort on US-21)
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.