45 miles SW of Downtown Charleston
Isolated, and offering a kind of melancholy beauty, Edisto Island is named after the Edisto tribe of Native Americans, now long gone. Paul Grimball was the first English settler, arriving here in 1683 (the tabby ruins of the Grimball House are still visible). By the late 18th century, Sea Island cotton had made the slave-holding plantation owners wealthy, and some houses from that era still stand. Today the island primarily attracts families from Charleston and the Lowcountry to its white sandy beaches. Popular activities include shrimping, surf-casting, deep-sea fishing, and sailing.
Edisto Beach State Park (www.southcarolinaparks.com/edistobeach), 8377 State Cabin Rd., sprawls across 1,255 acres, opening onto 2 miles of beach. There are also signposted nature trails through forests of live oak, hanging Spanish moss, and palmetto trees, and an ancient shell midden (Spanish Mount Point), created by the Edisto Indians around 2,000 B.C., made up mostly of oyster shells. Enjoy a picnic lunch under one of the shelters or visit the Interpretive Center (Tues–Sat 9am–4pm; tel. 843/869-4430) featuring interactive displays on the ACE Basin estuarine reserve, the largest such natural reserve on the East Coast.
Admission to the park is $5 for adults, $3 for ages 6 to 15, and free for ages 5 and under. The park is open daily 8am to 6pm.The park also has 111 campsites with full hookups and 5 primitive campsites for tents. Campsites cost $21 to $38 per night (the price is the same for RV hookups). Primitive tent sites are $15 to $20 per night. Call tel. 843/869-2756 for reservations.
Swamp Boat Adventures
The 163-acre swamps of Cypress Gardens, 3030 Cypress Gardens Rd. (U.S. 52), Moncks Corner (tel. 843/553-0515; www.cypressgardens.info), some 24 miles north of Charleston, were once used as a freshwater reserve for Dean Hall, a huge Cooper River rice plantation, and were given to the city in 1963. Today the giant cypress trees draped with Spanish moss provide an unforgettable setting for flat-bottom swamp boats that glide among their knobby roots. Footpaths in the garden wind through a profusion of azaleas, camellias, daffodils, and other colorful blooms. Visitors share the swamp with alligators, pileated woodpeckers, wood ducks, otters, barred owls, and other abundant species. The gardens are worth a visit at any time of year, but they’re at their most colorful in March and April. Also on-site are a reptile center, aquarium, and aviary, plus a butterfly house. Admission is $10 adults, $9 seniors 65 and over, $5 children 6 to 12, free for children 5 and under. Boat rides are an additional $5. The gardens are open daily 9am to 5pm.