Hunting Island
Credit: Copyright Mark Newsome

Located among South Carolina's famous Sea Islands, Hunting Island is a small island with about 4 miles of Atlantic coastline. It is about 40 miles south along the coast from Charleston, and about a 15 mile drive southeast of Beaufort, South Carolina. The Island is home to one of South Carolina's most frequently visited State Parks - the Hunting Island State Park. While there are tons of reasons to visit the Park, three reasons in particular will have you planning your next visit: the beach, the forest, and the lighthouse.

The Beach

The Park is home to about 4 miles of beach on it's east side along the Atlantic Ocean. The beach is easily accessible from many of the parking areas and is well-known as a great spot to search for shells. While every tide and wave will change the selections, visitors to the beach might expect to find an array of shells, even the elusive sand dollar and star fish. Urchins, sea fans, sponges, sea horses are also a possibility, but please make sure nothing you decide to take home is alive or contains living creatures. 

The beach is easy to reach, comfortable, and often not crowded. There are a number of small jetties along the beach in the Park, and swimmers should use caution not to get too close. The beach at the north end of the shoreline is covered with fallen palms, and while it is not great for sunbathing or swimming it has a mysterious look about it that will no doubt have you reaching for your camera.

The Forest

Hunting Island State Park's dense maritime forest might be the most unusual site for folks on first-time visits to the area. Once entering the park, you'll be immediately struck by the canopy of tall South Carolina pines, and the forest floor is covered with pine needles in a fashion that almost appears to have been placed there by expert grounds keepers. 

Hunting Island Maritime Forest
Credit: Copyright - Mark Newsome

While dense pines are not at all unusual for South Carolina, what will strike you is the thick undergrowth of palms, and the tall Palmettos rising into and just below the canopy of pines. Fans of Tolkien might even call this a tropical version of Middle Earth.

Over the years, Park officials have added trails and sturdy boardwalks through the forest to give visitors easy passage, especially from the parking areas to the beach. For many, walking along these boardwalks will be a highlight of a visit. 

The Lighthouse

Perhaps the Park's most famous landmark is the much-photographed Hunting Island Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is located near the beach on the north side of the Park, adjacent to plenty of parking. For a small fee of $2.00 per climber you can climb the 167 steps to the top of the Lighthouse for amazing views. 

View from the top of the Hunting Island Lighthouse
Credit: Copyright - Mark Newsome

Originally constructed in 1859, the Lighthouse was destroyed during the War Between the States and was rebuilt in the 1870s.  It has been maintained in wonderful shape by the Park and the iron steps to the top are an interesting feature in themselves.

The view is really unbelievable, but prepare for a little bit of vertigo. The top appears completely safe, but you really know your at the top and you can feel just a little exposed. Enjoy the view though and don't forget to take plenty of photographs.

South Carolina Lighthouses (Images of America)
Amazon Price: $21.99 $9.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 17, 2016)

Getting There

To reach the Hunting Island State Park, just drive southeast on Highway 21 out of Beaufort, across the bridge from downtown onto Lady Island. Continue to follow 21 onto St. Helena Island and then about 15 miles from Beaufort, you'll cross onto Hunting Island. To reach the beach and the Lighthouse follow the signs once you reach the Island and take a left towards the main entrance/guard house where you'll pay the small fee to enter the Park.

While they are of course subject to change, the fees are currently rather reasonable:

Adults: $5.00
SC Seniors: $3.25
Children 6-15: $3.00
Children 5 & under: Free

Park hours are Monday through Sunday 6:00am through 6:00pm except during Daylight Savings Time when closing time is extended to 9:00pm.

To reach Beaufort simply take one of several exits off Interstate 95 in that area about half way between Savannah, Georgia and the intersection of Interstate 95 and Interstate 26 near Charleston.

Beaufort is about a 30 minute drive off Interstate 95.

Where to stay

The Park itself has a highly rated campground that is a favorite of many. The campground has both tent and RV spaces with tent sites going for under $20.00 per night and spaces for RVs up to 40 feet going for $25.00 and under per night. The campground is located at the park's north end and has restroom facilities, hot showers and dressing rooms, two dump stations for RVs, pay phones, sheltered picnic areas and a small convenience store.

From the Park's website:

"Check in time is 2 pm. Check out time is 12 noon. The length of stay can be from two nights to a maximum of 14 consecutive nights. Pets are allowed but must be on a 6' or less leash that is under your control. No alcoholic beverages allowed. Fires must be in the approved rings. Please do not bring firewood, get it locally"

Reservations can be made by calling 1-866-345-7275 or if checking on availability with less than 24 hours from your desired arrival call 843-838-2011.

Outside the Park, there are tons of vacation rentals in the larger area or you can head back into Beaufort for a wide range of choices from comfortable chain hotels to charming one-of-a-kind bed and breakfasts. A search for "Beaufort, South Carolina Accommodations" will give you a wide range of choices.

What else to do in the area

Beaufort is a natural spot to explore along with a trip to Hunting Island.

You can always start with a walk along the Beaufort River at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Many of Bay Street restaurants and bays also have entrances on the waterfront side and a nice afternoon and evening can be enjoyed stopping in at various venues. 

A horse drawn carriage ride is also a great way to enjoy a afternoon in Beaufort - as is simply walking around the historic district within a few blocks of the waterfront. Bay Street has a eclectic selections of shop, bars, and restaurants to enjoy. A little further into town you can tour the Beaufort National Cemetery. A number of popular films have been produced in the area and with just a little investigation you can find some of the locations where famous scenes have been shot (including at least one awarding winning film shot on Hunting Island).

Road To Hunting Island, SC (Images of America (Arcadia Publishing))
Amazon Price: $18.99 $14.96 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 17, 2016)

While many great reasons exist to visit Hunting Island State Park, three that are sure to please include the beach, the forest, and the Hunting Island Lighthouse. Be sure to plan your next visit today!