The Lowcountry of South Carolina is known for its natural beauty. From driftwood beaches to Cypress swamps, the region’s diverse landscape has inspired art, literature, and film.
South Carolina’s Lowcountry region encompasses the coastal land that is at or near sea level. The most convenient way to see the region is by car along Highway 17, with a side trip to Beaufort. There are several state parks along the coast. Charleston County also has an incredible network of local parks that are inexpensive to visit.
Here are some of my favorite outdoorsy places to explore around Charleston:
Magnolia Plantation and Audubon Swamp Garden
Dating from the late 1600s, the gardens at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens are an abundant maze of azaleas, camellias, and other colorful flowers along footpaths and picturesque bridges. To explore the Audubon Swamp Garden you’ll need to pay extra, but I think it is worth it. A blackwater swamp of Cypress and Gum trees, the swamp is home to alligators, turtles, and many species of birds and waterfowl. There are boardwalks through the swamp so that visitors can explore by foot. Dogs are welcome at Magnolia Plantation, but not allowed in the swamp garden.
James Island County Park
A local favorite, this park offers everything from rock wall climbing to kayaking. However, my favorite activity to do there is rent a bicycle and ride on the many paved trails. If you’re looking to camp, the park has one of the best campgrounds in the area. There’s also rustic 3-bedroom cottages you can rent starting at $169/night.
The Center for Birds of Prey
This is one of my favorite off-the-beaten-path places to visit in Charleston. Located off of Highway 17 north of Mount Pleasant, this is a great place to see birds of prey from all over the world. Guided tours are offered year-round every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. You should also check out their flight demonstrations, offered on the same days at 11:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. We saw hawks, eagles, owls, and kites in action at an up close (but not too close) vantage point.
Caw Caw Interpretive Center
Today a county park, the land of Caw Caw swamp was once comprised of several 18th- and 19th-century rice plantations. Carved out of the cypress-tupelo swamp were rice fields worked by enslaved people, who cleared the land, dug trenches, leveled the fields, and built embankments. Still evident now are the earthen dikes, rice trunks, and canals. There are walking paths throughout the park for easy exploring. If you go on a warm day, there’s a good chance you will see an alligator. The park is located on Highway 17 south of Charleston.
Boat Ride to Bulls Island
Bulls Island is the largest of four barrier islands within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The beach is unspoiled and pristine, littered with sea shells and driftwood. There are no cars on the island, and only a handful of structures still standing. Visitors can access the nature preserve by boat through Coastal Expeditions. The boat ride takes about 30 minutes to the island.
About an hour’s drive south of Charleston, Botany Bay is a wildlife preserve on Edisto Island. The beach is wild and rugged, and the palmetto trees and driftwood are decorated with shells collected and placed by visitors. From the parking area, it’s a half mile walk to the beach. There’s also a short driving tour around the island. Make sure to check the tide schedule and visitor hours before you go.