Camping at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

One of the most visited state parks in South Carolina, the semi-tropical Hunting Island State Park offers a relaxing camping experience with white sandy beaches, spectacular marsh views, and a historic lighthouse. If that's not enough, only a short 17-mile drive from Hunting Island State Park, you can explore the charming southern city of Beaufort and the variety of nearby attractions.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
32.35854, -80.45212
State Parks

Hunting Island State Park Campground

Confirming our earlier prediction that the South Carolina State Parks run a tight ship, Hunting Island State Park is truly a wonder of cleanliness, efficiency, and courtesy. Hunting Island itself is a 5,000-acre barrier island featuring five miles of undeveloped pristine beachfront with thousands of acres of salt marsh and maritime forests to explore.

Beach front at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Easy check-in with super friendly staff, this quiet 100-campsite facility is well maintained and frequently patrolled by the park rangers. The ocean is just a short walk away from the campground - with tidal pools, very few people, sand dollars, numerous olive shells, and sea urchins. A family favorite ocean activity was watching the very entertaining hermit crabs exchange their shells on a quest to locate the perfect home - until an even better one came along.

Hunting Island State Park Campground Things to Know: 

  • Advance reservations needed - Hunting Island State Park is the single most visited state park in South Carolina.
  • All reservations have a two day minimum - $55/night
  • No laundry facilities

Hunting Island State Park Nature Center Scenic Trail

Fallen trees of a boneyard beach on Little Hunting Island, at Hunting Island State Park, SC

Nature Center Scenic Trail is a 1.5 mile round trip hike to the newly formed Little Hunting Island –  one of the very few positives of 2016's Hurricane Matthew which otherwise destroyed a huge swath of the eastern seaboard. On the north end of the beach are recovering oyster beds while the south end has the “Boneyard Beach." Both locations have the look and feel of a Hollywood deserted island movie set, are fun to explore, and could easily be made into a full day excursion.  No drinking water or facilities are on Little Hunting Island, but there are exposed pipes and hurricane-produced debris among the fallen trees – so shoes are a must.

The Hunting Island State Park Nature Center itself has live animal exhibits – including a variety of native turtles including the threatened Diamond-backed terrapin, plus box turtles, corn snakes, king snakes, alligators, toads, and various other reptiles and amphibians.  Our family reptile expert reports that all the critters looked exceptionally well taken care of and that the displays were well done. Another feather in the cap of the SCDNR.

Hunting Island State Park Nature Center & Trail Things to Know:

  • Nature Center Hours: 9am-5pm daily; live animal exhibits
  • Fishing Tackle Loaner Program: borrow rod and reel at Nature Center for use on the pier.
  • No drinking water or facilities on Little Hunting Island

Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse

If climbing every lighthouse on the Atlantic is on your bucket list, the Hunting Island Lighthouse needs to be on it. The only lighthouse that can be climbed in South Carolina is in Hunting Island State Park. It is a great specimen and value at a reasonable $2/person to climb the 167 stairs to the top where breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline await.

Family walking to Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse under a brilliant blue sky

Built in 1859, the Hunting Island Lighthouse was later moved one mile to its present location to avoid the encroaching tide. The beam, a second order Fresnel light, was powered by fifty pounds of rendered pig fat which had to be carried up the 167 wrought iron stairs every day by the lighthouse keepers. A technical wonder of its day, the light from the lens was visible for 17 miles.

Several outbuildings and knowledgeable park volunteers help visitors understand the very lonely and secluded lives of the immigrant families who tended the lighthouse until is was decommissioned in 1933.

Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse Things to Know:

  • Hours: 10am-4:45pm
  • $2/person – maximum six people in a group
  • 44" minimum height requirement.

Hunting Island State Park Marshwalk Boardwalk Trail

Sunset over the salt marshes at the Marshwalk Boardwalk on Hunting Island State Park, SC Trail deck

On one of our more memorable outings while camping at Hunting Island State Park, we took the the 1/2 mile round trip Marshwalk Boardwalk Trail to watch a glorious sunset with panoramic views over the thousands of acres of salt marsh. The large deck with plenty of comfortable seating also provides an excellent location for crabbing. Bring warm clothes in the off-season and plan for mosquitoes during the warmer months. And of course, leave plenty of space on your camera to capture your own gorgeous low country sunset.

Nearby Attractions to Hunting Island State Park: 

The Parris Island Museum

Rare is the occasion that we just drive from one place to another without stopping to see something great.  If there is an interesting museum, nature center, or hike on the way from point A to point B, Campfire Delight will find it and South Carolina has many diversions worth seeking out.

The Parris Island Museum is a combo sort of experience that covers the history of the United States Marine Corps (USMC), and the surrounding Port Royal region. A self-guided tour begins in the rotunda with a timeline tracing the evolution of Parris Island from its Native American beginnings to a Naval Station to Marine Barracks to finally a Marine Corps Recruit Depot.  Watch the fascinating film on the recruitment and basic training experience To Make a Marine.

Parris Island Museum exhibit on Marine basic training, Beaufort, South Carolina

The east wing of the museum features exhibits on the local history of the area from the Ice Age to American Revolution to the Civil War/Reconstruction to Spanish American War. The main hall outside the Native American exhibit even includes a centuries old dugout canoe which dates back to 1300-1420 A.D!

Upstairs is the Modern Marine Wing – traditions, military history, and modern methods in Marine missions from First World War to the present day are all presented in bright, beautifully designed, Papyrus-less font displays. Weapons, uniforms, and other unique artifacts help bring to life the many military engagements that the USMC has been involved.

Parris Island Museum Things to Know:

  • Free Admission
  • The museum is on an active military base – must be US citizen and have ID ready at the armed gate as well as your vehicle registration and proof of insurance.

Saint Helena Chapel of Ease Ruins

At first glance the ruins of Saint Helena Chapel of Ease immediately makes you think of ancient church structures that you might find in the English countryside and little about that  impression, except the presence of Spanish moss, will change as you wander the grounds.

Ruins under Spanish moss laden live oak tree called Saint Helena Chapel of Ease outside of Beaufort, SC

Built around 1740, tradition has it that the chapel was destroyed by a forest fire in 1886 and never rebuilt. Designated as a Chapel of Ease to serve church members - mainly plantation owners and their families - who were unable to make the trip to the main church of St. Helena in Beaufort some 10 miles northwest.  Graceful brick arches, original plaster walls and centuries old graves all contribute to the beauty of this time worn ruin. The grounds are visually fascinating and a prime example of tabby construction popular throughout the South.

Historic Beaufort, South Carolina Waterfront

It would be hard to bypass a visit to historic Beaufort on any trip to the region.  At the very least drop into the waterfront to take in the sights of passing sailboats as they make their way down the Intracoastal Waterway.  If you're lucky you might even witness the Woods Memorial drawbridge open to allow for some of the taller masted boats to pass underneath.

Beaufort waterfront with ships in the harbor under clouds

Grab a coffee or ice-cream and enjoy one of the wooden porch swings along the Beaufort River waterfront. Parking is a reasonable $1/hour and carriage, kayak, and bike tours are available on-site to tour historic Beaufort. First established around 1512, Beaufort is best known for its Civil War-era antebellum mansions (including the Big Chill House) and its Southern charm.

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REI tent at campsite at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Two girls walking by the lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Upward view of the white and black lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Two people looking out from top of lighthouse at the Atlantic Ocean in Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Walking the Marshwalk Boardwalk Trail at sunset on Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Marshwalk Boardwalk Trail at sunset on Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Chape of Ease ruins surrounded by blue sky, live oaks, Spanish moss near Beaufort, South Carolina
Exhibit on Battles of the Pacific at the Parris Island Museum, Beaufort, South Carolina
View of Beaufort waterfront harbor with boats and ships
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*Tent campsites only; accurate at time of publication
2555 Sea Island Pkwy
Hunting Island
South Carolina
When you register be prepared to show your reservations confirmation and photo ID.
2555 Sea Island Parkway
Hunting Island
Admission: $2/person (plus state park entry fee)
Hours: 10am-4:45 (summer); 10am-3:45pm (off-season) daily; closed Christmas
Restrictions: 44" minimum height; six people tour at one time
Only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina
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111 Panama Street
Admission: Free
Hours: 10 am - 4:30 pm daily, closed New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
Active military base - need to show a driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance (US Citizens only)
Phone: 843-228-2951
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Near Saturns Circle and Lands End Road
St Helena Island
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Private property of St Helena's Church in Beaufort
No climbing on ruins or gravemarkers; no touching ruins or littering
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