Camping at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Surprisingly remote, unexpectedly beautiful, and dripping with southern charm and Spanish moss, a camping trip to Hunting Island State Park will have you rethinking your impression of South Carolina and have you wondering what took you so long to come around.
So often when you think of South Carolina, you might never make it past visions of I-95, South of the Border, and Myrtle Beach, as these are the things most people see when they cruise through 'the other' Carolina. It certainly has been our experience, and we've lived on the central East Coast going on 50 years. For us it has just been another state to go through on the way to Georgia and Florida. But this is the camping trip to Hunting Island State Park that changed all that – for good.
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 sub-tropical barrier island featuring five miles of undeveloped pristine beachfront with thousands of acres of salt marsh and maritime forests to explore.
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 camp - 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 exchanging shells on a quest to locate the perfect home - until an even better one comes 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
Nature Center Scenic Trail is a 1.5 mile round trip through a thick sabal palmetto low-country scrub that empties at 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” look. 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. There is no drinking water or facilities to be found once you leave the Nature center and 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, fish, alligators, toads, and various other reptiles and amphibians. Certainly enough to enthrall the reptile and amphibian lovers in your crew. Our resident 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, and 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.
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Hunting Island Lighthouse, built in 1859, was moved one mile in 1889 to its present location to avoid the encroaching tide. The beam was a second order Fresnel light 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 some very knowledgeable park volunteers help visitors understand the very lonely 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
On one of our most memorable outings while camping at Hunting Island State Park, we took the the 1/2 mile round trip Marshwalk Boardwalk Trail to watch a sunset that we won't soon forget. In fact, it's the hike and sunset that forever changed our opinion of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Unobstructed panoramic views out over several thousands of acres of salt marsh with the Harbor River beyond. If crabbing is your thing, then it is an excellent location with a large deck that juts out into the salt marsh and plenty of comfortable seating. Bring warm clothes in the off-season, and plan for mosquitoes during the warmer months. Leave plenty of space on your camera to capture a gorgeous Lowcountry sunset.