Southern Coastal Road Trip

If you are looking for something a little different to do on your next spring break, beat the summer heat, humidity, and bugs, and take a fabulous camping tour along the South Carolina and Georgia coast.

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These campgrounds fill fast, so we highly recommend booking a year out. Also, if your spring break falls during Saint Patrick's Day, and you are crowd-averse like us, then you may want to avoid Savannah during that time.

Here's our itinerary: 

Night 1 : Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina

Packing the night before is always a great idea, allowing for an early morning departure. We had time to stop off at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in South Carolina for the morning when the parking was still easy and before the crowds descended.

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, Columbia, SC

A well-planned, beautiful 170-acre zoo, take the morning to explore Riverbanks Zoo & Garden's diverse animal districts which include Africa, Asia, North America, Australia, Aquarium-Reptile Complex, Birdhouse, Ndoki Forest, Riverbanks Conservation Outpost, and Riverbanks Farm. It is best to feed the lorikeets first thing before their tummies are full. Check the daily schedule for animal demonstrations and feeding times. If you want to partake in the added rides or special attractions plan on a full day, but we were anxious to get to our campground so we stuck to seeing only the exhibits for a half-day visit.

BUDGET TIP: To get a discount, use your annual zoo pass or purchase online tickets in advance.

Edisto Beach State Park, Edisto Island, SC

A half day at the zoo allows for an on-site lunch or picnic at a local park. Three hours later will have you at Edisto Beach State Park and a generously sized beach access campsite if you've planned well enough in advance. Spend the afternoon walking the beach and setting up camp before an evening of yummy s'mores over a crackling fire. The campground has spotlessly clean, heated restrooms with hot showers, but sadly, no laundry facilities. For the premium price per night ($50-60/ night) and in a beach location, lack of laundry is an oversight in our never-to-be-humble opinion.

WARNING: Camp water is very salty and a pack of fearless raccoons roams the campground.

Night 2 : Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina

Spanish Mount-Scott Creek Loop Trail

As campgrounds go, Edisto Beach State Park is a remarkably quiet spread in the overnight hours. After breakfast, head out to explore the Edisto Beach State Park trails before the day heats up. A good warm-up hike is the two-mile loop on the flat, well maintained Spanish Mount-Scott Creek Trail. We enjoyed observing the maritime landscape with sabal palmettos, live oaks, and salt marshes so different from our Carolina Piedmont forest at home. Note: Few mosquitoes present in mid-March.

Edisto Island State Park Beach Time

After lunch we spent our time leisurely exploring this pristine, private beach - so we'll overlook the lack of laundry facilities. While the kids searched for seashells, the adults settled down to relax with our books.

Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve

A wonderful late afternoon outing is just four miles away down 174 to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve. After check-in at the registration kiosk (free admission) and picking up a driving map for the 6.5 mile auto-tour, you'll be on your way to explore this former cotton plantation turned nature preserve. A favorite stopping place was our hike to the driftwood beach - it felt like a deserted island complete with a driftwood teepee.

KEEP IN MIND: no restrooms, closed Tuesdays, no collecting of any sort, no vehicle larger than a 15-passenger van, and no dogs.

End the day with an evening at the beach and a quiet campfire.

Read our post on Edisto Beach State Park for more details about the campground and places we visited.

Night 3: Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Parris Island Museum, Beaufort, SC

We suggest leaving Edisto Island on the early side and head to the next stop on the coastal camping adventure at Hunting Island State Park. On the way make a stop at the Parris Island Museum. Learn about the history of the United States Marine Corps as well as the local history of the surrounding Port Royal community. A must watch is the film To Make a Marine which covers the recruitment and basic training process of a potential Marine.

FYI: Admission is free but the museum is located on an active military base - must be a US citizen with ID plus vehicle registration and insurance to enter.

Hunting Island State Park, Hunting Island, SC

Hunting Island State Park is the single most visited state park in South Carolina. Its popularity requires you to reserve a campsite a year in advance, and it is definitely worth it. Most all of the campsites are a short walk from the beach and playground as well as close in proximity to the clean bathhouse with flush toilets and hot showers. Again, the site is missing laundry facilities, but the beauty of the beach distracted us from its only flaw. At $55/night, the campsite is expensive for tent campers, but unlike Edisto Beach State Park, the camp water is deliciously sweet.

Nature Center and Nature Center Scenic Trail

After checking out the beach, take a short drive to the on-site Nature Center and enjoy viewing the exhibits which include native species such as diamond-backed terrapin, corn snake, king snake, and alligators. Leave yourselves a half hour for the experience. Just outside of the nature center pick up the 1 mile round trip Nature Center Scenic Trail to the newly formed Little Hunting Island created by 2016 Hurricane Matthew.

WARNING: Definitely fun to explore, it was also a bit hazardous with exposed pipes and metal debris so make sure to wear appropriate shoes. And of course, don't forget to carry plenty of drinking water.

Night 4: Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse

The Lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina

After you enjoy a quiet night at the well-patrolled campground, wake up early to another glorious Atlantic coast day--- the perfect time to visit the Hunting Island Lighthouse, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina.  At a budget-friendly price of $2 per person, beat the crowds to be the the first group of the morning (10am) to climb the 167 steps for an amazing aerial view of the South Carolina low-country. To preserve the historic structure, groups are kept to a six person maximum and staggered admission. We picked up the 50-lb bucket and tried to imagine carrying it filled with rendered pig fat up that long flight of steps daily!

Saint Helena Chapel of Ease Ruins

While heading into historic Beaufort, a short detour to the lovely and mysterious ruins of Saint Helena Chapel of Ease are a required stop. Built in the mid-1700's, this tabby-constructed chapel served the local plantation families on St. Helena Island who couldn't make it to the main church in Beaufort. After a wildfire in 1886, all that remains are the church walls and cemetery. Plan on spending 20-30 minutes on site.

Historic Beaufort, South Carolina Waterfront Park

Beaufort, South Carolina Riverfront

Afterwards, make your way into the coastal gem city of Beaufort (pronounced "BYOO-fert") and drive through to view the gorgeous antebellum homes and stroll along the waterfront. With numerous wooden porch swings available along the Beaufort River at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, stop to watch the sailboats gliding down the Intracoastal Waterway and enjoy some local eats.

Hunting Island State Park Beach Time

What is the beach without beach time? Spend the afternoon walking the beach combing for seashells (plentiful sand dollars and olive shells) and enjoying the warm sunshine. A family favorite found us exploring the tidal pools containing numerous hermit crabs. And that is when the fun began - the girls placed various sized shells down and watched for the next hour while the hermit crabs tried them on like they were at a clothing store looking for just the right outfit.

The Marshwalk Boardwalk Trail

Not wanting the day to end, we headed to Marshwalk Boardwalk Trail for sunset. Only a 1/4-mile stroll to a wooden dock with plenty of bench seating, our family quietly watched as the golden sun set over the salt marsh.

Read our post on Hunting Island State Park for details on places we visited and about the campground.

Night 5: Skidaway Island State Park, Georgia

Fort Pulaski National Monument, Savannah, Georgia

On route to Skidaway Island State Park, Georgia, we suggest first stopping at Fort Pulaski National Monument - an opportunity to study for a Junior Ranger badge and to learn more about another fine example of the Third System of Fortifications that dot coastal America. Stop off at the Visitor Center to watch the 20-minute film "The Battle for Fort Pulaski" before joining up with a fascinating ranger tour. Leave time for independent explorations of this remarkable fortress. 2-3 hours on-site. Picnic grounds are available in the park nearby.

Tybee Island Light Station & Museum, Tybee Island Georgia

Less than fifteen minutes from Fort Pulaski, drive to Georgia's tallest lighthouse, Tybee Island Light Station & Museum. At 145 feet high and with a first order Fresnel lens, its light can be seen from eighteen miles. In addition to hiking up the 178 steps for a scenic view, the three light keepers' cottages, a summer kitchen, and the Tybee Island Museum are all included in the Tybee Island Light Station experience.

Skidaway Island State Park, Savannah, Georgia

Last stop of the spring break vacation and what an amazing campground - spacious campsites, hot showers, playgrounds, dishwashing room, and laundry! There is a $5/vehicle fee that is good for the duration of the stay. Make sure you pick up the campground map when registering and check for coupons for local activities in the flyers.

Sandpiper and Avian Trail Loop

After the drive from Hunting Island and making camp, take the opportunity to stretch your legs with an easy 2-mile round trip hike through a maritime coastal forest with panoramic views of the salt marshes to finish the day. To our delight, we watched a sailboat tranquilly making its way down Skidaway River Narrows as evening approached.

Read our blogpost on Skidaway Island State Park for more details on the campground, Fort Pulaski, and Tybee Island Lighthouse.

Night 6: Skidaway Island State Park, Georgia

Savannah Riverfront

You'll want to leave a full day for your Savannah urban adventure, so start early and you'll easily find metered street parking near the riverfront after a short drive from Skidaway Island. Mid-March timing will likely give you lovely weather and blooming azaleas for a walking excursion through the cobblestone streets of this charming city. We stopped at the River Street Visitor Information Center for a city map and restroom break.

Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters

A must see stop in Savannah is a guided tour of the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters (one of three Telfair Museums). The stark difference between the impoverished slave quarters and the elegant mansion highlight the complicated relationship between the least and most powerful people in Savannah before the Civil War.

BUDGET TIP:  We belong to a museum with reciprocal benefits (NARM) so we got in free.

Lunch - Savannah Seafood Shack

Having built up an appetite, we headed over to the Savannah Seafood Shack which fortunately was just around the block. This casual, family-friendly restaurant served us up a delicious fried shrimp lunch with plentiful hushpuppies.

Telfair Academy

If you time it right you can finish your lunch, and walk just ten minutes to the Telfair Academy, the oldest public art museum in the South, and arrive for the 1pm guided tour. A friendly docent can give you a thorough and fascinating tour of the art galleries. We especially enjoyed the stories behind the collections. For those that are looking for the famous sculpture Bird Girl, she can be found here at the Telfair Academy.

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist

Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia

Another fifteen minute stroll passes you by several historic city squares to reach the French Gothic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. It is not hard to find with its ornate twin spires visible for blocks. A house of worship, we step inside to spend a few moments in prayer and light a candle for our loved ones. But we can't help marveling at the beauty present.

Forsyth Park

The last stop of the day - and one that certainly should not be missed – is Forsyth Park to enjoy the expansive greenery and the iconic fountain found at the north end of the park. Tourists and locals alike take time to spread out picnic blankets or to rest on the numerous benches.

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