Home » 2002 Spring Break on Hunting Island

Hunting Island State Park, SC

Saturday, April 20, 2002 - 4:00am by Lolo
186 miles and 4 hours from our last stop - 7 night stay


Kids "skim boarding" under palmetttosKids "skim boarding" under palmetttosWe were back! Hunting Island had captured our hearts so much the previous two years that we decided to return for yet another spring break on this incredibly pristine island. Usually, our travels involve long treks across the continent with far too brief stops at some very beautiful places before it is time to move on. This, however, was something very different. Seven days with nothing to do but kick back and relax under the palmetto trees. I could definitely get used to this.

Our friends, the Hubers, were also back with us for another year, which was a good thing, because we always had so much fun together. Our boys had practically grown up with Whitney and Kyle and we had spent many family outings and vacations together. Every time they got together, they had a great time. Their company really added a lot of laughs to our trips, such as the night their dining fly blew away and they had to chase it around the campground. Now I remember why I like RV camping better than tent camping.

What I like most about Hunting Island is that there is absolutely no commercialization of any sort. The entire six-mile island is a State Park, which means there are no fancy condominiums, restaurants, or golf courses—just miles of beaches and bike trails—my idea of heaven. The only place to stay on the island is the campground on the northern tip, set amongst the palmettos at the edge of a beautiful white-sand beach. This was to be our home for the next seven days.

Boys boogie boarding Hunting IslandBoys boogie boarding Hunting IslandWe quickly fell into a rhythm and pretty much each wonderful day blended into the next. The mornings were for exercising and exploring, and believe it or not, this small island had plenty of places to explore. Although Herb and I did go for a few long runs, our usual mode of exploration was by mountain bike.

A trail that traversed the entire island started from the entrance to our campground and wound up and down through a forest of oaks, pines, and palmettos. The occasional tree root to jump over and trees to weave in and out of made the ride a bit more exciting. After about two miles or so, this trail came out into a parking lot by the Visitor Center where we would stop to say hello to the alligator that hung out in the small swamp before continuing on our the way. Depending on what we felt like that day, we would choose from one of the several routes from the Visitor Center.

Kids under Palmetto Palm on beachKids under Palmetto Palm on beachIf we were lazy or it was too hot, we would just go out onto the beach and ride back to the campground along the sand. Riding along the beach was a novelty for us. The sand along the beaches in the northeast is much too soft, but on this beach the sand was packed hard enough to ride on. It was so much fun weaving in and out of palmettos along the beach. Just short of our campground was the historic Hunting Island lighthouse, where we would often stop to climb its 167 spirally steps to look out over our island paradise.

Another choice from the Visitor Center, if we were feeling more ambitious, was to continue south on the Nature Trail through the forest once again and eventually, after about 3 miles out to the Fishing Pier and Nature Center at the very southern tip of the island. Here we would lock up our bikes and walk out onto the 1,000 foot pier that jutted out into Fripp Inlet and see what the fishermen were catching that day. The kids also enjoyed stopping in the Nature Center to look at the tanks of snakes, turtles, and other reptiles native to the island.

From the Nature Center, you could either go out on the road and along the salt marsh area or back along the lagoon that cuts into the southern end of the island. My particular favorite was the trail that ran alongside the lagoon for about a mile or two. The best way for me to describe this section of the island is to imagine an episode of Gilligan’s Island. At the end of the lagoon, we would cut over to the beach and ride along the sand the 3 miles or so back to the campground.

Kids making drip sand castlesKids making drip sand castlesAnd that was just our mornings. We spent our afternoons at the beach by our campground. This was a particularly warm week in South Carolina, well into the 90s most days, so the shade of the palmetto trees and the warm water were very inviting. By far, the most popular kid activity at the beach (mine was reading under a palmetto tree) was boogie boarding. The waves here were perfect—not particularly large, but they start out far and roll along without breaking for a very long ride right up onto the shore. They must have done this for hours non-stop. When they were tired of that there were plenty of other things to entertain them, such as football or Frisbee or skimboarding along the water’s edge. Tommy and Kyle also liked hanging out in the little warm pool of water left behind by the tide. It must have been about 85 degrees in there. They would just lie there on their stomachs, making sand-drip castles.

Some afternoons, we would leave the beach a little early to join one of the ranger-guided walks along the beach. The kids really enjoyed these much more than I expected, and they were the ones usually initiating leaving the beach to go on them. By the end of the week, they knew a whole lot more about the animal and plant life on the beach than when we arrived.

Boys and Whitney with bikes on beachBoys and Whitney with bikes on beachThey also knew a whole lot more about transsexuals, because I’m pretty sure one about halfway through the process joined us on one of the walks. I’d like to think of myself as very open to all lifestyles, but I couldn’t help but be taken aback when the 6 foot person next to me introduced his/herself to the group in a very deep baritone voice as “Stacy”. She wore a lovely pink scarf around her neck, which she was adjusting with a pair of hands that could have palmed a basketball. She was extremely friendly and I wish her all the best in whatever direction her life leads.

Another amusing episode during one of our ranger walks involved a husband and wife, who were obviously very avid birdwatchers. They told the group that they had traveled most of the east coast recording the various birds that they had seen, but they had yet to bag the holy grail of birdwatchers—the lovely painted bunting, the most spectacularly colored of all North American songbirds. About halfway through our walk, the couple excused themselves and went off on their own. Five minutes couldn’t have passed before our ranger pointed towards a bush and we all turned to see a beautifully colored bird with blue head, red belly, and green back—the elusive painted bunting.

Happy Campers at waterfrontHappy Campers at waterfrontEvenings at Hunting Island were also peaceful, a time for hanging out by the campsite and barbecuing. I love the activity of a campground at dinner time—lots of friendly people smiling after a wonderful day of vacationing, great cooking smells coming from various campsites, the kids playing delightfully (usually). This year the kids came up with the idea of trying to fit all four of them on one bike. Andrew and Tommy had brought along their trick bikes, which have pegs coming out of the axles, which are meant to be stood on. Andrew drove the bike, Whitney stood on the back pegs holding onto his shoulders, Kyle sat on the front handlebars, and Tommy squished himself in front of Andrew. You couldn’t even see Tommy, and I’m sure it was not very comfortable for him. Anyway, they rode around the campground like this, much to the amusement of our fellow campers. It looked like they were working on a circus act.

Even sleeping at Hunting Island was wonderful. However, I did have to convince Herb not to turn on the air conditioning because I wanted to hear the surf. The breeze off the water cooled us off just fine and even he admitted I was right—I love that.

Tom videotaping hermit crabTom videotaping hermit crabUnlike last year, we actually did leave our island paradise one day to go into the historic town of Beaufort for lunch. On the way there, the kids convinced us to stop at Barefoot Bubba’s Beachwear, a large surf shop on Harbor Island. We were hardly in the place 5 minutes before the boys spotted a sign for hermit crabs for $5 and immediately launched into their routine about needing a pet. Now we don’t have a pet, mainly because of our travel schedule and Herb’s allergies, and Tommy tries to make us feel guilty about that as often as he can. So, $38 later, we were equipped with 2 hermit crabs (each with a very brightly painted shell), 2 little plastic habitats, gravel, a sponge for each little creature, and some hermit crab food. They are such odd creatures. Andrew bought a very large one, which he named Bubba, after its previous home. Tommy’s was quite a bit smaller but had a very pretty white shell with a black spiral painted on it. For some reason, I don’t know why, he named his Gary. Bubba and Gary kept them quite occupied on the rest of the drive into Beaufort, but I had to tell them that they wouldn’t be joining us for lunch—the crabs that is.

We had a very nice lunch in a restaurant called The Bank, because that is what it once was. We chose to eat outside, despite the heat. I’m glad we did, because about halfway through our meal, the Blue Angels were practicing and put on quite an aerial show overhead.

Kids dining in BeaufortKids dining in BeaufortAfter lunch we walked along the waterfront awhile looking at the beautiful historic homes and boats in the harbor. Beaufort lies along the Intercoastal Waterway, so it is a very popular stop for boaters. Herb kept reminding me that cruising the Intercoastal from up north down to Florida is something that I will be doing with him some day. That’s sounds fine to me as long as he takes me on a sailboat as cozy and comfortable as my motorhome.

The boys were getting anxious to get back to Bubba and Gary who were patiently waiting in the motorhome—they didn’t have much of a choice. Back at the campsite, the boys took them out of their little habitats and held hermit crab races on the picnic table. I think they have already gotten their money’s worth out of them. Herb thinks not.


Hunting Island campground beachHunting Island campground beachHunting Island State Park is located on a 3-mile barrier island just east of Beaufort, South Carolina. It offers one of the most tropical settings to be found on the entire South Carolina coast. This 5000-acre park contains 3 miles of pristine sandy beaches along the Atlantic shoreline, salt marshes, a lagoon, and a dense forest of oak, bayberry, and palmetto. Storms have eroded much of the shoreline, bringing the lush forests closer to the sea.

A good place to begin a trip to the island is at the Visitor Center, which has exhibits on the cultural history of the island, its beach habitats, and the historic lighthouse. Right across from the Visitor Center is a small swamp where you are very likely to spot an alligator or two.

Another interesting stop is the historic Hunting Island lighthouse, the only lighthouse in South Carolina open to the public. For a $2 fee, you can climb its 167 spiral steps for a tremendous view of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding marshes. A unique feature of this lighthouse is that it was constructed of cast iron and designed to be dismantled and moved in case of erosion. In 1889, the lighthouse was moved 1 ¼ miles inland to its current location. The lighthouse was in operation until 1933.

Herb and LoloHerb and LoloFrom the lighthouse, it is a short walk to the beach where there are picnic shelters, restrooms, and a concessionaire. The beaches of Hunting Island are nesting grounds for Loggerhead turtles. Around mid-May, Loggerheads come up on the beach, dig a hole, and lay about 100 – 160 eggs each before returning to the sea. At night, Hunting Island personnel comb the beach for new nests and bring the eggs back to a hatching facility, safe from predators. After hatching, they are released to the sea.

The western part of the island contains the salt marshes, which many people believe to be the most beautiful part of the island. The Hunting Island marsh boardwalk extends across the marsh to a small island with a magnificent platform for observing the wildlife. The wildlife and the beautiful sunsets make this a lovely place to come in the evenings.

On the south end of the island, the beach is sandwiched between the ocean and a long inlet lagoon. The lagoon is home to hundreds of birds and other wildlife species—deer, raccoons, blue herons, egrets, pelicans, sand pipers, etc. It is also a great spot to crab or to fish for trout, bass, and puppy drum. The jungle-like setting of the lagoon was the filming site for the battle scenes in “Forrest Gump.”

Near the lagoon is a 2.3 mile nature trail (good for hiking or biking) that meanders through the maritime forest and along the lagoon.

Lolo sun bathing on beachLolo sun bathing on beachOn the very southern tip of the island is a fishing pier which extends 1,120 feet out into Fripp Inlet. Fishing from the pier is excellent for drum, shark, whiting, trout, and bass. Next to the pier is a Nature Center with exhibits on the local marine life. There are saltwater tanks with live snakes, turtles, and other reptiles.

On the northern tip of the island is a 200-site beachfront campground nestled amidst the palmettos. Each campsite has water and electric.

The island is totally explorable by bike. In addition to the 8 miles of trails, the sand on the beach is hard enough to ride on. From the campground, there is a 1-mile bumpy, dirt trail through a semi-tropical forest to the Visitor Center. From there, a trail continues south along the lagoon and eventually out to the fishing pier.