Home » 2001 Spring Break on Hunting Island

Huntington Beach State Park / Brookgreen Gardens, SC

Saturday, April 28, 2001 - 7:00am by Lolo
163 miles and 3.5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


After leaving Hunting Island, we decided that rather than drive a good chunk of the 15 hours towards home (the sensible thing), we would squeeze a little more fun out of this vacation by stopping for the night at Huntington Beach State Park, just 3 ½ hours north of Hunting Island. That would leave an awful lot of driving for tomorrow, but we fallen in love with Huntington Beach and Brookgreen Gardens on a visit two years ago (while still in our car camping phase) and were anxious to visit it again.

Herb and boys imitating statuesHerb and boys imitating statuesKnowing that getting an available campsite there was not a given, we left Hunting Island early enough to at least get a shot at one of the first-come, first-serve campsites. Fortunately, we were able to get one and it was even near the beach. However, rather than spend the day on the beach (we had had so many wonderful beaching days at Hunting Island), we decided to do some exploring by bike instead. There are some truly wonderful destinations in and around Huntington Beach.

We crossed the highway on our bikes and entered the absolutely fabulous Brookgreen Gardens, the site of the first public sculpture gardens in America. These gardens were designed back in the 1930s by the sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband, who purchased this land as well as what is today Huntington Beach State Park. I guess they had such an extensive sculpture collection that they needed a really big place to display it. The gardens cover 50 acres and contain more than 900 sculptures, spanning the entire history of American sculpture. The walkways through the gardens are designed in the shape of a butterfly, all leading back to a central garden area. The result is an incredible blend of nature and art, which was surprisingly appreciated by our 9 and 11-year-old boys. There was also an indoor gallery with an exhibit of beautifully wood-carved duck decoys and other birds.

The grounds of Brookgreen were lovely to bike ride around. In addition to the 50-acre garden area, there were over 9,000 acres of forested swamplands, salt marshes, and freshwater swamps. After all, this was once a rice plantation, and Brookgreen has tried to preserve that part of its history. One of the first stops along our ride was a boardwalk leading out to an overlook of a rice field. In addition to a plaque explaining what we were looking at, there was a button just waiting for little boys to press. Out came the voice of a male slave telling what life was like for him on this land 150 years ago. How different our experience in this beautiful and serene place was to those poor souls of long ago.

We continued riding our bikes towards the Lowcountry Wildlife Preserve section of Brookgreen. First we came to the Domestics Animal exhibit, which featured some of the historic rare breed animals that were commonly found on plantations in the 18th and 19th century. They looked like ordinary cows, horses, sheep, mules, and chickens to me, but what do I know about farm animals.

The boys really enjoyed the Cypress Aviary, which came next. To enter the aviary, we had to go through a double gate system, which prevented the birds from flying out when you opened the gate. I’m not sure why they would want to escape—they had it pretty nice in there. The aviary was built over a lovely cypress swamp and the enclosure netting was so high that their captivity was barely noticeable. We saw egrets, great blue herons, ibises, and several different varieties of ducks. We exited through the other side of the aviary and continued on a loop road which took us past other animals native to this area. We saw river otters delightfully playing in their pond, alligators lounging lazily in their swamp, and aviaries with your tougher variety of birds, like hawks and eagles. There was even a fox glade, a wild turkey exhibit, and a white-tailed deer savannah.

I can’t say enough about Brookgreen Gardens. It is such an incredibly unique place that you just have to see it for yourself.

Having spent a good part of the day at Brookgreen Gardens, we rode back across the highway to our campsite near the beach. After dinner we rode the short distance over to Atalaya, the old gray Moorish castle which was once the Huntington’s winter home. This place must have been something in its day, but sadly it is now in much need of repair. There were no tours given that evening as everyone inside was bustling around in preparation for a wedding to be held there the next day. What a romantic place for a wedding! Instead, we wandered the gray-stone passageways ourselves. It was pretty hard to get lost as the building was a square with a large, open inner court in the center. While not exactly cozy, it was quite impressive.

What was cozy, though, was one more night falling to sleep to the sound of the surf.


Huntington Beach State Park and Brookgreen Gardens lie on either side of U.S. 17 about 20 miles south of Myrtle Beach.

This 25,000-acre coastal wilderness was once owned by the sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington and her railroad-magnate husband Archer Huntington. In 1931, they purchased this property, which was once a rice plantation, in order to preserve the local flora and fauna as well as to build a winter home and studio on the beach. They wintered in their Moorish-style castle, called Atalaya until Archer Huntington died in 1955. After that, Anna Huntington moved her studio across the highway to Brookgreen Gardens, where she died in 1973. The Trustees of Brookgreen leased the 2,500 acres along the coast to the state of South Carolina and it became a state park.

Huntington Beach State Park

When you enter the park, the road winds through a dense forest and then emerges onto a causeway with a freshwater lagoon on your right and a saltwater marsh on your left. Alligators are often spotted on the freshwater side of the causeway.

Left of the causeway is a parking area for a boardwalk that extends 500 feet out onto the salt marsh to a covered viewing deck. This is a popular area for crabbing. From this same parking area, the 1.5-mile Sandpiper Trail leads the opposite direction into a forest of live oaks and loblolly pines. The trail eventually crosses the dunes and heads north along the beach. At the very northern end of the beach is a jetty, which is a good place to fish for flounder and spottail bass.

Right of the causeway is the 2-story beach pavilion and popular day use beach area. Next to the beach are the remains of a Atalaya, a Moorish-style castle which was once the Huntington’s winter home. It is open daily for tours. The state park also has a 184-site campground, with many campsites along the edge of the dunes leading to the beach.

Huntington Beach State Park contains 3 miles of some of the nicest and best preserved beaches along South Carolina’s Grand Strand. In addition to the excellent swimming on this beach, there is biking along its hard sand.

Brookgreen Gardens

Herb and boys at Brookgreen GardensHerb and boys at Brookgreen GardensRight across the highway from the state park are the sculpture gardens and wildlife preserve of Brookgreen Gardens, founded in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Today Brookgreen Gardens is a National Historic Landmark with one of the most significant collections of figurative sculpture by American artists in an outdoor setting. The collection currently contains over 900 works, spanning the entire period of American sculpture, from the early 1800s to the present.

The Huntingtons planned the garden walks in the shape of a butterfly with outspread wings, all leading back to the central space, which was the site of the original plantation house. The placement of sculptures within these beautifully landscaped settings creates an extraordinary blend of nature and art. In addition to the sculpture collection in the gardens, there are also two indoor sculpture galleries.

Although the sculpture gardens are the focal point of the park, there are thousands of acres of forested swamps, salt marshes, and fresh tidal swamps to explore in Brookgreen’s Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve. The natural habitats in the preserve include a waterfowl aviary built over a cypress swamp, a bird of prey aviary, a river otter pond, an alligator swamp, a fox glade, a wild turkey exhibit, and a white-tailed deer savannah. In addition to exhibits of the native animals that populated this region, there is a domestic animals exhibit with examples of historic rare breed animals that were commonly seen on plantations in the 18th and 19th century, such as Red Devon milking cows, Tunis sheep, Dominique chickens, and Guinea fowl.

One can either explore the grounds and gardens of Brookgreen on their own, or join one of the many tours or programs that are part of the admission price. For an additional fee, Brookgreen also offers daily excursions along the rice fields on the Springfield, a 48-foot pontoon boat, and overland through old plantation sites on an all terrain vehicle called the Trekker.