Explore Along South Carolina’s Lighthouse Trail


Nearly a dozen lighthouses guard South Carolina’s coast. Most no longer provide light to guide seafarers, but they are all still rich in history and beauty. These lighthouses offer breathtaking views and glimpses into the significance water played in the lives of those who lived here before us.

In honor of National Lighthouse Day, come take a ride down our state’s coastline to visit some of these iconic, grand landmarks of both our past and present.

South Carolina Coastline Lighthouse Trail

  • Georgetown Light

The oldest lighthouse in South Carolina (and the northernmost), the Georgetown Light stands at the entrance to Winyah Bay, southeast of Georgetown on an unsettled barrier island. It is still active and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. Part of the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Heritage Preserve, the lighthouse is only accessible by boat.

Rover Boat Tours and Lowcountry Tours both offer a half-day shelling and lighthouse cruise. Visitors can enjoy an hour boat tour through the salt marsh and estuary, with chances to view dolphins, sea turtles, and bald eagles. Then there is time to enjoy the beach at North Island, viewing the lighthouse and searching for shells. Since the lighthouse is still an aid to navigation and serves as a port-of-entrance to the United States, visitors are not allowed on the lighthouse grounds. However, the tour provides great vantage and photo opportunities of the lighthouse.

Tip: This half-day trip is really not well-suited for infants and toddlers. Rover Tours discourages guests from bringing children less than 33 pounds. However, for older children, this is an amazing adventure. It could be made better by spending time in historic Georgetown, either before or after the tour. Enjoy the charming, historic downtown and its many shops and restaurants on Front Street.

  • Cape Romain’s 1857 and 1827 Lighthouses

Located within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (a 22-mile preserve of barrier islands and waterways near beautiful McClellanville), these two lighthouses are accessible only by boat. They stand side-by-side, and although only open for tours four times a year, you can easily view them on the island by taking the Bulls Island Ferry.

Coastal Expeditions offers a number of adventures and specialized tours of the Wildlife Refuge. This is a wonderful way to explore the salt marshes and estuaries of the Lowcountry, while at the same time hiking a pristine barrier island with a beautiful boneyard beach — and seeing two lighthouses!

Tip: I took my three-year-old daughter on this adventure in the heat of the summer. We did the trip again in the winter when she was five. We had so much more fun the second time around. The cooler temps made for a more enjoyable trip. I’d suggest packing a picnic, lots of water, and insect repellant. There’s so much to see and explore on the island, and you’ll want to cover as much ground as possible. The ferry also allows you to carry bikes, which we plan to bring the next time we visit.

A little girl and her dad take a hike in the woods, and a little girl balances on a tree trunk on the ground.

  • Charleston Light

This distinctive-looking, triangular-shaped lighthouse is still operational and is the second most powerful lighthouse in the Western Hemisphere. It is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard and National Park Service. The lighthouse is accessible to visitors by viewing it from the outside on the surrounding beach.

This modern lighthouse (finished in 1962) can be found at 1815 Ion Ave on Sullivan’s Island. While viewing the lighthouse, make sure you stop for ice cream or lunch at one of the many restaurants on this island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.Charleston Lighthouse on Sullivan's Island. A little girl plays in the sand in the foreground.

  • Morris Island Light

A symbol of home for all Charlestonians, this lighthouse off the north end of Folly Beach has been stranded in the sea for the last few decades. Morris Island Light has engendered so much love and affection that there is a group called Save the Light that works to preserve what remains of this iconic Charleston landmark.

The lighthouse can be best viewed from land by driving to the end of East Ashley Avenue on Folly Beach and then taking the marked footpath to the beach.

There are numerous outfitters that offer boat tours to Morris Island. My family’s favorite is the fossil and shark tooth-hunting tour offered by Charleston Outdoor Adventures. In addition to great views of the lighthouse, this guided tour by a certified naturalist is a kids’ favorite because we come home with hundreds of shark teeth and other great finds.

For the most adventurous, some of the best views, and closest access, Charleston SUP Safaris, offers guided paddle tours to the lighthouse.

Morris Island Light: photos of the lighthouse in the water in the distance, two smiling young kids with shark teeth they found, and an older child holding a large shark tooth in his hand.

  • Hunting Island Lighthouse

This iconic-looking lighthouse is located within Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort and is open for tours. Although no longer in operation, visitors are allowed to climb the 167 steps to the top of this 130-foot lighthouse for gorgeous views of the barrier island and the Atlantic Ocean.

Tip: When visiting, make sure you allow yourself time to enjoy South Carolina’s most-visited state park. It’s the most popular and for good reason: five miles of pristine beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon, and an ocean inlet. The park also offers cabins for rent and campsites. Pick a rustic campsite on the beach and let the waves lull you to sleep!

Hunting Island Lighthouse: a toddler ankle-deep in water with lighthouse in the background, plus other photos of landscape and a little girl in front of a camping tent.

  • Haig Point Lighthouse

This unique, gorgeously restored lighthouse also operates as a bed-and-breakfast. Guests sleep where the lighthouse keep originally slept. Located on Daufuskie Island (a remote island off the coast of Hilton Head and the setting of Pat Conroy’s novel The Water Is Wide), it is only accessible by passenger ferry or boat.

Our family has enjoyed day trips to this quaint island. We rent a golf cart (no cars allowed on the island) and get out to explore the beach, historical sites, local shops, farms, galleries, and restaurants that dot this wild barrier island. This island reflects a time before there were roads and bridges connecting the communities of the Lowcountry.

A little girl walking on a boardwalk, a white church, and a family in a golf cart.

  • Harbour Town Lighthouse

This popular red-and-white striped tourist site never operated as a lighthouse, but visitors are allowed to climb to the top of this 93-foot-high attraction for great views of the Hilton Head coast. Located in the Hilton Head community of Sea Pines, the lighthouse serves as the landmark for Harbour Town — a popular marina on Hilton Head Island with restaurants and shopping. The lighthouse also houses a museum.

Tip: A daily pass is required for individuals not residing in or staying at the Sea Pines Resort. If going to see the lighthouse, I’d make sure to enjoy some of the other amenities offered within the Sea Pines community. Also, individuals are not permitted to enter Sea Pines by bicycle. If you wish to bike in Sea Pines, you will need to enter with your vehicle, park, and then make use of their great trails.

Harbour Town Lighthouse
Photo by Heather Toeppner
  • Leamington Lighthouse

This structure found on Hilton Head Island was built in 1879 and is part of a larger system of navigation lights guiding ships to Port Royal Sound. It is a rear-range light, meaning that it is not overlooking the ocean.

The historic cast-iron structure can be found at 57 Leamington Ln, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928. The lighthouse overlooks a neighborhood and a golf course. To visit, simply tell the gate attendant that you wish to view the lighthouse.

Wait until the end of August, however, as the lighthouse is temporarily closed to visitors. It is anticipated to re-open 8/27/23.

I’d love to hear about your favorite South Carolina lighthouse and any tips or tricks for making the most of a visit!


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