Hidden Adventures Around the Lowcountry

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We live in a land of pristine beaches, marshes, and waterways. Our landscapes are the subject of paintings and poetry. Our walkways and homes are colored in rainbow pastel. The food, history, and cultural amenities of our city are world-class. You don’t have to search far for hidden adventures in Charleston.

Sometimes, though, the wanderer in you may want to find something that’s not as obvious, that requires a little more work. These four hidden adventures below are ones our family has found rewarding and fun relative to the effort.

Hidden Adventures in the Lowcountry

1. Paddle a Canoe to Hidden Treehouses

Growing up paddling the crisp lakes and rivers of Minnesota and spending the summer afternoons of my childhood in a treehouse with nails driven by my dad, this first of the hidden adventures spoke to my soul.

There is a special place where the swamps and woodlands of the Lowcountry intertwine. Paddle down a pristine, blackwater, cypress tree-lined river to a spit of land where you will find three treehouses hidden deep within the largest private wildlife refuge on the Edisto River.

hidden adventures: a family on two canoes, a teen girl on a wooden rocking chair on a covered porch, a couple stands in front of a wooden treehouse.

Carolina Heritage Outfitters provides canoes for guests to paddle 13 miles down the Edisto River with opportunities to view abundant wildlife, to fish, and to wade onto sandbars for a swim or a picnic. Your destination is a private sanctuary with three charming treehouses to stay in overnight. There are hammocks, picnic tables, dining decks, and grills for cooking.

This is camping for those who don’t like to pack for camping. Each treehouse is outfitted with a kitchen area with all the essentials, a screened sleeping loft with futon mattresses, an outhouse (the only running water is the river!), and rechargeable lanterns. Guests pack food, sleeping bags, and personal items. Each treehouse is private and is not visible to the others.

After spending the night, guests paddle 10 miles downriver the next day to the outpost and boat landing. You get to enjoy paddling with the current for the entire 23-mile journey, making light work of the trip. The scenery and experience are unmatched. Enjoy falling asleep to the sound of the river and wake up atop a canopy of trees with breathtaking views.

Pro Tips: I’ve done this trip twice, once in the spring and once in the summer. If possible, try to schedule this during late spring or fall when the weather makes for more comfortable sleeping temperatures.

If you go in the summer, bring your bathing suit. Our family enjoyed floating the loop around the refuge. The treehouses are on a peninsula and there is a natural lazy river.

Carolina Heritage Outfitters suggests that children be at least 11 years old. My stepson was nine, and he did great. You just want to make sure you have two strong paddlers for each canoe.

2. Beach Camp on an Undeveloped Barrier Island

Caper’s Island Heritage Preserve is a pristine barrier island 15 miles north of Charleston near the Isle of Palms. Described as one of the most dramatic beaches on the South Carolina coast, this beautiful undeveloped island is accessible only by boat.

A woman smiles with a marshy beach as her backdrop.

It’s also one of the only undeveloped beaches that permits camping. Visit the SC DNR to reserve a site. The island boasts marine forests, marshland, and a stunning boneyard beach. There are several outfitters that provide boat access to the island for day trips or camping.

3. Spend the Night in a Lighthouse

Haig Point Lighthouse is a unique, gorgeously restored lighthouse that also operates as a bed-and-breakfast. Guests sleep where the lighthouse keeper 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.

Hidden adventures: an old white church building, a little girl walks on a plank bridge across marsh, and a little girl runs along the beach.

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 bridges connected the communities of the Lowcountry.

Pro Tip: Daufuskie makes for a wonderful day trip. Rent a golf cart and get out and explore! There are many other lodging options aside from the lighthouse, should you choose to spend the night.

4. Take a Driving Tour of Lowcountry Ruins

The Carolina Lowcountry is hauntingly beautiful — the setting of rich history and traditions, but also much tragedy. Take a road trip out into the heart of the Lowcountry to visit three abandoned church ruins that provide glimpses into the area’s sacred and storied past . . .

Your first stop is the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease in Colleton County. Head south toward Beaufort on Highway 17, turn right onto Highway 64, and then take another right onto Jacksonboro Road. You’ll take another right onto a dirt road (Parkers Ferry Road) and will find the chapel down on your right.

The chapel was built in the early 1700s but suffered damage from two fires and a hurricane. All that remains now are two walls: part of the churchyard and part of the cistern. The ruins are surrounded by live oaks and historic graves.

Hidden adventures: a toddler girl explores old brick church building ruins.

Get back on Highway 17 and continue south toward Beaufort. The next stop is the hauntingly beautiful Old Sheldon Church Ruins in Yemessee. You’ll stay on 17 until you see Old Sheldon Church Road on your right. Turn there and head down the road a couple of miles. The ruins will be on your right, with the parking area across the road on your left.

These are the most visited of the three ruins, and for good reason. Even in its tumbledown condition, these ruins are graced by centuries-old live oaks and are stately. Surrounded by ancient graves, you will feel the quiet and beauty of this place and know that your feet touch sacred ground. Built in the mid-1700s, the church took damage in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Head back to Highway 17 and continue toward Beaufort for the final stop. Take Highway 21 all the way through Beaufort and then turn right at Frogmore onto Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive (State Road S-7-45). At the fork, bear to the right onto Land’s End Road, and there you will find St. Helena Chapel of Ease on St. Helena’s Island, an outpost of the Lowcountry. The tabby walls of the chapel and a few graves are all that remain of this structure built by plantation owners and then used by freedmen.

Pro Tip: Make a day of this drive and stop to enjoy some of the great local, dining options on the route . . .

What off-road hidden adventures have you discovered in the Lowcountry? I’d love to hear about them!

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