|The view from the canoe launch at the end of Rosa Green Road on the Awendaw Connector.|
Thirty minutes and a world away is one of our area’s most under-utilized recreational resources: the Francis Marion National Forest. When I mention that I’ve been bicycling, kayaking or hiking in the woods, I’m often surprised that locals don’t know about it. It’s huge: 259,000 acres, and perfect for close-by adventures.
For a short, easy walk in the woods, head to the I’On Swamp Interpretive Trail. It is a fascinating walk through a wetland world along old plantation dikes. You’ll transverse embankments built in the 1700s and see a patchwork of fields and ditches used in the production of rice. Signs with interesting information about history and forest life dot the route. You can get there in 20 minutes from the IOP and walk it in an hour. Do this one spur of the moment or with children!
I’ve spent many exciting days riding my bike on the Palmetto Trail. Begun in 1994, it will extend 425 miles from the ocean to the Blue Ridge Mountains when it is finished. About 300 miles are already completed. Dane Hannah works for the Palmetto Conservation Foundation as the Lowcountry trail coordinator. He is single-handedly responsible for the 180 miles of trails from Columbia to Awendaw, often hacking away overgrowth with a machete. He boasts that the Palmetto Trail includes more than recreation. It goes through towns and cities such as Columbia and Santee, and historic battlefields. You can even plan a hiking stop at Sweatman’s authentic barbeque in Holly Hill. Dane tells of future plans to create spur trails and expanded volunteer efforts that will help maintain the trails more efficiently.
My favorite ramble is the Awendaw Connector section of the Palmetto Trail. Over its seven scenic miles, it weaves between Awendaw Creek and the forest. Americorp and the other organizations that built this trail have constructed sturdy wooden bridges and charming benches for quiet contemplation. Sit awhile and enjoy the sweeping marsh views. Birds, including the endangered red cockaded woodpecker, are plentiful. Up for a more active adventure? Take your wide-tire bicycle. The trail is bike-able but you’ll have to dismount occasionally to avoid thick tree roots or standing water. You can begin at Buck Hall Landing, the northernmost end of the Palmetto Trail, where there’s a picnic area, fishing dock, bathrooms and a campground. Or start closer to Mt. Pleasant at Rosa Green Rd. For a seven mile hike, park a car at both ends and walk from one to the other. You can also canoe or kayak from Rosa Green to Buck Hall or visa versa and get a real South Carolina experience. The canoe launch at Rosa Green is a marvel of engineering. This trail is so scenic that shorter walks are fun too, especially if you’re hosting out of town visitors. The views are straight out of a Pat Conroy novel.
The Swamp Fox Passage of the Palmetto Trail extends 42 miles from the Hwy. 17 to Moncks Corner. Any section is an easy walk and a moderately easy bike ride. A two hour bike ride will take you from the trail head on Hwy. 17 to Halfway Creek campground and back, twelve miles round-trip. The bicycling is fairly easy in this section since it is older and not as rutted with tree roots. Walking on this trail is simple and peaceful. I’ve often not seen a soul all day.
A walk or bike ride in the woods is a simple pleasure. Take water and bug spray, wear tough shoes and bright clothing. Check the websites below for conditions before you go. Don’t be alarmed to hear gunshots. There is a forest service rifle target range nearby. Fall weather is the perfect time to explore these at-you-doorstep destinations.
Swamp Fox Trailhead on Hwy. 17: From the Isle of Palms Connector, go north on Hwy 17 for 19 miles. Pass Steed Creek Rd on the left and go a ¼ mile. Make a U-turn on the highway and find the trailhead on your right. Tip: there is no sign indicating the trailhead when you’re coming from the south but once you make the U-turn, there is a sign.
Awendaw Connector Directions: Buck Hall is 30 miles from Charleston up Hwy. 17 north. Or Go 20 miles on Hwy. 17 from the Isle of Palms Connector and turn right on Rosa Green, following signs for the canoe launch at the end of the road.
I’on Swamp Interpretive Trail Directions: From the IOP Connector, take US Highway 17 North 13 miles to I’on Swamp Road (FS Road 228). Turn left and drive 2 miles to the trailhead on the left.
Before you go: Check conditions and updates: http://www.fs.usda.gov search by state. Download maps here: http://www.palmettoconservation.org/
Originally published in the Island Eye News