Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Afternoon Adventures to Do This Year

            After you've visited the greatest-hits that every nature loving Charlestonian should know, a wealth of destinations remain to be enjoyed in just an afternoon.  Hopefully you’ve been to Middleton and Magnolia Plantations, Cypress Gardens, Mepkin Abbey, Brookgren Gardens and our wonderful county parks.  Now get off the beaten track on these couldn't-be-closer road trips.    
            A walk in the woods.  Stretch your legs at the informative and nearby I’On Swamp Trail in the Francis Marion Forest.  Just a few minutes north of Mt. Pleasant, this one mile walk is easy enough for children.  The well maintained path crosses embankments built by slaves in the 1700’s.  Interpretive signs tell of when South Carolina produced 90% of the country’s rice and the Charleston Gold variety was world renown. Today, the area is home to river otters, a myriad of birds, alligators and turtles.  It’s free and always open. 
        Up for something a little longer?  The most beautiful trail in the forest begins nearby at the Awendaw Canoe Launch at the end of   Rosa Green Road in Awendaw and runs seven miles to Buck Hall Landing.  Take out of towners here if you want them to move to Charleston. It’s a walk right into a Pat Conroy novel.  You’ll enjoy extensive vistas of the marsh as the trail undulates through the forest and back towards Awendaw Creek.  Trailside benches invite quiet contemplation.   The Buck Hall end has the advantage of bathrooms and a picnic area but the Rosa Green end is closer to Mt. PleasantThis Awendaw Passage is seven miles of the Palmetto Trail which extends over 400 miles from Buck Hall to the S.C. mountains and has many segments that are worth exploring.  Buck Hall charges a small user fee and the trail is open all year. Trail map.
            The perfect bike ride:  About an hour out of town, just north of McClellanville, is the Santee Coastal Reserve.  If you have a mountain or beach bike, it was made for this place.  A bird watcher’s paradise, the 24,000 acre reserve offers trails on the former rice fields and through maritime forests bordering the Intracoastal Waterway and South Santee River.  It couldn't be easier to ride or walk here.  It’s flat, gorgeous and huge enough to provide a full day of enjoyment.  The is no entrance fee but check their website for the few days it’s closed for hunting each year.
            A sunny winter day is perfect for a trip to Lake Moultrie and a walk or bike ride upon the dike.  Looking across the open lake vista, you might imagine you’re in Italy or somewhere else exotic but a few miles later you’ll be back in the Deep South at Bonneau Beach enjoying a great seafood lunch.  Start at the Canal Recreation Area off Hwy. 52 north of Moncks Corner where you’ll go through a short stretch of pine forest before you scramble onto the dike. Simply ride or walk along as far as you’d like and circle back.  Maps for the Palmetto Trail.
            Or explore from you car.  Fifty miles south of Charleston is Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area.  Whether you drive, bike or hike the scenic 6 ½ miles you’ll transverse forests, agricultural fields and coastal wetlands while stopping at the fifteen points of interest described on a map given at the entrance.  Learn about the history and agriculture and stroll the surreal driftwood covered beach.   Highlights include the grounds of Bleak Hall Plantation with its picturesque ice house and tabby shed. Volunteers man the entrance and beach path, making sure no one takes any seashells but there’s no entrance fee. 
            Water adventures are plentiful too.  My favorites are with Coastal Expeditions which offers guided and independent kayak excursions from Shem Creek and the spectacular Bull’s Island Ferry trip which is not to be missed.  Or check out Barrier Island Eco Tours which leaves from the Isle of Palms.  Marine scientists will introduce you to new discoveries on the way to Capers Island or scouting for dolphins. 
          Watery highlights for me this year were my boat trips with Captain Richard’s Fisheagle Tours A relaxing and informative day of cruising Lake Marion was a perfect summer outing.  The views were wonderful and Captain Richard shared his extensive knowledge of fish, birds and history with us. In October I cruised through the Pinopolis Dam and up the Tail Race Canal with him.  What a spectacle to go through the locks on a boat!  A bonus was that the tour leaves from Gilligan’s Restaurant in Moncks Corner where we had a great waterside lunch afterwards.
               Many of these day trips require very little planning.  You can wake up with some time to spare, check the weather and go.  Most are free.  You don’t need a hotel reservation and you can drive yourselves there.  So what are you waiting for?  There are adventures at your doorstep.