Hunting Island State Park is the most-visited State Park in South Carolina. The land was originally used as a hunting preserve for the Lowcountry planters and elite. Thus the name, Hunting Island. It’s about a 25-minute drive from Beaufort and there is a ton to do; beaches, camping, a lighthouse, hiking and ATV trails, marsh boardwalk and nature center. Here is my list of top things to do in the park:
Climb the Lighthouse
The original lighthouse was constructed in the 1850s but was destroyed by the Confederates during the Civil War. It was rebuilt in 1875 and later relocated further inland due to erosion. It is the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina. For just $2, you can climb the 167 steps to the top and get a 360 degree view of the entire area.
Ogle Over the Beaches
There is nearly 5 miles of beautiful clean beaches in the park. What stood out to me the most was the fact that when you turn you back to the ocean you are looking at dense maritime forest instead of hotels and resorts.
At the south end of the park is the driftwood boneyard. It’s out on a little island so you have to cross a small bridge over the lagoon to reach it. Over time the forest has eroded into the ocean and this is the result.
Speaking of boneyards. On the dunes near the lighthouse is Hunting Island’s most famous tree. And it’s dead.
In 2015, nightscape photographer Zach Grether was filming the Milky Way with this tree in front of it. Suddenly, Elon Musk’s SpaceX-Falcon rocket passed his view and then the booster fell to earth. This photograph of the tree, the booster, and the Milky Way was the cover photo of National Geographic.
Hike Along the Lagoon
When we visited, a number of the hiking trails were closed because of flooding but I would recommend that you park at the south beach and hike the Lagoon Trail to Little Hunting Island and the driftwood beach.
The maritime forest and marsh are so dense that the park has been used for a number of Vietnam War scenes in films such as Forrest Gump, Rules of Engagement and Full Metal Jacket. (Side note: most of Forrest Gump was filmed in the Beaufort area!)
Visit the Nature Center
The Nature Center is located on the south end of the island. It has live animals and regular programming but it’s also the entrance from which you can reach the fishing pier or have a shorter walk to Little Hunting Island.
One activity we weren’t able to experience was the ferry to St Phillips Island that departs from the Nature Center. It is $55/person for a round trip ticket but unfortunately they don’t allow dogs. Thus why we never went.
For nearly 40 years, St. Phillips Island was a beach retreat for conservationist Ted Turner and his family. During that time, trails were thoughtfully carved through the maritime forest and habitats for species like fox squirrels, loggerhead sea turtles and indigo snakes were restored. In 2017, Hunting Island State Park acquired St. Phillips Island.
Turner’s 5 bedroom, 5 bathroom house still sits on the Island and can be rented for an easy $12,000 for 5 nights. Or better yet, rent the entire island for $20,000!