The Natural Beauty of Charleston’s Protected Areas


By: Staff Editor, Charleston Harbor Tours
April 29, 2016

You have heard of Ecotourism, but what does it mean? One definition is "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and involves interpretation and education." If traveling to unspoiled places to encounter and learn about local wildlife is on your agenda, then you don’t need to jet off to the Amazon. Your next eco-vacation is as close as Charleston’s protected forests, waters and wetlands!

There are several protected areas in and around Charleston SC, including National forests, wildlife refuges, protected marshes and barrier islands. Most of the protected areas also make room for outdoor activities such as hiking, boating, birdwatching, fishing and camping. Best of all, they are nearby, an hour’s drive or less from Historic Downtown Charleston.

ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge
The ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge is a nearly 12,000-acre, federally-protected section of the larger ACE (Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto) river basin area. Originally a collection of large rice plantations, the ACE Basin was protected from development by private owners who cultivated prime hunting land. Today, the ACE Basin is the largest undeveloped estuary along the Atlantic Coast, and is home to several endangered species such as wood stork, American alligator and bald eagle. Visitors to the ACE Basin can enjoy boating, hunting, fishing, birdwatching, hiking and a variety of nature activities. The ACE Basin is located approximately 1.5 hours from Downtown Charleston.

Angel Oak
Angel Oak is a Southern Live Oak located in Angel Oak Park in Johns Island, about a half hour from Downtown Charleston SC. Believed to be 400-500 years old, Angel Oak stands 66 feet high, has a circumference of 28 feet, and produces over 17,000 square feet of shade! This popular tourist attraction was severely damaged in 1989's Hurricane Hugo, but has since recovered. The threat of nearby real estate development continues to be a concern, but Angel Oak and the surrounding property have been owned and maintained by the City of Charleston since 1991.

Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge
The Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is located near Awendaw SC, about an hour's drive from Downtown Charleston. Its 66,000 acres are mostly accessible only by boat, and include creeks and bays, emergent salt marshes and barrier islands. Nearly half of the Refuge is designated as Class I Wilderness, and is home to endangered species such as the red wolf, loggerhead sea turtles and several species of migratory birds.

Other Cape Romain attractions include Lighthouse Island, home to two decommissioned lighthouses that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and Bulls Island, a 5,000-acre barrier island that is the site of the haunting Boneyard Beach, a desiccated forest reclaimed by the sea. Finally, the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center hosts nature and wildlife education and interpretive activities for visitors.

Francis Marion National Forest
The Francis Marion National Forest is located north of the city along Route 17, about a 45-minute drive from Historic Downtown Charleston. The Forest is named for South Carolina's resident Revolutionary war hero Francis Marion, aka the Swamp Fox, whose adventures were the basis for the 2000 film The Patriot. This quarter-million acre forest was severely damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, but has recovered nicely in the years since. Recreational opportunities abound for visitors to Francis Marion National Forest, and include boating, horseback riding, hiking and biking, and campsite rentals.

Become a Charleston Ecotourist!
Remember, you don't need to travel to another hemisphere to enjoy unspoiled natural beauty, not when South Carolina’s protected forests, waters and wetlands are just a stone's throw from Charleston. So, if you are you are planning your next vacation to the Lowcountry, considering a tour of Charleston Harbor, or of Historic Downtown Charleston, be sure to make some time to enjoy Charleston's natural beauty and wildlife! For more information on Historic Charleston tours, contact us today!


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