Wildlife Viewing & Trails

There are three incredible areas to explore in the Bulls Bay Chamber Area: The Francis Marion National Forest, the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, and the Santee Coastal Reserve

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The Francis Marion National Forest

Located barely a dozen miles north of historic Charleston, SC, Francis Marion National Forest is a magnificent patchwork of federal, state and privately held lands with boundaries drawn by Congress in 1936. That smart act of Congress created an epic national forest comprised of more than 260,000 acres in Berkeley and Charleston Counties.

The Francis Marion Forest, home to the sweet, Southern towns of Awendaw, Huger, Jamestown and McClellanville, represents a precious portion of the nation’s forest reserves. Much of the protected forest is open for public use. It is named for Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion – known to the British Redcoats as the “Swamp Fox.” He was infamous for disappearing with his ragtag band of guerrilla warriors. Almost magically they could – and often did – vanish into the depths of SC swamps to successfully elude British Revolutionaries. Oh how they loathed him!

Facts about the Francis Marion Forest:

  • Large sections of woodland are home to the once abundant, now rare, longleaf pine ecosystem, as well as to extensive hardwood bottomland forest.
  • While large tracts of the Forest are managed for timber, they also serve to support healthy populations of indigenous wild game and serve as important habitat for a remarkable array of flora and fauna.
  • Varied types of woodlands are home to more than a dozen threatened or endangered animal species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, the swallow-tailed kite and the flatwoods salamander.
  • The Forest provides many recreational opportunities – campsites, picnic facilities and boat ramps, rifle ranges and trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. There are even some Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails, and licensed hunting is allowed at certain times of the year.

The Sewee Visitor and Environmental Center eighteen miles north of Charleston is the best place to explore all the possibilities provided by the Francis Marion National Forest. Online, visit  http://www.fs.usda.gov/scnfs/

Hiking Trails:

Sewee Visitor Center (1.5 miles)
Awendaw Passage of Palmetto Trail (7.0 miles) (MAP) The Bulls Bay area is home to the beginning of the Palmetto Trail. A nice day hike includes the 7 mile Awendaw Passage portion of the South Carolina Palmetto Trail. When open completely, this trail will encompass over 425 miles. This particular passage starts at the Buck Hall Recreation Area trailhead. The trail meanders through maritime forest and sweeping vistas of Lowcountry salt marsh along Awendaw Creek. At Walnut Grove there is a scenic overlook and boardwalk. A canoe launch for Awendaw Creek is located at the end of Rosa Green Road. Hiking and biking are permitted on the trail. The Awendaw Passage connects with the Swamp Fox Passage at the Steed Creek trailhead. More information.Bulls Bay Francis Marion Hiking
Swamp Fox Passage of the Palmetto Trail (42 miles) One of the Lowcountry’s oldest trails, this trek for biking or hiking is a semi-flat journey through the swampy wetlands and coastal pine forests of Francis Marion National Forest. Elevated railways from an abandoned logging system make for great paths, while there are also boardwalks and footbridges. Tours offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters.
I’on Swamp (2.0 miles)  A two-mile loop within the Francis Marion National Forest that is famous among birders for the variety of species here during both spring and fall migration. The path wanders within the swamp along a dike patchwork on the remnants of the abandoned Witheywood Plantation and pushes into wetlands with bald cypress and murky swampland. There are no facilities at the trailhead, but the Sewee Visitor Center is approximately 100 yards north of I’on Swamp Road on US 17. Naturalist guided hiking and birding tours offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters.
Battery Warren Interpretive Trail
Sewee Shell Mound (1.0 mile)
South Tibwin 
(5.0 miles)
Tibwin Plantation – now part of the Francis Marion National Forest, Tibwin was once a plantation that grew sea island cotton, corn and potatoes. The plantation house structure is still on site and stabilized, but the Forest Service hopes to fully restore it in the future. The public can enjoy the grounds of Tibwin through the numerous hiking trails. Tours offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters.
Wambaw Cycle Trail

Nebo Nature Trail and Red Wolves at Sewee Visitors and Environmental Education Center
Wildlife and Birding Tours offered for all National Forest Trails


Photo courtesy of Arthur Ellis Photography

Paddling Trails:

Awendaw Creek, Canoe Launch and Trail  Awendaw Creek is the Francis Marion National Forest’s only saltwater creek. The 7 mile trail meanders along the Swamp Fox portion of the Palmetto Trail, giving paddlers an opportunity to both kayak and hike along this beautiful landscape. The trail travAwendaw cree, Palmetto Trail-1001_HDR-280els from the brackish water creek and then inland through the salt marsh, carrying paddlers under Highway 17 and through the forest and saltmarsh. You will see oyster banks and bluffs covered with a maritime forest of oak, cedar, and palmetto trees. It opens up into Bulls Bay, giving spectacular views of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. A rich variety of wildlife can be seen, including dolphins, blue herons, fiddler crabs, pelicans, and oystercatchers. Kayaks and canoes can be launched off of Rosa Green Road. Take out areas include Buck Hall Recreation Area and other private boat launch areas open to the public.
Latitude 33.03048, Longitude -79.60325 [PK411]       Photo Courtesy of Ben Sumrell Photography

Chicken Creek Canoe Trail – An 8.2-mile trail that takes the paddler down the historic Santee River through the fast moving Chicken Creek and back onto the Santee and up Wambaw Creek to the bridge at Echaw Road. Well-drained oak and hickory hills along Chicken Creek provide opportunities to explore on land. Access from McConnells Road. More information.

Echaw Creek Canoe Trail – A five mile canoe trail starting from Pitch Landing, paddling down stream on Echaw Creek to the Santee River. This trail meanders near abandoned rice fields and a variety of wildlife, oakhickory stands and cypress tupelo swamps. A good take out point is McConnell’s Boat Landing on the Santee River.

Pitch Landing – Pitch Landing is a great launch site for kayaks, canoes, and small boats on Echaw Creek. In a short 2 miles you can reach the Santee River and enjoy fishing, paddling, and wildlife viewing along the way. McConnells Landing is an optional one way take out down the Santee River. Can be accessed from Pitch Landing Road.

Jeremy Creek  Named for King Jeremy, a Sewee Native American chief who abandoned this area prior to the arrival of European settler Thomas Lynch. Lynch settled along the creek in the early 1700s. It is the only water access to the village of McClellanville.  Can be accessed from the Robert E. Ashley Landing and is a nice place to see an actual working waterfront docks among shrimp, oyster, crab and clam boats.

Santee River  One of the largest rivers on the East Coast, the Santee stretches 143 miles and is formed by the confluence of the Wateree and the Congaree Rivers just below Columbia before entering Lake Marion, which was created by a dam on the Santee River in the 1940s. The river flows southeast and forms the northeast boundary of the Francis Marion National Forest. Tours and rentals offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters (including out of McConnells Landing).

There are also four unique Wilderness Areas and features to explore including Mysterious Carolina Bays with unique and diverse habitats. Other activities for wildlife enthusiasts includes fishing, hunting, birding and wildlife photography.

Guided kayak and canoe tours and rentals in the Francis Marion area are offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters, http://www.KayakCharlestonSC.com, or call 843-568-3222, and Coastal Expeditions, www.coastalexpeditions.com, or call 843-884-7684.

Cape Romain National Wildlife RefugeBeach Drop 7-15-2012-274-280

Includes a wonderful variety of barrier islands on our coast with over 66,000 acres to explore. Activities include hunting, fishing, birding, and wildlife viewing. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/cape_romain/
Photo of Bulls Island courtesy of Ben Sumrell Photography

Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge Hiking Trails:
Bull Island NRT (2.0 miles) This is a moderately easy self-guided two-mile loop trail on Bull Island within Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and is only accessible by boat. Primarily flat and marked, it begins at the island visitor station through forests, wetlands, and along beaches.  Can be accessed by launching from Garris Landing.
Sheephead Ridge Loop (3.7 miles)  It is one of three hiking trails on Bulls Island which take you through the various wildlife habitats of a barrier island within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.
Old Fort Loop (6.6 miles)  The longest of three trails on Bulls Island, this one is 6.6 miles through the various wildlife and ecosystems on the barrier island within Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.
The McCaskill Trail (5 miles) These hiking trails on Capers Island are mainly on old roads through maritime forest under live oak, magnolia, cedar, and palmetto trees. You will also see where the beach is lined with dead, but still eerily beautiful, trees. There are no facilities on the island. Tours offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters.
Turkey Walk Trail (2 miles) This trail on Bulls Island takes you along salt marsh, over dikes, and through dense maritime forest to the beach. The trail is designated a National Recreation Trail, and can be accessed only through the Bulls Island Ferry. Bulls Island also has a Middens Trail, and 16 miles of unpaved roads that are open for hiking and biking (biking is not allowed on the two designated hiking trails or the beach).

Wildlife and birding tours offered on Bulls Island by Coastal Expeditions, 843-884-7684.

Santee Coastal Reserve

Over 24,000 acres to explore with numerous hiking trails.  This is also a designated IBA (Important Birding Area), which is an area recognized as being globally important habitat for the conservation of bird populations. This DNR state managed property also provides great hunting opportunities.

Santee Coastal Reserve Hiking Trails:
Bike/Hike (7.2 miles)
Marshland (1.9 miles)  This is an easy loop within the Santee Coastal Reserve for hiking or biking. The trail winds through the 1,040-acre Washo Reserve section of the Santee Coastal Reserve where you will see lush coastal forest and dikes once used by rice planters. An 800-foot boardwalk will give you a view of the wildlife. About halfway on the loop, you can extend your trip along the Santee Coastal Reserve Bike/Hike loop. Naturalist guided birding and nature tours offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters.
Woodland (1.1 miles) This hiking trail within the Santee Coastal Reserve cuts through a highland stand of old growth pine and hardwoods. Start from the parking area on Santee Gun Club Road. Tours offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters.
The Cape Trail (9-10 miles) This hike within the Santee Coastal Reserve will take you through marshland and rice dikes. Offering outstanding wildlife viewing, the reserve is an Important Birding Area (IBA) and is a great destination for birders. Tours offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters.
Washo Reserve (1,040 acres) This area is owned by the Nature Conservancy and is part of the Santee Coastal Reserve. The reserve features a 200 year-old cypress lake and cypress-gum swamp, which harbors the oldest wading bird rookery in continuous use in North America. In the 1700s, Joseph Blake operated the land as a plantation growing cotton, rice, and indigo. After the Civil War, the Santee Gun Club was founded here as a hunting reservation. Today the public can enjoy the Washo Reserve through the Marshland Loop trail. Tours offered by Nature Adventures Outfitters.

Guided birding, wildlife and hiking tours offered in the reserve by Nature Adventures Outfitters, www.KayakCharlestonSC.com, or call 843-568-3222.

Other Information

Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center:  Learn all about the Francis Marion National Forest and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge all in one place.  See Red Wolves and nature exhibits of the habitats in our area.  http://www.fws.gov/refuge/sewee_center/

Avian Conservation Center for Birds of Prey:  Come see this 152-acre campus that is dedicated to the study and welfare of birds and their habitats. Along with a medical clinic that treats more than 500 injured birds of prey each year, the facility also has an Oiled Bird Treatment Center and offers on-site outreach educational programs to students and adults. Open to the public with daily flight and educational demonstrations.

Horseback Riding:
Tuxbury Horse Trail
Jericho Horse Trail

Wambaw Creek Wilderness Canoe Trail
Echaw Creek Canoe Trail
Capers Island State Heritage Preserve
Bulls Island
Awendaw Creek Canoe Trail
Jeremy Creek Shrimping Village
Upper Wadboo Creek Canoe Trail
Huger / Quenby Creek Trail
Paddling Concessions and Outfitters offering Tours and Rentals to these locations include: Nature Adventures Outfitters, Inc, and Coastal Expeditions.

Francis Marion National Forest

wildlife prothonotary warbler

Photo courtesy of Nature Adventures Outfitters