Tour South Carolina's natural areas
Monday, June 15, 2009 - 10:48
Walking across a steamy parking lot in Columbia in the middle of June with the heat radiating off the asphalt, you might not believe the motto on the license plates on the cars cooking beside you: "Smiling faces. Beautiful Places."
However, South Carolina boasts a variety of beautiful natural landscapes. Literally, there is everything from the mountains to the seashore. With 46 state parks and eight national parks, many of the natural areas are protected from development.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I believe that the first step to taking environmental action is appreciating the environment. In order to fully appreciate it, we need to get outside and experience the natural world. So, I invite you to come explore South Carolina's beautiful places!
Starting in the Upstate and moving all the way down to the Low Country, I have highlighted a few of the spots that shouldn't be missed on a tour of our state.
The stretch of the Applachian Mountains that runs through the nortwestern corner of the state hides a good number of waterfalls. The cascades are most spectacular after a significant rain event. Because of the long-term drought in the area, sometimes these waterfalls won't be more than a trickle. Issaqueena Falls and Station Cove Falls are both easily accessible from Clemson University, so I am a frequent visitor. In early spring, the trail that leads up to Station Cove Falls explodes with wildflowers.
South Carolina has several man-made reservoirs. Some have a more developed shoreline than others, but Lake Jocassee is bordered by the Jocassee Gorges Wilderness Area. This deep (more than 300 feet!), clear lake nestled in the mountains is always cool and refreshing, even on the hottest days of August. It has been compared to "the untamed lakes of northern Canada and even the unspoiled lochs of Scotland," by visitors. Devil's Fork State Park is a great place to pick up a shaded trail or launch your boat.
Moving down out of the mountains and through the piedmont, you will come to the Sandhills in the middle of the state. This marks the ancient coastline, and because of the sandy soil, there is a lot of plant and wildlife not seen in other places in the state, like the carnivorous pitcher plant. Sesquicentennial State Park is easily accessed from Columbia and has a sandy six-mile bike trail through the pine forest.
Below the Sandhills, the terrain becomes very flat, and the low-lying areas hold standing water much of the time. Look for the mysterious Carolina Bays, which are oval shaped depressions that fill with water. Woods Bay State Natural Area is home to one of the larger Carolina Bays. Congaree National Park has the largest remnant of an old-growth floodplain forest. Both of these parks have boardwalks through the wetlands where you can see cypress knees, hear several species of birds and tree frogs, and if you are lucky catch a glimpse of a gator. However, the best way to tour these areas is in a canoe. Congaree has free guided tours with canoes provided.
South Carolina has a long stretch of coastline and barrier islands. Much of it has been developed, but Hunting Island State Park is a haven for wildlife with its fairly undisturbed landscape. Just on this island, there are salt marshes, tidal creeks, sub-tropical maritime forest, freshwater lagoons and of course, the beach, each with its own intriguing characteristics. The bleached driftwood sticking up out of the sand on the beach makes a great photograph against a blue sky, and the northern tip of the island is dotted with tidal pools on a low tide where you can find all kinds of sea creatures. Hiking through maritime forest is like stepping into a jungle. The low saw palms are shaded by massive live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Swim with caution in the freshwater lagoons, though, because this is where you might spot an alligator.
There are so many incredible places in South Carolina to enjoy the outdoors that I can't hit all of them, but don't hesitate to explore! Also, limit your fossil fuel usage, be ambitious and bike through the state.
Issaqueena Falls: flickr/turbojoe
Lake Jocassee: flickr/External Focus
The Sandhills: flickr/Keep My Day Job
Congaree Swamp: flickr/dappledapple
Hunting Island: flickr/Old Sy in Beufort, flickr/tn_critterman
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