A Myrtle Beach kayaking trip to remember! Bald eagle, dolphins, egret, cormorant encounters

My first time seeing a bald eagle in the wild! We love kayaking in the marshes near North Myrtle Beach (Cherry Grove inlet to be exact) because is so peaceful and you get to watch a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. This was indeed icing on the cake…

We started out at sunrise and let in at the boat ramp inside Cherry Grove Park adjacent the Heritage Shores Nature Preserve (highly recommending visiting , free admission).

Boat ramp and fishing dock at sunrise

Best way to start the day: going kayaking in the marsh at Cherry Grove Beach!

After a hearty 30 minutes paddle going against the current as we were trying to reach

Easy kayaking away from the main channel

Paddling through the side inlet to avoid going against the current

the ocean, we turned around looking for a better way.

We found it right across the dock where we let in. There is a mini inlet going parallel to main channel (Go only at high tide to avoid getting stuck in the sea grass or the oyster beds).

What a world of difference!

While my husband guided the kayak at a leisurely pace, I was able to take photos, enjoy the beautiful marsh views, and look out for wildlife.

We hit the jackpot! A remarkable American bald eagle perched on a pole,

Bald eagle perched on a pole in the middle of the marsh

Great reason to go out paddling...a chance to see the majestic American bald eagle!

scanning the marsh in search for a morning prey, oblivious to our presence…

For a long time it stood so still I wondered whether is one of those fake birds you see around the beach.

But it did eventually move when we got really close.

As I was shooting a video of its huge, beautiful wings in full strike, my batteries ran out…go figure! At least I got some nice still shots.

Here is another big bird beauty, a great white egret sitting in a tree in the middle of the preserve.

Wading bird up in the tree

Great white egret trying to spot its next meal

A double crested cormorant gliding smoothly above the water. Did you know that cormorants dive for food and after catching a fish, resurface, flip it into the air and swallow it head first?

Amazing bird viewing in North Myrtle Beach

Rewarding wildlife viewing while paddling in the marsh

Our initial attempt to pass “the Gauntlet of Death” (the nickname my husband gave the spot where the inlet meets the ocean and strong waves push against you) failed. But our second try through the side inlet succeeded with ease. We reached the barrier island and decided to take a break.

Good time to take a break from paddling

Where the inlet meets the ocean at the "Gauntlet of Death"...

Another treat in store: bottlenose dolphins feeding offshore. During our extended winter vacation at Cherry Grove Beach we were lucky to see dolphins swimming by the pier almost every day. Here is a memorable video with a pair of dolphins doing a spectacular synchronized jump.

Kayaking wildlife viewing by the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina

Enjoying a relaxing break from paddling on the barrier island

What else can you ask for? The ocean, sun, amazing wildlife encounters and a healthy dose of exercise at the beach, all free. Happy New Year everyone!

On the barrier island looking out to cherry grove beach resort

Gorgeous beach vista from the barrier island

Start a new family tradition this year: kayaking along the South Carolina coast!

Walking the Nature Preserve, Cherry Grove Beach fun free things to do

Ever wonder what is like to be in the middle of a saltwater marsh? Visiting the Heritage Shores Nature Preserve is the perfect way to find out. The preserve is feet away from Cherry Grove Beach and provides a mile long roundtrip boardwalk through a beautiful and diverse ecosystem. Admission is free and the park is open all day year around.

How to get there and where to park: The Nature Preserve is located next to the Cherry Grove Park and Boat Ramp at the end of 53rd Avenue North. The park is a very popular fishing destination in North Myrtle Beach and most of its parking spots are designated to cars with boat trailers. The preserve has its own mini parking lot and from here talk the short walk to the preserve entrance (turn right, away from the boat ramp area).

Welcome to the Nature Preserve

Start of the 1 mile walking trail inside the preserve

There are many interpretive signs about the marsh, fauna and flora you can observe along the trail. There is a boating dock and two shaded picning shelters (no restrooms). Bicycles are not allowed inside the preserve.

Oyster reefs are nature’s purest water filters, capable of cleansing 10 to 15 gallons of water a day.

A bed of oysters in the Cherry Grove inlet

The purest water filter...

Bird watchers enthusiasts are in for a treat. You can often spot blue herons, brown pelicans, white ibis and great egrets. Occasionally you may see double crested cormorans, osprey, hawks and barred owls.

Great blue heron wading at Heritage Shores Nature Preserve

The king of the tidal marshes

A majestic looking brown pelican hunting for its next meal. When fishing pelicans dive bill first from up to 60 feet high. An air sack under the bill cushions the blow that will otherwise kill most birds. A pelican can live almost 30 years.

Beautiful brown pelican at Nature Preserve

Master fisherman in action

Scenic picnic area overlooking the inlet and the ocean.

Relaxing inside the Cherry Grove preserve

Picnic area overlooking the marsh and the Atlantic Ocean

Dogs on leash are welcome inside the preserve.

Easy walking trail inside the preserve

Walking the dog inside the preserve

The Cherry Grove Hog Inlet provides good fishing opportunities for silverside, winter flounder, mummichog, pinfish, Atlantic croaker and striped mullet.

Fishermen Nature Preserve tidal marshes

A great way to spend the day in the tidal marsh

There are many different trees inside the maritime forest preserve. Here is an example of the sour cherry tree, where the Cherry Grove Beach name comes from. Other trees are the loblolly, red cedar (which is actually a juniper!), wax myrtle, groundsel and the strange looking hackberry.

Maritime forest cherry trees

There are indeed cherry trees at the beach...

My favorite was the Yaupon Holly, a very important tree for the Native American tribes that inhabited the area thousands of years ago. They used the caffeine-rich leaves for medicinal (“black drink” tea) and ceremonial purposes. Nowadays the berries are an important food source for many birds and small mammals.

Beautiful holly berries

Yaupon Holly tree at Cherry Grove Beach

Here is prickly pea cactus, nature’s own holidays ornament! Other plants include the Indian blanket, sea daisy, goldenrod (another popular medicinal plant used by Native Americans to treat fever, coughs, colds and measles), pickleweed, cord grass (the “civil engineer” of the tidal marshes) and reindeer moss (high in carbohydrates and vitamins A and B)

Salt marshes plants

Giant pea cactus inside the preserve

Animals big and small used to thrive in the maritime forest and the saltwater marsh, an excellent nursery home for many marine species. Who may live here? In the forest are red foxes, raccoons, white tail deer, broadhead skink; in the marsh crabs, snails, mussels, oysters, mud hoppers etc. While kayaking my husband was “escorted” by a noisy pod of bottlenosed dolphins who often come to the inlet to hunt for fish.

Walking through the mini maritime forest

A piece of paradise at Cherry Grove Beach

More fun things to do in North Myrtle Beach

  • Kayaking the Cherry Grove inlet all the way to the Atlantic Ocean (look out for friendly dolphins). Make sure to check the tide schedule and plan accordingly.
  • Ride the Sky Wheel, the newest family attraction downtown Myrtle Beach ($12 adults, $10 children 3-11)

Here is a more detailed list of affordable family friendly activities you can do from Wilmington NC to Georgetown SC.

Have fun in South Carolina!

Kayaking at Cherry Grove Beach: amazing scenery, great bird watching and fishing bonanza

Ahhh! Kayaking at the beach…This past weekend we got our feet wet at saltwater paddling with our 7 years old. With its calm and relatively low water the Cherry Grove inlet was a great choice for out first family kayak ride. We enjoyed beautiful scenery and up close encounters with egrets, pelicans and seagulls.

Preparing our inflatable kayak to ride the Cherry Grove Inlet

A rite of passage...her first kayaking experience

Things to know before you go
• The Cherry Grove Boat Ramp on 53rd Avenue North provides access to the marsh and ocean. There is a double boat ramp, boat trailer parking, a fishing pier, dock and restrooms. Parking spots go out quickly and we had to use the little beach opposite the boat ramp to let our kayak in.
• Check the saltwater inlet tidal guide and use common sense before entering the inlet to avoid any surprises.
• Our round trip, from the boat ramp to the ocean and back, lasted about an hour at a very leisurely pace.
• The Cherry Grove tidal marshes are very popular for fishing, crabbing and shrimping. Be prepared to navigate your way around fishing lines, especially when you let in, go under the bridge and when you reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Beautiful fall ride in the salt marsh near the beach

Out and about in the tidal marsh at Cherry Grove Beach

The boardwalk was one of my favorite landmarks along the way.

Board walk Cherry Grove inlet

Scenic boardwalk and bird watching along our kayaking trip

The egrets were quite active that morning, we saw several wading or flying about looking for a meal.

Beautiful egret in the tidal marsh

The queen of the marsh

Some seagulls fishing! (I thought they only ate chips and crackers…)

Fun kayaking at North Myrtle Beach

Seagulls fishing in the marsh

Busy day for fishermen at Cherry Grove.

Boat and surf fishing Cherry Grove inlet

Fishing enthusiasts flock to Cherry Grove Beach in the fall

A picture perfect family outing…

Fun riding the kayak in the Cherry Grove inlet

Peace of mind

Here is a list with fun and affordable family friendly things to do in and around Myrtle Beach.

Make sure to ride the Sky Wheel downtown Myrtle Beach (open daily til midnight, tickets are $12 adults and $10 children over 3).

Carolina Children’s Garden, Columbia free, fun and magical things to do

Recently we visited the Carolina Children’s Garden inside the Clemson Research and Education Center, right across the Sandhills shopping center. The garden is open daily from dawn to dusk and admission is free. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on leash at all times.

Columbia free outdoor attractions

The view from inside the park is spectacular. I’ve seen people walk around the lake, sunbathing on the lawn or just enjoying a picnic with family and their four legged friends.

Walk the dog around beautiful lake

Very young kids can enjoy a slide, a large sandbox and many places to play hide and seek.

Best outdoor playground picnic tables

I liked the fact that the garden is themed after famous children stories and songs. You can visit Old McDonald’s Farm…

Carolina Childrens Themed Garden

Learn basic gardening skills, like using a wheel barrel to carry things around.

Carolina Childrens Garden Columbia free things to do

Hey, these are Peter Rabbit’s clothes! And that’s how you build a scarecrow for your garden

Magic children themed garden Columbia parks

Kids can see and even sift through a tiny compost bin. And yes, there are few live little crawlers in it!

Columbia fun natural education conservation program

Every month there is something going on, check the website for upcoming programs and events. Next to the garden is the Conservation Station where you can learn how to protect the forest, wildlife, and the quality of water, soil and air.

Mark your calendar! Every year, on the last weekend in April is the Sparkleberry Fair at the Clemson Research and Education Center.

Relax with Winnie, Tiger, Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Bears at the beautiful Caolina Children’s Garden!

Dolphins swimming at Springmaid pier, free wild things to do in Myrtle Beach

Best things in life are free…amen! Want to watch dolphins swimm in the ocean? Save the $40 or so on dolphin cruises and instead take a stroll on the beach. On my second trip this winter we stayed on the south side of the Grand Strand at historic Springmaid Resort. Once again we were delighted to see dolphins swim by every morning (~11:30) and afternoon (~5PM). This time they were really close to the shore…what a treat!

Best views are from the pier. Here you can relax in the swing, on the giant Adirondack chair or on the wooden benches. Feeling lucky? Then rent a fishing rod ($10 per day) from the pier shop and try your hand at tuna, snapper, mackerel, bluefish, flounder, whiting and trout.

Here is a list with all the free and fun family things to do in and around Myrtle Beach.

Enjoy your vacation in Myrtle Beach!

Trout hatchery tour, free things to do in beautiful Pisgah National Forest

One fish two fish red fish blue fish…

Western North Carolina, the land of the waterfalls, is truly breathtaking in the fall.

Bobby N Setzer Fish Hatchery Raceway Exhibit

Fun free wild things to do inside Blue Ridge Parkway


Recently, we spend a weekend hiking between Hendersonville and Brevard.

We had fun visiting the Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery and Raceway Exhibit housed at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.

This is the largest hatchery in the state, which stocks about half million brook, rainbow and brown trout a year and feeds over 80 streams and lakes in 15 counties.

The center is located inside the Pigah National Forest of off Hwy 276 and about 20 minutes drive from scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.

Blue Ridge Parkway Trout Fishing

Self guided tour at the Fish Hatchery, Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education

The raceway exhibit is open Monday to Saturday, 8AM to 5PM and admission is free.

Here you can watch and feed brook, rainbow and brown trout.

The fingerlings grow in a series of 54 outdoor raceways, which are elongated, concrete fish-rearing ponds with a constant flow of fresh water.

In fact the raceways channel 3,500 gallons per minute of cold mountain water from nearby Davidson River and Grogan Creek!

About the trout… (data from the “Raising Trout for North Carolina Waters” brochure)

North Carolina native trout

Beautiful specled trout at Bobby Setzer Hatchery


The brook trout, is North Carolina’s only native trout, nicknamed “speckle” because of the blue-bordered, red spots on its flanks. The back has green worm-like markings and the lower fins are red with a black stripe and white leading edge.

The rainbow trout was brought from the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s. It has many dark spots, a greenish back that fades into silvery white on its belly and a red stripe along its flanks (hence the name). Rainbow trout can tolerate warmer waters than brook trout.

The brown trout was brought from Europe, also in the late 1800s. It is brownish yellow with many black and few bright-red spots along its flanks. Currently, it thrives in the North Caolina streams and can tolerate warm and turbid waters.

Once done with the hatchery tour, you can take the easy interpretive trail through the beautifully restored wildlife garden and hardwood forest habitat. Inside the auditorium you can get up close to colorful fish, frogs, salamanders and snakes.

If you plan to stick around for a few days, take advantage of the high quality outdoor classes for all age and skill levels: fly tying and fishing, hunter education, outdoor cooking, waterfall photography and more. Details online or by phone at (828) 877-4423.

Easily accessible waterfalls Blue Ridge Parkway

Nearby Looking Glass Falls right off Hwy 276

For ever enchanted in beautiful Western North Carolina!

Dorchester State Park, old English settlement near Charleston

“I passed Dorchester, where there are the remains of what appears to have once been a considerable town: there are the ruins of an elegant church, and the vestiges of several well-built houses.” – A 1788 account by a passing traveler

Fort Dorchester built in 1775

The Dorchester Garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion during Revolutionary War


Few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Dorchester State Historic Park, a short drive from Summerville, the magnificent plantations and North Charleston.

Similarly to nearby Charles Towne Landing, visitors are rewarded with one of America’s most complete archaeological records of colonial life.

The park is open daily 9AM to 6PM and admission is $2 for adults, free for kids 15 and younger. Most Saturdays, from June through September you can attend educational programs and observe archaeologist at work (free with park admission, 10AM to 2PM)

Historic highlights and interesting artifacts (data and quotes provided by the park exhibits and brochure guide)

On October 20, 1695, Joseph Lord, Increase Summer and William Pratt were dismissed from their church from Dorchester, Massachusetts for “Ye gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina.” After securing 4050 of land here along the Ashley River, they sailed home to their congregation in New England.

Coming to South Carolina for an acceptable settlement

Lord, Summer and Pratt gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina


They returned in 1697 with other church members who hoped “to go to South Carolina to Settel the Gospel ther”.

When the new Dorchester was laid out, the village contained 116 quarter acre lots, a town square and commons. The St. George Anglican church was built in 1720, a fair was established in 1723 and the Free School opened in 1761.

By 1781, Dorchester became a booming trade center and boasted about 40 houses by 1781. The town gradually declined after the American Revolution and was abandoned in 1788. The threat of malaria and the shortage of land cause the Congregationalist colony to leave Dorchester and start a new settlement in Midway, Georgia.

In 1969, the land was donated to the South Carolina State Park Service. The village of Dorchester is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Dorchester Free School – The school was established in 1758 and consisted of

How it was like to go to school in the 18th century

The Dorchester Free School where girls were allowed to attend.

“two Brick Houses of the Dimensions of 23 feet in weadth & 36 feet in length, & one story high, with a dutch roof, shall be built for the use of the sd. School, one of them to serve as a School House, & other for a dwelling house for the Master, & his Family…”

Several girls attended the free school, an amazing feat for the time given most girls were raised to become just mothers and housewives.

During Revolutionary War the schoolmaster was removed from this post for remaining loyal to England and the school was closed.

The British troops burned it down and it did not reopen for almost 25 years. In 1818 the school moved to Summerville.

The St. George’s Anglican Church and Bell Tower – Angry with the Anglican Church, the Puritan Pilgrims left England in 1620.

Anglican Church Tower

St. George’s Anglican Church was built here in 1720. The bell tower was added in 1751.

Their descendants, known as Congregationalists, founded Dorchester in 1697, only to endure South Carolina’s 1706 declaration of Anglicanism as the colony’s official church.

With the Congregationalists worshiping only 2 miles away, St. George’s Anglican Church was built in 1720 in the center of Dorchester. Village founders and the other village “dissenters” were even taxed to support St. George’s.

The church was enlarged in the 1730s to meet its growing and prosperous parish. The bell tower was added in 1751.

St. George’s Anglican Church may have been a more convenient location for local worship, however the Congregationalist Church remained the religious center for most of Dorchester’s Puritan settlers.

The Native Coosa Tribe – Long before the English settlers, a small Native American tribe, the Coosa, lived here. The relationship with the English has always been uneasy. In 1671, the Charles Towne settlers accused them of stealing corn and livestock

17th century Indian village in South Carolina

The Coosa were one of the original inhabitants in the Lowcountry

and in 1674 they were even accused of murder.

The settlers waged war against the Coosa. After defeating the Indians, they required a monthly payment of deerskin per colony.

In 1675, one of the Lord Proprietors was granted the land where the Coosa village once stood. Although the grant gave him legal title he officially purchased the land from the surviving Coosa for “a valuable parcel of cloth, hatchet, beads and other goods and manufactures now received…” He called his home there the “Cussoo House”

By 1696, the Coosa ceased to have a significance presence in this area. Some had settled in the nearby St. Paul’s Parish, some migrated west, others died or intermarried with the English.

Fort Dorchester – During the French and Indian War rumors of an impeding naval attack by the French forced swift action by leaders in Charles Towne.

Dorchester earthen and osyster shells colonial defense

The powder magazine was fortified in 1775


A brick powder magazine enclosed by a tabby wall 8 feet high was built here in 1757.

During the Revolution, Dorchester was a strategic point.

In 1775, the magazine was fortified and the garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion. British troops occupied the town in April 1780 and again in 1781. At one point there were over 600 British soldiers in Dorchester.

They were driven out by cavalry and infantry under Col. Wade Hampton and Gen. Nathaniel Greene on December 1, 1781.

The meeting House was located 2 miles west of the village. The first structure was built of wood and replaced in the mid 1700 with a brick building. The interior is described as:

“A single door admitted to a single aisle, leading to a lofty pulpit, with a sounding board above it.

Congregationalist colony ruins Dorchester Park

What is left of the Dorchester burial ground

In front of the pulpit was an elevated seat for the ruling elder; a little lower and just behind the communion table was a seat for the deacons.

On either side of the island were several plain benches, capable of seating four or five persons each.

Along the sides of the house were two or three long seats, and at the site of the pulpit were several shorter ones. Back by the door two seats were fitted up for the guardsmen, with their old matchlocks.”

During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied the building and reportedly burned it when they evacuated the area. In 1794 the structure was repaired, and eventually its congregation entered into an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church.

As the Dorchester settlement declined and the town of Summerville grew, a new church was constructed nearer the town. Over time the old meeting house fell in disrepair and in 1886 it was severely damaged by the Great Earthquake. Today, only crumbling walls and the burial grounds remain.

The Artifacts – At the center you can see numerous artifacts such as hand painted pearl ware, Staffordshire candle holder, lead-glazed earthenware, white salt-glazed stoneware and the Colono ware. The Colono ware is similar to pottery from Nigeria and Ghana. It started to be produced in Carolina around 1680, peaked in the early 1700s and then disappeared by 1800. Typical vessels were flat bottomed, burnished, grit-tempered and often had an “X” incised on their bases.

Step back in the colonial period at Dorchester State Historic Park!

Dorchester State Park outdoor attractions

Best place to have a picnic along Ashley River