Wild family fun at the mysterious Audubon Swamp Garden (what to do with kids in Charleston)

The Audubon Swamp in Charleston is America’s most unique garden and wildlife preserve, a remarkable, must see family experience.

Alligator soaking the sun next to his best pal

Alligator soaking the sun next to his best pal

The swamp garden became famous when John J. Audubon visited 150 years ago in search of waterfowl specimens for his paintings.

Fast forward to our time, it shined again as the filming site of the movie “The Swamp Thing”.

Audubon is an unequaled biodiversity with thousands of plant and animal species coexisting in the 60 acres of blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp.

The pristine waters are home to nesting blue herons and great egrets, impassable alligators, playful otters, slender deer, mysterious turtles and slithering snakes.

Great Egrets Couple

Several boardwalks, dikes and bridges traverse the wilderness allowing you to observe animals in their natural habitat. You may encounter small animals such as rabbits, foxes, squirrels and opossums.

Boardwalk over the eerie swamp

Boardwalk over the eerie swamp

Bird lovers will be delighted to observe blue herons, great egrets, blue-winged teal, common moorhen, pied-billed grebe, wood ducks, white ibis, red-shouldered hawk, yellow warbler, and occasionally, a majestic bold eagle.

Older kids will enjoy reading the centuries old headstones in the graveyard…

Old graveyard inside Audubon Swamp Garden

Old graveyard inside Audubon Swamp Garden

And visiting the pre Civil War slave cabins.

Inside slave cabin at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston

Inside slave cabin at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston

Touring the swamp takes about an hour, more for the nature enthusiast. Best time to observe wildlife is late afternoon.

The Audubon Swamp Garden is open year around from 8AM to 5:30PM (8:30 – 5 in winter) and can be accessed via Magnolia Plantation. Standalone admission is $7 for individuals (free for kids under 6) and $4 for groups that are also visiting the Magnolia Plantation (here are more price details to all the attractions).

The Swamp Troubadours at Magnolia Plantation

The Swamp Troubadours at Magnolia Plantation

Reward your inner beauty at the Audubon Swamp Garden and the historic Magnolia Plantation, one of top 25 most visited homes in America!

And if that’s not enough drive to the modern Edisto Island Serpentarium to rub elbows giant alligators, exotic turtles and fearsome snakes of all shapes and sizes.

Unforgetable fun at Hunting Island State Park beach: climb the Lighthouse, spot loggerhead turtles, catch a crab or hike along the lagoon (photo essay)

Planning for a family vacation or just a weekend getaway at the beach? Then look no further than Hunting Island State Park. There are affordable camping sites and cabins on the premises (although these go very quickly better to call 3-4 months ahead of time to secure a spot) and you’re about 20 minutes from beautiful Beaufort and historic Port Royal and little over an hour from Charleston. There is plenty of lodging, restaurants and entertaining activities in the area.

On the Hunting Island you can enjoy smooth white sands and fairly calm waters surrounded by lush vegetation and palm trees providing natural shade. The park offers one of the best spots to run kites, which you can rent right at the beach. Or you can just set back and watch the festival of colors dancing in the sky, as I did with my 4 years old.

Hunting Island Beach serenity

The Lighthouse is just few yards away. $2 and 167 steps later you get to enjoy breath-taking panoramic views of the island, the ocean and the marshes. You can hike the nature trail around the tidal lagoon or the incredible one mile boardwalk over the peaceful marshes. This is your best shot for wildlife encounters, especially with migratory birds. The trail starts hundreds yards away from the park entrance.

Of course the main island attraction is the chance to spot Loggerhead Turtles. South Carolina boasts the second largest population of sea turtles. Hunting Island State Park along with Edisto State Park delight visitors each year with the rare opportunity to see them nesting and hatching at their shores. From May till November there is none-stop action. Never disturb a mother’s nest or carry flashlights during hatching. Best thing is to do is to go on a guided tour – call the Nature Center at (843) 838-7437 for more info.

The beach has plenty of parking, picnic tables and shelters. There are two restroom facilities both equipped with showers. Admission fee to the park is $4 for adults and $2 for seniors. Children under 16 get in for free.

Enjoy your time at the Hunting Island beach!

Fun Family Time at Edisto Island State Park (what kids will love to do)

There is a lot of fun things to do at Edisto Island State Park besides the usual beach activities.

Interpretive Center and Outdoor Action
1. Kids love spending time at the Interpretive Center, a truly “green” building featuring hands-on exhibits and year around nature learning classes. There is a daily live show around 12 PM. Kids can touch live whelks, hermit and horseshoe crabs and watch the cute marine creatures forage for food. At the shrimp boat children have a blast playing captain for a day.

2. In June and July go on the guided night beach walks to spot loggerhead turtle hatchlings. The walks are Tuesdays and Thursdays start at 9:30 PM and last for few hours. There is a $10 fee and you can register at the Interpretive Center or call (843)-869-4430; seats go really fast!

3. You can hike, jog or bike on the park’s many trails through marine forest and over beautiful marshes. Most trails are handicap accessible. By far the most popular is the Spanish Mount trail with its mysterious 4,000 years old mound collection of oyster, mussel and turtle shells relics. Once over 20 feet high the mound lost most of its height due to massive beach erosion.

4. Try your fishing, crabbing and shrimping skills. Be aware the boat landing at Big Bay Creek was temporarily closed so better call ahead.

Outside Edisto Park: Serpentarium and History Museum
1. The only serpentarium in South Carolina is a guaranteed family attraction. The reptiles zoo houses hundreds of snakes, alligators, turtles and iguanas. Alligator feedings are at 12 and 4 PM and educational shows run every 2 hours starting at 11 AM.

In May and from August 19 until Labor Day the zoo is open Thursday thru Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM; From June 1st till Aug 19 the zoo is open every day except on Sunday. Admission fee is: adults $9.95, children 6-12 $7.95 and under 4 $4.50. There are discount rates for groups and military personnel. SC teachers get a one time free admission. Visit the website for more information. The serpentarium is located on 1374 Highway 174.

2. While in the area drive to the Edisto History Museum. There are photographs, furniture, farming tools, and even toys depicting the island life in the 1800s. My little one enjoyed the wildlife exhibit, the 1800 version of the Radio Flyer and the ancient cotton machinery. The museum is open Tuesday thru Saturday from 1 to 4 PM. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and free for children under 10. Here is a Google Map to the museum.

Have an awesome family vacation on Edisto Island!

The Inspiring Hunting Island Lighthouse (Beaufort fun things to do and see with kids)

The Hunting Island Lighthouse is South Carolina’s only publicly accessible historic lighthouse. At 132 feet high it rewards those brave enough to climb its 167 steps breathtaking views of the Hunting Island State Park, the sweeping Lowcountry marshland and the Atlantic Ocean.

Hunting Island Lighthouse

If you love lighthouse sightseeing then go visit the rest of the Sea Islands (Skeleton Tower, Harbour Town, Tybee Island and Cockspur Island) fascinating lighthouses, symbols of endurance and hope that have inspired legendary stories, romantic tales and even ghost hauntings!

Interesting Facts about Hunting Island Lighthouse

1. The first lighthouse was constructed of brick and was completed in 1859 but demolished few years later by the Confederate troupes. Current lighthouse, completed in 1875, is entirely made of wrought and cast iron plates so it can be “easily” disassembled and moved;

2. Speaking of moving the original location was one mile to the north. Severe beach erosion and the fact that high tides were coming just 35 feet from the lightkeeper’s house forced the lighthouse relocation in 1889.

3. The lighthouse endured the test of Mother Nature. In 1886 it was shoked by a 7.5 Richter earthquake and in 1893 became a sanctuary for women and children of the City of Savannah steamship, severely wrecked by a hurricane.
Toting Oil for Lighthouse

4. The lighthouse needed constant oil supply. The keeper hauled a 50 pound oil tote several times a day to the top! Oil and other goods were transported by sea up to the Jackson River wharf and there by tramcar over a 3,000 foot-long tramway up to the Oil House on the lighthouse grounds.

5. The Hunting island lighthouse was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1933 and replaced by sea buoys. You can see two buoys on the lighthouse grounds. The ruins on the ground are remnants of the light keeper House that burned in 1938.

Tips to Know Before You Go

1. The lighthouse is open daily from 11 AM and the last climb is at 4:45 PM and believe me the staff will close exactly then.

2. Admission fee is $2. This is extra from the State Park entrance fee and there are no discounts. Infants and toddlers are not allowed. Kids need to be at least 44 inches tall.

3. Wear something comfortable and that’s not very slippery on smooth surfaces. Everything inside the lighthouse is made out of iron. The climb is pretty fast; once up be mindful of heavy winds and secure your hats, sunglasses and everything else that’s loose.
View from the lighthouse

4. There are educational signs on most of the “floors” that provide interesting trivia and a good excuse to stop and catch your breath. This should also keep kids entertained and give them motivation to continue on.

5. The guardrails seem much shorter (up to your waist) than at other lighthouses. So hold your little ones hand just to be safe.

6. It’s much easier to go up than down; the staircase looks more daunting and feels more nauseating as you go down in circles…maybe another opportunity to read the signs and take photos 🙂

7. There’s lot more to see on the grounds. Kids will have fun checking out the old tramcar and the dwellings (especially the outhouse!), balancing on the ruins of the keeper’s house, and learning maritime navigation facts from the two giant buoys next to the restroom building.
These came from the Charleston harbor.
Tramcar for lighthouse

Where
The lighthouse is located inside the Hunting Island State Park. Once you pass the fee booth follow the road and when you come to an intersection turn left. Follow the Lighthouse gift shop sign. Here is a map on how to get to Hunting Island and also a map of the park itself.

Come experience the rich history of Beaufort area along the South Carolina coast!

Virtual Historic Trail Tour at Charles Towne Landing

Take a virtual tour of the South Carolina historic trail at the Charles Towne Landing park near downtown Charleston.

Step back in time at and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Charles Towne Landing Historic Site!

Cypress Gardens: “The Black Water Swamp” in pictures

See my previous post on Cypress Gardens for more info. Here is the swamp tour in photos

Cypress Garden – near Charleston SC