The Lowcountry’s estuarial ecosystem has led to the preservation of three national wildlife refuges that are open for exploration.
The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, located off of Hilton Head Island, is a 4,000-acre refuge originally owned by the family of Charles Coatsworth Pinckney, a signer of the U.S. Constitution. Pinckney is a popular place for hiking, biking, bird watching, and photography. It is accessible for the elderly, very young and the handicapped. Fourteen miles of clearly marked grassy and gravel trails lead you to secluded ponds and promontories teaming with birds, alligators, dolphins, wildflowers, and swampy woods. You can also circumnavigate the island by kayak or boat, either on your own or with a guided tour. The refuge is located on U.S. Hwy. 278 between the two bridges that run from Bluffton to Hilton Head. It is open daily from dawn to dusk. Admission is free. Dogs and other pets are not permitted, and there are no restrooms. At certain times of the year parts of the refuge may be closed to protect wildlife from disturbance. Please respect the warning signs.
The Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, located about 45 minutes by car southwest of Hilton Head, lies along the Savannah River and comprises over 29,000 acres of bottomland hardwood trees, tidal rivers, creeks, and freshwater marshes. There is a four-mile wildlife drive through old rice field dikes as well as hiking and biking trails. You’ll see alligators, and thousands of migratory birds can be seen in the area during the winter. The Visitor Center, located on U.S. Hwy. 17 in Hardeeville, SC, is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Dogs and other pets are not permitted. For more information, call (843) 784-2468.
Outside Savannah, a division of Outside Hilton Head, offers boat tours of the refuge. This excursion, led by a naturalist captain, will venture upriver from Savannah and navigate through portions of the 29,000-acre refuge’s tidal creeks and marshes. It provides views of the Savannah Riverfront, an in-depth tour of the Georgia Ports Authority, and is a naturalist’s dream come true.
The Visitor Center, located on U.S. Hwy. 17 in Hardeeville, SC, is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Dogs and other pets are not permitted. For more information, call (843) 784-2468.
The Ernest F. Hollings ACE (Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers) Basin National Wildlife Refuge, located about two hours north of Hilton Head on U.S. Hwy. 17, is one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. This 350,000-acre preserve is a popular area for bird watching, canoeing, kayaking, and camping. Grove Plantation, the refuge’s Visitors Center, is a former rice plantation house built in 1828 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located on Willtown Road off U.S. Hwy. 17 in Edisto Beach, north of Beaufort. Admission to the refuge is free. It is open daily, except holidays, from dawn until dusk. For more information, call (843) 889-3084.
On Hilton Head, there are two nature preserves. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve is a 605-acre tract of forest with eight miles of trails in the heart of Sea Pines. Guided walking tours, family wagon rides, alligator boat tours, and trail rides on horseback all explore the nature and history of this tranquil enclave. The Preserve has entrances on Greenwood Drive (between the Greenwood Gate and the CSA Security Office) and off Lawton Road at Lawton Canal Road. There is ample parking and no charge to explore the bike trails and marked hiking trails on your own. If you are not staying within the Sea Pines Resort, there is a daily gate pass fee for entry.
Hilton Head’s 50-acre Audubon Newhall Nature Preserve, located off Palmetto Bay Road just off the south end of the Cross Island Parkway, is another peaceful oasis for nature lovers. It has a series of short, easy, and well-marked interpretive trails (complete with benches along the way) that lead you through a diverse forest to a pond where you will probably see alligators, blue heron, and turtles. Because it is so small, it is well suited for small children. Dogs are permitted. There are no restrooms. Admission and parking are free, and it is open during the daylight hours year around. The Hilton Head Island Audubon Society conducts seasonal walks on a variety of ecological subjects. For more information, call them at (843) 842-9246.
For more information, contact:
Kayak Hilton Head (843-684-1910)
Live Oac Adventures (843-384-1414)
Lowcountry Wildlife Photo Safaris (843-524-3037)
Outside Hilton Head (843-686-6996)
Sky Pirate Parasailing (843-842-2566)