Spend A Day (or More!) At Edisto Beach State Park

Edisto Island is considered the second largest sea island on the southeastern coast. With its 70 square miles at high tide, it’s about the size of the District of Columbia. It is actually an assemblage of many islands connected by bridges and causeways with widespread salt marshes, a flourishing maritime forest, and (of course) miles of beaches. In addition to the 1,255 acre state park, approximately 51% of Edisto Island is conserved through land trusts.

Edisto Beach State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program was designed to provide employment during the Great Depression while addressing national needs in conservation and recreation.

The CCC was instrumental in the development of many of South Carolina’s state parks. A number of buildings built by the CCC in the 1930s are still in use in the park.

Fall and winter storms ravage the South Carolina coast, continually recasting the size and terrain of the many barrier islands that flank the coast. These tempests of nature consistently roil up areas off the coastline that were, in prehistoric times, swamps and marshes. It is here that fossils are exposed and are eventually washed ashore in rough storm waves. The most astounding discoveries have been the remains of mastodons, mammoths, and saber tooth tigers, some of which are on display at the Columbia State Museum. Most fossils found tend to be shells, bone fragments, and teeth, which can be recognized by their glossy, black surfaces that stand out among the dull shells on the beach. These fossils are known to date back to the late Pleistocene era.

While it may be difficult to visit after such storms, Edisto is worth exploring at other times as well. On nearly any day of the year, observant beachcombers can find sand dollars, starfish, and sharks’ teeth along the shoreline. Shark teeth are easily identified by their pointy triangular shape. The visitor’s center has an assortment of sharks’ teeth and fossils on exhibit for reference.

Furthermore, Edisto has a substantial amount of loggerhead sea turtles that sojourn in early summer to lay their eggs in the sand dunes, resulting in a torrent of newly hatched turtles that materialize in the dead of the night during the late summer. The nests are protected and clearly marked along the shore. State park rangers often arrange interpretive turtle walks where a lucky park goer can sometimes catch a female laying eggs or view new hatchlings as they navigate into the crashing waves. The loggerhead is South Carolina’s official state reptile. They can weigh up to 300 pounds and reach up to four feet in shell length. South Carolina averages more than 3,000 loggerhead nests yearly, and observing either an adult sea turtle laying eggs or hatchlings making their way to the ocean is an awesome and rare opportunity. More commonplace is to observe turtle tracks in the sand the following morning which look like tire tracks. Disturbing a nest is a federal crime punishable with fines and even jail time, so stay clear of any suspected nest, egg laying females, or new hatchlings. Turtle watch groups generally monitor Edisto in the early morning hours, marking and safeguarding new nesting spots. It is always stirring to see newly marked nests, which are typically tabbed by bright orange protective coverings and signage.

Four Before-You-Go Tips for Edisto Beach State Park

  • Entry fee: $8 per adult, discount for seniors and children, age 5 and under free.
  • Four miles of hiking/biking trails, two historical sites
  • Stay at the beach for a long weekend. Rent a cabin or reserve a campsite for your tent or RV.
  • If only daytripping, bring a bathing suit, hiking shoes, water, and bug spray (This also applies to those who stay longer)

How to Get to Edisto Beach State Park

The park is an hour’s drive from downtown Charleston, two hours from Hilton Head Island, and a little over two hours from Columbia, SC.

What to Do at Edisto Beach State

Relax on a beach, hunt for fossils, fish on Big Bay Creek, hike or bike the trails. Whether you spend a day or a week here, there’s plenty to do.

Trails: Biking and Hiking

Edisto Beach State Park has seven trails that range from a quarter of a mile to 3.6 miles (you can combine and have a 4.2 mile trail) all of which are ideal for families. Many are wheelchair accessible.

Forest Loop Trail – 0.5 mile, one way

This natural, soft-surface trail winds through the island’s maritime forest, a coastal wooded area with a range of salt spray. Edisto’s shaded forest features live oaks, mature pines, palmetto palms, and bald cypress trees that expose knobby “knees” among their submerged roots. A variety of wildlife also inhabits the forests, and it is possible to encounter an alligator, snake, deer, or racoon. Campers have even reported seeing a rare bobcat. (If you want to search for a bobcat, look up at the tree branches. Bobcats tend to lounge in the tree branches during the day and observe diurnal action from aloft.) All these animals prefer to avoid human contact, and humans should try to avoid animal contact by staying on the trails.

Big Bay Trail – 0.4 mile, one way

This 0.4 mile trail takes you from the Education Center through the boat ramp parking area to the Spanish Mount.

Edisto Beach State Park Trail – 4.3 mile, out and back

This is a trail for all skill levels with beautiful river and marsh views and benches along the way. Several boardwalks. Hard packed sand makes for easy running while still doable on bikes.

Spanish Mount Trail – 1.7 miles, one way

The Spanish Mount Trail begins at the ranger station and ends at an ancient Native American mound. It travels through a canopy of live oaks and forested areas, abutting the marsh for several delightful and scenic views. Boardwalks allow the visitor to ramble across the marshes gathering intimate glimpses of snowy egrets, blue herons, fiddler crabs, and other wetland creatures. A keen odor of pluff mud assails the senses and adds to the sereneness of the exploration. At the end, the ancient shell midden (refuse heap) is somewhat anticlimactic as weather and erosion have taken a toll on the hill. Edisto Indians, whom historians believe were decimated by European disease, constructed the hill out of oyster, mussel, and turtle shells along with pottery and bones. Basically, it’s an ancient trash heap where refuse and unwanted items were disposed of. Ancient trash heaps can tell you a lot about a civilization, so this area is protected.

Photo from AllTrails

Bache Monument Trail – 0.2 mile, one way

The US coastline between Maine and the Gulf of Mexico was accurately measured for the first time in the 1840s. The director of the survey was Alexander Bache, great grandson of Benjamin Franklin. Bache created a calculable instrument to accurately measure distances for surveying. There was no GPS to determine their locations so they used concrete monuments to mark baselines from which more lines could be measured which resulted in an accurate map.

This easy trail takes you from the Environmental Learning Center to one of the only two remaining Bache markers on Edisto Island. Winding along Big Bay Creek, you will find several informative markers guiding you to this historic monument. The Big Bay Trail is also nearby if you would like to extend your hike/ride.

Campground Trail – 0.3 mile, one way

This easy trail will take you from the campground to the Scott Creek Trail.

Scott Creek Trail – 0.7 mile – one way

The Scott Creek Trail is perhaps the park’s most engaging, beginning in the maritime forest but quickly opening to scenic marshland. This trail offers great chances to see wildlife and savor the iconic beauty of the island. The Scott Creek Trail connects to the Spanish Mount Trail.

Go To the Beach

It’s right there in the name. Less crowded and less touristy than other beaches and close to Charleston, this is a great option for a low-key beach getaway. You can even camp just steps away from the beach at the beach campground. Just remember swimming is at your own risk. There are no lifeguards on duty.

Boating and Fishing

Big Bay Creek and the marsh area can be accessed via the park’s boat ramp off of Oyster Row Lane in the western most part of the park.

To get there, you’ll turn right before you see any other signs for the state park. The environmental center is also located near there.

The free flowing Edisto River offers habitats for all kinds of unique fish. The American eel, American shad, Atlantic sturgeon, and anadromous striped bass are just a few of the many fish that call the river home. You can also enjoy surf fishing in the ocean or try your hand at fishing in the salt marsh.

Take a Botany Bay Ecotour

Edisto Beach State Park is near the center of the ACE Basin, the estuary where the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers meet the Atlantic Ocean. Several local companies offer boat and land excursions suitable for different ages to closely observe this undeveloped swamp. They also offer whale and dolphin watching trips or a picnic on the beach.

Photography

Every picture tells a story. The beach is beautiful on a bright sunny day, but also when a storm is approaching. Sunsets over Big Bay Creek and the marsh are dazzling. The Spanish Mount and Scott Creek Trails offer ample opportunity to snap some wildlife pictures.

Visit the Edisto Environmental Learning Center

Kids and adults alike enjoy spending time at the park’s interpretive center, a building that features stuffed animals, displays of live reptiles, fossils, and many hands-on exhibits, such as live whelk, and horseshoe and hermit crabs.

Camping

Edisto Beach State Park has two campgrounds: the Beach Campground and the Live Oak Campground, located in the salt marsh. Both have great views. Camping reservations usually require a two-day minimum stay. Sometimes the park is flexible in the off season. Prices are slightly higher on weekends than weekdays. Campsites can be reserved online up to 13 months ahead of time. Tip: sea turtle nesting time is extremely popular and sells out quickly.

The Beach Campground

Direct access to the beach from this campground, though the fees are a bit higher than Live Oak Campground. All 67 campsites have access to water and electric hook-ups. Tip: bring bottled water as the tap water is very salty. Prices range from $45 to $65 per night, depending on season.

The Live Oak Campground

Spectacular sunsets on the marsh. This campground has 5 primitive, tent-only campsites and 50 water/electric hook up sites for tents or RV camping. Primitive sites are $25 but the rest fluctuate depending on season, from $35 to $50 per night. If you like to fish this campground is easy to reach Scott Creek.

Photo from Trip Advisor

Cabins

For those of you that like the outdoors but also prefer the comfort of home, Edisto Beach State Park offers cabin rentals. Cabins are fully furnished and include everything such as bed linens and cookware. It’s like you are in a hotel but smack dab in a state park which negates traveling back and forth from your hotel room. Cabins are all located in the marsh Scott Creek area of the park near but not in Live Oak Campground. Bring your own food or buy groceries at the Food Lion store across from the park’s beach entrance.

There are seven cabins available: 5 one bedroom cabins and 2 three bedrooms. The one bedroom can sleep up to 4 adults while the three bedroom cabins can accommodate 6 adults. Cabins sometimes require a minimum 7 day stay depending on the season. Rates vary and are subject to change. Best to call or visit the park online.

Edisto Beach State Park
8377 State Cabin Road
Edisto Island, SC 29438
(843) 869-2156
https://southcarolinaparks.com/edisto-beach

Nearby attractions

Edisto Island Serpentarium

The Edisto Island Serpentarium has reptiles in outdoor gardens and an indoor solarium, including snakes, lizards, turtles, and alligators. Shows and twice-daily alligator feedings.

Edisto Island Serpentarium
1374 SC-174
Edisto Island, SC 29438
(843) 868-1171
https://edistoserpentarium.com/

Photo from Edisto Museum

Edisto Island Museum

This museum offers outstanding unique island history, from the stories of enslaved African Americans working on plantations to Civil War artifacts and the island’s role in secession.

Edisto Island Museum
8123 Chisolm Plantation Road
Edisto Island, SC 29438
(843) 869-1954
https://edistomuseum.org

Re-fuel

After a day of outdoor activities you will probably have built up an appetite. Here are a few informal spots a short drive from the park that will tame your hunger.

Photo from Facebook

Whaley’s Store

Self-described seafood dive since 1948. Local catch of the day, wings, sandwiches, and more. Cheap beer and craft beer.

Whaley’s Store
2801 Myrtle Street
Edisto Island, SC 29438
(843) 869-2161
https://whaleyseb.com/

Photo from Facebook

McConkey’s Jungle Shack

Laid-back, tropical-themed cafe. Think burgers, hot dogs, fish tacos, fish & chips, wings, and cubans. Alcohol.

McConkey’s Jungle Shack
108 Jungle Road
Edisto Island, SC 29438
(843)869-0097
https://www.mcconkeysjungleshack.com/Home

Photo from Facebook

Pressley’s at the Marina

Informal on the water restaurant (deck seating) featuring local broiled and fried seafood, bam bam shrimp, hush puppies, fried pickles, and signature cocktails.

Pressley’s at the Marina
3702 Dockside Road
Edisto Island, SC 29438
(843) 869-9226
http://pressleysatthemarina.com/

Edisto Beach State Park offers great opportunities to enjoy a variety of ecosystems and experience an assortment of activities. Plan a visit today to this underrated park and be pleasantly surprised at what it offers.