Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Welcome to paradise! That was the greeting given to us by a park volunteer as we checked in to Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina.

Hunting Island State Park

We started to doubt the "paradise" claim as we arrived at our camp site. There were little pockets of trash scattered around it. Did we arrive before the volunteers had a chance to tidy the site? Were the previous campers trashy? We found the answer to those questions later that night when we saw a couple of racoons examining our site looking for anything we foolishly left out for them and we noticed some trash treasures every morning shared with us by the racoons.

Setting up Rosie, our Airstream trailer, was more of a challenge than normal because our site had a strong left to right slope. We had to use every leveler tool we brought with us to get the level's bubble near the center circle.

Rosie at Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island State Park is in the area of South Carolina called the "Low Country." You pass through salt marshes and swamps to get to the park and you can definitely see why the locals call this the "low country."

A salt water marsh at Hunting Island State Park

Low country has another meaning in this park. Beach erosion, which is normal along the Atlantic coastline, keeps shrinking the park. We talked to one couple who proudly said that they have camped in Hunting Island several times per year for the past 15-20 years, but their favorite site was now underwater as the ocean continues to claim more and more of the park. 

Several people, including park officials, said that an entire camping loop, a bath house and some camping cottages subcomed to the waves over the past couple of decades. We found traces of roads and buildings as we walked along the beach.

More evidence of the effect of erosion was seen at the lighthouse. We were amazed to read that it was built in the center of the island. Today, the surf is approaching it and they estimate that it will reach the lighthouse entrance within 15 years. 

The Lighthouse

While you cannot escape the effects of erosion on the changing face of the park, we were impressed with its size. This is a large park with more than 200 camp sites and there are lots of things to do here. But the big draw for this park is the Atlantic Ocean.

Becky and I both grew up living close to the Atlantic Ocean. I was about 10 miles from a north Florida beach and she was less than five miles from a central Florida one. This was our first trip in Rosie to see the Atlantic, a body of water that was a big part of our childhoods.

There was a path behind Rosie that led through the dunes to the ocean. Our site was less that 50 feet from the beach and the first sight of the water was very nostalgic for both of us.

The Atlantic Ocean at Hunting Island
Selfie along the beach
Evening clouds

We were amazed at the tides along the beach at Hunting Island State Park. We estimated that you have around 1,000 additional feet of beach sand at low tide. The waves came right up to the sites along some waterfront sites during high tide.

One of the things campers seem to love doing at Hunting Island is catching crabs. One person said she liked catching crabs better than fishing because you can see the results much quicker. It only took a few minutes to see these campers start reeling in blue crabs.

For the campers who love fishing, there is a pier on the south end of the park. Of course, many enjoy fishing in the surf or on the salt marsh side of the park.

Fishing Pier

Most of the camping loops have shade. The closer you get to the sites near the ocean, the less shade. Of course, the sea breeze makes up for that issue.

Modesty is not the operative term when it comes to the bath houses. I had a flashback to my Army basic training, which was also in South Carolina, when I saw the showers because there is no privacy. There are a couple of hooks across the walkway for your clothes, but no curtain separating you from anyone else in that bath house.

The park is less than 10 miles away from the U.S. Marine Corp basic training base on Parris Island. I could not help but wonder if some old Marine Drill Instructors participated in designing these bath houses.

A flimsy shower curtain went up while we were camping at Hunting Island. It blocked view from anyone in the restroom area from the showers. I wasn't sure if a camper or the park officials installed this. While this curtain was appreciated, there was very little privacy behind it between the twin shower stalls.

We saw a variety of wildlife while at the park. Deer and racoons were daily sightings. There was a large alligator near the park office. We found a flock of Wood Storks roosting in the trees near the campground and we saw a bald eagle one afternoon. Herons, pelicans and ospreys were common sights during our stay. One of our more interesting sightings was three baby alligators near the park's office.

While speaking about the "critters" at Hunting Island, we have to mention the bugs. Mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers where everywhere in this park. While talking to a couple from South Carolina about the ticks, their response was that we would get used to them if we lived there. I disagree.

We both came home with some chigger bites and one of us had a significant number of bites that continued to itch for another couple of weeks. Annie, our dog, brought home fleas.

Site selection may have contributed to our invasion of bugs. There were trees and dunes between us and the beach, meaning we didn't feel the ocean breeze. A couple of the camping loops were right along the beach and campers in these sites said the ocean breeze helped keep the pests away. If we return to this park, we will be camping along the ocean front.

We enjoyed the maritime forest in this park. Many petrified tree trunks were on the beach and in the Atlantic and this was an amazing sight to see. This alone is reason enough to visit the park.
Several people told us that the Vietnam scenes in the Forest Gump movie were filmed on the island. It was easy to picture Forest, Bubba and Lieutenant Dan being there.

Trees near the ocean

Trees along the ocean

Some of the petrified trees
More petrified trees

Petrified trees at high tide

Some specifics about Hunting Island State Park:
  • There are multiple camping loops at Hunting Island State Park. Some are directly on the ocean and others are back in the woods. You can hear the surf and feel the ocean breeze on the campsites nearest the Atlantic.
  • The park has several areas reserved for tents. Several of these are in the prime spaces facing the ocean.
  • Most of the RV campsites have both 30 and 20 amp service. A few sites also have 50 amp connections.
  • AT&T provided weak 4G and 3G service over the campground.
  • Wi-Fi was available at the camp store. It was common to see several people trying to share the bandwidth to check their email messages.
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC TV stations from our antenna. We also saw ME-TV, CW, THiS and GET -TV digital channels.
  • I talked about the restrooms earlier in this posting.There are multiple restrooms/bath houses scattered in the park's camping loops. They appear to have been around for a long time without updates, but they are well maintained. The volunteers do a good job trying to keep them clean.
  • It is easy to ride your bicycles inside the park's camping area. We ventured out to the road connecting the park to the lighthouse and were amazed at how many cars were speeding past us on a narrow two-lane road. We found out that there is a residential area on the next island and those living there have to drive through the park to get there. We decided to keep our bike rides confined to the camping loops.
  • You don't want to walk your dog to the trash disposal area. We were cautioned our first night that the racoons in that part of the park have been known to attack small dogs. After that, Becky would stop about 50 feet from the dumpsters and hold our dog and I would loudly stomp to the trash area to scare away the racoons before throwing in our trash bag. (Not all of the racoons were scared away by this technique. Several would simply stare at me as I threw our trash in the dumpster.)
  • The park has water and electrical connections, but not sewer hook-ups. There are two dump stations in the park.
  • There is a Publix grocery store about 14 miles from the park and it takes about 25 minutes to get there. Make sure you have your needed supplies before you start to camp at Hunting Island State Park.
We saw six Airstream trailers in the park while we were there. These ranged from a 1967 Safari to a new International. As we have experienced in other parks, the Airstreamers tend to be very friendly and willing to share ideas with each other,

We need to mention one additional point about Hunting Island State Park. We were warned about the narrow bridge on the only road leading to the park. It certainly was scary and I would not want to meet up with a big rig on that bridge.

The narrow bridge

One of the park rangers said that Hunting Island is the premiere park in South Carolina in that it has significantly more visitors than the other state parks. While we think the beaches along the Florida/Alabama Gulf coast are closer to "paradise," there are many things to see and do at Hunting Island State Park.

Watercolor painting by Becky

Becky's watercolor painting of the lighthouse

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