There's more to life in Charleston carriage tours and beaches. This time of year, the crowds start bearing down on you and traffic begins to make your blood boil. Don't you wish that there was a way to get away from the rush? A way to experience a slower, more relaxed side of the Lowcountry?
It's more than a dream - it's actually a reality. Just a few miles north of peninsular Charleston are the small towns and natural landscapes of St. George Parish. Now mostly incorporated into present-day Dorchester County, this historic region contains ancient forests, untouched wildlife and a serene, slow-paced lifestyle. Come up off the beaten path, and see what the landscapes around the small towns of Harleyville, Ridgeville, Reevesville, Dorchester and St. George have to offer.
Take a Slow Paddle Down the Edisto River
If you really want to tap into a relaxed state of mind, take a day trip down the slow, gentle waters of the Edisto River. If you have a canoe or kayak of your own, you slip in and enjoy one of North America’s longest blackwater rivers. But if you don’t have your own small paddle-operated craft, there’s no need to fret. There are several ways to experience the river’s serenity.
Carolina Heritage Outfitters will happily you rent a canoe and drop you off for a 10-mile self-guided tour that brings you back to your car. While a trip down the Edisto can easily stretch all day, for a truly magical experience you can add an overnight treehouse stay to your journey. Carolina Heritage Outfitters rents treehouses accessible only by water, giving you the opportunity to spend a night suspended in the trees while the waters of the river drift slowly by.
For a different perspective on the Edisto, bring your kayak to (or rent one at) Givhans Ferry State Park. The river cuts right through the center of the park, giving visitors a view of the limestone bluffs that line its banks. The park is also a great spot to dip in for a swim in the big, slow-moving river. If you’re wondering, a “bluff” is a Lowcountry term for something that’s rather rare in these parts – a hill!
Folks interested in taking a group tour should check out Edisto River Adventures. This outfitter and tour company offers guided half- or full-day kayaking trips down the river. They also provide kayak drop-off and pickup services, and can also provide you with the ultimate lazy river experience: tubing rentals.
Explore the Majestic Francis Beidler Forest
This Audubon wildlife sanctuary is located in Four Holes Swamp, a bald cypress and tupelo forest and swamp that preserves trees more than one thousand years old. Because the forest has never been logged, it’s an opportunity to get up close and personal with unique and endangered species. In fact, the Beidler Forest is one of only two old-growth forests remaining in South Carolina, and it’s the only one in the Lowcountry.
Despite the swampy nature of the forest, you don’t have to get your feet wet if your don’t want to! Visitors can walk a 1.75-mile boardwalk over the water and among the towering trees. In addition to birds, you can encounter river otters, rare wildflowers, deer, muskrats, all kinds of amphibians and even the occasional alligator.
True to its name as an Audubon sanctuary, the forest offers the opportunity to see many different species of birds. Guided bird walks are available, but just a simple stroll around will often reward visitors with sights of wood storks, red-shouldered hawks, screech owls, barred owl, great blue herons, Carolina wrens, titmice, chickadees and bluebirds. Migratory birds of all kinds come and go year-round as well.
The forest also offers guided canoe or kayak trips for those who want to get a bit closer to the water. Visitors can also go on a nighttime walk around the boardwalk to see a different perspective and listen to frogs and owls calling out into the night.
Looking for a great place to eat nearby? Try Shug’s Southern Soul Café in St. George. A Lowcountry institution, this restaurant offers some of the best food around, including crab, shrimp, friend green tomatoes and more.
Chill Out Along the Ashley River
Take a trip up historic Ashley River Road – one of the oldest roads in British North America – to Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark that’s home to 65 acres of landscaped gardens and countless outdoor activities.
The site sits along the Ashley River, an important waterway that was once the main way used to access the sprawling plantations. By booking a tidal creek and marsh tour, you can explore these ancient waterways, see wildlife and paddle in and out of former rice fields.
While at Middleton Place, you can also explore the grounds, visit historic interpreters who demonstrate Colonial-era and 19th century crafts, and see farm livestock that would have been raised on the site.