Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Huntington Beach State Park

"Don't you mean Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort?" you may be thinking. Not in this post. And if you're confused, you're not alone. I've met several South Carolinians who haven't heard of Huntington Beach State Park.

Named for Archer and Anne Hyatt Huntington, who once owned the land, Huntington Beach State Park is located south of Myrtle Beach in one of our favorite towns, Murrells Inlet. The entrance, off Hwy 17, south of Bus 17, is almost directly across the street from Brookgreen Gardens. That isn't an accident. Huntington Beach SP is actually part of Brookgreen Gardens, but is on lease to the state because, in part, of its pristine maritime forest and beach.

Your journey into Huntington begins with a short trip over a causeway. To your right is a freshwater lagoon. To your left, a saltwater marsh which stretches northward, between Murrells Inlet and Garden City Beach.

Herons, egrets, and other shorebirds often soar over the marshes or munch on seafood in the pluff mud near the oyster beds, and the sight is breathtaking. But don't stop in the middle of the road to watch! Just beyond the causeway to your right is a parking area. If you have time, park your car and walk across the bridge or to the nearby observation platform where you can spend as much time as you please viewing Huntington's wildlife.

Also to the right, if you continue on, you'll find the Huntington's former residence, Atalaya. This structure is fascinating, if nothing else. One can tour the Spanish-Moor-style home for a nominal fee, and we did so on this occasion. From the courtyard entrance, you can walk through a long brick walkway that surely once had a canopy of green overhead.

Reportedly built as a winter home for the Huntington's, and as a sculpting studio for Anne Hyatt Huntington, the house is made of brick: exterior and interior walls, even the floor. The glassless windows, barred by green wrought iron, allows the sea breeze to blow through, keeping the house cool.

I could go on about this house and the history that I'm slowly learning (the Army used it as a base during WWII while patrolling the waters off the shore?) so those interested in such things should check it out in person while visiting Huntington Beach State Park.

Let's continue our tour of the park itself. Backtracking a bit, moving northward in the park, you'll pass a group campground. Just before that, rising in the air on hurricane-code stilts, is the office/general store. This is a good place to stop and use the restroom, or to pick up a snack or bottled drink. This is also the camp registration, so mark that with an X.

Further north, past the causeway you entered on, you'll see a parking lot and what looks like a trailhead into the saltwater marsh. You've reached the Education Center. The boardwalk is a short, scenic walk that I highly recommend. On past visits, we've spotted small crabs running around the pluff mud. On this visit, we noticed an abundance of oysters:


Oyster beds edge the low-tide line near the marshes

Across the street from the Education Center is a trailhead. I'll get to that in a minute.

After you leave--or pass, if you're in a hurry--the Education Center, you'll continue on to another parking lot, and that's where you'll find the good stuff. The rest of the park is nice, great place to visit and all that, but the north edge is what these CarolinasAdventurers love.

The beach. Not just a beach, but from all accounts, a pristine beach: wide, surely-at-least-a-mile long, and bordered by dunes in one spot, and maritime forest in another, ending at a jetty. Be still my heart:

It was bone-chilling cold during our visit, so our attempt to walk to the jetty failed. In warmer months, this would be a great place to spend a day on the shore, splashing in the waves, sunbathing--wearing the appropriate level of sunscreen, of course--or walking to the northern tip in the hopes of spotting Drunken Jack's Island over the dunes. Even kayak. But don't discount this destination during the winter months. It's a great place to do some birdwatching:

Primitive camping is available just off the parking lot. Imagine sleeping in a tent under the stars, with the soothing rush of waves sounding in the near distance. If we had a tent with us, we would have kicked out the Boy Scouts staying there and claimed a spot.

But we didn't, so we did the next best thing: hike.

In addition to the aforementioned marsh boardwalk, Huntington Beach State Park has a two-mile "Sandpiper Trail" which takes visitors through a maritime forest that parallels the sea. Here, you'll find three platforms that allow you to observe wildlife out of eating range.

The trailhead nearest to the platforms is off the beach parking lot. The trail is level, mainly sandy (so don't wear sandals), and we walked unimpeded until we reached the platform near the saltwater pond. We found several ducks floating atop blue waters edged with algae.

We walked about a mile, but, still chilled despite the warmth created by the protective forest, we turned around. Had we continued, we would have ended up at the trailhead across the street from the Education Center.

There's more to Huntington Beach State Park than what I mentioned here. They offer several Coastal Exploration Programs, including beachcombing, birding, coastal kayaking, and secrets of the salt marsh. For program information, call (843) 235-8755.

Like other South Carolina state parks, Huntington Beach does charge a nominal entrance fee, so check rates before your trip. For more information on this South Carolina destination, go to

www.southcarolinaparks.com/park-finder/state-park/1020.aspx

Huntington Beach State Park

6 comments:

Julie said...

Oooh...I love it! I've been there a couple of times, but it was many years ago. You have reminded me of some things I have forgotten. But you have also added many new things I didn't know. What a beautiful place. Thank you!

Kimberli said...

Thanks, Julie. Sorry for the late reply, we've been in Cali visiting our new grandbaby!

I'm glad you like the post. I'm always astounded at the natural resources and unique communities one can find in unassuming spots throughout the Carolinas. As always, I'd love to go back and spend more time exploring each of these spots. And have a little fun while doing it!

Anonymous said...

I used to work there as a naturalist. It is one of the main places that I miss in SC. I feel very nostalgic about the park even more than anything else I experienced in that area. I lived in SC Conway area for about three years and worked each of those years at the park. In fact I lived on the park two summers before moving to SC. So my stay started and ended with Huntington. Such a good place and such good people working there. Gosh I miss it!

Kimberli said...

I'm with you, anon. Huntington Beach SP is a wonderful place. It's amazing that motorist pass it by without a second glance. How great that you had the opportunity to work there!

Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing your memories of HB.

HemlockMan said...

Huntington Beach is my favorite SC coastal state park. In fact, it's really the only state park on the coast of SC that I can tolerate at all. The rest of them have too many other drawbacks for me to be able to enjoy myself when I'm in them. Huntington Beach, though, is relatively unspoiled and is not locked in by urban sprawl. I never tire of visiting that park.

Kimberli said...

Huntington Beach is great. If you like that, you may love Bird Island and Hammocks.

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