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The Annual Cashiers, NC Christmas Parade Is A Perfect Day Trip This Holiday Season

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Love a small-town Christmas parade? Head to Cashiers, NC for Christmas this year! Celebrating in the mountains for the Cashiers Christmas Parade sounds like a great day trip from the Upstate!

As much as we love being in Greenville for the holidays, there are just some events that prove to be too much for the younger kids, one example being the Poinsettia Christmas Parade. Between finding parking downtown, getting there early enough to get a good spot, keeping the kids occupied until the parade starts, and then managing the hungry little guys upon getting home late, parade day could be extremely taxing on this mom’s holiday spirit!

I can’t exactly remember how we first heard about our new holiday tradition, but our Christmas in the Upstate now includes a trip to the mountains for the Cashiers Christmas Parade!

Be sure to check out our guide to the holidays for more fun things to do during Christmas near Greenville, SC.

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You Can Hike With Llamas at Earthshine Lodge

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If your family needs a break, head to the mountains for a chance to hike with llamas at Earthshine Lodge! Kidding Around Greenville contributor Liene visited a retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her family, and found the llama hike to be an enthralling experience – one of many experiences Earthshine Lodge has to offer! Find out about the llamas, the Earthshine Lodge property, and their upcoming holiday event that includes brunch with Santa. Get ready for a great time!

Media tickets were provided for this review, but opinions are solely those of the author.

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National Gingerbread Competition: Make Asheville’s Grove Park Inn A Christmas Tradition For Your Family

Have you heard about the National Gingerbread Competition at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC? Hansel and Gretel would not miss this Christmas extravaganza, as it showcases dozens of gingerbread houses and holiday decorations galore! Luckily you don’t have to worry about the waistline, because this is a feast for the eyes, not the stomach.

The charming Grove Park Inn in Asheville is a seasonal delight you won’t want to miss this holiday season, and who knows – once inspired, maybe you’ll find yourself building a gingerbread house with the kiddos.

This article was originally published on Femme au foyer.

Looking for more great holiday fun in Asheville, NC? Don’t miss our Guide to Christmas in Asheville, NC. It is loaded with fun things to do from Asheville’s Christmas lights to free Santa photos!

The Annual Gingerbread Competition at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn

The famous gingerbread house competition at the Grove Park Inn is a favorite winter activity for families. Viewing dates are November 27, 2023 through January 2, 2024. If you are not staying at the resort, you are invited to view the displays after 4 pm on Sundays or anytime Monday – Thursday based on parking availability. Excluded dates for guests not staying at the resort are December 23-25, 30-31, and January 1. Only registered resort pets are allowed and no outside pets are permitted.

The gingerbread houses are as diverse as they are amazing; on our last visit, we saw everything from clock towers to sleighs to igloos to skate parks. The entries must be constructed entirely of edible materials with the exception of the base, but the ingenuity in construction is simply remarkable.

There are four entry categories: adult, teen, youth and child, and entries are judged on overall appearance, originality and creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme.

While there is no admission charge to view the display, although there is a $25/car parking fee. Half of this fee goes to local non-profits. For more information on the gingerbread competition visit the website, and make sure to keep a lookout for entries from the Upstate; in previous years an entry from Greer placed second in the teen category, while a Greenville entry in the child category received an honorable mention.

grove-park-inn-gingerbread-competition-1

Holiday Decorations at Omni Grove Park Inn

All decorated areas of the hotel may not be available to those who are not registered guests staying at the hotel.

As you walk through the hotel viewing the gingerbread competition winners you’ll see more than a few Christmas trees decorated in all sorts of motifs. My boys’ favorite part of the visit was discovering the elaborate ornaments on these themed trees, deciding on their favorites, and planning which decorations we should have in our home. The giant Christmas tree in the lobby is a perfect place for that family photo, the entire Great Hall filled with the smell of the giant evergreen.

The enormous fire places in the Great Hall are adorned with wreaths, heat radiating out to warm those seated in the area.  One year, there was a gingerbread house in the hall, built by the pastry department. The ingredients included 50 pounds of egg whites, 440 pounds of powdered sugar, 220 pounds of red fondant and 400 pounds of bread flower!

Visitors could purchase hot beverages and gingerbread from the gingerbread house, and then settle into the giant rocking chairs near the fireplace with hot chocolate to enjoy the holiday bustle.  Spend a little more time than just a couple of minutes in the rocking chairs – sitting by a roaring fire in a relaxing chair is part of the mystique of the Inn that should not be glossed over.

The Grounds of Grove Park Inn

The original Grove Park Inn was built in 1913 and over the years has grown to encompass a golf course, spa, sports complex, five restaurants, three bars and a café.

To truly appreciate the scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains it is worth stepping out onto the veranda, or even descending down into the gardens and spa area. This descent via outdoor stone staircases is also a good use of the kids’ extra energy; ask them to take a photo of the Inn from the lowest level.

The view of the front of the hotel is also quite grand, and after imagining the long-ago sound of horse-drawn carriages rattling across the cobblestones you might want to take a short stroll. From the front of the hotel up to Sunset Mountain is a short hiking trail that is appropriate for all skill levels and ages that will let you work off whatever delectable you may have bought at the Inn, but will also let you appreciate the spectacular natural setting of the Grove Park Inn.

Then, as you set off on the drive home take a minute to determine whether you should enter next year’s Gingerbread Competition – or once more return as a spectator to this wonderful annual event.

grove-park-inn-reindeer-1

Plan a trip of your own

Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Avenue
Asheville, NC 28804
800.438.5800

Get Tickets Now! Great Smoky Mountain Railroad’s Polar Express in Bryson City, NC

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Wondering about the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad’s Polar Express? Bryson City offers one of the most magical experiences of a kid’s life on this themed train ride based on the book The Polar Express. Whether you love an early beginning to the holiday season or wish you could put it off, this North Carolina attraction is one very good reason to start your own planning early this year. KAG Contributor Liene has all the information you need to know about this very popular holiday attraction.

The Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina

The Polar Express: Bryson City, NC

Bryson City is a gateway city to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but is it also home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depot, with scenic rail excursions through the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. Beginning November 9th, 2023, a very special train will be departing from the historic Bryson City depot: The Polar Express. This is one of two very popular train rides on the Polar Express near Greenville, SC, so get your tickets soon!

Based on the popular children’s book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, this magical train ride recreates the journey to the North Pole complete with hot cocoa and a warm cookie.  At the end of the train ride, Santa Claus himself will be waiting at Santa’s Village to board the train and present each child with their very own silver sleigh bell.

Things to Know About the Ride on the Polar Express

You’ll want to arrive in Bryson City at least an hour before your departure time. This will give you time to park, which is not an easy task in this little town that brings upwards of 90,000 passengers through for the Polar Express. Parking charges are already added when purchasing tickets ($6) and parking attendants are on hand to direct traffic.

Once you’ve walked to the depot you might want to explore the GSMR train museum, and you’ll find a dozen little souvenir and snack shops lining the street to explore while waiting for your train’s boarding time. Hint; the Smoky Mountain trains museum is free with tickets, but you can purchase pictures with Santa if you arrive early.

When it is time to climb on board, passengers join the queue at their assigned boarding station, which correlates to the train car in which you will be riding.   The beautifully restored vintage coaches date from the 1920s to the 1940s, and the interior has been festively decorated in the holiday spirit. Friendly employees are on hand to help the boarding process and get everyone situated, and before you know it, the whistle blows, and the Polar Express is off, headed for the North Pole!

While music plays in the background (from the motion picture The Polar Express), the conductor comes through to stamp the ‘golden train tickets.’  These tickets, based on the book, make a cherished souvenir for the children. Hint: make sure to bring your copy of “The Polar Express” on the trip so that you can read along while enjoying the hot chocolate brought to you by the singing and dancing chef.  

Like most parents, we had changed the kids into their pajamas so that they would be cozy and comfortable on the journey.  And, the singing of Christmas carols and antics of the Polar Express characters kept them mesmerized the entire trip.

Bryson City, North Carolina Great Smoky Mountain Train view

Tips to Make the Most of Your Trip

With three different ticket options (First, Crown, and Coach), families have a variety of choices concerning seating, snacks, and memorabilia – only reserve your tickets soon, as the tickets for the weekends approaching Christmas tend to sell out by the end of October. We opted for Coach and were completely satisfied with the seating, the service, and the benefits that came with our package.

We purchased tickets on the 5 pm train, meaning it would still be light out for the first 1/2 hour of the journey (and we could watch the gorgeous mountain scenery roll by). The sun had set and darkness descended just before our arrival at the North Pole, and so the Christmas lights adorning ‘Santa’s Village’ twinkled in the darkness, helping convince reluctant believers… On our return trip, lights from homes along the route sparkled in the distance, adding a magical dimension to the ride.

When selecting seats, you might want to choose to be on the left side of the train (that would be the opposite side where you board the Polar Express), as the river and the majority of North Pole lights will be on that side. Also, Santa boards on the front of the train, so be prepared for him to come through rather soon after stopping if you’re in Coach; have your copy of “The Polar Express” ready for him to sign, and the kids ready to tell him what they would like for Christmas.  He even makes some time to ask some disbelieving adults about what they would like under the tree – so make that list and check it twice!

More information on the Polar Express: Bryson City, NC

The first Polar Express departure is on November 9, 2023, and the train operates through December 31, 2023, with the exception of certain weekdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas day. They do have a Christmas Eve ride if you want a truly memorable night. Most days, there are three departures a day and tickets sell out quickly.

For detailed information on the different seating available, visit the Polar Express website.

Bryson City is about 2 ½ hours by car from both Greenville and Spartanburg, optimally a weekend destination, but doable in a day (since the kids will sleep on the way home!).

There are several classes to choose from with Coach Class being the cheapest of the tickets starting at $29 for kids ages 2-12 and $44 for adults up to First Class, which is $47 for kids and $68 for adults. Crown and Premium Crown Class are in between those prices. Depending on what ticket class you choose, you’ll receive a cookie, hot chocolate, and a souvenir of some type for a full Polar Express experience.

You can book tickets by calling 800.872.4681 or you can book them online.

Where to Stay Near the Polar Express in Bryson City, NC

This Stay22 Affiliate links map will help you find the perfect place to stay during your visit!

Sky Ridge Yurts

If you want to enhance your Polar Express experience with a super cool place to stay in town, try Sky Ridge Yurts, only about 20 minutes away from the city center and the railroad. The yurts are spacious, clean, and very comfortable. We tried them out over the summer and fell in love with the unique structures. Enjoy some warm cocoa and the mountain views during your trip!

Sky Ridge Yurt exterior

For other Great Smoky Mountains Railroad family-friendly adventures, check out the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad website.

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

From The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg

Would a ride on The Polar Express be a trip your kids would cherish?


Tree farms in Bryson City, NC

Bryson City has a lot to offer during the holidays! Read more about the town’s holiday offerings while you plan your winter getaway.


See our list of Western NC Day Trips and our list of Holiday Day Trips for even more suggestions for fun around the holidays.

This post was originally published on Femme au foyer and is republished with permission.

Everything You Need to Know about Mountain Biking With Kids in Upstate, SC

Greenville has made headlines and received national recognition for the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail System, but did you know the Upstate is also well-known for its mountain biking? With a dozen parks to choose from, there are options for all skill levels when it comes to mountain biking, Greenville, SC. Recently, KAG contributor Liene set out to compile a list of the best places to get some dirt under your tires!

Mountain Bike Trails in Greenville, SC

This article includes:
Places to Go Mountain Biking in Greenville County, SC
Places to Go Mountain Biking in Spartanburg, SC
Mountain Biking in South Carolina State Parks
Mountain Biking on the Palmetto Trail
More Upstate, SC Mountain Bike Trails and Parks

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Take a Trip to Caesars Head State Park this Fall

Have you visited Caesars Head State Park for hiking, picnics, site-seeing, and more? Dramatic views over the Upstate along with easy access and ample parking make for a winning combination at one of our favorite South Carolina State Parks – Caesars Head! Here’s everything you need to know!

About the Caesars Head State Park Area

Caesars Head and Jones Gap State Park form the 11,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, and are connected by several hiking trails including the popular Rim of the Gap Trail and Jones Gap Trail. Less than a mile from the Caesars Head Visitor Center is another favorite trail – Raven Cliff Falls Trail, which takes you to a platform that looks across the gorge at the 420-foot waterfall.

Trails in both Caesars Head and Jones Gape State Park range from easy to strenuous hiking.

Gorgeous Views Without the Hiking: Caesars Head State Park

However, you can get the grand panoramic views without the hike by heading to the Visitor Center, which is only a couple hundred feet from the parking lot to the overlook. This time of year you’ll probably meet members of the Hawk Watch program documenting the annual hawk migration; the past few years the numbers of hawks counted peaked a little after mid-September, while large numbers of turkey vultures were seen into November.

Bald eagles and even peregrine falcons can be seen during these months! To get an idea of how the migration is progressing this year, check the daily tallies; those can be viewed on the Hawk Count website. Also, see our article on the Hawk Watch at Caesars Head for additional information and educational resources.

Caesars Head

Fall Foliage at Caesars Head

Autumn is a great time to visit for another reason, as the fall foliage in the foothills can be spectacular while cooler temperatures allow for increased visibility. Views extend over Table Rock Reservoir all the way to North Carolina and Georgia. Remember to bring layers, as it is often 10 degrees cooler on Caesars Head than it is down in Greenville and Greenville County.

From the overlook don’t forget to walk the trail around to view “Caesar’s Head” in profile! The trail descends through “Devil’s Kitchen,” a crack in the granitic gneiss rock, and circles around to a viewing area from the side of the outcrop.

If you cross US 276 from the Visitor Center you’ll find the trailhead for Frank Coggins Trail, which mostly serves as a connector to many of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area trails, but is also an easy hike in a less crowded section of Caesars Head.

Amenities at the State Park include restrooms, picnic tables and the Visitor Center, which houses exhibits, hawk displays, and a variety of souvenirs. For those looking for a longer hike, or reservations at one of the 18 backcountry campsites, check in at the Visitor Center for trail maps and information.

Fall Foliage

Fishing at Caesar’s Head

You can fish for brook, rainbow and brown trout in the Middle Saluda River, as well as Matthews and Julian Creeks.

Plan your own trip to Caesar’s Head

Directions: From Greenville take Hwy. 276 W for about 30 miles. The parking lot and Visitor Center is located at the top of the mountain, 3 miles before the North Carolina border.

Hours and Admission: Trail access cost: $3 adults; $1.50 SC seniors; $1 ages 6-15, ages 5 and younger are free

Days and Hours of Operation: 9 am – 9 pm, daily during daylight saving time. 9 am – 6 pm, daily, the remainder of the year. Trails close one hour before dark, year-round.

Visitor Center Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Monday – Thursday and 9 am – 5 pm Friday – Sunday. The Visitor Center and gift shop are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, however, the park remains open on these days.

Pets are allowed in most outdoor areas provided they are kept under physical restraint or on a leash not longer than six feet. Owners will be asked to remove noisy or dangerous pets or pets that threaten or harass wildlife.

This article was originally published on Femme au foyer.

Does your family love Caesar’s Head as much as mine does?

Caesars Head State Park
8155 Geer Highway
Cleveland, SC

SC State parks ultimate guide

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Where to Find the Best Fall Foliage Near Greenville, SC in 2023

Where should you go to see some colorful fall foliage near Greenville, SC? In Greenville, we’re lucky to live close to a variety of hikes and drives that showcase this vibrant seasonal display of colors. Plus, nothing is better than the Western North Carolina leaves changing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. So, grab your camera and hit the road for what promises to be another fantastic year of color!
We have compiled everything you need to know for fall leaf peeping, including:
2023 fall foliage timeline
15+ fall hiking trail ideas
Packing for your fall foliage search

Fall foliage near Greenville, South Carolina
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Here’s How to See Amazing Wildlife and Plants in South Carolina’s ACE Basin

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Have you visited South Carolina’s ACE Basin in the Lowcountry? Ever wondered what the ACE Basin is? Or maybe you just want to know more about this ecologically unique area that checks all the boxes for a fantastic weekend? Keep reading to find out what the ACE Basin is and how best to see it!

Edisto
Edisto Spanish Mount Shell Midden

What is South Carolina’s ACE Basin?

Three rivers – the Ashepoo, the Combahee and the Edisto (ACE) – come together at St. Helena Sound in South Carolina’s Lowcountry to form a rich estuary. This 350,000-acre ACE Basin watershed contains one of the largest areas of undeveloped wetlands/uplands ecosystems remaining on the Atlantic Coast and features a remarkable interlocking web of ecosystems including forested uplands, wetlands, tidal marshes, barrier islands, and peatlands.

According to The Nature Conservancy, it supports 33 types of natural plant communities and provides critical habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds and endangered species. In 2014, National Geographic featured the ACE Basin as its cover story, and The Nature Conservancy has declared the area “one of the last great places.”

From the early 1700s to the mid-1800s, much of the ACE Basin was home to large plantations that primarily grew rice. In the late 1800s, many of these plantations were purchased by wealthy sportsmen as hunting retreats, who managed the former rice fields and adjacent upland estates for a wide range of wildlife – ensuring that the region remained relatively undeveloped.

Sounds cool! But how can we see it?: How to Visit ACE Basin

The principal road through the ACE Basin is U.S. Highway 17, the ACE Basin Parkway, which skirts the north end of the protected areas connecting Charleston to Yemassee. Small communities within ACE Basin include Bennetts Point, Green Pond, Jacksonboro, Wiggins and Willtown Bluff.

There are numerous access points to the public lands of the ACE Basin including 23 boat landings, allowing visitors opportunities to experience it by land and by water! 

Edisto Learning Center & Edisto Beach State Park

A good place to start is at Edisto Beach State Park. The park’s environmental education center is a “green” building with exhibits that highlight the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin. One of four oceanfront state parks in South Carolina, it features trails for hiking and biking in addition to the 1.5 miles of beach renowned for its shelling. 

Edisto Beach State Park is also an excellent home base for additional ACE Basin explorations; if camping or staying at a cabin there, you are within an easy drive of the Edisto River side of the region including ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge and Botany Bay! 

Dawhoo Bridge in ACE Basin
Dawhoo Bridge view

ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge

Driving north from Edisto Beach there is a boat ramp at the Dawhoo Bridge that offers westerly views (great for sunset viewing!) over the salt marsh and towards Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. At just under 12,000 acres, the Refuge is key in protecting the Edisto portion of the estuary.

In addition, the Refuge office is a former rice plantation house that was built in 1828, one of only a few antebellum mansions that survived the civil war in the area; today it is protected on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can visit both Grove Plantation House and the kitchen house. The Visitor’s area inside the Plantation House has tons of information for you.

There are a variety of recreational activities such as hunting (in season), picnicking, hiking, fresh and saltwater fishing, canoeing, wildlife watching, photography, and environmental education. Special events and programs are held throughout the year for visitors to learn more about the ACE Basin and National Wildlife Refuges; see the Fish & Wildlife Service website.

ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge

Botany Bay 

The 3,363 acre Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located in the northeast corner of Edisto Island, and is important to numerous wildlife species including the federally-threatened loggerhead sea turtle and the state-threatened least tern.

Cultural sites including the Fig Island Shell Rings, outbuildings from Bleak Hall Plantation and elements of the Alexander Bache U.S. Coast Survey Line – all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The causeway to the beach is wheelchair accessible, and the designated driving tour provides excellent viewing opportunities for the mobility impaired; for more information, please visit the SC DNR website.

Four Holes Swamp

Edisto River & State Parks

A great way to see the Edisto River is from kayak or canoe. For more on the Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail, Edisto River Adventures tubing, and the two SC State Parks that provide access to the Edisto (Givhans Ferry and Colleton).

The blackwater river is the longest of its kind in North America and is a favorite for cooling down on hot summer days. 

A portion of the headwaters of the Edisto River and ACE Basin is Four Holes Swamp, which visitors can experience through Audubon’s Beidler Forest. T

his 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary in the South Carolina Lowcountry is the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest, home to thousand-year-old trees and a wide range of wildlife.

It is a great place to visit for families, as the entire 1.75-mile trail is a boardwalk: easy to follow, and provides safe viewing of wildlife without getting muddy or wet.

Ravenel Caw Caw Interpretive Center

This nature center has over six miles of walking trails that wind through its diverse habitats, with interpretive exhibits, displays, and an assortment of programs. Boardwalks take visitors through the wetlands and rice fields dating to the eighteenth century.

Caw Caw is a birding hotspot for coastal SC, but is also important historically: it’s one of the important sites of the Stono Rebellion, a Member of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program, and features thousands of naturalized tea plants from a 20th-century tea farm. 

On your visit, you can expect to see American alligators, swallow-tailed kites, and bald eagles! Admission is $2/person, for more information see the Charleston County Parks website.

Caw Caw Interpretive Center

Bear Island Game Management Area

It was a hot day in July when we found ourselves turning off Highway 17 towards Bennetts Point a few weeks ago. Much like many of the destinations on this side of Charleston – Edisto Beach, Hunting Island, Hilton Head – there is a significant drive from the main highway to reach the ocean.

Over the next 15 miles we wound our way along live oak-shaded lanes, the giants draped in Spanish moss functioning almost as curtains to the lands beyond. After crossing the Ashepoo River we entered Bear Island Game Management Area home to countless waterfowl and protected species such as wood storks and bald eagles.

The miles of dikes on Bear Island provide plenty of wildlife viewing, hiking, biking and hunting opportunities.

ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve

Soon after passing Bear Island we arrived at the Michael D. McKenzie Field Station. Headquarters for the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), the field station serves as a community hub for coastal science, education and collaboration.

The NERR encompasses nearly 100,000 acres of ACE Basin, and is managed in a joint effort by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SC DNR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Adjacent Mosquito Creek was living up to its name, but luckily we were able to escape the insects by boarding a boat and heading out on the Ashepoo River as part of the South Carolina 7 expedition. 

Viewing the ACE Basin from the water is an excellent way to not only get away from the bugs but also to get a feel for the enormity of coastline and estuary protected by the NERR and other entities. 

There are numerous science, education and training programs operated by the SC DNR out of the field station including ones off and on the water; the facility contains offices, wet/dry labs, a conference room and an outdoor classroom, while science-related school groups and naturalists visit the field station for a variety of educational outdoor activities.

For more on the programs and workshops offered, please visit the ACE Basin NERR website.

Our boat tour with the SC7 team included an orientation to the ACE Basin watershed, and contained a look at the oyster reefs, plenty of wildlife viewing, and discussions of salt marsh and estuarine diversity.

For those wishing to tour the ACE Basin by boat, but looking for an option other than the NERR, a number of outfitters in Charleston, Beaufort and Colleton counties offer guided kayaking trips on the three rivers, as well as tours for those who prefer to enjoy the scenery from the comfort of a motorboat.

Islands only accessible by boat!

If traveling by water in the area, you more than likely will pass through or near the St. Helena Sound Heritage Preserve, a collection of coastal and barrier islands only accessible by boat. Otter Island is part of this Heritage Preserve, and receives special protection because of its significance for rare plants, threatened and endangered species, and as a historic site.

With developed islands to the north (Edisto) and to the south (Harbor, Fripp and Hunting), Otter Island is the only spot where wildlife species can rest, feed and reproduce without development pressures for a long stretch of coastline. Another barrier island only accessible by boat but providing ample wildlife viewing is South Fenwick Island.

Loggerhead Nesting Site

Donnelley Wildlife Management Area

Heading back out from Bennetts Point you’ll pass the 8,000-acre Donnelley Wildlife Management Area just as you reach ACE Basin Parkway (Highway 17). The nature trails here offer birdwatching, hiking, biking, riding and hunting opportunities; check the website for seasonal closure information, as the WMA is closed during certain hunt periods.

When should we visit ACE Basin?

As anyone who has spent time in the Lowcountry knows, each season down near the coast comes with advantages and hindrances. Summer days can be hot and buggy, especially in the marsh, however a hot August day might just be perfect for tubing the Edisto or enjoying the ocean surf.

Spring and fall offer excellent birdwatching, cooler temperatures and fewer bugs, but some areas might see closures for hunt seasons. And while winter might mean you have the trail/boardwalk to yourself, it also brings cold & unpredictable weather…

As with any trip, planning ahead can really pay off in terms of knowing what to expect and what adjustments might have to be made. Our year-round basics include protection against the weather & insects, water and snacks, and comfortable clothes & footwear.

But snakes, alligators, and spiders?!

Before we took our boys tubing on the Edisto, I asked how often they see alligators on that stretch of the river – the answer was never. However, if you are kayaking the Four Holes Swamp, chances are you might see one or two. In any case, the key is to follow the basic guidelines as you would with all animals – keep your distance and don’t feed or harass the wildlife.

For our family, the fear of encountering the animals that get all the bad press has slowly turned to hopes of catching a glimpse of one of them: a gator from a causeway as we head out to one of the barrier islands, a snake from the safety of the boardwalk at Francis Beidler Forest, or a shark feeding out beyond the break as we sit safely on the shore of Edisto Beach.

Know what to do in case you come across a venomous snake, and know how to tell the difference between the ones that can hurt you and the harmless ones that help keep the rodent population in check.

And finally, stay on the trail, be mindful of where you are stepping, and exercise caution when out in the wilderness; animals are a part of the outdoor experience, and will add so much to your ACE Basin adventure! 

Alligators

Something for everyone!

More than 130,000 acres of land have been protected through public/private partnerships in the heart of the ACE Basin, qualifying it as one of the most acclaimed freshwater natural areas found on the East Coast.

It is open to hiking, biking, boating, driving, riding, diving, viewing, and tasting (we enjoy stopping at local stands for fresh produce and seafood – but that’s a whole other post!)… Each time we visit, we discover another thing we love about the area, and I hope this article has inspired you to visit the ACE Basin and find something of your own to love.

Happy adventuring!

For more on the ACE Basin: The Nature Conservancy ACE Basin

Givhans Ferry State Park & the Edisto River: Tubing, Swimming, & Things to Do

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Have you visited Givhans Ferry State Park or the surrounding Edisto River area? KAG contributor Liene explored the Lowcountry, including the Edisto River area and Givhans Ferry State Park, as a correspondent to the South Carolina 7 Wonders expedition. What she found is that not only is the Edisto deserving of the title 5th Wonder of South Carolina, but together with the surrounding area makes a unique destination for a family weekend in the Lowcountry!

Givhans Ferry State Park
Givhans Ferry State Park
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Explore Oconee Station and Hike to Station Cove Falls for a Splash

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Have you hiked to Station Cove Falls from the Oconee Station Falls Historic Site? Kidding Around Contributor, Liene enjoys this hike and historical spot with her family. She’s sharing everything you need to know about this great summertime hike and place to splash around in Oconee, SC.

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