Have you visited Huntington Beach State Park? If you’re looking for an all-in-one camping experience that includes the beach, an abundance of wildlife, a castle, a nature center, and opportunities for learning and adventure, Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet is the place. I spent an incredible couple of days there and was planning to return even before I left.
The Campground at Huntington Beach State Park
Huntington Beach State Park is aptly named since, well, it’s on the beach. There are two campsites, the north, and the south. We stayed in the north campground and it took us all of five minutes to walk to the wide-open sandy beach.
The north campground has both RV sites and tent sites plus primitive tent sites. You can park right at the site in any of them except the primitive ones, which are a short distance away from your vehicle.
The campground is a mix of spots that have lots of tree cover and shade and those that are more out in the open. I camped in an RV site so it had plenty of space for several tents plus a couple of cars. These sites are pretty close together though and our neighbors were just a few feet away. This isn’t a problem if you have respectful campmates but it can definitely be an issue if the people next to you are up late and are being loud.
The bathrooms were probably the nicest ones I had ever camped at with lots of space and very clean. We had two bathrooms really close to our site, which I always appreciate when camping with kids. The sites all have fire pits as well.
Fees to camp at Huntington Beach State Park are not cheap. Expect to pay at least $60 a night, perhaps more depending on the site and date. I think that’s steep for camping but the things to do at the park really make camping here worth it.
Dogs are allowed at the park and campgrounds as long as they are leashed. Honestly, nearly all the dogs at the park we encountered were leashed, which made our visit that much more pleasant. These were the most responsible dog owners I’ve ever come across!
The Beach at Huntington Beach State Park
The beach is spacious and wide open. It was never crowded. You can access it right from the campground. There is also an access point across from the gift shop next to the playground and Atalaya Castle. If you drive further into the park past the Nature Center, you can park in another lot by the picnic area and bathrooms, which is the closest access to the jetty.
The jetty is awesome. Having grown up in New Jersey, I’ve had my share of jetty experiences and I always enjoy exploring them. This jetty is nowhere near as dangerous as the ones I climbed as a kid thankfully. It’s paved on top and wide and extends maybe a hundred feet into the ocean. It’s almost two miles from the parking lot to the jetty so be prepared, especially with water and snacks on a hotter day.
The walk over to the jetty was pretty amazing. We saw a ton of jellyfish, starfish, crabs, shells, and neat-looking seaweed on the way to the jetty. And then walking out on it is so beautiful. Looking north, you’ll see Myrtle Beach and Garden City and to the south, you’ll glimpse Pawleys Island. The waves crash against the rocks on either side of you and you can watch fishermen and women try their luck.
And we got lucky for sure. We were able to see a fisherman reel in a huge black-tip shark! We watched him as he caught it and got the hook out of massive jaws. Honestly, the kids thought it was really neat but we adults were probably more excited just because we know how rare it is to see something like this.
There is plenty of space to hang out on the sand if you want to just relax and let the kids play in the ocean. Watch the tides as low tide is definitely the better time of day to hike out to the jetty and back given that you’ll probably see more wildlife and marine animals and have more beach to walk on.
Tour Atalaya Castle at Huntington Beach State Park
Exploring Atalaya Castle was a big highlight of being at Huntington Beach State Park. The structure is a one-story building in a square shape with adjoining rooms that surround a picturesque courtyard. It was the home of Arthur and Anna Huntington, philanthropists, and artists, and was constructed between 1931-1933. The castle has 30 rooms plus an outdoor studio, a stable, and an area where Anna kept bears, dogs, horses, a leopard, and monkeys for her art projects.
The Huntingtons designed the castle in typical Spanish architecture and used local labor, helping to buttress the economy in that area. Part of the initial land owned by the Huntingtons included Brookgreen Gardens, where the first public sculpture garden was installed.
While Brookgreen Gardens is not part of the state park, is it nearby and you can visit.
We really enjoyed touring the castle. There are maps available and a small room to the left of the main gate that relays the history and talks about the Huntingtons. Definitely grab the map. The kids loved matching the numbers of the rooms to those on the map and being our de facto tour guides.
There is a $2 per person charge for guests ages 6 and up. If you have an SC State Park Pass, you are admitted free with four guests! Another reason to get a state park pass. Dogs are not allowed in the castle.
The wildlife at Huntington Beach State Park is abundant. As soon as we set up camp, we headed to the beach access trail, which winds through a little forest and over a boardwalk, which spans a marsh. We saw a huge alligator make its way from a small lake visible on one part of the boardwalk, through the sawgrass and mud and headed directly our way under another part of the boardwalk. The kids were thrilled.
The gator went directly under us and meandered through the shallow stream till he came across a much smaller gator and demonstrated some sort of dominant behavior. It was incredible to see. He splashed around in the water and basically said to the other gator to get out of his way (well, that’s my interpretation!).
And right near there, we also glimpsed a cottonmouth snake in the sawgrass. It was so neat. The next morning in that same spot, we saw two non-venomous water snakes and a fat bunny. It was better than a zoo.
If you like birdwatching at all, this is the place for you. The park says that it’s one of the very best birding sites in the entire Southeast.
Right across from the Atalaya Castle is a long path parallel to the canal where you’ll enter the park. On either side, you can see the swamp and there are tons of birds. I know very little about birds but thankfully we met a lot of birders who were helpful in pointing out the different types of birds we were looking at. I may have gotten smarter.
The Nature Center
The park also has a free Nature Center where you can touch stingrays and starfish and if you’re lucky, get to see them at mealtime eating shrimp. We learned that one type of starfish actually eats by pushing its stomach out of its body, digesting the food there, and then putting its stomach back inside its body. Mind blown right there.
The park ranger at the Nature Center was very helpful in answering our questions, of which we had a million since we wanted to know what everything we saw on the beach was named. The center is perfect for a homeschool field trip or just for learning more about the area.
There’s a great, shaded picnic area right next to the Nature Center as well as a really long boardwalk that goes out into the swamp. A massive gator was making its way along the swamp floor and near the boardwalk that the kids got to go see. We also saw lots of birds and oyster beds out there.
Huntington Beach State Park Programs
Be sure to check out the Huntington Beach programs that the park is having before you go. Some of them you need to sign up for. We did a really neat tidal program where Park Rangers showed us how to take nets into the salt marshes to search for little fish or crabs or jellyfish. It was so cool to see what we could find there. The salt marshes are nature’s nursery for sea wildlife so there are an abundant amount of neat things to find.
There are other programs and events where you can go kayaking, learn about alligators or birds of prey, or turtles, or tour the castle at the park. Some require a small fee or reservations so read all the way through before you go.
Biking and Hiking
If you can swing it, bring your bikes out to Huntington Beach State Park. There are a lot of biking trails in the park as well as around the campgrounds. I wish I had brought our bikes but we were pretty full in the car as it was!
There are also a few hiking trails around the park, most of which are nice and shaded and have wildflowers and fun, little access points to swamp overlooks. Definitely check them out for a nice walk.
Visiting Huntington Beach State Park
We certainly recommend a visit to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet. I’m always amazed by just how beautiful South Carolina is, from the beaches of the Lowcountry to the mountains of the Upstate. If you’re able to enjoy a few days of camping at the park, that’s the way to go since there is just so much to explore and enjoy.
Daily admission to the park is $8/adults, $4/ages 6-15, and $5/seniors. If you have an SC State Park all-access pass, admission is free for everyone in your car. There is no admission fee charged for camping.
It took us about 4.5 hours to get to the park from Greenville.
Huntington Beach State Park
16148 Ocean Hwy
Murrells Inlet, SC
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