Hunting Island is a 5,000-acre secluded semitropical barrier island located just 15 miles east of Beaufort, right in between beautiful Harbor Island and Fripp Island. It’s South Carolina’s most popular state park, attracting over 1 million guests per year! It’s here you can come year round and enjoy miles of beautiful South Carolina coastline, a historic lighthouse, and camping.
The history of the area as a whole goes back much further, but the history of Hunting Island as a State Park goes back to the 1930s when it acquired that designation. In 1967, the forestry commission shifted ownership of the island to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism and since then it has become an iconic South Carolina destination.
Today, Hunting Island is one of the last barrier islands that remains undeveloped. Hunting Island State Park is a place where visitors from all over North America and the world come to enjoy a pristine natural area. So what do you need to know before your visit to Hunting Island State Park? Let’s dig in!
Why Visit Hunting Island State Park?
Within this huge 5,000-acre park, visitors enjoy swimming, hiking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, camping, birdwatching, and wildlife viewing. Due to the semi-tropical climate of the area, many of these activities can be done all year round. Although it’s an island, you’ll likely see plenty of wildlife during your visit! Deer, alligators, raccoons, rattlesnakes, and turtles are just some of the wild creatures you might spot during your Hunting Island adventure.
One of the top attractions in the park is the beautiful beaches where you can walk for miles in the sand and surf. You may even find some fossilized shark teeth at low tide and with a little digging! The best part about the beaches is that the miles of white sand are usually uncrowded, so you may very well have a long stretch of paradise all to yourself!
As you explore the park, you’ll come across a variety of terrains and ecosystems including maritime forest, saltwater lagoons, marshes, and ocean inlets. It’s in these places that you’ll be able to observe a variety of plant and animal species thriving in their native environment.
Hunting Island State Park is so beautiful and so unique that even film crews have used it for filming scenes for blockbuster movies such as Forrest Gump and The Big Chill.
All About Hunting Island State Park
Where is Hunting Island State Park?
Hunting Island State Park is situated along the southeastern coast of South Carolina about 15 miles from the small city of Beaufort. Its location between Harbor Island and Fripp Island is telling of the type of area you’ll be exploring; one with several beautiful barrier islands to explore including Hunting Island.
You’ll be awe-inspired before you even get through the entrance to the park! You have to first pass through a sub-tropical maritime forest and embark on a scenic, but short, drive through stunning low-country landscape. This winding road with lush greenery will take you to the interior of Hunting Island State Park where you’ll continue your adventure in one of South Carolina’s most popular state parks.
Hunting Island State Park Hours and Admission
Hunting Island State Park is open from 6 AM to 6 PM every day except during Daylight Saving Time when the hours are extended to 9 PM. The best time to visit will depend on what you want to see and do there. If you want to see wildlife, the best time to go is early in the morning or into the evening hours but other than that, any time of day is a good time to visit. Just make sure to set out early if you plan to do a longer hike.
The office and visitor center are open from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays and 11 AM to 5 PM on weekends. The fee to enter the park is $8.00 per adult. There are discounted prices for seniors and youths and children under the age of five years old can enter for free.
- $5/SC seniors
- $4/ child age 6-15
- Free for children 5 and younger
When is the Best Time to Visit Hunting Island State Park?
You can visit Hunting Island State Park any time of year but ultimately, it will depend on what you plan on doing there that will determine the best time for you to go. If swimming, kayaking, or sailing are on your mind, the end of spring to the first weeks of fall is the best time to visit with the summer months being the warmest but also the most crowded.
If hiking and fishing are on your mind, spring and fall, when the temperatures are cooler, is the best time to go. The best thing about spring and fall is this tends to be the time of year when there are fewer people around, so you get the trails and top fishing spots almost all to yourself! If you visit during the winter months it’s even likely you’ll have the park to yourself!
Things to do in Huntington Island State Park
Hunting Island Lighthouse
There are a lot of lighthouses in South Caroling but, believe it or not, the only one that’s accessible to the public is the one at Hunting Island. Originally built in the 1850s, this historic structure is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors to the park can climb to the top of the 136-foot tower to enjoy the stunning views of the ocean and surrounding forest.
Hunting Island Nature Center
While exploring outdoors is the best way to get to know the park, a visit to the Hunting Island Nature Center will help you understand what you’re seeing while exploring the park! Inside this fascinating place, you’ll see a variety of exhibits featuring live animals and information about the various habitats.
Hunting Island Marsh Boardwalk
The Hunting Island Marsh Boardwalk makes it easy for visitors to walk over the marshy tidal flats and observe the area’s wildlife and natural surroundings without disturbing anything. It’s also one of the best places to watch the sunset.
Hunting Island Fishing Pier
Whether you want to do some fishing or just watch for seabirds and dolphins, the Hunting Island Fishing Pier is a great place to take a break.
South Beach Boneyard
The combination of erosion and saltwater has created a unique scene on a beach on the southern portion of the island. This area known as the South Beach Boneyard looks much like a boneyard with the remnants of trees toppled over with their roots and dead branches strewn across the area.
Hunting Island Lagoon
If you want to do some paddleboarding, kayaking, or tubing during your time in Hunting Island State Park, Hunting Island Lagoon is a popular place to do these things and so much more. Fishing is also popular here and some people just come to relax, do some birdwatching, and enjoy the peacefulness of the area.
Where to Eat at Hunting Island State Park
Since there are no restaurants in Hunting Island State Park, you’ll either have to leave the park and drive to nearby Beaufort to grab something to eat or you’ll need to pack a lunch.
When enjoying a full day in nature, packing a lunch is your best option. There are plenty of picnic facilities and nice places to sit and enjoy a homemade meal while taking in the sights around you. If you want to go all out with your picnic, you can rent an entire picnic shelter for $100.00 to $200.00. For this price, you get a comfortable place out of the sun that’s equipped with electricity, power outlets and lights.
However, if you prefer to sit down at a restaurant, there are plenty of options not too far away!
Breakwater Restaurant & Bar is a popular eatery in Beaufort serving seafood and traditional southern dishes that change with the seasons. Panini’s on the Waterfront is an Italian restaurant that, as the name suggests, features waterfront dining. Wren serves classic American fare at lunch and dinner. Saltus River Grill features a varied menu but specializes in seafood, steak, and sushi. Lady’s Island Dockside is a lively place where you can go to enjoy some seafood and a few cold ones.
Destination Hikes in Hunting Island State Park
One of the most popular activities in Hunting Island State Park is hiking and there are many great South Carolina trails in the park. Some trails are longer than others and some are more difficult, so there’s something for all ages and skill levels.
Diamondback Rattlesnake Trail
At 1.9 miles, this trail won’t take much time to do but it’s a bit difficult in spots. Only tackle this one if you’re fit and used to hiking on rugged trails.
Magnolia Forest Trail
If you’re looking for a more relaxing trail or you’re traveling with children, this trail is easy and at only 1.2 miles, it’ll only take a short time to do. From the campground, you’ll walk through a hilly area full of beautiful Magnolia trees.
Maritime Forest Trail
This is another short and easy trail at only 2 miles long. It travels through the interior of a maritime forest area where you’ll see a protected habitat that’s home to deer, owls, raccoons and other animals.
Winding around the lagoon, this 1.4-mile trail is suitable for all levels. Along the trail, you’ll enjoy amazing views of the lagoon and observe different habitats.
Nature Center Scenic Trail
At only 0.7 miles long, the Nature Center Scenic Trail combines two attractions in one. You’ll get to visit the Nature Center and you’ll get an easy hike in. If you do decide that you’d like to keep hiking, this trail hooks up to some of the park’s other popular trails including two that are situated on Little Hunting Island.
Things to Do Near Hunting Island State Park
If you plan to stick around the area for a while, there are many things to do outside of Hunting Island State Park too.
Most of the area’s attractions can be found in and around the city of Beaufort. A popular thing to do to get familiar with this city is to take a walk around the historic streets and admire the grand mansions that line them. The downtown district is full of beautiful old buildings, and this is where you’ll also find many of the area’s restaurants and shops.
The Beaufort History Museum is a must-stop for visitors who want to learn more about the city’s history, culture, and people and its surrounding area. The John Mark Verdier House is a historic mansion offering guided tours of the house and grounds. The Beaufort National Cemetery has connections to the American Civil War.
Where to Stay Near Hunting Island State Park
While camping is available in Hunting Island State Park, staying in a hotel is also available in nearby Beaufort. There are many nice hotels and bed and breakfasts in town so there’s something available for every budget and taste.
- The Beaufort Inn offers accommodation in beautiful rooms, suites and cottages. On-site, you’ll find beautiful gardens to wander around and bicycle rentals. In the evening, guests can sit around a fire pit under the stars and mingle with other guests over a nightcap and some s’mores.
- The Anchorage 1770 is situated along the waterfront in Beaufort. This historic property goes back more than 250 years and features beautifully decorated rooms, a cocktail bar, and a restaurant.
- The Rhett House Inn is also an historic property but the rooms here are more traditional. This is a great choice if you’re seeking some peace and quiet. A lavish southern breakfast is served each morning.
- The Cuthbert House Inn is another lovely property located in Beaufort. This upscale bed and breakfast serves a Southern breakfast each morning and also has bikes available to rent so you can explore the city.
Park Rules and Safety Tips
As Hunting Island is a State Park and is a place where many people come to enjoy a safe, worry-free holiday, some rules and regulations need to be followed to keep the park safe for everyone.
Alcoholic beverages are prohibited on park grounds as are fireworks. Fires are allowed but you must always keep them controlled in the designated fire pits. If you’re exploring with a pet, they are not allowed inside any of the buildings. When exploring the park with your pet, you’ll need to keep them on a leash to prevent them from disturbing the flora and fauna of the park. It’s illegal to feed or harass wildlife so if you come across a wild animal, give them some space, and observe them from a safe distance. Don’t remove any plants or animals from the park.
Most people enjoy a safe vacation in Hunting Island State Park but if there’s one area that is considered more dangerous than all others, it’s the beach area. Be aware of the riptides and strong currents that are present. Flags will be put up warning visitors of beach closures and dangerous riptides and lifeguards are present during the summer at North Beach. Never take your car or any other motorized vehicle on the beach and stay off the delicate sand dunes as they protect fragile ecosystems.