A weekend in paradise: Hunting Island State Park

A grinning toddler teeters toward me with an outstretched hand. I offer my palm and he places a small seashell into my hand. Pleased with himself, he sets off to find more treasures.

Meanwhile his brother, shovel and bucket in hand, is on a quest to find the best place to dig for dinosaur bones. The sun is shining and we have the beach to ourselves.

It is a perfect afternoon.

Lately, it seems like our boys grow an inch every night. Everett has gone from a toddler to a little boy and Jase from a baby to a toddler. We needed a getaway to spend quality time together as a family, making memories we’ll remember for years to come.

Luckily, Hunting Island State Park didn’t disappoint. We’d rescheduled this trip several times (thankfully the state parks are always very accommodating with changes), but finally the timing was right. Camping in late February can be risky if you aren’t a fan of cold weather, but we were fortunate with comfortable temperatures and clear skies. In fact, we much preferred this trip to the unbearably hot weekend we had at Edisto Beach State Park last August.

Hunting Island is completely undeveloped. There is only one road in and out, and getting to the park requires a slightly harrowing bridge crossing, but once you arrive it’s the perfect destination for a peaceful weekend. The park has been hit hard by several storms in recent years, so we were a little nervous about conditions. However, our fears proved unwarranted. Though one campground was completely lost to Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma, the remaining campground has been repaired and is in good condition.

We stayed on site 157, which was a large corner lot near the playground. The map given to us at check-in showed that the site was a pull-through, and it may have been at one point, but now it is a back-in. The map also shows beach parking, but we discovered there is no parking for beach access in the campground. So, if you want to go to the beach, you must walk from your site. Luckily, it wasn’t a bad walk from our site, but we’re definitely going to keep that in mind when selecting sites for future trips.

We spent most of Friday exploring the beach. It was a nice change from the overcrowded beaches in other parts of the state. We’d go long stretches without seeing anyone else, and it would feel like we were on a private island somewhere in the Caribbean. In a few sections of the beach, there were obvious signs of the destruction caused by the storms, a solemn reminder of nature’s power.

When we checked in we’d been told we could walk down to the lighthouse at low tide, so we decided to give it a try. It was a beautiful walk, but unfortunately, we discovered the lighthouse actually wasn’t accessible from the beach due to a beach renourishment project that began in early February. We did drive down to the lighthouse the next morning, but since kids have to be 48” inches tall to climb to the top, we decided to admire it from the ground.

In addition to the lighthouse, we made stops at the Visitor Center, the Nature Center, the Marsh Boardwalk, and the Campground Store. The Visitor Center has a few alligators living in the pond out front, one of which we were able to see sunning herself on the bank. Everett also really enjoyed seeing the local animals who called the Nature Center home. The boardwalk was an easy walk, but if you have spirited kids, beware that there aren’t any rails on the walkways over the marsh. The Campground Store was well stocked and had a lot of great gifts and keepsakes. We made sure to pick out an ornament for our collection and a few gifts for family members.

If you like visiting restaurants or local attractions while you are camping, you won’t find much near the park, but Port Royal and Beaufort are only about 30-minutes away. We spent Saturday afternoon exploring the area, making stops at the Chapel of Ease and historic downtown Beaufort. The boys particularly enjoyed the Monkey’s Uncle toy store and the playground at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. On the way back to the campground we made a quick detour to the Carolina Cider Company & Clockwise Coffee, a local joint that had great drinks and baked goods. I recommend the pecan streusel coffeecake (yum!).

Sunday morning came much too soon, as it always does, but we made our way home relaxed and with priceless new memories. We can’t wait to go back!

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