I was just coming back from a beautiful sunset view across the marshes behind Hunting Island State Park when my heart nearly stopped. Ahead of me the wooden boardwalk that would take me from the island back to my car at the parking lot was just inches from being flooded. It didn’t even look like it was safe to cross the long stretch of boardwalk over the water, but what other choice did I have? I didn’t want to spend the night sleeping on the small island with the raccoon family I had just met.
Hunting Island State Park, located about thirty minutes from Beaufort, is one of the most popular parks in the state. Between the lush, cozy campground and the only lighthouse visitors can still climb in the state it’s easy to see why. But during this trip to the park I wanted to do something different. A ranger at the visitor center had asked if I’d ever walked the Marsh Boardwalk. The question would turn into quite an interesting evening!
Tropical Storm Julia had just passed through the area the day before. It was great timing because the rain and wind had finally stopped, and the edge of the fading tropical storm provided the right mixture for some dramatic lighting at sunset. Still, I wanted to be dressed for the worst so I changed from flip flops to tennis shoes, grabbed my hat and rain jacket, and put all my photography gear into my massive Lowepro Pro Trekker 450. I was ready to go.
The first long boardwalk stretched across the low-lying marshes toward an island. I caught site of several birds along this initial trek and stopped for a few photos every once in awhile. The boardwalk reached the island at a small covered observation area before curving around the sandy beach toward the back. I followed the boardwalk across the island, and then across another stretch over water to a large observation deck at the end.
From here I had a clear, uninterrupted view across the marshes toward the setting sun. I quickly set up my two camera bodies (one portrait, one landscape orientation) along with a GoPro for a timelapse and waited for the right moment. Of course the clouds didn’t entirely cooperate as they swirled and moved west, obscuring the final moments of the sunset. It was still a dazzling finish and I was quite satisfied with the result.
Just as I began packing up my gear I noticed a raccoon family at the far end of the boardwalk, near the island, staring at me. They didn’t really know what to make of me at first as they sat there frozen in place. I quickly snapped a single photo of them, but the sound of the shutter click must have been enough to scare them because they quickly jolted into the dense brush on the island. I finished packing up my gear, a big ‘ole Southern smile on my face, and leisurely strolled back toward the parking lot.
That’s when I came around that final bend in the boardwalk and caught sight of the long stretch of boardwalk just inches above the water. As it turned out the high tide was coming in and combined with the flood waters from the tropical storm it was about a foot higher than usual. My heart was beating a little faster than usual, but the smile never faded from my face. This was exciting! Of course my heart was beating quickly because the last thing I needed was to take a dive into the water with all my previous camera gear strapped to my back, but it was only a small worry.
The boardwalk was solid and the trek back just as easy as the one out. It was actually fun because I felt almost like I was walking on water since, well, I was completely surrounded by water! I got back to my car, unloaded all my gear, changed shoes again (my feet just get too claustrophobic in shoes), and walked back to the boardwalk. I don’t know if the water ever made it over the top that night, but it was close enough for me. The smile still hadn’t faded. I’m smiling now. It was a fun experience!
Address: 2555 Sea Island Pkwy, St Helena Island, SC
Phone: (843) 838-2011
Price: $5/adult; $3.25 SC seniors; $3/ child age 6-15; Free for children 5 and younger
Hours: 6am-6pm, daily (extended to 9pm during Daylight Saving Time)
Parking: There is a gravel parking lot along the main highway to access the Marsh Boardwalk.
Family Friendly: This is a very family friendly place to visit, I just wouldn’t recommend getting trapped on the island overnight!
Handicap Accessible: The boardwalk extends all the way from the parking lot to the observation deck at the end, making it accessible to wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.
Getting There: From Beaufort drive 15 miles along Sea Island Parkway. Once you cross a pair of bridges, the last one being a simple concrete bridge, you will be on Hunting Island. Continue another 3 miles to the parking area on the right to access the Marsh Boardwalk.
Things to Know: It will get very buggy during the warmer months so bring some bug spray. There are two covered shelters, one at either end of the first boardwalk, just in case a summer storm sneaks up on you.