The Low Country

Exploring Coastal South Carolina and Georgia
  |  Gorp.com
Sunrise at Hunting Island Photo by Claire Pamplin
Sunrise at Hunting Island

Ocean, rivers and marshes have always defined life in the Low Country. The abundance of water in low-lying terrain made the 200-mile-long region between Charleston, South Carolina and St. Marys, Georgia rich from rice and cotton in the 19th century.

The rice and cotton industries began to decline before the Civil War, but the war added a debilitating blow to the region's economy. Some areas have recovered only in recent years, and today many of the towns and communities along the coast are growing, vibrant with new energy. Charleston and Savannah began their restoration programs years ago, but recently Beaufort, Port Royal, and St. Marys have established historic districts. Some streets and squares look almost exactly as they did one hundred or even two hundred years ago. Even the tiniest communities, such as Port Royal, have little theatres or other arts programs. Good (or at least decent) restaurants are everywhere.

Driving along U.S. Highway 17 or secondary roads , you cross tidal creeks winding through endless marshes. Stop for a bit of refreshment, and you'll easily find a cafe, restaurant or bar overlooking a river or inlet. In fact, just as water defined the life and economy of the Low Country 200 years ago, it will define your visit. You'll paddle along tidal creeks, through marshes or in the open ocean. If you go biking, you will doubtless ride along beaches and rivers. You are a birder? The region is a superb bird-watching spot because of the water.

This is a highly personal, non-comprehensive guide to the Low Country of my native state, South Carolina, and Georgia, where I lived for more than 10 years. I return to the Low Country as often as I can, and it is never far from my thoughts. The towns, rivers and country roads are some of my favorite places anywhere, and the region is one of the South's best outdoor destinations.

Paddling

Kayak touring has boomed as a favorite activity. There are miles of beaches, inlets, and creeks, and dozens of barrier islands to explore. Paddling reveals two aspects of the Low Country vital to understanding the region: the natural environment of the vast marshes, and the remnants of 18th- and 19th-century plantation life. The cotton and rice plantations, however short-lived they were in the grand scheme of things, brought together white European colonists and African slaves, changing forever the culture and history of the region.

The marshes support an abundance of fish, shellfish, birds and wildlife, and act as a giant filter to cleanse the water of the Low Country. Ponder these things as you paddle along an old rice canal in the backwaters. Two prime paddling destinations are the ACE Basin, south of Charleston, and the St. Marys, Georgia area.

Biking

Biking in the Low Country can take you down quiet country roads past grand plantations and humble farmhouses. No matter which direction you head, you're never far from a river or creek. In many places, you can cycle on or near the beach.

Birds and Wildlife

If you aren't a birder or wildlife-watcher now, you will be one once you have visited the Low Country. You can't help it. Not only are there hundreds of thousands of protected lands harboring all kinds of creatures, but a simple nature walk or the most ordinary two-hour kayak trip down a minor creek will be a birding adventure. Head for open water, and you can't miss the dolphins. On dry land, deer and other mammals abound. In many places, it's possible to see alligators, manatee and loggerhead turtles.

Camping

The Low Country offers ample opportunities to combine culture-oriented activities such as theatre or music with outdoor fun. The campgrounds, especially at the state parks, make it easy to enjoy several different activities. Many are conveniently located near towns and cities while still offering great birding or other outdoor activities. If you want to get far from the madding crowd, places such as Cumberland, Ossabaw or Sapelo Island offer refuge. Outfitters and guides can be found in Charleston, Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Brunswick and St. Marys to help you get out into the expansive spaces.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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