Francis Marion National Forest
Francis Marion is a national forest under construction, and the contractor is Mother Nature. On September 21, 1989, Hurricane Hugo's 135-mile-per-hour winds pummeled the forest, uprooting or snapping in two enormous old trees covering tens of square miles. Most young trees survived the devastation, and today, visitors can witness nature's fascinating rebuilding process.
Lying along South Carolina's Intracoastal Waterway, this verdant 250,000-acre forest boasts a rich variety of wildlife habitat and offers excellent opportunities for bird-watching, nature study, photography, and fishing. Otters, beavers, coyotes, bobcats, black bears, and possibly even panthers make their home in Francis Marion.
Ample hiking and mountain biking trails offer excellent means to enjoy the backcountry, as do bridle paths for horses and rough roads for motorcycles and ATVs. Rivers, lakes, and ocean beckon fishermen. Buck Hall Recreation Area, situated on the grounds of an old plantation along the Intracoastal Waterway, features campsites, picnic sites, and boat ramps and attracts wildlife viewers, anglers, and crabbers.
For those who really want to rough it, Francis Marion encompasses four wilderness areas with no facilities except for a single trail. Travel through these areas isn't easy but offers extraordinary rewards, such as the chance to see alligators, bald eagles, and some 250 species of birds.
A word of caution: Summer brings punishing heat and humidity and more soul-sucking bug life than you'll want to deal with. Visit instead in the cool of late fall through early spring.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication