Francis Marion Wilderness Areas
Four wilderness areas on Francis Marion NF are protected from human interference

The Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina contains several wilderness areas: Hellhole Bay, Wambaw Creek, Wambaw Swamp, and Little Wambaw Swamp. These lands offer canoe and hiking areas, where you may encounter a rich variety of wetland plants and critters, from orchids to alligators.

Hellhole Bay Wilderness
This 2,200-acre area takes its name from a large opening existing before settlement in the 1700's, probably the result of frequent fires. The last fire occurred in l954, when during a drought, bulldozers were used to dig firelines down to mineral soil to extinguish the burning organic soil. These lines make an interesting l.5-mile canoe trail (6 to 12 inches deep) during high water, and a hiking trail during low water. Park on the shoulder of FS Road 158, adjacent to the canoe trail sign. Contact Witherbee District for water level information.

Wambaw Creek Wilderness
Giant cypress and gum trees line Wambaw Creek, forming the heart of this 1,900-acre Wilderness. Rice dikes and canals bear mute testimony to the hard work involved in carving agricultural land from the swamp during the time this was a European colony. Wambaw Creek Wilderness Canoe Trail is nine miles of tidal, blackwater creek. It is one of the most scenic places on the forest. There are two boat access points: Still Landing and Echaw Road Boat Ramp.

Visitors will find scenic blackwater swamps highlighted by majestic bald cypress and water tupelo trees, teeming with wildlife, from mystical barred owls to curious raccoons and flighty wood ducks.

Alligators are occasionally seen by quiet paddlers. Canoes or boats provide the best way to see this interesting area. The 11-mile-long creek varies from 20 to 80 feet wide and is influenced by tides in the Atlantic Ocean. The stream is free of logs with the exception of the upper two miles, which should only be attempted during high water and at high tide (approximately 4.5 hours after high tide in Charleston).

Wambaw Swamp Wilderness
This area contains 4,850 acres of bottomland swamp hardwood with several small pine stands on the edges. Many types of plants, including wild orchids, lizard's tail, pickeral weed, sedges, and ferns can be found in this swamp. No trails exist; therefore, people interested in exploring the interior usually follow a compass route.

Little Wambaw Swamp Wilderness
At 5,223 acres, this is the largest wilderness on the Francis Marion. Bottomland hardwood stands and frequent sloughs (wet areas) cover the area. Understory plants consist of orchards, pickerel weel, and bladderwort.

Old earthen railroad trams offer a high-ground way to traverse the area; however, bridges once spanning streams are now gone, requiring visitors to wade streams.

About 60 acres of swamp and water tupelo, along with baldcypress, are believed to be virgin timber.

Swamps and wetlands characterize these four areas. During the wet season (June through August), water is often standing 2 to 18 inches deep in large areas of the wilderness—so wear shoes unless you don't mind getting wet. An observant visitor can find a wealth of plants and animals thriving in this unusual habitat.

The Forest is home to numerous insects that can make your visit unpleasant, if you are not prepared for them. Mosquitoes are most bothersome during the summer and fall, and campers need netting during this time. Mosquito repellent can reduce the problem during daylight hours.

Chiggers (red bugs) and ticks can also be irritating. Repellent applied to socks and trouser bottoms is good insurance. Check your body each night for ticks since some carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Numerous non-poisonous snakes, as well as water moccasins, copperheads, and rattlesnakes make these areas home. However, an observant visitor should have little danger of being bitten.

Limited visibility, due to dense vegetation and few landmarks, makes getting lost easy if care is not taken. You should use a compass, pay attention to directions, and start back to the road so darkness will not catch you if going to the interior of these areas.

Camping Policy
Much of the land in these wilderness areas is too wet for camping. Camping is available at nearby Buckhall and Huger Campgrounds, as well as several primitive areas, including Elmwood, Halfway Creek, Guilliard Lake, North Hampton, Little Hellhole Lake, Laurel Hill Landing, and Round Pond Cycle trailhead. Individuals interested in camping outside these designated camping areas, including the four wilderness areas, must apply for a free permit from the Ranger's office.

Congress established four wilderness areas totaling 14,173 acres on the Francis Marion National Forest in 1980. Wilderness, as described in the Wilderness Act, is "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." A common conception of wilderness is an area where man has never intruded and virgin stands of timber grow and die without interference. However, Wilderness Areas in the eastern United States are different in that all have felt the impact of man in the not -too-distant past. These four areas are no exception.

Extensive agricultural operations began in the early 1700's, converting forest into rice fields and pastures. Limited logging operations using animals or floating logs down Wambaw Creek followed. However, in the early 1900's, large-scale railroad logging operations using steam-powered locomotives and winches harvested nearly all of the merchantable timber on what is now the Francis Marion National Forest.

Congress established the Francis Marion in 1936 and land purchases from willing sellers began. Nature's healing hand began restoring the areas, and today few signs exist, other than canals, rice dikes, and earthen railroad trains, of the once busy activities.

For More Information Please Contact: Wambaw and Witherbee Ranger Districts - Francis Marion National Forest

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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