Coastal Carolina Biking

The Best of the Beaches, Swamps and Forests

Coastal South Carolina is prime outdoors country. Up and down the coast are diverse, beautiful areas laced with trails and winding forests roads.

The Francis Marion National Forest, situated between Georgetown and Charleston, is a paradise to local mountain bikers. Francis Marion's Swamp Fox Trail and Wambaw Cycle Trail range through a number of habitats. Cyclists pedal past stands of loblolly pine, grassy clearings and swamp areas with eerie black water and ancient cypress trees. While on the Forest, check out the Carolina Bays, elliptical depressions in the earth believed to have been created by meteors. Get an up-close look at the damage wreaked by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and at a forest in the process of healing itself.

Spectacular scenery is the main draw for the rides located at the southern end of the South Carolina Coast: the Edisto Island Bike Path, the Indian Mound Trail and the Pinckney National Wildlife Refuge Trail.

Swamp Fox Trail

Tucked away within the 250,000-acre Francis Marion National Forest lies a 14 mile-long scenic single-track trail (28 miles long as an out-and-back) where a mountain bike fits perfectly. Cyclists can explore the backcountry of the forest, slip into the swamplands, and blast through open stands of pines. More than 200 years ago, this area was the haunt of General Francis Marion, who was notorious during the American Revolution for attacking and tormenting the more powerful British troops and then hiding out with his men in the low-lying, dense swamp forests. Known as Swamp Fox for his clandestine tactics, this Revolutionary War hero earned a place in American history. When asked to describe the sly old general, a fellow officer was quoted as saying,"the devil himself could not catch him."

This moderately difficult ride is one of South Carolina's favorite rail trails. The trail, built over old logging lines, begins by rolling along well-drained ridges that penetrate low-lying, boggy areas shaded with water oaks. It then plunges through drier pine forests before threading through the dark, cypress swamp areas. There are sections of this hard-packed single-track that offer some technical challenge, but most of the trail is fairly straightforward. Several portions of the trail seem to have a hard time ever drying out completely, so expect to return to your car with mud-painted shins. The trail can be ridden in its entirety by setting up a shuttle or ridden, in part, as an out-and-back by starting at one terminus and riding as far as you wish.

A few sections of the trail somberly wind through stands of forest that were ravaged by Hurricane Hugo during the middle of the night on September 21, 1989. Splintered trunks of battered trees stand silently like weather-beaten tombstones as a testament to the fury of the storm. As we cycled through the now peaceful forest, I remembered the stories of the few people who had not evacuated from the coastal towns and who were forced to listen to the raging voice of the storm. Many of these folks described the sound of the hurricane-force winds as"the wailing of hundreds of trains." They could feel the ground shake with the thud of falling trees but could not hear the snapping and crashing of hundred-year-old tree trunks because of the deafening roar of the winds. The devastating ruin left by those winds has been likened to the blast sites of atomic bombs, the ruins of Beirut, even the path of Sherman's March across the South. As you cycle through these sections of recovering forest, you will see a macabre reminder that nothing is eternal, nothing is permanent in the forest.

Though 70 percent of the lumber-quality trees of Francis Marion National Forest was destroyed, the recovery is already evident. Fortunately, excellent forest management programs were in effect prior to the storm, and many immature stands of hardwoods and pines came through the hurricane unscathed. These younger trees that survived the powerful wrath of the storm have become the nucleus of the new forest.

General location: This trail is located about 40 miles north of Charleston. See MAP.
Elevation change: There is no appreciable change in elevation.
Season: Springtime is probably the best season for cycling because of pleasant temperatures and the lack of mosquitoes, though it is often fairly wet. The trail can be cycled year-round, however.
Services: All services are available in nearby Charleston, while some services are available in Georgetown and Moncks Corner.
Hazards: Intense heat and biting insects are to be expected during the summer; you should bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug repellent. Poisonous snakes such as water moccasins, copperheads, and rattlesnakes do live in this forest but it is unlikely that you will encounter them. Hunting is permitted in the forest; wearing some bright, unnatural color during hunting season is advised. Check with the Wambaw District ranger station for the exact dates when hunting is allowed. You may wish to avoid this trail on opening day.
Rescue index: The rescue index is poor because the trail winds for miles away from access roads. In addition, the trailhead is several miles from a city offering emergency assistance. For these reasons, you should bring a tool kit and a first-aid kit with you on the trail.
Land status: National forest.
Maps: The Francis Marion National Forest map is available from the ranger station for a nominal fee. The trail is also detailed on three USGS 7.5 minute quadrangles: Awendaw, Ocean Bay, and Huger.
Finding the trail: The eastern trailhead is located on US 17 at the town of Awendaw, about 40 miles north of Charleston. The western terminus of the trail is located on FS 170, just north of the junction of SC133S.

Notes on the trail: At 0.2 miles from the eastern trailhead at Awendaw, be sure to notice the chair carved into a huge tree trunk by a chain saw-wielding workman during the clean-up efforts following Hurricane Hugo.

View: Trail Map


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