Coastal Carolina Biking

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

This easy, eight-mile (round-trip), out-and-back mountain bike ride offers beautiful vistas of pine forests, freshwater ponds, and broad Carolina salt marshes. Though it is not a technically challenging ride, the excellent surface and outstanding scenery make it appealing to most cyclists. It runs along the entire length of Island, from the parking area near Last End Point to the northern tip at White Point. Counting the grassy side trails, there are over 14 miles of nature trails available for hiking and bicycling at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Two of these trails lead out to the island's eastern shore at Shell Point and Bull Point. From the shoreline you can see the marinas at Hilton Head Island across Skull Creek (the Intracoastal Waterway). The main ride follows a road of pale dirt and gravel that beckons mountain bikers to come along and see the sights of the refuge. And what sights there are to see!

Nearly 70 percent of this South Carolina Low Country refuge is salt marsh or tidal hammocks, which are actually just small islands. Tall marsh cordgrass gently sways in sea breezes that blow across the marsh. Sea ox-eye gives the landscape some color with its burrlike, yellow flowers. In autumn, marsh elder dresses up the causeways with its greenish-white blossoms.

During high tide, notice the salt marsh snails that cling to the stalks of these marsh plants; these air breathers would drown if they were covered by water for more than one hour. At low tide, the mudflats and shallow creeks create a smorgasbord for wading and shore birds. Just a few of the birds that you might find dining in the salt marsh are oystercatchers, terns, sandpipers, herons, snowy egrets, ibises, willets, and gulls. Excellent points from which to view the marshes as you ride include the tenuous isthmus of roadbed between the parking area and Ibis Pond, as well as a tidal creek crossing on the trail to White Point.

Hilton Head Island protects the refuge from destructive sea storms, thus creating a safe sanctuary for resident animals and migratory birds. This pristine habitat is a mecca for wildlife. Four species of animals federally listed as threatened or endangered have been recorded within the refuge boundaries: the Southern bald eagle, peregrine falcon, wood stork, and American alligator. The refuge personnel work diligently to preserve their habitat from degradation and to protect them from human predation.

There are other animals in the refuge that are also given a little man-made help. As you cycle along, look for nesting boxes that have been erected throughout some of the ponds for wood ducks. Near the salt marsh, you will see nesting platforms provided for roosting osprey. You are bound to notice the V-shaped hoofprints of white-tailed deer in the white sand; these wary creatures are prolific on the island. The refuge personnel maintain the deer herd by scheduling hunts as needed on a yearly basis, rather than establishing a hunting schedule and season in advance.

Pinckney Island has an undeniably rich natural history, but it is as interesting to historians as it is to naturalists. Archaeologists believe that prehistoric inhabitants — cavemen, if you will — lived on the island as long ago as 10,000 B.C. Coastal Indians later inhabited the island until the mid-1700s, when the Pinckney family acquired it.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney retired to the island and built a home near White Point, which was subsequently destroyed in 1824. As a Revolutionary War commander, signer of the U.S. Constitution, and candidate for president in the 1804 election, Pinckney was considered to be quite an accomplished fellow. He went on to develop a prosperous cotton plantation on 297 acres of Pinckney Island. Though he died in 1825, the plantation continued to thrive until 1861, when the island was invaded by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1862, South Carolina troops attacked the Third New Hampshire Infantry here, killing four Federal soldiers. The Pinckney property changed hands a few more times before it was finally donated in 1975 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be used as a nature and wildlife preserve.

General location: The refuge is near Hilton Head Island. See MAP.
Elevation change: There is no appreciable change in elevation.
Season: The refuge and its trails are open to the public year-round during daylight hours. The refuge is occasionally closed for periods of prescribed burning of underbrush in stands of southern pines, usually during winter months.
The period from late fall through early spring offers the best rides due to mild temperatures, low humidity, absence of biting insects, and the presence of vast numbers of migratory waterfowl.
Services: All services are available on Hilton Head Island. Bring plenty of bags of gold with you, though, because this is an expensive resort island. There is an RV campground on Hilton Head and tent camping sites in the towns of Hardeeville and Pritchardville.
Hazards: The graveled road is well maintained, but is overgrown with grass during summer months. This overgrowth can conceal snakes, some of which may be poisonous. Summer also comes complete with poison ivy, stinging insects, and those burrowing annoyances, chiggers and ticks. Occasionally, alligators may be encountered near Clubhouse Pond. This refuge is not a petting zoo; stay away from the animals, especially those burly gators. You should also be cautious of loose gravel, potholes, and puddles in the trails and road.
Rescue index: The main road is only a few miles long, so a member of your group should be able to obtain help fairly quickly. Try to be self-sufficient, however, and bring along a first-aid kit and a tool kit. To prevent the need for rescue in the first place, make an effort to exercise your common sense. A little does seem to go a long way.
Land status: National wildlife refuge.
Maps: The ride is featured in the brochure for Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, with a map detailing the trail network. You can also use the refuge map from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Pinckney Island. The refuge is shown on two USGS 7.5 minute quadrangles: Bluffton and Spring Island.
Finding the trail: From Interstate 95, take Exit 5 at Hardeeville to reach SC 46. Drive east on SC 46 toward Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. Turn onto US 278 and drive east for about 5 miles to the refuge entrance, which will be on the left.

Notes on the trail: Water is not available at the refuge so be sure to fill your water bottles before you arrive on the island.

View: Trail Map


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