Otter Island, SC is a hidden, uninhabited gem of an island south of Charleston. After recently visiting the island via a 22-mile roundtrip paddle from Edisto Island, I can’t wait to go back and explore some more.
The ACE Basin is a special place. Situated at the confluence of the Ashepoo, Congaree, and South Edisto Rivers, the ACE Basin’s waters spill into the St. Helena Sound before making their way into the Atlantic Ocean. As they head toward the sea, the ACE Basin’s rivers create several small islands, most of which are uninhabited and rarely visited. One of these islands is Otter Island, SC.
Otter Island, SC is visible from Edisto Island, though just barely. If you head to the southern tip of Edisto Island—which is one of the best places in the Charleston area to watch the sunset—you will see Pine Island in the distance. Otter Island sits slightly further south, with its oceanside beach just barely visible as a landmass on the horizon. While some people make the relatively short trip across the water to Pine Island’s wild beach, far fewer continue on to Otter Island, which is another two miles away.
Kayaking to Otter Island, SC—The Long Way
Unless you have a small boat, there isn’t an easy way to get to Otter Island, SC. If you try to kayak directly across from Edisto Island, you’ll be in the surf (or just beyond) for a couple of miles. Alternatively, you can bring a kayak dolly and ferry your kayak along Pine Island to cross Jefford Creek, but this means pulling your kayak through the sand a total of four miles round-trip.
Or, you can go the long way.
This is the option I choose for my trip. I drove from Charleston to the public Live Oak Boat Landing on Big Bay Creek. Even getting there mid-morning on a warm spring day, there was still plenty of parking available. After paying the entry fee ($8 per adult, as Live Oak Boat Landing is part of the South Carolina State Parks system), I parked and unloaded my kayak, then walked down to the water to get underway.
To get to Otter Island, SC, I planned to paddle to the end of Big Bay Creek, head north on the South Edisto River, then use the manmade cut inland of South Fenwick Island to make a near-180-degree turn to head back toward the coast on the Ashepoo River. With the one-way route measuring about 11.5 miles, I shoved off two hours before high tide. This ended up being more than enough time; and, while I had planned to ride the ebb tide down the Ashepoo, I ended up paddling against the last remnants of the flood tide almost all the way to Otter Island.
Kayaking to Otter Island on this route was a pretty unforgettable experience. I’ve paddled in the ACE Basin before—including paddling a circumnavigation of Morgan Island to see the monkeys—and it never ceases to amaze. Even with an overcast sky, the endless views make the fairly monotonous task of flatwater paddling go by quickly, and the dolphins, shorebirds, and distinct lack of boats all add to the experience of feeling very, very far away.
After a steady hour and a half of paddling, I reached the cut that served as my turning point to head seaward to Otter Island. While there are several small creeks that connect to the South Edisto River behind Pine Island, the cut is significantly larger and easily distinguished. There’s a red aid to navigation (ATON) to help guide your way as well.
As mentioned, the cut that connects the South Edisto River to the Ashepoo River sits on the inland side of South Fenwick Island. This is an island with which I was unfamiliar prior to my trip. After rounding the corner and beginning the easterly leg of my kayaking trip to Otter Island, I came to a dock with a sign indicating that much of South Fenwick Island is owned and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR)—and open to the public. Boaters and kayakers can moor to the public dock and visit the island free of charge, and camping is available on the island with a permit year-round.
Speaking of camping, my original plan was to camp on Otter Island, SC instead of making the full trip in a single day. But, when I called the SCDNR’s McKenzie Field Station to request a permit, I was informed that I was a week too late. While I had read online that camping on Otter Island is available until March 31, this information turned out to be outdated. As noted on the SCDNR’s website, the current camping window on Otter Island is from October 16 to March 14.
Landing on the Sand at Otter Island, SC
Roughly three hours and fifteen minutes after leaving the Live Oak Boat Landing on Edisto Island, I landed my kayak in the soft sand of Otter Island, SC. There was a perfect spot to paddle in—a shallow and protected section of the beach facing you head-on as you paddle down the Ashepoo River.
Once I landed, I stood up for the first time in several hours and stretched. Then, I began exploring the island.
From end to end, the beach on Otter Island, SC is about three miles long. It wraps around the western end of the island before stretching about two miles along the Atlantic Ocean. From the ocean side of the Island, the southern tip of Edisto Island is visible in the distance to the north, and you can just faintly see the Harbor River Bridge that connects Beaufort to Hunting Island to the south.
But, while civilization is (just barely) in view, when you are on Otter Island, SC you feel—and are—miles away from anywhere. Not only are you almost certain to be the only one there, but you are also almost certain to be the only one for miles around—unless a sailboat happens to be passing by to anchor or head out to sea.
Otter Island is a wild and undisturbed place, and it is unlike just about anywhere else you can visit on a day trip not only from Charleston, but from most places in the country.
After exploring the Island, I ate a quick lunch back at my kayak and then launched my drone to take some pictures. While the overcast sky wasn’t ideal for drone photography, the landscape of the ACE Basin stands pretty well on its own.
Paddling Back to Edisto Island from Otter Island, SC
With plenty of daylight still left, I launched my kayak from the sand and headed back to Edisto Island. I retraced my route, this time fighting the tide on the way up the Ashepoo River before riding it for a swift trip down the South Edisto River to the mouth of Big Bay Creek. One factor I hadn’t anticipated was the strength of the tidal current pushing out of the creek—the last mile and a half was by far the most difficult part of the tip, and I needed to paddle consistently to avoid losing ground.
But, the effort was well worth it.
I plan to visit Otter Island, SC by kayak again—if not this summer then in the fall or spring while the camping window is open. I may leave from the Live Oak Boat Landing again, or I might put in at the Dawhoo Boat Landing on the Edisto Island National Scenic Byway. The route from here is slightly longer—about 13 miles each way—but it would be possible to ride the ebb tide the entire way to Otter Island before riding the flood tide all the way back.
Planning a Kayaking (or Boat) Trip to Otter Island, SC
Launching Points for Visiting Otter Island, SC By Kayak or Boat
It is possible to kayak to Otter Island, SC from either the Live Oak Boat Landing or the Dawhoo Boat Landing, both of which are on Edisto Island. The Dawhoo Boat Landing is about 20 minutes closer to Charleston, and is also free to the public (while the Live Oak Boat Landing has a per-person entry fee).
- Dawhoo Boat Landing – Dawhoo Rd, Edisto Island, SC 29438 (just off of Route 174 once you cross the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) onto Edisto Island
- Live Oak Boat Landing – Drive to the end of Oyster Row Ln, Edisto Island, SC 29438 (take Palmetto Road on your right after passing Ace Hardware on Route 174)
Approximately 22.5 miles roundtrip from the Live Oak Boat Landing using the route described above. If you leave from Dawhoo Boat Landing, the route is approximately 26 miles roundtrip.
From the Live Oak Boat Landing, I made the complete trip in about seven hours, with about an hour on Otter Island, SC. This involved consistent paddling on both legs of the trip.
Leaving from the Live Oak Boat Landing, you will want to plan to be at the cut connecting the South Edisto River and Ashepoo River at high tide. Plan to leave the landing an hour and a half to two hours before high tide, depending on your paddling ability (if kayaking to Otter Island).
Leaving from the Dawhoo Boat Landing, you can plan to leave any time during the ebb tide, provided that you will want to be at Otter Island before the tide turns. Time your departure based on your paddling ability (if kayaking to Otter Island)
Tips and Advisories
One of the draws of Otter Island, SC is its remoteness. As a result, from the time you leave the boat landing, you will need to plan to be on your own. You will also need to plan for several hours in the sun, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen, along with anything else you might want during your trip. If you leave from the Live Oak Boat Landing, you will need to do at least some paddling against the tide (if kayaking to Otter Island), so make sure you are prepared for this as well.
As always, when kayaking, boating, or engaging in any other form of travel by water, bring all necessary safety gear, check the weather regularly, dress for the water temperature, and stay comfortably within your limits.
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