Spending Time Outdoors is a Way of Life in Charleston
Whether you live in Charleston, you are thinking about moving to the area, or you are visiting the Holy City on vacation, there is a good chance that you like spending time outdoors. With Charleston’s temperate climate, residents and visitors can spend time outdoors year-round—and there are lots of options for enjoying a day in the sun.
Since Charleston is a vacation destination, visitors (and residents) can take advantage of the various tours offered in the area. Visitors (and residents) can rent kayaks, SUPs, and surfboards, and they can take kayak, SUP, and surfing lessons as well. Charleston also hosts several running races each year—from 5k and 10k races to half-marathons, marathons, and even ultra-marathons.
But, you don’t have to sign up for a tour, lesson, or race to enjoy outdoor life in Charleston. Beaches, parks, and trails abound, and there are kayak put-ins and boat landings throughout the Charleston area. One particularly unique aspect of Charleston’s geography is that there are several locations that are only accessible by boat, from uninhabited barrier islands to coral reefs offshore.
Otter Island, SC: Miles Away from Anywhere Within an Hour’s Drive of Charleston
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 […]
Sailing in Charleston, SC: Everything Aspiring and Experienced Sailors Need to Know
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12 Charleston Kayaking Destinations
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Coastal Kayaking: Essential Gear and Safety Tips
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Tides, Swell & Wind: What to Know When Boating or Kayaking in Charleston
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What Do You Want To Do Outdoors in Charleston?
How do you envision your outdoor life in Charleston? Some of the most popular destinations and activities include:
Beaches in Charleston
Charleston isn’t often referred to as a beach town, but honestly we’re not quite sure why. While there isn’t a beach on the Charleston peninsula, there are five public beaches within less than an hour’s drive of King Street and Charleston City Market. If you are interested in a typical beach day, you might try visiting Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island or Kiawah Beachwalker Park. If you are looking for a more natural beach and smaller crowds, then visiting Folly Beach County Park or Edisto Beach will be your best option.
Along with Charleston’s five main public beaches, there are several smaller beaches as well—though many of these are only accessible by water. One exception is Botany Bay on Edisto Island, which is known for its “boneyard beach” with bleached uprooted trees. But, Botany Bay has experienced significant erosion in recent years, and the surrounding area is often closed for hunting. So, it is best to check the SCDNR Public Lands website before you go.
Three of the most popular beaches in Charleston that are only accessible by boat include Morris Island, Bulls Island, and Capers Island. If you have a boat or kayak, you can visit each of these beaches yourself (just be cautious of the tides). Or, if you are feeling less adventurous, you can sign up for a tour that will take you to any one of these three beaches with a small group.
Boat Landings in Charleston
Given the popularity of boating in Charleston, it’s no surprise that there are lots of boat landings in the area. The local government prioritizes making sure all local residents have access to the water, and many of the area’s boat landings are well-maintained by the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC).
There are boat landings on the four of the main rivers that divide up Charleston’s high ground—the Stono River, Ashley River, Cooper River, and Wando River—as well as the Intracoastal Waterway and various smaller creeks and estuaries. Boaters can fuel up at one of the many marinas around Charleston as well—including Charleston Harbor Marina, Charleston City Marina, Shem Creek Marina, Rivers Edge Marina, and St. Johns Yacht Harbor.
Some of the most popular boat landings in Charleston include the Wappoo Cut Public Boat Ramp in West Ashley, John P. Limehouse Landing on Johns Island, and the Remleys Point Public Boat Landing in Mount Pleasant. Each of these landings offers easy access to different Charleston-area waterways as well as the Atlantic Ocean.
Boating Destinations in Charleston
For every boat landing in Charleston, there are numerous possible boating destinations. Whether you want to get something to eat, go to the beach, go offshore, or simply cruise the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), there are easy access points to make your journey as long or short as you want it to be.
Popular boating destinations in Charleston include:
- Restaurants – Several restaurants around the Charleston Harbor and along the ICW have boat docking. These include the restaurants in Shem Creek and California Dreaming on the Ashley River, among others.
- Beaches – There are several beaches on Charleston’s barrier islands that are only accessible by boat. As a result, you can have these beaches to yourself (or yourself and just a handful of other people) most of the year. Two of the most popular beaches for accessing by boat in Charleston are Capers Island and Bulls island, both of which are located north of Isle of Palms on the ICW.
- Offshore Fishing – Charleston is known for its offshore fishing, with several natural and man-made reefs not too far offshore. Most people in the area head offshore through the Charleston Harbor or the mouth of the North Edisto River.
- Intracoastal Waterway – Simply cruising the ICW is a great way to spend a warm afternoon in Charleston. On the West Ashley side, the ICW travels through the Stono River and Wappoo Creek. In the Mt. Pleasant side, it divides Mt. Pleasant from Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms.
- Lesser-Known Destinations – Charleston has several lesser-known boating destinations as well. These include small inshore islands like Cat Island (on the Wando River) and Wolf Island (on the Stono River), which are both great places to hunt for sharks’ teeth.
Kayaking in Charleston
Kayaking is a great way to explore Charleston’s waterways as well. Along with Charleston’s public boat landings, there are several other kayak put-ins around Charleston as well. One popular example is the put-in on Kiawah Island Parkway, which provides access to the southern tip of Kiawah Beach and the northern tip of Seabrook beach via the Kiawah River.
With Charleston’s multiple boat landings and put-ins, it is possible to plan multi-hour and all-day paddling trips throughout the area. Kayakers can explore the uninhabited barrier islands around Bulls Bay, paddle downriver from one put-in point to another, or head slightly further south to the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto (ACE) Basin. This relatively remote and largely untouched area offers incredible inshore paddling opportunities, from camping on Otter Island (with a permit from SCDNR) to viewing the rhesus monkey colony—yes, really—on Morgan Island.
Parks in Charleston
The Charleston area is home to several well-maintained public parks. These include parks operated by the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) as well as the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism (South Carolina State Parks). Some of the most well-known county parks in the area include James Island County Park, Palmetto Islands County Park in Mt. Pleasant, and the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. Hidden gems include Caw Caw Interpretive Center, Meggett County Park, and Stono River County Park.
Several of Charleston County’s parks have unique activities, such as pedalboat rentals and the outdoor climbing wall at James Island County Park. Several CCPRC parks also have waterparks, and the stand-alone SK8 Charleston skatepark is located on the peninsula just north of downtown. Edisto Beach State Park is one of the most popular state parks in the area, with camping just steps from the beach and access to several miles of palmetto-lined trails.
Trails in Charleston
Speaking of trails, while Charleston isn’t known as a trail town—and certainly can’t compete with the upstate when it comes to mountains and trails—there are several enjoyable and well-maintained trails in the area. Several of these trails are located within state and county parks, such as Caw Caw Interpretive Center and Edisto Beach State Park. But, the West Ashley Greenway is an 8-mile walking and biking trail with marsh views that connects the east and west ends of West Ashley, and you can find trails to walk, run, or bike in various other areas as well.
Running Races in Charleston
Interested in running races in Charleston? If so, you can find any distance you want. Three of the biggest races in Charleston are the Cooper River Bridge Run (a 10k across the Ravenel Bridge), the Charleston Half Marathon, and the Kiawah Marathon and Half Marathon. The CCPRC hosts races ranging in distance from 5k to half marathon at various parks throughout the year, and also hosts the Save the Light Half Marathon on Folly Beach. Several private organizations host road races of varying distances in the area as well.
While ultrarunners won’t find mountains with smooth singletrack in Charleston, they will find flat, runnable courses ranging from 50k to 100 miles and longer. These races primarily take place in the Francis Marion National Forest located just north of Charleston, though there are other local ultramarathon venues as well.
Guided Tours, Rentals, and Lessons in Charleston
If you enjoy going with a group or want to explore a new place or activity with expert guidance, there are several outfitters and guide companies in Charleston. These companies offer guided tours to barrier islands like Bulls Island, Capers Island, and Morris Island, as well as kayak, SUP, and surfboard rentals and lessons. Folly Beach is generally considered the best place to surf, while you can rent a kayak or SUP on Folly Island, Kiawah Island, Isle of Palms, or in Shem Creek.