Folly Beach is one of the Charleston area’s most-popular beaches for both residents and visitors. While this isn’t a problem for most of the year, on weekends during the peak summer months, it can become difficult to find parking if you get to the island later than about 10:00 in the morning.
Let’s say you get to Folly Beach, and after driving around for a while you can’t find a place to park. Or, maybe you just don’t want to bother with hunting the side streets for a spot or driving by multiple beach access parking lots only to find them all full. If you find yourself in this scenario, what is your best option?
You might want to keep driving south on W. Ashley Avenue until you get to Folly Beach County Park.
Folly Beach County Park: One of Charleston’s Hidden Gems
Located at the south end of Folly Island, Folly Beach County Park is one of Charleston’s hidden gems. First and foremost, the parking lot is huge. While most people who visit Folly Beach focus on trying to find a parallel parking spot on one of the side streets (which is generally free, as long as parking is permitted and you can get all four wheels in the sand) or getting a spot in one of the small beach access parking lots where you have to feed the meter, parking at Folly Beach County Park is largely the opposite experience. At roughly a quarter mile long and with parking on both sides, the parking lot is a refuge for those who just want to get out of their car, truck, or SUV and start their day at the beach.
Folly Beach County Park is operated by the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC), which generally does a great job building and maintaining its facilities. The park has bathrooms and outdoor showers at multiple beach access points, and there are a small concession stand (which is open seasonally) and picnic area near the entrance as well.
Parking fees vary, and they can be on the expensive side compared to parking for free further north on the island. But, if you are planning to stay for several hours or all day, it is no more expensive, and in many cases still cheaper, than parking near the Folly Beach Pier. The CCPRC maintains a list of parking fees on its website, which are currently:
- January and February – $5
- March and April – $10
- May through Labor Day – $15 Monday through Friday and $20 on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays
- September (after Labor Day) and October – $10
- November and December – $5
You pay this fee when you enter the park, so it doesn’t matter how long you stay. There are no meters to feed, and you don’t have to worry about moving your car, truck, or SUV until the park closes at sunset.
For Charleston locals, the CCPRC Gold Pass gets you free parking at Folly Beach County Park. It also gets you free parking at most other CCPRC facilities (although it no longer gets you free parking at the Folly Beach Pier), and it has other benefits that make the price worth it for most families as well.
5 Reasons to Visit Folly Beach County Park
If you are planning a trip to Folly Beach, you might be interested in visiting the Folly Beach Pier, heading north toward the Washout or Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, or eating al fresco at one of the restaurants on (or near) Center Street. So, why should you opt instead to head south to Folly Beach County Park?
1. The Parking
As we’ve discussed, finding parking at Folly Beach County Park is generally much easier than finding parking anywhere else on the island during peak season. While the parking lot can (and does) fill up, your chances of finding a spot are much better than elsewhere—and you are almost guaranteed to find parking if you get there early.
2. The Space
Since Folly Beach County Park isn’t as heavily trafficked as other areas of the island, you can expect to have more space on the beach to yourself. This is especially true if you head past the end of the parking lot to the southern tip of the island. You can even walk around the tip of the island to the river side; and, while you won’t have ocean waves crashing on the sand, you may have the sand all to yourself. For those who like peace and quiet, the southern tip of Folly is the place to go.
3. The Views
The views at Folly Beach County Park are pretty spectacular. Instead of endless rows of condos and beach homes, you will be surrounded by Folly Island’s natural beauty. At the southern end of the island, you can look across the water to Bird Key, and further in the distance you can see the undisturbed north beach of Kiawah Island.
4. The Amenities
While you might not be able to walk to Center Street for lunch, you will have access to the amenities you need for a comfortable day at the beach. The bathrooms and outdoor showers are in good shape, and the access points through the dunes are accessible for individuals of all ages and abilities. As noted above, there is a seasonal snack bar in the park as well, and there are equipment rentals if you need them.
5. The Option to Head Back Toward Center Street Later in the Day
While it can be difficult to find parking in Folly Beach during the peak season, the island’s parking challenges start to subside toward the end of the day. So, you can enjoy the beach in the morning and afternoon, and then you can head back toward Center Street and the Folly Beach Pier later in the day. At this point, people are starting to go home, and fewer visitors are coming onto the island. This means that there is a decent chance you will be able to find a free parking spot within walking distance of the restaurant of your choosing.
Planning Your Trip to Folly Beach County Park
Thinking about visiting Folly Beach County Park? If so, here are some tips for planning your trip based on our experience:
- The Park Opens at 8:00am – Folly Beach County Park opens at 8:00am every day (except when it is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day). If you plan to get to the park when it opens, you will have your pick of places to park—whether you want to be close to the snack bar, bathrooms, and showers or you want to head all the way to the end of the island.
- You Should Still Plan To Go Early – Even if you aren’t worried about getting a parking spot near Folly Beach’s restaurants or the Folly Beach Pier, you should still plan to go early during the peak season (in summer when schools are out). Folly Beach Road can get congested, especially on weekends, but you can generally avoid sitting in traffic if you plan to be at the beach by around 10:00am.
- Bring Your Own Chairs and Umbrella (if You Are Local) – While you can rent chairs and an umbrella from the CCPRC, this—like most things—is getting expensive. Currently, it costs $30 to rent two chairs and an umbrella for the day. Unless you are traveling from out of town, bring your own and save your hard-earned funds. Or, simply bring a beach blanket or towel, a hat, and sunscreen.
- Go To the End of the Island – While Folly Beach County Park’s bathrooms and other amenities are located close to the park’s entrance, consider parking as close as you can to the far end of the island (on many off-season days, we have had no trouble parking at the very end even well after the park opens). This portion of the island feels disconnected from the rental properties and beach crowds farther north, and it also offers some of the best views on the entire island (perhaps surpassed only by the view from the island’s northern tip, where you can see the Morris Island Lighthouse).
- Plan To Stay Awhile – Since you will need to drive to get lunch or dinner (unless you patronize the park’s concessions stand during the on season), bring snacks, water, a picnic, sunscreen, and plan to stay awhile. The park is a great place to spend the day. You can comb the waterline for shells and sharks’ teeth, boogie board in the waves, play games, build sandcastles, or simply enjoy the view.
- Stay Off of the Dunes – As with all areas of Folly Beach, it is important to stay off of the dunes. There are signs there to remind you, and it is important to respect them. The dunes serve several purposes, but they can’t serve these purposes if they get destroyed.
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