Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Charleston's Barrier Islands-Beautiful Beaches, Abundant Wildlife, Great Stays, And Pleasure Packed

Folly Island near Morris Island Lighthouse
Visit the city of Charleston and you will be surrounded by elegance and charm at every turn of the corner, but the historic downtown district is only the cake of the Lowcountry. Step outside of Charleston and you will be covered in the frosting. Charleston is surrounded by beautiful inlets, grassy creeks, pristine marshes, and a host of barrier islands where all the beach action and numerous water activities take place.

The barrier islands of Charleston each have a distinct history and character of their own, each offering something different for residents and visitors. Some are accessible by bridges and some only by a ferry or a private boat. I frequently visit Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, Folly Island and on occasion Kiawah Island. I have yet to visit Capers Island, which is only accessible by boat, and unless I buy a boat or get invited onto someone else's boat heading that direction, will remain for me uncharted. Bulls Island can be accessed only by ferry and I have plans in the near future to be on board.
Fishing on pier at Isle of Palms
The Isle of Palms was the first barrier island I visited while vacationing the Charleston area and remains my beach of choice. I have fished and kayaked its backwaters and inlets, ate at its restaurants, and stayed in its vacation homes. On a warm, clear night, you will often find me sitting on the upper deck of Coconut Joes overlooking Front Beach and the pier taking in the beautiful sunset. During the day, you could spot me standing on the shore with baited hook drifting in the currents of Breach Inlet - an ideal place for surf fishing and watching the dolphins splash around. Next time you drive over the H.L. Hunley Bridge be sure to wave, and I will wave back. An even better place from which to watch the dolphins of Breach Inlet is on the rooftop bar of the Boathouse Restaurant located just before you cross over to Sullivan's Island. If you are looking for some nighttime action visit the Windjammer and for daytime action there is plenty of golf at the Wild Dunes Resort.
Kitesurfer in the "Bath"

As you look across Breach Inlet from the Isle of Palms to Sullivan's Island, on a breezy day you will likely observe a flock of colorful kites moving back and forth across the skyline. Those would be the sails of the kitesurfers who come to this area of Sullivan's Island referred to as the "Bath" - an almost landlocked body of water surrounded by sand. Aside from the kitesurfers, SUPers come here for the calmer waters. Sullivan's Island is home to historic Fort Moultrie and the Charleston Light - the light sentinel that guides seafaring vessels into the Charleston Harbor. One of its more famous residents was Edgar Allan Poe. The island was the inspiration behind his short story "The Goldbug" and Poe's Tavern is a popular eatery you will find packed out on any given day.

Folly Beach is fondly called by its longtime residents the "Edge of America". A prominent landmark of this eclectic beach community is the Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier. The 24 feet wide and more than 1,045 feet long pier is the second longest on the East Coast. From the end of the pier, you can get a good look at the beach in either direction and for a small fee experience some of the best saltwater fishing in the area. On scheduled nights, there is shag dancing with the Moonlight Mixers. Folly Beach is also one of the top surfing beaches on the East Coast. You will find the top surfers of the area hanging out at a small strip of the beach called the "Washout" - best waves in Charleston waters. On the north end of Folly, you can take pictures of the Morris Island Lighthouse and on the other end you can walk around the tip to Folly River where the tidal rapids move in and out like the Niagara River of Niagara Falls. You can rent kayaks, SUP boards, boats, and vacation homes.
SUP board
Across from Folly, past Stono Inlet, is Kiawah Island. Kiawah Island has a recorded history that stretches back to 1675 when it was purchased from a native tribe. It is unique among South Carolina barrier islands. Unlike Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach, it remains environmentally sound and commercial development is virtually non-existent. It is home to the exclusive Kiawah Island Golf Resort. The resort will be the center of attention starting August 9th. The 94th PGA Championships will be played on its prestigious Ocean Course. The resort has four other championship courses and an array of amenities the whole family can enjoy. The only public beach access is on the west end of the island called Beachwalker Park.

Capers Island is totally uninhabited, except for the abundant wildlife that makes this island its home. The only access is by some kind of floating devise; preferably a boat. The adventurous person, after acquiring a free permit from the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, could rent a kayak at the Isle of Palms Marina and paddle out to the island where he or she could camp overnight. The somewhat less adventurous could hire Barrier Island Eco Tours to shuttle their group of 7 or more to and from Capers Island. No facilities of any type are on the island, so campers should come prepared with their own water, food, equipment, first aid kit, and whatever else. On the weekends and holidays, the island is a favorite place for boaters to put ashore. The island is an excellent place for surf fishing.

Bulls Island is one of only two Class 1 Wilderness Areas on the East Coast. No bridges connect this island to the mainland. A ferry run by Coastal Expeditions is the only way on. After leaving the Awendaw docks and weaving in and out of the backwater creeks, you are turned loose to wander the 16 miles of hiking trails and over seven miles of undeveloped beaches upon arrival. The wildlife is incredible. Over 270 species of migratory birds including bald eagles, snowy egrets and great blue heron call it home. Loggerhead sea turtles nest on the island along with a huge population of alligators. Well, you get the picture, and plenty of them. Bikes are allowed and cash encourage, tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Go to Coastal Expeditions for the complete details.

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