Chasing the Sun Deeper Down South – South Carolina and Georgia

After leaving the Tarheel State we marched further south out of necessity, the days were growing shorter and nights colder. We arrived in South Carolina excited to explore a new state, not yet knowing what to expect. Our main goal was to explore the coast, but on the way, we made a quick stop at Poinsette State Park near Congaree National Park. The biggest change in the landscape was the profusion of Spanish moss hanging from almost every tree, an indication of the increasing heat and humidity as we slowly moved closer to the equator. The campground at Poinsette was nicely appointed and the bombs being dropped on the nearby air force bombing range weren’t unnerving in the least.

Congaree is certainly not the most popular national park in America, I for one didn’t even know it existed. It’s a relatively new park having just been designated in 2003. The landscape is ‘old-growth bottomland hardwood forest’ or in other words swamp. As we pulled into the park, we were pleasantly surprised by plentiful parking in the relatively small lot. For once we wouldn’t be dealing with overcrowding at a national park. The semi-famous ‘Mosquito Meter’ hanging outside the visitor’s center also gave us a pleasant surprise, reading 1 out of 6 or ‘all clear’.

Congaree’s Mosquito Meter Reading All Clear

After checking out the exhibits in the visitor’s center and stamping passports, we headed out for a hike. We chose the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail, a bit of a stretch for the boys, but being on a flat boardwalk we decided to risk it. The hike was a nice stroll through old-growth Tupelo, Loblolly Pine, and Cyprus among other green giants. Palmettos dotted the forest floor. The whole area floods several times per year, so much so that much of the park is often rendered completely inaccessible. When we visited, there was very little water to be found, thus the low Mosquito Meter score. We ate a picnic lunch, watched the NPS produced movie, and called it a day.

Boardwalking at Congaree

Besides exploring Congaree we took some time to check out what Poinsette State Park had to offer. The park is named for the guy who brought the Poinsettia plant to the US from Mexico. We did a bit of hiking, and the boys played on the playground. We saw a school of enormous tadpoles, maybe bullfrog? Jackie also explored the ruins of an old grist mill.

Freakish Tadpoles

After leaving Congaree country we made our way towards the coast, stopping short at Givhans Ferry State Park, another nicely appointed South Carolina State Park. This was as close as we could affordably get to Charleston and would be our base camp to explore that historic city.

We set out on a day trip to Charleston with our usual goal of exploring a new city in a cost-conscious matter. We parked near the visitor’s center and wandered around a bit before catching one of the free trolleys. After getting off, we continued wandering, enjoying the colorful and historic buildings along the way. We made our way over to the harbor which overlooks Fort Sumter, site of the first battle of the civil war. Nearby was the famous ‘pineapple fountain’ where the boys poorly posed for pictures. We saw our first dolphins since leaving the Outer Banks frolicking in the harbor.

After a playground break, we strolled down East Battery marveling at the enormous historic mansions overlooking the harbor. There was a quick stop at White Point Garden which featured dozens of statues and cannons chronicling the cities military history. We spent a couple more hours walking the streets and taking in the history before moving on to the Charleston Tea Plantation out on Wadmalaw Island. We took the quick ‘video tour’ and walked around the grounds before moving on again. The final stop for the day was at Angel Oak, a gigantic Live Oak and possibly the oldest tree on the eastern seaboard estimated at over 400 years old.

Pineapple Fountain!
Mansions on East Battery in Charleson
The Enormous Angel Oak Tree Near Charleson

After being inland for so long we were in desperate need of some beach time. We headed out to the coast again to the small resort town of Edisto Beach where we stayed at Edisto Beach State Park. The campground was a few miles from the beach but it was a straight shot and convenient enough. We stayed three nights which bought us a day and a half of beach time. The beach was nice and so was the weather. The waves were much smaller than the waves at the outer banks so we were a bit less concerned about the boys playing near the water. We enjoyed our time and did nothing worth noting. We did note that the town of Edisto Beach is quiet, cute, and quaint, a nice change of pace from the busy Outer Banks.

Palmettos on the way down to the beach at Edisto Beach State Park

Edisto Beach would be our last stop in South Carolina. After leaving we made our way into Georgia, a state we would mostly view through the lens of its coastal communities. The first stop was Fort McAllister State Park which was our base camp to explore Savannah, famous for its antebellum history and architecture. The plan was to take two days to tour the area attempting to hit the highlights without breaking the bank.

The first day started with a visit to Fort Pulaski National Monument, one of the many coastal forts built in the early years of the Union which would later become flashpoints in the US Civil War. Capturing these southern forts was paramount to the Union victory and the fort bears the cannonball holes to show it. Eventually, the fort did fall, leading to the subsequent surrender of Savannah. Touring the fort was a good time, if not a little spooky with its dank unlit passageways. Eventually, the boys’ stamina ran out and we moved on

Looking Over the Wall at Fort Pulaski National Monument
She Definitely Took Some Damage

.After a quick picnic lunch we headed out to Tybee Island, another low key tourist town with a great beach and some interesting landmarks. There’s Fort Screven, which we didn’t visit, and the Tybee Lighthouse which we took photos of but didn’t go inside. Eventually, we ended up on the beach for some relaxing and playing in the sand. After the beach, we ran out the two-hour paid parking clock at a local playground. There’s no free parking on Tybee Island. We also drove through downtown. Very cute, similar to Edisto Beach but a little more built out.

Fishermen on the Public Beach at Tybee Island Georgia
Horseshoe Crab Shell at Tybee Island

The next day was our tour of Savannah proper. We started off parking near the downtown visitors center, then hopped on a free trolley that took us closer to the water. There’s a free water taxi that travels back and forth across the Savannah River. We rode it even though there wasn’t much to see on the South Carolina side of the river. The views of the city from the water were worth the detour. After returning to dry ground we walked the historic, albeit busy, streets of Savannah. Upon reaching the limit of walking for the day we drove over to the Bonaventure Cemetary made famous by John Berendt in his 1994 novel ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’. We walked around a bit before being chased out by mosquitos.

View From the Middle Of the Savannah River
River Street Savannah
The Old Cotton Exchange
Bonaventure Cemetary

After Savannah, we continued further south, down the coast to Blythe Island Regional Park near Jekyll Island, a famous footnote from American history where the inappropriately named Federal Reserve was concocted (it’s not federal and there are no reserves!). The campground itself was filled with mosquitos and noseeums, but it was close to the coast which is why we chose it. Unfortunately, this leg of the trip was tainted by a phone call from our horrible property management company Real Property Management Colorado A.K.A. A.K.A. Long story short, they forgot to turn off our sprinklers and were now about to charge us hundreds of dollars due to their incompetence. Maybe I’ll get around to writing a full review of our horrific experience with that particular company someday. In the meantime lets just say it’s been unpleasant.

But I digress… We had just one day to explore Jekyll Island, the former hunting and vacation hotspot for America’s original one-percenters. Even today you can’t even enter the island before paying $8 at the gate. Our first stop on the island was driftwood beach, a beach covered in… driftwood. On our way down several folks let us know we’d be seeing a small alligator. “Can’t miss it!” they said. After searching high and low we saw no signs of alligators and were a little disappointed. Still, the beach was cool.

We spent the rest of the day at the public beach just up the road. Jackie found a stranded horseshoe crab struggling in the surf which she attempted to shepherd back to its ocean home. We later spotted the very same horseshoe crab being beaten to death by a young hoodlum… with a shoe! Ironic, but still sad, especially with the knowledge that our future tax dollars will be used to pay for this kid’s inevitable incarceration. We drove around the island a bit before leaving, noting that property was fairly inexpensive for such a nice place. We drove around nearby St. Simons Island before heading back to mosquitoland for the night.

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island Georgia
Spectacular Public Beach at Jekyll Island Georgia

And with that our travels in South Carolina and Georgia came to an end. Both states were great, although we didn’t explore much of the interior of either state. Like the rest of the south (so far), people were very friendly, welcoming, and most importantly laid back. From here we’ll be leaving the Atlantic Ocean in our rear-view mirror, set to explore the Gulf Coast via Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

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