Charleston, South Carolina, renowned for its rich history and charming architecture, is also a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts with an impressive array of hiking trails. From serene walks along the marsh to challenging uphill climbs, the trails in Charleston provide hikers with diverse terrain and stunning views. In this guide to the 23 Best Charleston SC Hikes in 2023 (and Top Trails fro walking), we will explore some of the best hikes in Charleston, SC, guaranteed to offer both a physical challenge and a feast for the eyes.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
4 Charleston SC Hikes within 50 Miles from Downtown (1/2 Day Trips)
Discover some of the best hikes in Charleston, SC, all within a 50-mile radius, ideal for those seeking half-day excursions. These trails offer an enticing mix of natural beauty, wildlife, and diverse terrain, making them perfect for an invigorating morning or relaxing afternoon venture.
Swamp Fox Passage/Palmetto Trail:
Located within the Francis Marion National Forest, this 47-mile stretch is the longest section of the Palmetto Trail. It offers a unique exploration of diverse ecosystems, including moderately challenging terrains and breathtaking views. With its easy to moderate difficulty level, this trail is perfect for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike.
As the name suggests, you will traverse swamps plus pine forests, grassy savannas, and a cypress pool—depending on the length of the trail you hike.
Distance from Charleston, SC: Approximately 40 miles.
For more detailed information regarding the Swamp Fox Passage/Palmetto Trail, including specific interactive trail maps, directions, parking, and safety guidelines, visit the official Palmetto Trail website here.
Francis Beidler Forest
This Audubon wildlife sanctuary, located in Harleyville, South Carolina, covers over 18,000 acres of ancient forest filled with towering bald cypress and tupelo gum trees. The forest is renowned for its 1.75-mile self-guided boardwalk trail that winds through the heart of the world's largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest.
As you immerse yourself in the tranquility of the forest, you can encounter a wide range of wildlife, including prothonotary warblers, barred owls, and even the rare sight of an American alligator. Francis Beidler Forest is a distinctively enchanting destination, providing a unique blend of natural beauty and biodiversity that is sure to captivate any hiker.
Distance from Charleston, SC to Francis Beidler Forest is approximately 50 miles.
*note: The Audubon Boardwalk is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $12 or $50 for an annual membership with unlimited visits. The 2nd Saturday of each month offers free admission.
For more detailed information about Francis Beidler Forest, including the latest updates, visiting hours, and any special events, and to purchase tickets and reserve times, visit the official website at beidler.audubon.org
Edisto Nature Trail:
Edisto Nature Trail, located in the heart of the Edisto Beach State Park, is an idyllic location for hiking enthusiasts. This 1.5-mile trail leads you on a journey through a diverse maritime forest and salt marsh, providing a refreshing glimpse of South Carolina's stunning coastal ecosystem. As you traverse the well-maintained path, keep an eye out for wildlife including deer, turtles, and a variety of bird species.
The trail is also adorned with educational plaques providing informative details on the local flora and fauna. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a casual walker, the Edisto Nature Trail offers a tranquil and engaging outdoor experience.
Distance from Charleston, SC to Edisto Nature Trail is approximately 50 miles.
For comprehensive information about the Edisto Nature Trail, including details about the trail, operating hours, and any special events, please visit Edisto Beach State Park's official website.
Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve / Wildlife Management Area:
This mesmerizing 3,363-acre preserve on Edisto Island is a sanctuary for nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike and tops lists for one of the best Charleston SC hikes. Visitors can explore a variety of landscapes including maritime forests, salt marshes, and beachfront dunes on the trail that spans over 4.5 miles of walking.
The difficulty level is moderate, making it suitable for most hikers, with the trail offering a unique blend of nature and history. Uniquely, this trail treats hikers to stunning views of undeveloped coastline and historical features such as the remains of two 19th-century ice houses.
Distance from Charleston, SC to Botany Bay: Approximately 50 miles.
*note: Botany Bay is closed on Tuesdays and for scheduled hunts. Make sure to check the calendar before planning a trip.
For more information about Botany Bay Plantation, including trail maps, operating hours, and additional amenities, visit their official website here.
7 Hikes Within About 30 miles or less of Charleston
If you're seeking the best Charleston, SC hikes, and prefer to stay relatively local, then this list is just for you. We've curated a collection of seven exceptional hiking trails located within approximately 30 miles of Charleston. Each trail offers a unique blend of natural beauty, invigorating exercise, and immersive history, providing the ideal backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels.
Audubon Swamp Garden
Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation is a hidden gem nestled just outside Charleston, SC. This unique, tranquil wildlife sanctuary offers 60 acres of blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp, providing a picturesque setting for outdoor enthusiasts.
With several miles of boardwalks and dikes, the swamp garden provides ample opportunity for hiking and bird watching. Expect to spot herons, egrets, and even alligators while you traverse the cypress-tupelo swamp and pine, sweet gum, and oak-filled upland. This surreal and serene environment is a haven for nature lovers and photographers alike.
The distance from Charleston, SC to Audubon Swamp is approximately 15 miles.
For a comprehensive guide to the Audubon Swamp Garden, including information on admission prices, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens as a whole (including the petting zoo for the kids), hours of operation, and the variety of wildlife you may encounter, please visit their official website at magnoliaplantation.com.
Middleton Place (Plantation) offers another fantastic hiking opportunity that's just a short drive from downtown Charleston. Best known for the Middleton Place Gardens, the former plantation spreads over a vast area featuring an array of historic structures, sweeping landscapes, and a variety of hiking trails suitable for all levels. Walking through these trails, hikers can enjoy the natural beauty and tranquility, with the added bonus of glimpsing a rich variety of wildlife.
As you traverse the well-kept and manicured paths, you'll be captivated by the stunning views of the Ashley River, pristine gardens, lakes, and bordering woodlands. The loop around the property is around 1.4 miles. Don't miss the meandering paths through the gardens themselves. You'll feel like you have jumped into a scene of Secret Garden. Besides hiking, visitors can also explore the plantation's history and culture through guided tours, making the visit to Middleton Plantation a blend of outdoor adventure and historical exploration.
Distance from Charleston to Middleton Plantation is approximately 15 miles.
*note: there is an admission fee to enter. If you are a local, consider a membership which offers unlimited visits.
For more information about Middleton Plantation, including specific trail details, guided tour schedules, and regular updates about the plantation, visit their official website at middletonplace.org.
Caw Caw Trail at Caw Caw Interpretive Center
Offering over six miles of historical and nature trails, the Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a haven for wildlife viewing. In addition to the trails, visitors can enjoy bird watching, photography, and picnicking. The trails range in difficulty from easy to moderate, accommodating all levels of hikers.
Distance from Charleston, SC to Caw Caw Interpretive Center: Approximately 20 miles.
For more information about the Caw Caw Interpretive Center, including trail maps, operating hours, and additional amenities, visit their official website here.
Marrington Plantation Bike Trail
Marrington Plantation Bike Trail, nestled in the outskirts of Goose Creek, South Carolina, presents an excellent hiking and mountain biking opportunity. Known for its 14-mile single-track trail, it winds through a picturesque landscape of pine forest, alongside beautiful lakes, and offers glimpses of diverse wildlife.
Hiking at Marrington Plantation, you'll find yourself surrounded by tranquility and the soothing sounds of nature. The trail is suitable for all skill levels, ensuring an enjoyable experience for both beginners and experienced hikers.
Distance from Charleston, SC to Marrington Plantation Bike Trail is approximately 20 miles.
For additional details about the Marrington Plantation Bike Trail, including in-depth descriptions of the trail, its operating hours, and scheduled events, please visit the official website here.
Awendaw Passage of the Palmetto Trail
Awendaw Passage, the final segment of the Palmetto Trail, offers an unparalleled hiking experience in South Carolina. Situated in Francis Marion National Forest, this 7-mile trail meanders through a stunning maritime forest, across salt marshes, and along the intracoastal waterway, providing breathtaking panoramic views.
The trail's moderate difficulty level makes it a perfect choice for both recreational hikers and more experienced adventurers. As you traverse the trail, the melody of migratory birds and the serene ambiance of the forest will accompany you, making your hike at Awendaw Passage a truly immersive nature experience.
The distance from Charleston, SC to Awendaw Passage is approximately 24 miles.
For more information about the Awendaw Passage, such as interactive maps, notes of interest, directions, fees and parking, wildlife species you might encounter, and any upcoming events, please visit the official website here.
Bulls island is a nature lover’s paradise located in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Spanning a vast area of over 5,000 acres, it's the largest barrier island in the refuge, offering a 16-mile trail network that is easy to navigate, making it perfectly suitable for beginners. The terrain is diverse, taking hikers through maritime forests, freshwater ponds, salt marshes, and the magnificent Boneyard Beach.
The island is also a bird-watching hotspot, home to some 293 bird species, including the rare Reddish Egret and the American Oystercatcher. It is also likely to see dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles, and bald eagles. Undoubtedly, the unique feature of Bulls Island is its lack of development, offering an untouched and serene environment that allows hikers to truly connect with nature.
The distance from Charleston, SC to Bulls Island is approximately 30 miles.
*note: while there is no admission fee to enter, there will be a fee to either take the ferry or a tour.
For more details about Bulls Island, including trail maps, ferry schedules, bird watching guides, operating hours, and additional amenities, visit their official website here.
Cypress Gardens, located in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, boasts a fairly easy hiking trail that winds through stunning landscapes of lush greenery, vibrant flowers, and impressive cypress trees. The outer loop is 2.4 miles and is typically scant of visitors.
A unique feature of Cypress Gardens is its enchanting swamp garden, which you can explore via a network of boardwalks (and even paddle a boat through the swamp while you are there—remember The Notebook? That was filmed here). You can observe a variety of wildlife, including birds, butterflies, and even alligators in their natural habitat. It's a truly captivating location for nature lovers and photography enthusiasts alike.
The distance from Charleston, SC to Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner is approximately 33 miles.
*note: there is a $10 admission fee to enter and this includes a boat tour.
For more details about Cypress Gardens, including information on its flora and fauna, hiking trails, and boat rental services, please visit the official website at cypressgardens.info.
5 Walks or Trails in the Surrounding Charleston Area
The following five locations stand out as some of the best Charleston, SC hikes ranging from just on the outskirt of downtown to within 14 miles, each offering an opportunity to embrace the outdoors while exploring the diverse flora and fauna of the region.
Ravenel Bridge: At 2.5 miles long (5 miles round trip) and 200 feet high over the Cooper River, this iconic bridge is a must-see! Take a walk or bike ride across it to get amazing views of Downtown Charleston, the Charleston Harbor and Mt. Pleasant beyond, plus a great workout. Being a coastal town, Charleston hikes do not often have much in the way of elevation—this hike is a great place for a hike on the coast when you can't make it to the Blue Ridge Mountains for those elevation walks. (connects Downtown Charleston to Mt Pleasant and accessible from both sides). When looking for more elevation than distance, start your ascent to the top from the Mt Pleasant side, then turn around once summited.
Shem Creek Boardwalks: Nestled on the banks of Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, this park is perfect for those looking to get away from it all. The one-half mile (1 mile round trip) of boardwalks extend out over marshland and tidal creeks. You will see boats bordered on the creek side and the backdrop of the Ravenel Bridge and Charleston Harbor on the other. Exceptionally gorgeous at sunset or sunrise. Expect dolphins, pelicans, egrets and more. (about 5.4 miles from Downtown Charleston)
Pitt Street Bridge: This picturesque bridge in Mount Pleasant is the perfect spot for a leisurely stroll. Extending out about a 1/4 mile (1/2 mile roundtrip) and spanning over the Ashley River, it provides some of the best views of the city's skyline and nearby marshland. Plus, there are plenty of benches to relax on and take majestic photos! It is located at the end of a residential area in old town Mount Pleasant which also makes for fantastic, tree-lined walking. (approximately 7.4 miles from Downtown Charleston)
Daniel Island Waterfront Park & Trails is a must-visit for hiking enthusiasts in Charleston. Situated on picturesque Daniel Island, this park offers stunning views of the Wando River and marshes. With 2.5 miles of serene trails, it's perfect for hiking, running, or leisurely walks. Immerse yourself in the island's beauty with grand oak trees, lush greenery, and a tranquil river. Pet-friendly with ample parking, it's ideal for a family outing or a peaceful solo adventure. (about 12 miles from downtown Charleston)
Laurel Hill County Park: Located in Wando, this park features two miles of trails for biking and hiking, as well as a number of wildlife viewing areas with sightings of white-tailed deer possible. There's also the distinct possibility of spotting some alligators along the way! You will also see a gorgeous Oak allée with large open meadows and a small lake with observation decks or pavilions to take in the views and get some rest. (approximately 14 miles from Downtown Charleston)
4 Easy Hikes or Walks in Historic Downtown Charleston SC
Immerse yourself in the rich history and breathtaking beauty of Charleston as we explore four easy yet fascinating walks in Historic Downtown Charleston. Known for its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and pastel antebellum houses, Charleston offers some of the best hikes in the region. Let's delve into what lands these on our list for the best hikes in Charleston, SC.
Waterfront Park: Situated along the Cooper River, this vibrant park stretches for about 1/2 mile along the Cooper River and overlooks Charleston Harbor (making a 1 mile loop). Everywhere you look, there's something to explore—the pineapple fountain, a tree lined path as well as a sun soaked path closer to the water, park benches and plenty of green space. In addition to an easy hike it is also a great spot for fishing and observing wildlife. The large pier jutting out over the marsh is hard to miss and worth the walk. Make sure to also explore the smaller wooden pier at the south end of the park, a favorite spot of mine.
Battery Park Loop: This pleasant 1-mile walk along The Battery seawall promenade follows along the Ashely and Cooper Rivers passing White Point Garden along the way. Enjoy beautiful views of Castle Pinckney, Fort Sumter, and Charleston Harbor on one side and the ante-bellum mansions on the other while being serenaded by the gentle breeze that comes off the water. (Downtown Charleston)
Hampton Park: With its lush greenery, meandering paths, open spaces and a grand fountain, Hampton Park is a popular park for walking, running, biking and also picnicking among locals. It is particularly beautiful in the spring with huge azalea bushes bordering the interior trails. There are a number of trails for exploring with the outer loop measuring 1 mile and inner trails measuring around 1/4 mile each.
Colonial Lake: This man-made tidal lake, built in 1869, is a popular spot for walking, running, and biking. Its tranquil waters are surrounded by scenic gardens, and the nearby promenade offers plenty of benches to relax on. The surrounding concrete lake path has a distance of 1/2 mile around.
NOTE: a great way to get your steps in around Downtown Charleston is to simply extend any of the above jaunts by continuing your walk through the historic streets or connecting the sites listed above, making each day's walk different and exciting and filled with nature, water, and architecture.
Colonial, Queen, Waterfront Loop
Colonial Lake and Waterfront Park are connected by Queen St. A wonderful walk is starting, for example, at Colonial Lake circling its path and then continuing on Queen Street all the way to Waterfront Park. Then, enjoy the waterfront views while making the Waterfront Park Loop, returning then back down Queent Street (or Broad Street) to Colonial Lake. Total distance is about 3.5 - 4 miles.
3 Local Charleston Beaches to Hike
With a beautiful coastline gracing the city, Charleston also offers beach lovers a chance to hike and explore the spectacular scenic beauty. Here are three local Charleston beaches that are popular and considered as some of the best Charleston, SC hikes.
Sullivan's Island Beach: Located near Charleston Harbor, this former military stronghold is now a sought-after destination for both locals and tourists. Start your journey from Mount Pleasant's Patriots Point, where you can explore numerous historical sites. Then take a scenic 3-mile hike (6 mile round trip) along the beachfront path, which stretches all the way to Breach Inlet on Sullivan's Island. Along the way, you'll pass by the iconic Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, overlooking the beautiful waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Folly Island Beach: Embarking on a hike from one end of Folly Beach Island to the other is an unforgettable adventure. The journey starts at the historic Morris Island Lighthouse on the eastern tip of the island, a symbol of South Carolina's maritime history. As you progress westward, the serene beach shore presents an ever-changing view of the Atlantic Ocean, leading you past iconic landmarks such as The Washout, renowned for its surf, and The Pier, a popular spot for fishing and people watching. Rounding off this approximately 6-mile hike, the western endpoint is the Folly Beach County Park, a peaceful retreat where you can relax, picnic, and celebrate the completion of your trek (and also hunt for shark teeth).
The Isle of Palms: Nestled between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, Isle of Palms Beach offers a picturesque hiking trail. Starting at the northern end, near Wild Dunes, you can amble along the beach, soaking in the tranquil rhythm of the waves. Moving southward, the landscape unfolds with a mix of houses and pristine beach. Near the mid-point, you'll find the Isle of Palms County Park, a welcoming spot to rest or enjoy a picnic. Continuing towards the southern end, a quieter beach stretch awaits, culminating in Breach Inlet. The hike is approximately 7 miles, offering ocean views and a diverse ecosystem.
Benefits of Walking or Hiking Along the Beach
Physical Health: Walking or hiking on a beach provides a good cardiovascular workout, strengthening your heart and boosting overall fitness levels. The resistance offered by sand makes the activity more challenging than walking on hard surfaces.
Mental Well-being: The calming effect of the waves and the vastness of the ocean can help reduce stress levels and improve mood. It provides a serene environment to clear the mind and foster reflective thought.
Vitamin D Exposure: An outdoor activity, beach hiking provides ample exposure to sunlight, allowing the body to naturally produce vitamin D, essential for bone health and immune function.
Exploration and Discovery: Beach hiking can lead to discoveries of interesting marine life, shells, sand dollars, and even shark teeth. It offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature and understand coastal ecosystems.
Free and Accessible: Unlike some recreational activities, beach walking doesn't require any special equipment or membership fees, making it a cost-effective and accessible form of exercise.
Social Bonding: Hiking in groups can strengthen social connections and provide opportunities for shared experiences and memories.
Versatility: Beach hiking is versatile; it can be a leisurely walk or a rigorous hike, catering to people of different fitness levels and age groups.
Tips for Hiking in Charleston, SC
When hiking in Charleston, SC, it's important to be prepared for the local climate and wildlife.
The weather can be quite humid, so hydration is critical - ensure you bring along plenty of water.
Wear light, breathable clothing and comfortable shoes suitable for uneven terrain.
Don't forget to apply sunscreen and insect repellent to guard against sunburn and mosquito bites, which are common in this area.
Always stick to the designated trails to protect the natural environment and respect the flora and fauna.
Additionally, be aware that alligators may be present in certain areas, so it's important to exercise caution and avoid approaching or feeding them.
Lastly, it's a good idea to check the local weather forecast before setting out, as conditions can change quickly.
23 Best Hikes in Charleston SC
In conclusion, Charleston, SC, offers a diverse range of hiking trails for all skill levels and preferences—even young kids, each with its unique characteristics and scenic beauty. Whether it's the peaceful serenity of Caw Caw Interpretive Center, the breathtaking views from the Ravenel Bridge, or the possibility of spotting wildlife at Laurel Hill County Park, there's something for everyone. Each trail provides a unique way to explore the natural splendor of Charleston while enjoying a great outdoor workout. Remember to come prepared for the local climate and wildlife, respect the surroundings, and most importantly, have a great time connecting with nature. Overall, hiking in Charleston is a delightful experience, offering a perfect blend of adventure, exercise, and natural beauty.
Which Charleston SC Hikes will you try?
Charleston County Parks, Comprehensive Information about Parks and Trails in Charleston County, South Carolina.
National Park Service: Hiking Tips, Essential tips for safe and enjoyable hiking.
American Hiking Society, Guidelines for hiking responsibly and respectfully.
Visit the USA - Charleston, Detailed Information about Charleston, including its nature trails.
Caw Caw County Park, Official Site of Caw Caw Interpretive Center.
Laurel Hill County Park, Official Site of Laurel Hill County Park.
Alligator Safety, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's guide on alligator safety.