Weekend Getaway Planner: Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina
Overview of Huntington Beach State Park
It's always a challenge to choose just one special thing about each place we visit. While our stop in Charleston, South Carolina highlighted this city's urban charm and historic character, South Carolina's Huntington Beach State Park is a wildlife refuge. It's pretty quiet here. The beach is a wide and vacant expanse of shoreline left undeveloped thanks to the former owners who used this land as a winter retreat.
Atalaya castle: Origins of the Park
Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington purchased four adjoining plantations in 1930 as a site for their winter home and setting for Mrs. Huntington's sculpture work. They named it "Atalaya", the Spanish term for watchtower. It was designed in a Moorish style of architecture with a 40-foot square tower in the center of the inner courtyard.
The 30-room mansion housed the family and staff as well as Mrs. Huntington's sculpture studio. The studio featured a 25-foot skylight and opened onto a small courtyard. It was there that she worked on her sculptures, often using animals as her subjects. Her studios included stables, a kennel, and a bear pen to house the animals she was sculpting.
After Mr. Huntington's death and the relocation of Mrs. Huntington's studio, their trustees leased the 2,500-acre tract to the state. While a tour of the gardens and former National Historic Landmark home is fascinating, the long-lasting impact of this estate is the pristine habitat for wildlife it affords.
Birdwatching at Huntington Beach State Park
With over 300 bird species in the area, you are sure to spot an impressive array of birds on the beach, the salt marsh, the backwater ponds, maritime forests, and from the jetty at Murrells Inlet. It is a 1.2-mile walk down the beach to the jetty but promises glimpses of double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans, ruddy turnstones, and purple sandpipers. We brought along a birding book to see how many we could spot, but you can pick up a birding list from the park entrance station or get one online. Be sure to bring along your binoculars!
The path to the beach from the campground leads through a maritime forest. It is quite idyllic with the sun dappling the wind-twisted trees and the sound of birdsong all around you. Red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, chickadees, mockingbirds and so many others contribute to the cacophony. Our hike into the salt marsh and to the lagoon near the causeway yielded sightings of egrets, herons, ducks, and cormorants.
For us, the beach is always a big draw and Huntington Beach is lovely. Wide sandy stretches that invite a leisurely stroll, with grass-topped dunes lining one side of the beach and a sparkling Atlantic view on the other. In late spring you might find sea turtle nests burrowed into the dunes or, later in the summer, be one of the very lucky few to see a nest of turtles hatch. We visited in the spring, so there were no crowds on the beach even though the campground was quite full. We didn't spot any turtles this time, but the birding was spectacular. The wildlife makes this a great destination but the beach is a keeper too!
Where to Stay
Although there are dozens of RV parks, hotels, and rental homes available within a 30-minute drive of the park, we prefer to camp at state parks when they are available. They typically offer a more natural setting and are quite inexpensive. With our small, 25' Leisure Travel Van UnityMB, the state parks are easy to navigate and the sites large enough for us to feel comfortable. Huntington Beach State Park Campground offered sites large enough for most Class A's as well as sites for smaller units.
Huntington Beach State Park Campground
With 107 standard campsites with water and electrical hookups (66 that also offer sewer hookups), tent camping pads, and primitive sites this park can accommodate most campers. The sites are sand and gravel and offer fire pits and picnic tables in a grassy, wooded park setting. The bathhouse is in close proximity to most sites. The park offers complimentary Wi-Fi for all campsites (we found it works best closer to the bathhouses). There is a two-night minimum for camping reservations.
If you prefer a more luxurious RV experience or a different type of accommodation, Myrtle Beach is just 30 minutes from the park. You can find almost any accommodation to fit your needs from beach house rentals, condos, hotels, or RV resorts. There are several RV Resorts there - one is the largest on the east coast with over 800 sites! You can find a list of accommodations here.
Things To Do
Fishing - You can surf fish from the beach or the jetty and can find a variety of fish to bend your line. Typical species from the jetty near Murrell's Inlet or from the shore are bluefish, pompano, flounder, trout, sea bass, redfish, drum, and whiting. A South Carolina fishing license is required and runs from $11 for 14-days to $35 per year for non-residents. You can find details here.
Swimming - Bring your beach gear and get in the water! The beach is wide and 3 miles long. There is a designated swimming area on the South Beach with a lifeguard or swim at your own risk in other areas.
Atalaya Castle Tour - A step back in time touring the home and art studio of the Huntington's will give you an appreciation for their contribution to the community. There is a small admission charge for the house and an audio tour available for an additional fee.
Brookgreen Gardens - A Sculpture Collection, botanical garden, and Low Country zoo located across U.S. 17 from the State Park. It is home to many of Anna Hyatt Huntington's sculptures and hosts a number of sculpture workshops and art events. It is considered the largest and most comprehensive American figurative sculpture collection in the country. General admission is about $18 for adults and $10 for kids ages 4-12. Complete information on fees and a calendar of events can be found here.
Hiking - There are three hiking trails ranging from one-tenth of a mile to two miles in length. The hiking is flat and easy, along well-established paths through maritime forest, salt marsh, and along the beach. You can spot lots of wading birds as well as shorebirds along each trail, especially in the spring and fall.
The Boardwalk Trail is one-tenth of a mile and extends into the salt marsh on a boardwalk crossing spartina grass and oysters clustered in the pluff mud.
The Kerrigan Trail is about three-tenths of a mile over well-trod maritime forest paths. It leads to two different observation platforms that overlook a freshwater lagoon.
The Sandpiper Pond Trail is an easy two-mile round-trip boardwalk trail through unspoiled coastal forest. It leads to an observation tower overlooking a saltwater pond.
Birdwatching - Over 300 species of birds can be spotted in the park across the course of a year. Some migrating, some indigenous there is always something to see along the beach, salt marsh, and ponds. The park is considered one of the best birding locations in the southeast. Be sure to watch the cormorants dive for fish and then stand in the sun with outspread wings to dry their feathers.
Boating - There is a boat launch outside the park at nearby Oyster Landing.
Biking - The park is connected to the Waccamaw Neck Bikeway. You can bike the easy 12-mile paved trail from Murrell's Inlet to Huntington Beach. The park does not offer bike rentals but there are bike rental companies in the area.
Fun Photo Op - There are two, giant-sized beach chairs in front of the park gift shop that are great for family photos.
Go to Murrell's Inlet for dozens of seafood restaurants. We enjoyed lunch at the Dead Dog Saloon at a table overlooking the harbor. Food was good, fish was fresh and the atmosphere was delightfully breezy. We also spotted a pirate-themed restaurant next door that offered boat rides for the kids.
Breakfast is always a favorite time for us to visit with the locals and we found a good spot with a casual vibe at Prosser's Barbeque in Murrell's Inlet. I know, you're thinking, "a barbeque place for breakfast?" Let me just tell you, the eggs were perfectly cooked, bacon crisp, the coffee strong, and all for a "locals" price!
Don't forget to bring:
stuff for s'mores
telescope for stargazing (set up on the beach, in a clearing in the campground, or the nature center parking lot.)
camera for capturing the moment (don't forget the giant beach chairs!)
fishing pole and license
binoculars for watching birds
Take the Atalaya Castle tour. It is a step back in time and makes for a fascinating afternoon for a very small fee.
Camp at the State Park. The campsites are well maintained and very inexpensive.
Bike the Waccamaw Neck Bikeway with the whole family with your own bikes for a budget-friendly activity.