The Great Outdoors of Charleston: Best Trails and Parks

Charleston, South Carolina, a city renowned for its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant community atmosphere, also offers an array of stunning parks that provide residents and visitors alike with serene natural landscapes and a plethora of outdoor pursuits. From the historic gardens to expansive greenways, Charleston’s parks are truly captivating. This guide delves into the best parks across the city, exploring what makes each unique and why they are must-visit destinations for anyone looking to enjoy the great outdoors.

Key Takeaways

  • Charleston boasts a variety of parks and trails that cater to different interests, from historical sites to family-friendly activities.
  • Palmetto Islands County Park and Brittlebank Park offer extensive trails and scenic routes perfect for nature walks and quick escapes from urban life.
  • Hidden gems like Laurel Hill County Park provide a mix of historic significance and beautiful picnic spots.
  • Shem Creek Park and Awendaw Passage of Palmetto Trail are excellent for waterfront adventures and connecting with nature.
  • Kid-friendly trails and unique outdoor experiences, such as kayaking and paddleboarding, make Charleston a great destination for families and adventure seekers alike.

Exploring Palmetto Islands County Park

Paved Trails and Scenic Routes

Located off Long Point Road in Mount Pleasant, Palmetto Islands County Park offers over 5 miles of trails that wind through palmetto trees, towering pines, and marshes. The Bicycle Trail and the Nature Island Trail are among the favorites. The Bicycle Trail, starting behind Splash Island, is a 1.1-mile paved path that passes the visitors center, playground, and a 50-foot observation tower. The Nature Island Trail, a 1-mile route, features wooden boardwalks and ends at Barfield Park, an excellent picnic spot.

Wildlife and Natural Beauty

The park is a haven for nature lovers, offering a chance to see a variety of wildlife in their natural habitats. From marshlands to dense forests, the park’s diverse ecosystems are home to numerous bird species, small mammals, and reptiles. The observation tower provides a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape, making it a perfect spot for bird watching.

Family-Friendly Activities

Palmetto Islands County Park is designed with families in mind. The park features a seasonal waterpark, Splash Island, which is a hit with kids. There are also multiple playgrounds, picnic areas, and fishing docks. The paved trails are stroller-friendly, making it easy for families with young children to explore the park. For a small fee of $2 per person, visitors can enjoy a full day of outdoor fun and adventure.

Discovering Brittlebank Park

Nestled along the Ashley River, Brittlebank Park is a true gem in Charleston’s park system. This 16.3-acre urban oasis offers a serene and picturesque setting, perfect for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Charleston. Discover the natural beauty of Brittlebank Park, where you can enjoy a variety of activities and events throughout the year.

Hidden Gems: Laurel Hill County Park

Nestled in Mount Pleasant, Laurel Hill County Park offers a serene escape with its expansive trails and natural beauty. The only daily trailhead access is through the Mount Pleasant Recreation Complex inside the Park West subdivision. After turning off Park West Boulevard into the complex, follow the road past the track and to the soccer fields at the back of the complex. The trailhead is in the woods between the furthest soccer field and the furthest baseball field.

Historic Significance

Laurel Hill County Park is steeped in history, with remnants of old plantations and historic sites scattered throughout the area. Walking through the park, you can almost feel the echoes of the past, making it a fascinating destination for history buffs and nature lovers alike.

Walking and Biking Trails

The park features several trails, including the Yellow Loop and the Orange Loop. The Yellow Loop is an easy, flat, and gentle 1.7-mile hike that takes visitors along a wide unpaved path in the pine forest. While there aren’t any major views or overlooks on this path, you’re likely to see plenty of local wildlife including white-tailed deer, snakes, raccoons, armadillos, and owls. The Orange Loop covers the heart of the park with a large but still easy 2.2-mile circuit, offering meadow views, a creek crossing, and a glimpse of the property’s beautiful live oak allée.

Picnic Spots

Laurel Hill County Park is perfect for a family outing or a quiet day in nature. There are several designated picnic areas where you can relax and enjoy a meal surrounded by the park’s natural beauty. Whether you’re looking for a spot to unwind after a hike or a place to gather with friends and family, the park’s picnic spots provide a peaceful setting for all ages.

Laurel Hill County Park is an awesome nature trail that offers a great walking trail for all people. It’s very flat and cleaned out, making it easy to walk for a lot of folks. With lots of activities for all ages, it’s a must-visit destination in Mount Pleasant.

Shem Creek Park: A Waterfront Adventure

Boardwalks and Water Views

Shem Creek Park, located in Mount Pleasant, offers a delightful experience with its extensive boardwalks. The park stretches for 0.4 miles, providing easy access to stunning creek views. As you stroll along the boardwalk, you’ll encounter boats moored nearby, navigating the channel out to the ocean. The park’s location makes it a perfect spot to revel in glorious sunsets over Charleston Harbor.

Local Wildlife

The park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Egrets and herons are commonly seen among the spartina grass fields. The boardwalk offers an excellent vantage point to observe these birds in their natural habitat. Additionally, you might catch a glimpse of shrimping and fishing boats coming in and out, adding to the park’s vibrant atmosphere.

Dining and Entertainment Nearby

Shem Creek is the heart of seafood in Mount Pleasant. The park shares a larger parking lot with several popular businesses, including Vickery’s, Water’s Edge, and Mount Pleasant Seafood. After enjoying the scenic views, you can indulge in some of the best seafood the area has to offer. The combination of natural beauty and nearby dining options makes Shem Creek Park a must-visit destination.

Awendaw Passage of Palmetto Trail

Trail Highlights

The Awendaw Passage of the Palmetto Trail is a 9.3-mile out-and-back trail that offers a mix of boardwalk and crushed gravel paths. Most of the trail runs alongside beautiful creek views, making it a scenic route for hikers. The trailhead is located at the end of 25 Mile Road, just off Highway 17. Parking is available in a small gravel lot and is free of charge.

Best Times to Visit

This trail is a great destination year-round, but the best times to visit are during the spring and fall when the weather is mild. Early mornings are particularly beautiful, with the sunrise casting a golden glow over the marsh. It’s definitely worth the drive from downtown Charleston or Mount Pleasant on a nice day.

Connecting with Nature

Walking the Awendaw Passage allows you to truly connect with nature. The trail offers opportunities to see local wildlife and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. The final section of the boardwalk even has seating, so you can take a moment to relax and soak in the ocean breezes before heading back. This trail is perfect for those looking to explore waterfalls in Greenville or plan a waterfall road trip, as it offers a serene and picturesque environment.

Exploring the Red Wolf Loop at Sewee Visitors Center

The Red Wolf Loop at the Sewee Visitors Center is a delightful trail that offers a unique blend of nature and education. Located on Highway 17 North in Awendaw, it’s about a 35-minute drive from downtown Charleston. Parking is free in the large lot in front of the center, making it an accessible adventure for everyone.

Bulls Island: A Wildlife Haven

Bulls Island wildlife Charleston

Bulls Island, part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, is a barrier island off the coast of Awendaw, SC. Accessible only by boat, visitors typically take a 30-minute ferry ride to reach the island. Coastal Expeditions, the island’s only outfitter, offers day tours ranging from $55-75 per person. The boat captains, who are also naturalists, provide fascinating insights into the island’s habitats and species during the trip. Parking is available at Garris Ferry Landing in Awendaw, and it is free.

Bulls Island is a bird watcher’s paradise. The island’s diverse ecosystems attract a wide variety of bird species, making it an ideal spot for both amateur and seasoned bird watchers. From the majestic bald eagle to the colorful painted bunting, the island offers a unique opportunity to observe these creatures in their natural habitat. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars and a bird guide to make the most of your visit.

The island boasts a range of unique ecosystems, from maritime forests to freshwater ponds. One of the most intriguing areas is Boneyard Beach, known for its eerie landscape of sun-bleached trees and driftwood. This area is particularly popular among photographers, especially during sunrise expeditions. Coastal Expeditions occasionally offers special trips to Boneyard Beach, providing visitors with a chance to capture the stunning scenery in the early morning light.

Bulls Island offers a glimpse into what Charleston looked like before development, making it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.

Wambaw Creek Still Landing: A Paddler’s Paradise

Wambaw Creek paddling

Kayaking and Canoeing

Wambaw Creek Still Landing is a dream come true for paddling enthusiasts. The serene waters of the creek offer an ideal setting for both kayaking and canoeing. Paddlers can enjoy the tranquil beauty of the black water swamps, surrounded by lush vegetation and diverse wildlife. Whether you’re a seasoned paddler or a beginner, the calm waters make for a perfect adventure.

Scenic Beauty

The natural beauty of Wambaw Creek is truly captivating. As you paddle through the creek, you’ll be greeted by stunning views of ferns, towering trees, and the occasional glimpse of white-tailed deer. The peaceful environment provides a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Birdwatchers will also find this area to be a haven, with a wide variety of bird species to observe.

Tips for Visitors

  • Parking: There are several spots near the landing, and parking is free.
  • Cost: Free
  • Length: Approximately 0.5 mile
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • The trailhead begins in the parking lot to the left of the national forest information sign.
  • The small dirt path cuts through the underbrush at the top of the river bank.

For those looking to explore the Francis Marion National Forest, Wambaw Creek Still Landing offers a short, unnamed trail that is perfect for a quick hike. The trail dead ends about half a mile into the forest, making it an easy add-on to your other hikes in the Awendaw and McClellanville areas.

Daniel Island Trail: Urban Meets Nature

Trail Overview

The Daniel Island Trail offers a delightful 3-mile out-and-back route that is perfect for a leisurely stroll or an invigorating run. Parking is free and ample, making it easy to start your adventure. The trail is mostly paved, with some sections featuring packed dirt and wooden boardwalks, providing a varied terrain for all types of outdoor enthusiasts.

Community Vibes

This trail is a favorite among locals, so expect to see families, joggers, and cyclists enjoying the scenic path. The route winds through a portion of the planned community on Daniel Island, where you can admire stately homes backing up to the Wando River. The trail is always clean and well-maintained, offering excellent views of marshes, streams, and live oak trees.


Daniel Island Trail is easily accessible from Governor’s Park, located just off I-526. The trailheads are simple to find, with the most convenient one situated to the right of the back parking loop at Governor’s Park. While the trail is not well-lit at night, it is perfect for daytime excursions. Remember to bring water and sun protection, especially during the warmer months.

Kid-Friendly Trails in Charleston

Pitt Street Bridge

Pitt Street Bridge is a fantastic spot for families looking to enjoy a leisurely walk with stunning views. The flat, paved path makes it easy for strollers and young children to navigate. It’s a perfect place to introduce kids to the joys of outdoor exploration.

Old Santee Canal Park

Old Santee Canal Park offers a mix of history and nature, making it an educational outing for kids. The trails are well-maintained and provide plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife. Don’t forget to check out the interpretive center for some hands-on learning experiences.

Shem Creek Park

Shem Creek Park is known for its scenic boardwalks and vibrant atmosphere. Kids will love watching the boats and possibly spotting some dolphins. The easy-to-walk paths and nearby dining options make it a convenient choice for families.

Unique Outdoor Experiences in Charleston

Kayaking and Paddleboarding

Charleston’s extensive waterways make it a prime location for water-based activities. Kayaking and paddleboarding are popular choices, offering unique perspectives of the city’s natural beauty. Coastal Expeditions in Mt. Pleasant provides various tours, including sunrise, sunset, and full moon kayaking adventures. For a more immersive experience, consider an all-day blackwater tour through the untouched Lowcountry ecosystem of the Francis Marion National Forest.

Carriage Rides

For a more relaxed way to explore Charleston, carriage rides offer a charming and historical perspective of the city. These guided tours take you through the cobblestone streets and past the antebellum architecture, providing fascinating insights into Charleston’s rich history. It’s a perfect way to soak in the scenic beauty without breaking a sweat.

Seasonal Activities

Charleston’s temperate climate allows for a variety of seasonal activities year-round. From outdoor dining at local restaurants to attending seasonal festivals, there’s always something happening. Whether you’re enjoying a seafood feast at Charleston Crab House or participating in a local festival, the city’s outdoor experiences are as diverse as they are delightful.

Charleston’s unique outdoor activities offer something for everyone, whether you’re seeking adventure or relaxation. The city’s blend of natural beauty and historical charm makes it a must-visit destination for outdoor enthusiasts.


Exploring the great outdoors of Charleston offers a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Whether you’re wandering through the expansive Palmetto Islands County Park, taking a quick break at Brittlebank Park, or embarking on a family-friendly hike along the Marsh View Trail, Charleston’s parks and trails provide a perfect blend of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. So, pack your walking shoes, gather your loved ones, and immerse yourself in the serene landscapes that make Charleston a true gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Happy trails!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best parks to visit in Charleston?

Charleston offers a variety of stunning parks, including Palmetto Islands County Park, Brittlebank Park, Laurel Hill County Park, Shem Creek Park, and more. Each park has its unique features and activities.

Are there any kid-friendly trails in Charleston?

Yes, there are several kid-friendly trails in Charleston. Some of the best options include Pitt Street Bridge, Old Santee Canal Park, and Shem Creek Park.

Can I go hiking in Charleston?

While Charleston’s terrain is mostly flat, there are still plenty of great trails for hiking. Some popular options include the Marsh View Trail, Awendaw Passage of Palmetto Trail, and Red Wolf Loop at Sewee Visitors Center.

What outdoor activities can I do in Charleston?

Charleston offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, boating, bird watching, and exploring scenic trails and parks.

When is the best time to visit Charleston’s parks?

Charleston’s parks can be enjoyed year-round, but the cooler months are generally more comfortable for outdoor activities. Spring and fall are particularly pleasant times to visit.

Are there any historic parks in Charleston?

Yes, Laurel Hill County Park is known for its historic significance. It offers a glimpse into the area’s past while providing beautiful walking and biking trails.

Can I see wildlife in Charleston’s parks?

Absolutely! Many of Charleston’s parks are home to diverse wildlife. Shem Creek Park and Bulls Island are great spots for bird watching and observing local wildlife.

What amenities are available at Charleston’s parks?

Charleston’s parks offer various amenities, including paved trails, picnic spots, fishing and boating opportunities, and family-friendly activities. Some parks also have dining and entertainment options nearby.

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