Perhaps the most visited state park in SC, Hunting Island is a sub-tropical barrier island in the Atlantic, and features over 3 miles of uninterrupted beach and the only lighthouse in the state that is open to the public. I first visited it the weekend I moved down to Beaufort in 2009, and instantly fell in love. At that point I lived about 40 minutes away.
About a year ago we moved to Bluffton which puts me just under an hour out from the park, but we still go there frequently. Perhaps of more interest to all of you though is the fact that this beautiful place has a campground, and is definitely worth a trip. The picture above is the beach at the southern end of the campground, go a bit farther north and there is less dead fall.
About the park
The website for Hunting Island is informative and easy to read. I’m not going to repeat everything on that site since you can just go there and get the information yourself. What I will do is give you my opinion on the place from the point of view of someone who’s been there a lot.
About the campground
The campground at Hunting Island consists of 186 sites, 166 of which have 30 amp electric and water hookups. Most sites have picnic tables and fire pit rings, with the walk-in tent sites being an exception. There are two dump stations on site, and the restroom facilities have hot showers and while older, have always been clean when I’ve been there. Check in is at 2 p.m., check out is at noon.
All of the sites are hard packed earth, and some of them are more even than others, I’d definitely recommend bringing your leveling blocks or tools along with. The cost is $23-25 a night plus tax and transaction fee, sales tax for Beaufort county is 7% but I don’t remember what the transaction fee was when I was there sadly. Stays have to be at least 2 nights, and can not be more than 14 consecutive nights.
The campground is open all year round. Pets are allowed in camping areas and on the beach, but must be on a leash at all times. The campground is quite wooded and the roads can be narrow, so larger rigs should take care when navigating.
Hunting Island is a popular place and the campground is typically pretty full from spring all the way through fall. Making reservations is definitely a good idea, especially if you have a larger rig since the number of sites that can accommodate them are limited. Reservations can be made at the South Carolina park system website, found here.
That site offers both online reservations and a telephone number that reservations can be made through, but I’d recommend doing it online. The list of campsites tells you what size rig each one can accommodate, and there is a lot of variation among them. While the main website the campground can accommodate rigs up to 40′, you will see that on this list there are a few sites that allow rigs up to 45′.
You cannot get into the campground proper without having a reservation, so there is no scouting out sites ahead of time. The map at the reservation site doesn’t do a very good job of showing you which sites are close to water, so let me try to explain it a little better. Loops 1-3 including 1A and 3A are the closest to the ocean. While the whole campground is pretty shaded, these sites have less underbrush (particularly 1 and 2) so feel a bit more open and have a little less privacy. While several of the sites along the outsides of these loops are nearly on the beach, because of the dunes and fences no-one has direct beach access. However there are multiple access points along these loops. While probably of less concern to RVers, these front loops also get a lot more wind from the ocean, which can make tent camping harder when conditions are unfavorable. The above picture is from loop 1 facing toward the ocean, I believe the class A is in site 37, site 35 in the middle is empty, and the 5th wheel is in site 33. On the other side of the loop closer toward the water, I believe that travel trailer is in site 3, 6, or 7 . If your eyesight is good you can make out the fence in front of the water.
The back loops are more wooded, and during the winter less people stay back here. There is a beach access point for the back loops too, it runs behind sites 89-96. Looking at the map, it would appear that there is a string of sites between 100 and 124 and 182 and 200 that butt right up on each other, but that is not actually the case. The whole island is forested sand dunes and very hilly in places, one such dune runs between those rows of sites, so there is more privacy, but the ground is less even. Also of note, the T intersection between sites 107 and 110 has been cleared of trees, so those four sites likely get the most sun. The below picture shows sites 200 and 198 in loop 6.
One other thing, the 10 tent only walk-in sites located at the very back are small, on very uneven ground, and near swampy land. The price for these sites is cheaper, $17-19, but I wouldn’t recommend them.
Pictured below: a back loop site with smoke drifting through the trees, and site 75, located right next to one of the beach access points.
On the way to the campground
To get to the park, you’ll be coming down Sea island Parkway from Beaufort. While in Beaufort, stock up on food and anything else you may need, because the small towns along the road out to the island don’t offer much in the way of shopping or supplies and neither does the small convenience store located in the campground. The entrance to the campground is well marked, it’ll be the first left once you get into the park. Check in to the campground before exploring the park, since there is a entrance fee that is covered with your camping permit.
Things to go see
The Marsh boardwalk on the Western side of the island, the lagoon, the fishing pier located by the nature center at the southern end, and the lighthouse are all well covered on the website.
Of these things, the lighthouse is the only one that charges an additional fee, it’s $2 to climb, and has 167 steps. It does not have the same hours of operation as the rest of the park, so it would be best to check the website or check with the employees at the small convenience store to see when it’s open to visitors.
Less well covered are the submerged forests, of which there are numerous pictures on this blog. Hunting Island is being reclaimed by the sea and there are places where the trees are falling in. The best place to see this is between the Lighthouse beach and the campground. If you walk along the beach between them you’ll go right through it, but take care because the area can become impassible during high tide, as pictured below.
Also there use to be state owned cabins that got rented out to visitors at the southern end of the island, all but one of these are now closed due to erosion. What the site doesn’t say is that these cabins haven’t been cleaned up at all, they’re still there in various states of disrepair and again offer a unique viewing experience for those willing to go see them. If you park at the nature center there is a trail that goes down that way, there use to be a road but it washed out. The other option is to park near the lagoon and walk along the beach from the North, but it’s a bit of a hike and again you have to be mindful of the tides. Be careful when exploring the area and use common sense. There is a lot of rubble and downed lines and such. The cabins themselves were taped off when we went, and for good reason since they’re obviously not stable anymore.
That about covers it. This isn’t an official review or anything, I’ll be waiting for that until I can visit in my future RV, just wanted to pass along what I’ve learned to anyone who may be visiting for the first time.