Explore the wilder side of Beaufort

A charming coastal town known for its history and legendary southern hospitality, Beaufort, SC is also a go-to among nature-lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Here are a few ways to experience the wilder side of summer in and around Beaufort.

Sleep under the stars

Thick clusters of soaring palmetto trees line the meandering road into Hunting Island State Park in nearby Hunting Island. It’s easy to understand why pirates, like Blackbeard, once made this breezy semi-tropical barrier island a landing spot. Walk the five-mile stretch of sandy natural beaches, hike or bike the miles of trails, fish on the pier, sleep under the stars and soak-in tranquil, unspoiled nature.

Island campgrounds, most with easy access to the beach, are available for tents and RVs. Roughing it is optional as the 200 available campsites feature water, electricity and even Wi-Fi.

At the heart of the 5,000-acre park is a lighthouse, built in 1859, that is open to the public. Climb 175 steps to the top for the reward of panoramic coastal views. Park admission is $5 per person and discounts are available for seniors, students and children. Camping fees are separate and reservations are required. For details, visit www.southcarolinaparks.com/huntingisland.

Explorations by kayak

Watch nature unfold and explore areas only accessible kayak with The Kayak Farm in St. Helena Island, where guides take kayakers of all ages and skill levels through lagoons and marshes for a glimpse of breathtaking nature.

“What you’ll see is the big stuff that wows, like sharks, bottlenose dolphins and 400-poundloggerhead turtles,” Eric Gibbons, a guide at The Kayak Farm, says. “There is a lot of diversity to see out here.”

Take a guided tour or go on your own. Sea kayaks, tandem kayaks and sit-on-top fishing kayaks are available to rent and start at $40 for a half day. Reservations are required. For details, visit www.thekayakfarm.com.

Learn to cast like a pro

Beaufort’s grassy marshes and tidewaters are ideal for sight casting cobia, Spanish mackerel and redfish. Bring home a catch and a few memories as well as a little fishing know-how by taking angler instruction from a pro.

“I’m an equipment person,” Rob Wells, vice president, tourism division for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, says. “I’m always going to invest in the best gear available. But it doesn’t matter how good your gear is if you don’t have an expert to guide you. We have some of the best and most experienced located right here.”

Fly fishing starts with mastering the art of fly casting. Orvis-certified guide and casting instructor Capt. Dave Murray hosts full-day classes that cover casting and fishing instruction as well as a review of the finer points of flies, knots and types of equipment. For a complete class schedule, visit www.baystreetoutfitters.com.

Take a nature cruise

For an introduction to the area’s abundant nature, board the Prince of Tides at the downtown Beaufort marina, where local naturalist and historian Capt. Dick Goodenough, owner of Beaufort River Tours, takes passengers on educational cruises along the river. See such birds as egrets, herons and osprey as you head toward locations known for spotting dolphins.

“The first thing you notice is that the water is murky,” Goodenough says. “And for good reason. Here, the waterways are part of an interdependent ecosystem. Plankton and the tidal cycles play an important part of the natural regeneration of nutrients of the river’s salt marshes.”

In addition to wildlife, along the way you will see a number of elegant antebellum homes lining the waterway made famous by movies “The Big Chill” and “Forrest Gump.” Tours depart at 2 p.m. daily. Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for children under age 12. For details, visit www.beaufortrivertours.com.

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