Upgrade your next Edisto Beach and Lowcountry family vacation with 5-days of adventure in the ACE Basin that are sure to bring out a new appreciation for the area’s rich history, sporty activities and local wildlife. You can even squeeze in a little beach time if you make Edisto Island your base camp.
Use this guide to build a Lowcountry vacation extravaganza around one of three themes: active adventure, history & heritage, and wildlife. We found so many things to do in the Edisto Beach area that you'll be able to keep each member of your crew occupied and many of the day trip locations overlap, allowing you to satisfy divergent interests in a single stop (yup, you can leave that swim/soccer/baseball taxi badge in the glovebox – you’re on vacation!).
Where is the ACE Basin?
ACE Basin (short for Ashepoo River, Combahee River, and Edisto River Basin) is an expansive region of land sandwiched between the western suburbs of Charleston and Beaufort in South Carolina. A vacation to Edisto Beach puts you right in the heart of this 350,000-acre estuary (where fresh and saltwater mix) – a unique habitat for both plant and animal life.
Getting started. Where to eat and stay?
State park cabins and area campsites have limited availability. You’ll find plenty of hotels and house rentals on Edisto Beach in a range of prices.
Places to eat
Fillin’ Station Diner
For most readers, this is a place to stop on your way into the ACE Basin. At the Fillin' Station Diner you can chow down on an award-winning burger in this vintage gas-station themed diner that is part homage to the American passion for cars.
Inside, the walls are decorated with vintage signs and license plates. Outside you’ll find a 3-dimensional mural perfect for documenting your stop with selfies. Ask for the Stingray burger (an award winner) loaded with pimento cheese, pickled fried green tomato (you read that right), and bacon jam. You can’t go wrong with onion rings or fresh-cut fries and save room for a homemade dessert.
Ella and Ollie’s
Popular for serving up many seasonal local flavors in a casual, upscale setting. Try the BBQ shrimp, delivered fresh off the Sarah Jane, the only shrimp boat running out of Edisto. Ella and Ollie’s features comfortable indoor and outdoor dining with service at your table and a full bar. Stop in for dinner, reservations accepted.
3 Gulls Creamery
After a long day outdoors, you're family is likely going to want a cool break. If you've got a sweet tooth, pop into 3 Gulls Creamery for a frozen sweet treat. Ask for a stuffed shake!
Nestled in the small and historic town of Yemassee and just around the corner from the train depot, you’ll find the colorful Fletcher's Finds Cafe'. Come with an appetite because their specialty is southern comfort food. Call ahead (843) 804-4500 and ask for shrimp and sausage gumbo with a side of their homemade crisps (like pita chips).
Day 1: Let the adventure begin!
Active: Donnelley Wildlife Management Area
Kick-off your trip with an 11-mile cycling self-tour (bring your own bike) at the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area (WMA). With over 8,000 acres of upcountry and wetland spaces, this state-owned portion of South Carolina is the perfect destination for families that want to get a bit of exercise while they’re touring the area.
Pick up a map at the Donnelley office, which is also the start of your tour. Meander through scenic forests filled with dogwoods, loblolly pines, and red maples. Throughout your ride, take a breather by stopping at any of the 15 markers along the trail. At Marker 9, just over halfway through your trip, you may even get the chance to see some of the hundreds of alligators that call the surrounding rice fields home.
It goes without saying that you’ll want to keep your distance from these reptiles, especially during spring, which is their mating season.
History: Caw Caw Interpretive Center
History lovers will want to stop by the Caw Caw Interpretive Center. This dynamic center is home to not just a range of lively cultural events like the Lowcountry Cajun Festival and an annual Latin American Festival, but it’s also the site of a significant historical event: the largest slave uprising in the British colonies, the Stono Rebellion.
In 1739, a group of enslaved people escaped from their captors and formed a resistance that traveled through the Caw Caw area. Today, the Caw Caw Interpretive Center is on land that was once part of a rice plantation involved in the rebellion and you can still see some of the canals and dikes built when rice was cultivated there. Recently, the Center was included as part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Wildlife: Donnelley Wildlife Management Area
Want to see the wildlife at Donnelley WMA but aren’t looking to spend a day cycling in the hot sun? Take the easy route and drive instead of biking—just don’t forget your binoculars. As long as you park on the shoulder of the road, you can hop out of the car to catch glimpses of the wildlife you see along the way.
Besides the previously mentioned alligators, Donnelley WMA is also a birder’s paradise. Designated an official Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, Keep an eye out for bald eagles, herons, ducks, white ibises, and painted buntings.
For more in-depth wildlife viewing, take a walk along the Boynton Nature Trail, a 2.2-mile loop that cuts through rice fields and forest. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the sandhill crane, a gorgeous species known for its height, reaching up to 4 feet tall. Feral hogs also roam the land here. Be sure to give them plenty of space as they are sometimes known for their aggression, especially when accompanied by their young ones.
Day 2: Head to the Ace Basin Coast
Active: Beaufort Kayak Tours
Yesterday you biked, and today is time to hit the water! Book a trip through Beaufort Kayak Tours.
Their 2.5-hour ACE Basin Tour along the Combahee River gives visitors a thorough introduction to the region’s history.
Don’t worry about bringing your own gear. The price of your guided trip includes the kayak, paddles, and flotation devices. Only one tour is offered per day.
History: Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site
See what the ACE Basin area was like hundreds of years ago as you step back in time at Colonial Dorchester. Once a flourishing trading town, this historic site is now a treasure trove of archaeological delights. As you walk around the town’s remains, you’ll see an old cemetery, the remains of a church bell tower from 1751, and what’s known as “the best-preserved tabby fortification in the country.”
Periodic ranger talks occur throughout the year where you can learn about how the park is being preserved and get more information about artifacts discovered on the premises. Prefer to explore on your own? Download a copy of the South Carolina State Parks’ Walking Tour brochure (found on their website)and stroll along the 9 stops highlighted in this self-guided tour. There’s a good chance you’ll see archaeologists hard at work, as they’re still excavating parts of the town’s remains!
Wildlife: Morgan Island
Did you know the ACE Basin is currently home to an island of rhesus monkeys? As wild as the concept sounds, it’s true. These monkeys aren’t native to South Carolina, of course. They came to inhabit the island from their original home in Puerto Rico at the Caribbean Primate Research Center in the 1970s. While the animals are currently being monitored for their response to environmental conditions, they are no longer undergoing any other type of research.
So does this mean your family can hang out on an island filled with monkeys? Unfortunately, that’s not possible at this time. You can, however, book a boat ride with Botany Bay Ecotours. This boat tour will take you close to the island to give you a chance to see the monkeys and marine life in the area. Just keep in mind that this tour must be booked in advance and is dependent on good weather.
Click on over to part 2 of our story to find days 3-5 and more things to do in Edisto Beach and ACE Basin!