5 Days of History, Wildlife, and Active Adventures in the ACE Basin (part 2)

We’re at day 3 of our ACE Basin adventure. If you missed the first part of the story, click here to discover 5 days of things to do in Edisto Beach and the Lowcountry.

Day 3 – There’s much more to see and do

Active: Beaufort Lands End Paddling
people on paddleboards enjoying some time in the wetlands of ACE Basin

Do you have good balance? If not, falling in is part of the fun.

Do you know what’s so satisfying about paddle-boarding? It grants access to some of the most gorgeous views –  accessible only by water – and at a surprisingly minimal level of effort (depending on the current, of course). Those who prefer a different level of exertion can rent single or tandem kayaks or sailboats at Beaufort Lands End Paddling.

The company offers various tours that lead adventurers down the Beaufort River and around Hunting Island. At the island, paddlers can tread along the south beach to see the location of loggerhead nests when the tide is high. During low tide, a massive sandbar opens up and visitors can search for sand dollars and seashells.

Paddling down the Beaufort River during high tide will give boaters an up-close look at the historic district, while low tide allows adventurers to anchor on a sandbar and practice throwing a cast net.

More interested in fishing? Their fishing guides can be trusted to navigate you toward redfish, and trout. If your traveling dates match up with the company’s calendar, you might even enjoy the chance to take in all this beauty while the sun sets.

HistoryOld Sheldon Church Ruins
the brick remains of an old church found in the Ace Basin

It’s not surprising this beautiful ruin is a popular place for weddings – photo by @nrcharleston_photography

Even locals may not be aware of this next ACE Basin treasure. Nestled off the side of a backcountry road in Yemassee, SC, the Old Sheldon Church Ruins are a must-see on the drive down to Beaufort or the St. Helena Sound.

According to historical records, the church is the first structure built in the United States with the intention of mimicking Greek temple architecture. The church has witnessed a series of devastating events. It was set ablaze by British troops during the Revolutionary War, and likely dismantled to rebuild homes following the Civil War.

Despite the wreckage the site has seen, the Old Sheldon Church Ruins now serve as one of the Lowcountry’s most stunning marriage venues (only members of the Parish Church of St. Helena – the organization that oversees the church – are eligible to marry at the ruins).

Day trippers can park on the side of the road and enter the now-gated area to obtain a closer look at the gothic architecture, knotted oak tree limbs, deteriorating grave markers, and enchanting Spanish moss that hangs overhead.

WildlifeSt. Helena Sound Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area
a loggerhead turtle crawls across the beach

Even the turtles enjoy a little beach time. Photo by Discover SC

Want to take a trip to a pristine preserve? Visit St. Helena Sound Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area, a collection of several islands that are characterized by their unique plant and animal life.

The most popular place to visit in the Preserve is Otter Island. Animal lovers will have the chance to see endangered aviary species like the piping plover or everybody’s favorite loggerhead turtles, which lay around 100 nests on the island each year. You might also get the chance to see some eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.

Of course, you’ll want to keep your distance as these snakes are known for being one of 5 venomous snakes in South Carolina. An important note is that visitors are not allowed to remove anything from the island, including seashells, in order to protect the ecology of the region.

Day 4: We’re in the homestretch 

Active: Botany Bay Ecotours
dolphins jumping out of the ocean

Playtime for everyone!

On your 4th day in the ACE Basin, you’re likely not ready to say bye to the water, but you don’t want to have to do any paddling. That’s where Botany Bay Ecotours comes in. They’ll handle the steering for you! From March through October, you and your family (up to 12 people total) can cruise around on a private Carolina Skiff boat that’s perfect for navigating through the creeks and marshes. You’ll learn all about the ACE Basin’s ecology and history while enjoying up-close views of the water from a low-profile boat.

A typical tour lasts around two hours, but if you prefer to spend even more time on the water, Botany Bay Ecotours can work with you to extend your timeframe if you ask ahead of time. You can feel especially good about spending your money here since the group donates 10% of their earnings to the Gullah Geechee community in Edisto. Also nice to know: Dogs are allowed on the boat!

HistoryEdisto Beach State Park
2 boys on a boat looking at the water

Make memories that will last forever – Plot Twist Charters (Edisto Island) by Morgan Greb Photography

When you head to Edisto Beach State Park, you’ll be visiting a historical site that has seen a lot of action over the millennia. As far back as 2,000 B.C. the Edisto Native Americans were making a living off this prized part of the South Carolina coast. Visitors can see evidence of their lives here by visiting the park’s mound, a collection of discarded objects from their daily lives such as oyster shells.

You can also search for historical markers that recognize the first time the U.S. eastern coastline was fully mapped in the mid-1800s. These markers, known as Alexander Bache Survey Line Markers, are granite blocks with inscriptions by the U.S. Coast Guard. Visit the park’s Welcome Center to learn more about the history of surveying.

If you want a guided tour of the area, consider signing up for the ECO/History Tour with Plot Twist Charters, a boating adventure service. You’ll learn more about Edisto Island’s history while spotting dolphins along the coastline.

WildlifeBotany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area
Oak trees along the dirt road to Botany Bay Plantation on Edisto Island

The entrance to Botany Bay Plantation on Edisto Island makes you feel like you’re going back in time.

Located on Edisto Island, Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area was previously the site of two plantations. Today, the area has been transformed into a nature preserve characterized by vast wetlands and a beachfront.

Your glimpse into the beauty of the place begins with the drive down Botany Bay Road, which is framed by oak trees that are more than 100 years old. Spanish moss grows abundantly throughout the region, making for picturesque views.

Take a short (half-mile) walk to the beach to search for shells and crabs. Don’t plan on taking a swim, as tree trunks are hidden below the waterline, creating underwater obstacles.

However, you may spot loggerhead sea turtle nests (Be sure not to disturb them, as they are federally protected), snakes, and brightly colored birds like painted buntings and tanagers.

Take note that the area is closed each Tuesday and cannot accommodate vehicles larger than a typical 15-passenger van.

Day 5: Enjoy the last day in ACE Basin

Active: Spanish Mount Point
a lady holding a baby alligator at Edisto Beach State park

Say “hello” to my little friend! Photo by Discover SC

Located in the Edisto State Park, Spanish Mount Point is likely something that travelers have not seen – an oyster midden. Technically, an oyster and clam midden. What’s a midden? When archaeologists discover middens, they are looking at a collection of materials that once served as a waste disposal site for earlier civilizations.

By studying the remains, researchers can gain insight into the eating and behavioral habits of these societies’ people. The Spanish Mount Point midden is almost 100 ft long and 9 feet high, and dates back to as early as 2,200 B.C.

The Spanish Mount Nature Trail weaves through Edisto State Park in a 3.8 mile “easy” loop – it is open to the public all year long and dog-friendly. Make sure to bring your bug spray between March and October, which is considered “Mosquito Season” in the Lowcountry.

HistoryGrove Plantation House
a plantation house from the early 1800s

A beautiful setting to learn about the history of the area

Get a glimpse of late-Federal-style architecture at the Grove Plantation House, an early 19th-century manor that’s located on what’s now known as the Ernest F. Hollings Ace Basin National Wildlife Refuge.

Why should you include a trip to the Grove Plantation House? Besides its appeal as an architectural beauty, the manor has seen its share of history. Once occupied by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, this plantation home was just one of three in the Charleston area that wasn’t destroyed by the Union Army.

Today, the Grove Plantation House is the site of both the Refuge’s visitor center and its headquarters and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

WildlifeErnest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge

Even if history doesn’t interest you, the E.F.H. ACE Basin NWR has other draws. The Wood Stork, a threatened species of bird, can sometimes be spotted here. Kids will love to see mammals like river otters, bobcats, racoons, and gray foxes in addition to the ACE Basin’s pervasive reptile: the alligator.

For your best chance of catching wildlife views, take a hike along Alexander Pond, Goose Pond, or Perimeter Pond trail. Perimeter Pond even has a photo blind structure, which helps photographers remain hidden away from view for the best shots of wildlife.

Know Before You Go

the surf rolling into the beach

Be careful while at the beach parts of it have submerged trees which could make swimming dangerous. Photo by Discover SC

Spring & summer = hot & humid, so keep water on hand. Slip on a t-shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat, especially for water activities with limited shade. Pack mosquito repellant in your day bag.

As you experience the beauty and wonder if this unspoiled section of South Carolina, don’t forget to tag us (#CarolinaTravelr) with your ACE Basin photos!