May 2004: Hunting Island State Park


South Carolina Low Country

The 5000-acre island was once a hunting preserve, hence its name. Before that it was a stopover for sailors and pirates. Much of the park was developed as a Depression-era project and its 1120-foot fishing pier is one of the longest on the East Coast. The lighthouse in the park, built in 1859 and destroyed in the Civil War before being rebuilt with cast iron plates designed to be dismantled and moved, is the only public light in South Carolina. When open, you can climb the 167 steps - without your dog - to the top for a commanding view of the shoreline.

Hunting Island State Park is one of the best places you can bring your dog. Dogs are allowed on the park trails and the ocean beach - three miles of natural sand - are open for long canine hikes beside the Atlantic waves. The formal trails include a one-mile nature trail near the lighhouse and a 4-mile long hiking trail that travels on parallel courses deep into the island. Both are easy going for you and your dog. The surface is sandy and easy on the paw. Extended hiking is available on some of the lightly traveled roads, service roads and bike paths. As a side trip, a marsh boardwalk has been constructed over a salt water marsh overlooking Johnson Creek.
You will find an abundance of palmetto forests - the South Carolina state tree - on the island. Although the pa;ms form a thick canopy it will get hot at Hunting Island an there are few fresh water sources so make sure you bring water for your dog when hiking here. The dog-friendly campground is only a few steps from the beach.

There is a good chance that you have already seen Hunting Island. The Viet Nam scenes from the movie Forrest Gump were filmed here. The trees come right down to the beach on the island and the lush, tropical feel of the vegetation indeed give off the aura of a jungle. A trail leads along the length of the inland lagoon - man-made from sand dredging - that is where Forrest saved Lieutenant Dan in the movie.

Anything you do with your dog in the general vicinity of Hunting Island will pale in comparison but for a different type of canine hike pick up a walking tour of the town of Beaufort and explore the quiet streets admiring the white-framed houses. Movie buffs will be on alert here as well - some of the big movies filmed here include The Big ChillThe Prince of Tides and The Great Santini

Hunting Island is 16 miles east of Beaufort. From Charleston, take Highway 17 (Savannah Hwy) South to Gardens Corner, then take a left on Hwy 21 to park.