Winter Migration in the ACE Basin
The winter months are an amazing time to spend in the magical estuaries of the Carolina low country. The summer beach-trippers have gone, the wildlife migrations have begun, and the weather is practically perfect. The Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers make up the 350,000-acre triangular ACE basin estuary. Within the estuary system, the 11,000-acre Hollings Wildlife Refuge provides safe haven to bald eagles, endangered wood storks, and migrating ducks to name just a few. According to the Hollings Reserve, up to 30,000 ducks can concentrate in the refuge areas during the winter. If bird watching from your trailer with a cup of coffee is part of your perfect weekend away, then Edisto Island is the place for you.
Edisto Beach State Park
There are many lovely State Parks in the coastal area, but the coastal sunrises at Edisto Beach State Park are hard to beat. The park has a Learning Center that’s appealing for adults and kids alike. It is the perfect starting point for exploring the 4,000-year-old shell midden (a large pile of shells left behind after shucking) or the many walks that access the estuary.
Located on Edisto Island, the campground has plenty of sites with electricity and water, and a few sites to accommodate large rigs. The Wi-Fi lounge is perfect for uploading all your birding pictures at the end of the day. Long walks, white beaches, and saltwater marsh access can be just the start of an amazing stay.
The island has a small grocery store, as well as several eateries and gas. You can settle in for a while, if you want. However, if you feel like wandering farther afield, an easy one-hour drive takes you into downtown Charleston.
Charleston houses one of the best small aquariums to be found: the South Carolina Aquarium. Don’t miss it. Located on the river, it is the perfect two- to three-hour experience for all ages. The aquarium exhibits wrap around the enormous multi-story reef tank in the middle, and mimick the path the water takes down from the Appalachian Mountains. You can explore the South Carolina water system, starting in the misty mountains with river otters and working down through the piedmont, estuaries, beach, and out into the deep ocean. Touch tanks and a balcony aviary overlooking the river, and a rotating children’s exhibit round out the unique experience of this wonderful aquarium.
Next, head down to the historic city center for shopping and history overload. Just walking through the market immerses you in Charleston’s long, rich past. However, several great history museums await if you have the time. After lunch at one of the many restaurants and grills filling the market area, drive down to Battery Row for a leisurely stroll along the waterfront. Once an important military point in the city, it is ringed with lovely historic homes on one side and the ocean with its lovely breezes on the other.
Before you head to dinner or back to Edisto Island, stop by delicatessen Goat.Sheep.Cow on Church Street to peruse the carefully curated collection of wine, artisanal cheese, and charcuterie. Grab a great bottle of wine, Capriole Goat Cheese, and smoked pancetta, or fresh-fig-and-Gorgonzola ravioli. The biggest challenge at this charming little store framed with window boxes is narrowing down what deliciousness you want to take back to your campsite.
Dinner in Charleston is hard to decide only in that there are too many fabulous choices. Husk, one of Sean Brock’s restaurants, is the perfect combination of local, heritage ingredients prepared by an award-winning chef. Prefer to chow down on seriously good fried chicken, she crab soup, or shrimp and grits? Head over to Hominy Grill. (Dinner reservations recommended for both.)
After a day exploring Charleston, you’ll be ready to relax on the beach back at Edisto with nothing to concern you but the crashing surf, circling birds, and when to dig into that delicious smoked pancetta in your picnic basket.
Great bue heron
Alligators deep in the estuary