A roadtrip guide for this holiday season to experience the subtle confluence of tar and boating. In this edition: a meandering route from Charleston, South Carolina to Flamingo on the tip of Florida.
A pungent, slightly salty smell permeates the air of the Low Country. Its source is the area’s pluff mud: the dark marsh soil left behind after the tide recedes. That smell is one of the area’s many distinctive qualities. Other features that tend to leave lasting impressions are the wide, flat expanses of marsh grass, the shrill songs of tree frogs and katydids, the silhouettes of live oak trees, their long, arching limbs shrouded in silvery clumps of Spanish moss. Then there’s the seemingly omnipresent water—tidal marshes, rivers, estuaries, and the Atlantic Ocean.
This holiday season, take that old camper out, prop up some good kayaks or small boats if you have any lying around in the garage. If not, there will be enough places to rent a couple or more. In a series of holiday road trips, is this first edition: starting from Charleston, South Carolina (equally feasible from a number of other places, check bottom of post), meandering through some amazing coastal towns, boating points and scenic byways.
Start in Charleston
Precise boundaries for the Low Country are unclear, but Charleston is generally agreed to be its center. Begin your trip on the edge of the historic district with a stroll down East Bay Street; on one side you’ll see some of Charleston’s historic architecture, from Italianate to art deco, and on the other, across the harbor, Fort Sumter, where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. Try the shrimp and grits fritters at High Cotton while live jazz plays. From here, move south.
SCENIC DRIVE ROUTE: Take the Ashley River Road – The Ashley River Road passes by three national historic landmarks — Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Drayton Hall and Middleton Place — as it traverses a National Register Historic District that traces the history of European and African settlement, commerce and industry from their colonial origins to the present. Head start: Head west on Broad St toward Meeting St Continue onto Lockwood Blvd
Stop by at The Angel Oak, a 65-foot (20-meter)-tall live oak tree estimated to be around 300 years old. It’s had enough time to grow a canopy that shades 17,000 square feet (1,579 square meters). 3688 Angel Oak Rd, Johns Island, SC 29455 (843) 559-3496
Turtles, your first sail and a light house
121 mi, 2 hours along the road from The Angel Oak – first stop at Tybee Island Lighthouse that’s been around since the Governor of the 13th colony set it up in 1732. The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America’s most intact having all of its historic support buildings on its five-acre site.
53.1 mi, 1 hour along US-278 E to Advanced Sail, Inc. Catamarans - these folks have been taking out their sailboats since 1989. They sail in the protected waters of the Calibogue Sound and Intracoastal Waterway. Light the bonfires once you are back on the shores. The Catamarans do not “heel” like traditional sailboats – you can enjoy your favorite libations without spilling a drop of your drink.
61.9 mi, 1 and half hour along US-21 S is Fripp Island. Forget the golf out here and instead bring out the ornithologist in you to spot the 175 bird species that call this place home. On the beaches, watch out for the turtles crawling their way to the water line. The beach is spectacular.
Plantations, a crooked river and one long scenic drive
96.8 mi, 2 hours along U.S 17 N from Fripp Island to Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation Historic Site – This beautiful plantation represents the history and culture of Georgia’s rice coast. In the early 1800s, William Brailsford of Charleston carved a rice plantation from marshes along the Altamaha River. The plantation and its inhabitants were part of the genteel low country society that developed during the antebellum period.
SCENIC DRIVE ROUTE: Drive into the Altamaha Scenic Byway – following State Route 99 and US 17. The route runs for 17 miles through McIntosh and Glynn Counties and the City of Darien. Traveling from the Sapelo Island Visitors Center to the historic Needwood Church and School, the Byway passes Fort King George, Butler Island and Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantations, the Darien waterfront, sweeping marsh views, and amazing live oaks draped with Spanish moss.
157 mi, 2 hours later enter Crooked River State Park – Located on southern tip of Georgia’s Colonial Coast, it frames the intracoastal waterway and maritime forest. Get out of the care and consider camping. Campsites are surrounded by palmettos and Spanish moss-draped oaks, while cottages are set near the tidal river.
Time for a second outing with the boat – there is a ramp which is popular with anglers who often take to the water before sunrise. Just down the road is the ferry to famous Cumberland Island National Seashore known for secluded beaches and wild horses.
Jacksonville Beach and into Florida
56.3 mi, 1 hour along I-95 S and I-295 S from Crooked River and you are in Jacksonville Beach. Found along northeast Florida’s “First Coast,” Jacksonville Beach offers vast stretches of gorgeous beach. Just like any other beach in Florida. Skip that if you can and head over to the fishing pier instead. Try some tacos and the bars on the pier are a good place for some jolly times. If sand is a must-go affair, try Neptune Beach or Ponte Vedra. Head over to the Lehigh Trail located in Flagler County on about eight miles of abandoned railroad corridor. A lovely place for taking in a little bit of wild Florida.
Take the A1A Coastal Byway from Jacksonville Beach. This 72-mile segment of historic State Road A1A abounds with white, sandy beaches and history dating back before the birth of this country. See if you can find the legendary Fountain of Youth. The byway is lined with state parks and reserves.
SCENIC DRIVE ROUTE: Exit A1A into the Black Bear Scenic Byway – unlike a road like Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can gaze at mountains from the car, this byway begs you to get off-road to see why it’s a nationally designated site of beauty. This road leads you to the Big Scrub – the largest continuous sand pine forest created from ancient sand dunes capped with vegetation adapted to a lack of water. Traversing eastern Marion County and parts of Lake, Putnam and Volusia counties, the 60-mile long corridor along SR 40 serves as the backbone for a network of scenic roads and interpretive trails.
The Avalon State Park
Avalon has more than a mile of increasingly rare undeveloped beachfront. The park provides habitat for many seldom seen forms of wildlife. Threatened and endangered, sea turtles like the loggerhead often make this place a home. Dune crossovers protect the fragile dune ecosystem. Have a small meal at the sheltered picnic tables overlooking the beach.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park – boat again
44.2 mi, 1 hour 6 mins along U.S. 1 S and you are in Jonathan Dickinson State Park – just south of Stuart, this park teems with wildlife in 13 natural communities, including sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves, and river swamps. The Loxahatchee River, Florida’s first federally designated Wild and Scenic River, runs through the park. Ranger-guided tours of the 1930s pioneer homestead of Trapper Nelson are run year-round. Paddle into the river, fish along the riverbank or from your boat.
160 mi, 2 and half hours along Florida’s Turnpike and I-75 N into Everglades - the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. Designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance. Since the emergence of the River of Grass, Native Americans and later on Anglo-American settlers known as “Gladesmen” traversed the wild landscape and came to rely on its abundant natural resources, and explore its mysteries.
The boats of Flamingo
131 mi, 2 hours 45 mins along FL-90 S/U.S. 41 S/Tamiami Trail E and State Hwy 9336 and you are in Flamingo, Monroe. It was all along about the boats of this place, although I am sure you will not mind the detours. Explore Florida Bay, Whitewater Bay, and the Ten Thousand Islands area by boat, kayak, or canoe. Each area has its own unique characteristics and habitats to explore. Get the Florida Bay Map and Water Guide.
Flamingo Marina Rentals and Boat Tours (239) 695-3101 gives houseboat, canoe, kayak, bicycle rentals and boat tours through the marina store. Marina Store Hours: Mon-Fri 7am – 5:30 pm, and Sat-Sun 6am – 5:30 pm. Fuel Sales: 7am – 5:30 pm daily
In context: director Tim Sutton follows boat builder Aaron Wells from his kayak workshop to a Florida river:
The packing list:
Rain Suit – if it’s wet, this will save your day
Thermals and Outer Jacket – if it’s cold these will save your day
Pens/pencils – must take notes – every bird and latilongs
Pocket Field Notebook – easier on paper
Water/Juices – boat water invariably sucks
Saltines and Ritz – good to munch on
Galoshes – if wearing wet suit, need these
Swiss Army Knife – don’t leave home without it
Ski Cap and Gloves – since it will be cold
Extra Socks – first washover you’ll wish you had these
Weather Radio – I like to listen for a few days in advance
Fishing Gear (irons & feathers) – most boats armed to teeth
Cod Liver Oil
Rags and Towels
Trip best taken from: Anywhere in South Carolina, parts of North Carolina – Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta in Georgia.