Edisto Beach - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Edisto Beach, and the island which it is a part of, provides some of the best paddling in South Carolina. Endless vistas of marsh and uninhabited beaches await the visiting paddler. Edisto is defined on its edges by the mouths of the South and North Edisto Rivers. A short 30-minute trip from Charleston, Edisto sits on the edge of the famous ACE Basin. The ACE Basin is formed by the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers and offers a variety of scenery and paddling conditions. Paddling is good year round, but can be cold November through February.
Edisto Beach itself is actually a small island that is part of the much larger Edisto Island. It is a small family-style beach and while there is a lot of residential development, it is not very commercialized. In fact, there are no hotels. If you want to stay, you can rent a house or condo, or you can camp at the Edisto Beach State Park. The best thing to do is rent a house on the beach (sound-side) which is surprisingly reasonable, and this will let you paddle without having to drive. There are a few restaurants, a grocery store, and a gas station. Finally, Edisto is close enough to Charleston to make a day trip easily doable.
For the paddling itself, there are a variety of options. On the backside of Edisto Beach are sheltered marsh creeks. The landing at the State Park is the best way to access this area. Taking a left at the dock, this is a scenic paddle on Big Bay Creek along the waterfront, taking you past restaurants and shrimp boats. This is a well-developed area and boat traffic is present, but is usually not very heavy except during summer fishing tournaments. Passing the shrimp boats and the marina. At the mouth of the creek, you can take a left and go down the beach, which is developed, or take a right and go explore the edge of the marsh.
A brief word about paddling and the geography of Edisto: the beach runs southeast along the island, but then takes about a 100 degree turn inland. Here, the water is much calmer than along the front beach. There is little to no surf, so launching is simple. From the sound-side beach, one looks directly across at Otter and Pine Islands. These appear to be one island from the beach, but they are not (if you look closely, Otter is the further of the two). There are public access areas all along the beach with parking. From here, paddle straight across to the islands, which are part of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. Both islands are made up of a thin strand of beach with marsh and small areas of land on the interior. Otter, the further of the two, is one of my favorite places on the coast and is about a 45 minute to an hour paddle. It is a beautiful stretch of uninhabited beach with lots of wildlife. Also, Otter was a strafing range for fighters during World War II and at low tide you can find .50 caliber bullets half-buried, particularly in the small patches of mud along the edge of the water.
Paddling to Otter and Pine definitely takes planning, and is not for a beginner. There are sandbars which extend from Otter halfway to Edisto. These are very shallow or dry at low tide, but at high tide there may be breaking waves and it can get very rough (particularly during a southwest breeze). At low tide, however, they form a protected channel leading into Fish Creek, which divides Otter from Pine. Tides also merit consideration. Saint Helena Sound is where the South Edisto River empties into the Atlantic and there can be a great deal of current, particularly during the outgoing tide. I have found that the best time to go is on an outgoing tide, about two hours from slack water. This gives you enough time to get there and walk around and be back before it gets rough on the sandbars. Going back, you won't have to fight the outgoing tide if you follow this plan. You will be paddling at 90 degrees to the current, so adjust your course to compensate. It is best to launch closer down the beach to the mouth of Big Bay Creek. At the other end of the beach where the beach curves in, the current can be bad and set up chaotic wave conditions.
Finally, if you paddle in the sound, you are almost sure to be surrounded at some point by dolphins. I have been coming to Edisto for about twenty years, and there are almost always dolphins playing right off of the beach. If you're lucky, you may find stingrays on the sandbars when they are covered with only a few inches of water (careful where you step if you get out).
Overall, Edisto offers great paddling (and a variety of it), and is a wonderful place for a quiet vacation. Be sure to bring your own boat, because there is no close outfitter.
For lodging: the Atwood Agency (atwoodagency.com) or the Edisto Beach State Park.
For Food: don't miss the Old Edisto Post Office (fantastic, $15-22) and the little deli in back of the gas station on Edisto (also fantastic and cheap). Local seafood can be bought directly off the boat at Bell Bouy seafood.
Permit required for camping on Otter Island (seasonal).
Take Hwy 17 South from Charleston (or North from I-95 and Hilton Head). From 17, take 174, which is marked with a sign for Edisto. This will lead directly to the beach.
ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge.
NOAA chart of Saint Helena Sound.
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