Francis Marion National Forest, Charleston Hike

When we discovered that there was a national forest just minutes from Charleston excitement ran deep. The boots were strapped and the bug spray was slathered on thick. To Francis Marion National Forest we go! First stop was a visit to Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center [5821 Highway 17 North in Awendaw, SC] to grab some maps.

sewee_visitors_center_francis_marion_national_forestInside the visitors center there are great displays, a water fountain, and restroom. We only stayed for a few minutes, anxious to hit the trails. There was the Nebo Nature trail starting right from the parking lot and at just a mile, we decided to take the loop to stretch our legs, and appetizer for the two main trails. It is well marked and maintained, as were all of the trails we visited in the forest.

nebo_nature_trail_charlestonWe passed by the Red Wolf Enclosure, but everyone seemed to be sleeping! So we continued off onto the boardwalk over the swamp and noticed many signs with information about the environment. Soon the path switched to dirt as we made our way into the forest.

nebo_nature_trail_sewee_visitors_centerThere were so many little lizards scurrying about and gorgeous emerald beetles hopping in front of our every step.

nebo_nature_trail_francis_marion_national_forestThe swamp was surprisingly colorful on a calm day retaining some blue from the reflection of the sky.

nebo_nature_trail_francis_marionAbout half way through our hike we took a little detour to check out the Nebo Ponds which were quiet and peaceful.

nebo_nature_trail_national_forestAfter completing the loop we hopped in the car and head off to check out the nearby I’on Swamp trail, down a long dirt road.

ion_swamp_francis_marion_national_forestNo one was in the lot, we had the whole trail to ourselves which was eerily magical. The 2.5 mile trail was a lollipop, easy enough to navigate.

i'on_swamp_francis_marion_national_forestLeading up to where the loop begins everything was very standard, just a walk in the woods. When we began the loop we started straddling the banks of old rice plantation ditches. A quote along the trail read, “Nowhere else in the world has nature been so kind to her children as in those regions where the plantations were formed out of Eden-like wilderness of the Lowcountry. The charm is an eternal one; though the civilization that it cradled and nourished has passed away, the charm survives. The home remains lovely after the guests are gone.” At one point we were on a slither of land in between the old canals, now quite reclaimed by nature.

ion_swamp_national_forestWe were very thankful to have our hiking boots which have gortex (waterproof). Parts of the trail were submerged so we hopped from stump to stump. The trail can be completely submerged over the winter months! We were happy to see boardwalks in a few areas. One of my favorite parts about the trail was seeing the reflection of the trees on the still water.

ion_swamp_francis_marion_national_forest_2It’s so cool to see trees actually growing out of the water, mostly its tupelo or cypress, but we did see one palm amongst them!

ion_swamp_charlestonLike the Nebo trail there were many informative plaques about the environment and history of this area.

ion_swamp_francis_marion_national_forest_1We stopped to read one of them about birds, and it asked, “do you hear birds singing?” And the symphony of sounds we did hear in this exact spot were spectacular. We tried to find them, but the forest was thick and trees were tall. We really didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on this trail, but the land itself was so unique and interesting that we were totally engaged the entire hike. However, as we were heading back to the car we were thrilled to see this little guy give away his camouflage with a hop!

ion_swamp_awendawBack to the car we made our way to the third and final hike of the forest, the Sewee Shell Ring trail. Again, we had the place to ourselves (it was a drizzly day), a mile long looping trail. There were two archeological draws.

Sewee_Shell_Ring_interpretive_trailFirst we made our way through the woods out into an open view of the marsh where the clam mound was.

Shell_Ring_trail_awendawHere Native Americans from over 600 years ago discarded their middens. What are middens you ask? Trash! Used food, clam shells, broken bits of pottery and tools would be thrown in a specific location. shell_mound_sewee_intpretive_trailWhat was awesome about this to us, other than the history, were all of the crabs. There were so many of them dashing in and out of their holes.

Shell_Ring_trail_charlestonAfter viewing we went back into the woods to make our way over to the shell ring. I was so excited to see a splash of colorful wildflowers, ahhh spring.

Sewee_Shell_Ring_trail_national_forest_We soon made it to the idyllic boardwalk.

Shell_Ring_trail_francis_marion_national_forestThe view into the marsh was splendid, we saw a lot of birds in the distance. What was even more interesting, again, is what we heard coming out of the muddy bottom.

sewee_Shell_Ring_charlestonA subtle persistent clickclacking sound. The trail has remnants of history dating back to 4,000 years ago. The site of the last prehistoric Native American shell ring, what was an enclosed monument made out of oyster shells used as a place for ceremonies and feasts.

Shell_Ring_trail_francis_marionI’m pretty sure those noisy clickers were descendants of those very mollusks! The history and nature were captivating in this little space of this ancient maritime forest.

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