In the Garden and on the Water: Charleston's Best Outdoor Activities



Charleston, South Carolina is known for its exciting culinary scene, friendly people, and of course, its many historic sites. It's not just one part of Charleston's culture and environment that makes this coast city great, but rather, the whole picture, including its beaches, parks, gardens and outdoor venues. Thankfully, Charleston's climate is warm and temperate year-round, allowing both locals and visitors to enjoy all of the area's outdoor activities and attractions in any season.

What's more, there's an outdoor activity (or two) for everyone who finds themselves here. Family-friendly outdoor activities abound, including James Island County Park, complete with water park and rock climbing wall, and the Charleston River Dogs, a minor league baseball team managed in part by its Director of Fun, Bill Murray.

Explore the natural side of Charleston's history with a visit to Charles Towne Landing across the Ashley River, a picnic at White Point Gardens and the Battery, or a boat tour to Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began.

Beaches are naturally a crowd favorite among Charleston's outdoor activities, with Sullivan's Island and Folly Beach located just a short drive off the downtown peninsula. Get active outside with a run or walk across the Ravenel Bridge, a paddle through the tranquil Cypress Gardens swamp, or a kayak trip down Shem Creek with Nature Adventures Outfitters in Mount Pleasant.



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Ravenel Bridge


 

This magnificent cable-stayed bridge carries U.S. Highway 17 North and South across the Cooper River, connecting downtown Charleston with the city of Mount Pleasant. The bridge, which is host to an annual spring 10K road race called The Cooper River Bridge Run, was completed in the summer of 2005, replacing the previous Pearman Bridge. A pedestrian walkway runs the entire length of the Ravenel Bridge on its Southeastern side, providing expansive panoramic views of the Charleston peninsula, Charleston harbor, and Mount Pleasant marina. The Ravenel Bridge is very popular with local runners and bikers, particularly on weekends with favorable weather.


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North Downtown


 

From April through September, Charleston and its visitors can treat themselves to minor league baseball at its best with a visit to "The Joe," the home ballpark of the Charleston Riverdogs. Opened in April of 1997, the ballpark is named for Charleston's longest serving mayor, Joe Riley, and is home to not just the Riverdogs but also the Citadel Bulldogs of the nearby military college. Views from this Ashley River-side stadium are some of the best in the country. The atmosphere is always friendly and lively at this sports venue, thanks in part to the River Dogs' Director of Fun and local resident celebrity, actor Bill Murray. Tickets to these games make for an affordable, family-friendly outdoor activity; Kids even eat free on Sundays! River Dogs games are held nearly every day of the week, and special ticket, food and drink deals are available nearly every night.


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Folly Beach County Park


 

Folly is without question one of the most iconic spots in Charleston, and often referred to as "The Edge of America" by locals that live there. The Folly Beach park, located on the West end of the island, boasts over 2,500 feet of ocean shoreline, speckled with amenities like dressing areas, outdoor showers, restrooms, boardwalks, picnic areas and a snack bar. Boogie board and surfboard rentals are also on hand for visitors who want to take advantage of some of the best surfing on the East coast, as are beach chair and umbrellas (seasonally). Parking at the park is free during the winter months, but charges $7 - $10 throughout the rest of the year. Cans and bottles are prohibited on this beach, and dogs must be on a leash at all times (though they are prohibited altogether from 10a.m. - 6p.m. May 1 - September 30).


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Enjoy Charleston's wild side by kayak or stand-up paddleboard with a Nature Adventures Outfitters boat rental or guided tour! Visit Nature Adventures Outfitters on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant to rent kayaks, canoes and paddleboards for a fantastic day on the water! Nature Adventures also runs daily tours as well as seasonal overnight camping and paddling excursions, such as their Full Moon Kayak Paddle on Shem Creek. Call 843-568-3222 to book your tour in advance (recommended). Before or after your paddle explorations of Shem Creek, enjoy food and drinks on the docks of several waterfront restaurants and bars, including Red's Icehouse, Tavern & Table, and Water's Edge.


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This 643-acre park offers a full-service campground as well as 10 modern vacation cabins overlooking the Stono River marsh. For additional fees, you can enjoy other activities, including Splash Zone water park and a 50-foot rock climbing wall which can accommodate 12-15 climbers at a time. Bike rentals are available, as is a crabbing dock and unrestricted ocean fishing. This county park hosts several major festivals throughout the year, such as the Lowcountry Cajun Festival in April. Educational programs for various ages include the Challenge Course, turtle walks, and tidal creek exploring. The Splash Zone Water Park is a huge draw for local and visiting families, as is the picnic and Spray Play fountain area and public dog park.


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Plainly seen across the harbor from Waterfront Park and the Whitepoint Gardens at the Battery, Fort Sumter is the infamous site where the first shots of the U.S. Civil War were fired. Ft. Sumter was taken by the Confederate Army in 1861, and became a Southern stronghold for most of the Civil War, even towards the end of the conflict. The fort is only accessible by water: daily ferries run informative trips back and forth, leaving from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square and Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, year round. Ft. Sumter Tours, a concessioner of the National Park Service, runs the daily boat tours to the island, and though entrance to the park is free, the tour does charge a fee. Tour times vary by season, and total tour time is approximately 2 hours 15 minutes (1 hour is spent at the fort).


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Sullivan's Island
Sullivan's Island
Photo courtesy of Clare Sweeney


 

Head North out of downtown Charleston on US 17/US 1-26 N, keep to the right when crossing the Ravenel Bridge. Follow the signs to Sullivan's Island, passing expansive marsh and wetlands during a 15 - 20 minute drive from the peninsula. Sullivan's Island, one of three area beaches in Charleston, offers a quiet, more relaxed and less touristy setting than nearby Folly Beach and Isle of Palms. Sullivan's Island is known for its impressive beach homes, smooth grey sand beaches, and many excellent restaurants just blocks from the water. Each beach access, or beach station, is numbered by a grey stone marker. Parking is plentiful along the side of the street across the residential areas closest to the beach. Both alcohol and dogs are prohibited on this beach.


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Moncks Corner
Cypress Gardens


 

Want to feel like you're in that swan-filled paddleboat scene from the movie, The Notebook? Make the short drive to the Cypress Gardens in Monck's Corner. Situated just outside of Charleston, the beautiful Cypress Gardens are nestled within an enchanting black water cypress swamp. From the camellia in January to the antique roses in May, this southern conservatory promises something gorgeous to behold during any season. In addition to the gardens, visitors can explore 3.5 miles of nature trails, the Butterfly House, which boasts over 12 species of butterflies, and the Swamparium, a home to various fish, amphibians and reptiles.


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In 1670, the first English colonists landed on this spot, just across the Ashley River from downtown Charleston, and promptly named their new town for King Charles II. Charles Towne Landing's exhibits expertly re-create what life was like for those early settlers: the fort they built, the wooden palisade wall they erected to keep out enemies, the crops they planted to feed their colony, and a full-size replica of a 17th-century cargo vessel, one they would have used to ferry supplies and provisions. There's also an animal forest where you can see native species that the settlers would have encountered in their new home at South Carolina's first colonial settlement.


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Battery Park & White Point Gardens
Photo courtesy of Clare Sweeney


 

Battery Park is the quintessential image of Charleston for most Holy City locals. Walking along East Bay Street, with the famous Battery mansions to one side, the Charleston harbor to the other, you'll be able to spot Ft. Sumter in the distance, and imagine the first shots of the Civil War that took place here in 1861. Over many centuries, the Battery has seen many wars, such as the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and was even the hanging grounds for famous pirate Stede Bonnet, among others. Here you are completely surrounded by the charms that Charlestonians love the most- antebellum historic homes, a view of the Ravenel Bridge across the harbor, and centuries old oaks alongside stately palmettos.


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Meet Clare Sweeney

A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare is always venturing between traveling abroad and her beloved Lowcountry. 

Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days...  More About Clare

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