The coastal plain of South Carolina is home to mysterious geological formations called Carolina Bays, though they also occur elsewhere along the east coast. The bays are elliptical depressions which possess diverse ecosystems depending on their depth, size, elevation, and other factors. The origin of Carolina Bays is uncertain, but many scientists believe they were created by limestone sinkholes. As wind moved water within the depressions, it may have etched their shape. Woods Bay State Park in Olanta has some of the largest remaining Carolina Bays along the Atlantic seaboard.
The park encompasses 1,590 acres and includes sandhills, marshes, and evergreen shrub bogs. A boardwalk winds 1,150 feet through a cypress swamp, and canoeing, kayaking, and fishing are allowed. In fact, the park claims that the best way to experience the Carolina Bays at Woods Bay State Park is to paddle alongside them. A nature trail takes visitors three-quarters of a mile around a mill pond where two grist mills and a cotton gin once operated. The brick foundation of one of the mill structures remains visible.
Underground springs supply the bays with water, and several species of endangered plants and animals thrive within the park. American alligators are commonly spotted in the park, as the reptiles have found the perfect habitat of large, open waters teeming with food in the swamp and mill pond.
Birding is a popular activity at Woods Bay State Park, with 81 bird species documented within the park to date. Picnic shelters are also available, making Woods Bay the perfect day trip destination for lovers of the outdoors. The property was acquired by the state for use as a park in 1973.
Reflections on Woods Bay State Park
Contributor Karen Creel says: “The boardwalk at Woods Bay State Park takes you on a journey through the swampy area near Olanta. Be on the lookout for alligators, as they roam freely around this park.”