A stunning ocean vista beckons visitors to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet. The park features three miles of undeveloped beachfront – an uncommon treat on South Carolina’s heavily developed shores. Nature trails and boardwalks wind through the park, leading guests through the maritime forest and into the salt marsh.
Huntington Beach shares its history with Brookgreen Gardens, located just across US 17. The two properties make up more than 9,000 acres of property once owned by Anna and Archer Huntington of New York. The Huntingtons came to Georgetown County in 1931. They built their winter home, Atalaya (seen below), on what was then known as Magnolia Beach.
Today, Atayla still stands guard over the beach that was renamed in the Huntingtons’ honor. The rambling fortress is separated from the ocean only by dunes and low thickets of vegetation. In the Huntingtons’ time, it was even nearer to the sea. Guided tours of Atalaya are available, including an evening ghost tour offered during the summer.
The beach at Huntington Beach State Park is a popular swimming spot; however, there are no lifeguards on duty at the park, so visitors must swim at their own risk. Still, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean draw people to its waves, and the pristine shoreline is the perfect place to rest in the sands and spend the day.
Huntington Beach State Park is one of the east coast’s premier bird-watching venues. Coastal birds from roseate spoonbills to painted buntings are viewed in abundance within the park, particularly from the freshwater lagoon located at the end of the Kerrigan Nature Trail.
Many serious bird watchers come to Huntington Beach State Park to cross bird species off their life lists. Swallow-tailed kites and sandhill cranes reside within the area beyond the Kerrigan Nature Trail, and sightings are a treasure for bird lovers. The freshwater pond also provides ample opportunities to spot the many alligators that call the park home.
Huntington Beach State Park is also home to a great trail system and meanders through native forests, hammocks, and wetlands. Sandpiper Pond, a brackish pond, runs for more than a mile behind the dunes. A mile-long trail leads visitors to an observation tower over Sandpiper Pond where more of the park’s ecology can be experienced. Another very short boardwalk takes people from the Nature Center to a covered dock in the marsh for shade and shelter.
For those who want to make their visit to the park more than a daytrip, the park offers camping amenities. Campsites with water, sewer, and electrical hookup along with restrooms and showers are available. Four primitive campsites are available for groups. Reservations are required.
Rice trunks, like the one seen below, were installed along waterways controlled irrigation of the rice fields that were once harvested within the vast acreage of plantations. Today these former rice fields continue to be maintained in order to protect the valuable ecosystems and natural communities that have evolved here.
Huntington Beach State Park is like no other in South Carolina. With access to a pristine beach, breathtaking historical architecture, and incredible birding opportunities, the legacy of the Huntingtons is a top Palmetto State destination.
More Pictures of Huntington Beach State Park
Reflections on Huntington Beach State Park
Ralph Preston shares his Huntington Beach State Park bird experience: “The first time I found this view there were hundreds of swallows feeding. I have returned three times and no swallows. It’s the only place I’ve found around here where you can see the fresh-water marsh, dunes, and ocean in one view.”
On the subject of wildlife, John Bernabeu adds, “My wife Sharon and I are relatively new retirees to this wonderful area and simply love to walk the beach at Huntington all year long. We are both amateur photographers and try to capture wildlife as we find it. All my life I have been fascinated by ‘sea foam’ and when I could get a Sanderling included I almost fainted! Huntington Beach State Park played a serious role in our decision to retire to this area.”
Finally, Mel White from nearby Pawleys Island, writes that “Huntington Beach is an excellent location to photograph birds, water fowl, and alligators. I go there often and am never disappointed in what I find. Although you can find interesting subjects all year, the spring and summer are very good times to photograph. The causeway offers an excellent location to get close to the wildlife and take some very good photos. Get there early in the morning as that is when you will find the most activity.”