On the southern part of South Carolina’s windswept coast are a group of barrier islands named the Sea Islands. This group of islands stretches from Georgia, north to Charleston and is primarily filled with vacation homes and small fishing communities where you can still purchase shrimp and oysters right off the boat. Previously, I’ve ridden some of the smaller islands near Charleston but never really ventured to the island’s further south. A couple weeks ago I was blessed with great weather and a light work load so I decided to ride down from Charleston and check them out.
This trip would be a departure from my normal rides because I would be riding almost entirely on pavement with some considerable time on highways. Fortunately, my Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro is well suited for the task since it has cruise control and is fairly stable on the highway even with the Continental TKC 80 tires. After a quick fill up in Charleston I jetted down US Highway 17 before heading south on US Highway 21 to Beaufort. On the highway the Tiger ate up the miles and it was pretty interesting to watch the scenery change from coastal forests in the north to salt marshes and river estuaries in the south. As I rode through Beaufort, the 18th century homes and businesses were a beautiful sight, affirming my decision to opt for the historic district instead of the (quicker and less scenic) bypass.
Once I rode through downtown Beaufort, I turned onto the Sea Island Parkway and crossed a small bridge onto St. Helena Island. This island had some interest to me since there was an old fortification that was used from the Spanish American War all the way up to World War One. This fortification was named Fort Fremont and was built to protect the naval base at Port Royal from possible enemy naval attack. Unfortunately, the fort is undergoing restoration and construction on a new interpretive center so the site is currently closed but it’s definitely a place I would be interested in coming back to in the future. While riding through St. Helena Island I was surprised at how much farming was being done on the island, it is weird to see farming on coastal islands on a large scale that’s similar to the Mid-West.
Continuing on St. Helena Island I stumbled upon the ruins of the Chapel of Ease. This church was built in the 1740’s and survived the American Revolution before being destroyed by a forest fire in the early 1800’s. The ruins and adjacent courtyard were pretty interesting to explore especially when looking at the dates on some of the tomb stones in the cemetery.
The last island to ride on the Sea Island Parkway is Hunting Island. This island is home to South Carolina’s most visited state park and it’s easy to see why. Hunting Island State Park has over 5,000 acres or maritime forests, salt marshes, and over 100 camp sites. The park also has five miles of pristine beaches that are perfect for relaxing and surf fishing.
Before I started my ride back home, I did stop at Hunting Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse is the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina and is fairly well-known landmark for the Sea Islands. Hunting Island Light was originally built in 1859 and was destroyed during the Civil War. After the war it was rebuilt in 1875 and moved further inland due to erosion in 1889. If you’re brave and don’t have a fear of heights you can spend $2 dollars and climb the 167 steps to the top to gain breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
The ride back home was spent more on recapping the adventure I had just gone on than seeing new sights, and since it was getting later in the day and closer to the weekend the vacation traffic was starting to pick up, I took the bypass for a quicker ride home. Overall, riding in the Sea Islands was pretty amazing and, even though it was more of a sport touring ride, it was a lot of fun to ride the narrow bridges and roads. I will recommend that if you are interested in riding this area to keep in mind the day of the week and the time because the vacation/beach traffic can get heavy at times.