Trail of the Month: April 2004
Swamp Fox National Recreational Trail, South Carolina
Just 35 miles from downtown Charleston, S.C., the Swamp Fox Passage of the Palmetto Trail is a rustic, packed-dirt rail-trail that offers a long, flat out-and-back journey through the swampy wetlands and coastal pine forests of Francis Marion National Forest. The 42-mile trail, named for the Revolutionary War general Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion, is steeped in nature, as well as standing water. The always damp, often dark area cuts through the center of the 250,000-acre Francis Marion National Forest and is home to alligator, deer, wild turkeys and bobcats. Eagle-eyed birdwatchers may catch sight of the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers as well as numerous songbirds nesting in the forest branches fanning across the sky.
The Swamp Fox trail is a narrow, no-frills affair born of former logging rail corridors. Hearty hikers and bicyclists use the trail year-round for robust ventures. With spring's arrival, trail users will face humidity and insects, but the reward is the vibrant flora and fauna that comes alive alongside the trail this time of year.
From the eastern terminus, the trail winds under majestic canopies of loblolly and longleaf pine, cypress, black gum and red maple. The first of numerous arched footbridges and long, winding boardwalks over creeks and gullies take the trail to Halfway Creek Campground near mile five. Another three miles along is the rustic Harleston Dam campsite, little more than a clearing near the trail's intersection with a country road. Beyond the campsite, the pines soon give way to the grassy Dog Swamp. A lengthy wooden footbridge crosses wide, still Turkey Creek before a stand of hardwood oak and hickory again shrouds the trail in semidarkness.
After six miles the trail crosses Nicholson Creek and a campground clearing by the same name. Past Nicholson Creek, watch for the Witherbee District Ranger Station office. The semi-shady spot has restrooms and an information kiosk. As the trail melts into longleaf pine flats for another seven miles, look closely in the grasses lining the trail. You'll see the unusual and carnivorous sundew and pitcher plants that thrive in the moist, shaded soil.
Just ahead lies the dark and moody Wadboo Swamp. A narrow boardwalk snakes half a mile through the swamp's cypress and tall grasses. Rains can leave the low-lying boardwalk under ankle-deep water, but that doesn't dampen the spirits of canoers and kayakers who flock to the shallow six-mile passage for forest views.
At the far end of Wadboo Swamp, the terrain shifts to pine flats. The remaining few miles of trail leading to Canal Recreation Area are smooth going and quiet. Take time to relax at the recreation area's picnic tables, and fill your water bottle at the area's freshwater pump before the return trip through the mystical forest and back to historic Charleston.