Running the scenic Hunting Island trails
By Shannon Roberts | I do most of my running with my dog, Daisy. Our favorite route to run is along the trails at Hunting Island State Park. There’s nothing quite like the pristine maritime forest and beautiful dunes that the Park possesses. I love how the soft, sandy pinestraw trailbeds feel on the joints, and Daisy loves the wild scents, the island deer and the multitudes of grey squirrel. Daisy wags her tail and sits by the door when she sees me lace up my running shoes. Once in the car, when we hit the bouncy portion of Route 21 on Hunting Island she knows where we are and can barely contain her excitement.
Last weekend, we headed out to Hunting Island for a 5 mile trail run. We bypassed all the other turns into the park and parked at the Nature Center parking lot, close to the Fripp Island inlet bridge. A convenient and un-crowded place to park, the Nature Center has a bathroom and water for last minute pre-run needs. (And don’t forget to either pay to park at the self-pay box or display a park pass in your windshield.)
The trail map is located at the back of the parking lot at the head of the Nature Center Scenic Trail. More trail maps are available throughout the park at every trail intersection. The trails are very well marked and easy to follow.
We usually head out an inner-trail first, either the Maritime Forest Trail or the Diamondback Rattlesnake Trail. The Maritime trail is a beautiful, flat run along the top of the ancient dunes. The Diamondback is a challenging, rooty, up-and-down single track trail which zig-zags over the dune ridges many times. Both trails offer full shade and amazing views of the pristine maritime forest. I love running through the tall slash pines, cabbage palmetto and Spanish-moss draped live oaks. When trees are flying by me on a trail, I always feel fast and free, no matter what my pace actually is.
Since it was early morning, we set off on the wider Maritime Forest trail to avoid the wet, dewy palmetto leaves that encroach the Diamondback. Daisy immediately went into squirrel-stalking mode, and happily ran alongside, twitching her head back and forth on alert for her elusive fuzzy-tailed foes.
About the time my Garmin watch said we were 1.7 miles in, we took the third right onto a trail connector, which came out onto the Lagoon Parking lot.
At this point we had run 2 miles, almost our halfway point, and Daisy was ready for a cool-off swim in the lagoon. This is why we run an inner trail first. Although well shaded, typically the inner trail is less breezy and feels more humid. By the time we reach the lagoon, the cooling sea breezes feel great.
From the lagoon parking lot we headed back to the trail marker sign and turned onto the Lagoon Access Trail; a flat, shady meandering trail with views of the lagoon and persistent breezes from the ocean. Birdlife is plentiful here. Runners can observe egrets, herons, ospreys, pelicans and gulls, as well as our local population of magnificent bald eagles. If you catch the lagoon on an incoming tide you will see birds in action spectacularly diving for baitfish. We have also seen dolphins frolicking in the lagoon. An amazing sight that always stops me in my tracks.
At the end of the Lagoon Access Trail we turned left onto the Nature Center Scenic Trail and over the bridge spanning the lagoon. This trail ends at the beach where we studied the extreme erosion that has taken place on the southern end of the island. Entire driftwood trees scatter the beach here, laid to rest in a sandy boneyard. A lone abandoned cabin with its piers exposed stands in the surf. This cabin was once located on the Cabin Road, now completely washed away.
We were there at high tide, so after Daisy’s quick dip in the surf, we turned around to run the Nature Center Trail back to the parking lot, making our total mileage just under 5 miles. Otherwise, at low tide, you can pick through the driftwood and turn left and run along the beach for added mileage.
We got back to the car, Daisy and I chugged some water, toweled off and headed back to Beaufort.
On the way, we stopped at Marsh Tacky’s to share a “Dibs” (open-faced grilled donut sandwich loaded with turkey and bacon) and coffee…a delicious recovery meal after a great morning on the trails.
I could start my day like this every single day.