Best Vacation Lodges In South Carolina
December 21, 2017
When folks think of camps or lodges for hunting and fishing, most probably think of one of two extremes. Either extra rustic — as in tent camps or ultra-basic motels — or exclusive high-end lodges that are out of reach for most hunters and anglers. However, many fine base camps for multi-day hunting and fishing excursions fall between the extremes, and in South Carolina, some of the finest facilities are in state parks.
South Carolina's state parks collectively offer more than 200 cabins, villas or lodge rooms in locations spread all over the state. They range from old and fairly rustic to modern and somewhat deluxe.
Because we're talking about state parks, the cabins invariably put you in a great setting, and some are extremely close to excellent hunting and fishing opportunities. Most parks also have hiking trails and facilities for a host of other outdoor activities if you want to mix up your recreation.
Several parks with cabins would be very well suited as sporting base camps, and the best one truly depends on the species you want to target and the area of the state where you want to spend your time. However, we've selected three parks, all very different from one another, that we believe would serve wonderfully as hunting and/or fishing lodges.
DEVILS FORK STATE PARK
Set on the steep shores of spectacular Lake Jocassee, Devils Fork State Park is best known as a destination for fishing, boating and general lake play, but the villas at Devils Fork also provide an outstanding base camp for hunting adventures in the mountains, with big and small game being possibilities.
You can't hunt in the park, but it is located in the heart of the Mountain Hunt Unit, and extensive public land that is mostly open for hunting bounds it to the north, east and west. Public lands closest to the park are part of the 43,500-acre Jocassee Gorges tract, which is mostly owned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. To the west the South Carolina portion of the Chattooga River corridor is mostly on Sumter National Forest land. To the east is the Mountain Bridge Wilderness.
Lake Jocassee sets on the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, where the Blue Ridge Mountains drop dramatically to the Piedmont. The elevation drops roughly 2,000 feet across a band that is about 3 miles wide along the escarpment, and the rivers that cut the escarpment, including those that feed Lake Jocassee, form deep gorges. The result is exceptionally rugged but equally beautiful terrain. Most hunting in this area would not be for just anyone. Getting around demands hard work, given the steep slopes, thick forests and limited road access — and the real work begins if you kill something large and have to drag it out! For those who don't mind working for their reward, though, the opportunity is remarkable.
Several species can be hunted in this part of the state. Among the most popular are bears, squirrels and deer. Bear hunting in South Carolina is limited to a couple of areas, and Jocassee Gorges lies in the heart of the best bear habitat. A special bear tag is required for bear hunting. Squirrels, meanwhile, are plentiful in this heavily forested area and top targets for anyone who doesn't mind walking up and down steep slopes.
The rocky land is less fertile than other parts of the state, so deer don't tend to grow quickly. That said, the difficulty of access and the vastness of public land tracts in much of this region keep pressure light in places, and some bucks get the opportunity to grow very old and large.
Public lands open to hunting in this part of the state are managed as an unnamed WMA and fall under WMA regulations for Region 1.
Of course while you're lakeside at Jocassee, don't shouldn't overlook excellent angling opportunities. A crystal-clear gem with mountains rising straight from its sides, Jocassee stands unrivaled as South Carolina's top still-water trout destination, and the same waters hold all four of the state's black bass species. Quite notably, the state record smallmouth, spot and redeye bass, and rainbow and brown trout, all came from this lake. At the same time, the rugged streams that define Jocassee Gorges support excellent wild trout populations.
161 Holcombe Circle, Salem, SC - 864-944-2639
Lodging: 20 two- or three-bedroom villas, fully furnished with linens, cooking and eating utensils, satellite TV, Wi-Fi. ($100-$350, varying by size and season)
Campground: Two campgrounds. 59 sites with hookups ($23-$42). 25 walk-in tent sites ($19-$36)
On-Site: Boat ramp, general store, hiking trails, swimming area
Nearby: Whitewater Falls, Jocassee Gorges, Chattooga Wild & Scenic River
Area Information: upcountrysc.com
SANTEE STATE PARK
The theory of great fishing right outside the front door couldn't get much more literal than what you can enjoy from 10 of the 30 cabins at Santee State Park. Built over the water at the mouth of Big Poplar Creek, two sets of five cabins are connected by docks, which have floating lower tier sections for boat docking. Twenty additional cabins, though lacking the romance and extreme convenience of being on the water, cost a bit less and don't tend to be quite so much in demand, and they're still mighty handy to a lot of great fishing.
You can literally cast off the dock that leads to the floating cabins and potentially catch fish, or you can walk directly to your boat, just footsteps from your cabin. By boat, turn left to fish a major creek and its backwaters. Turn right for easy access to the main body of Lake Marion. The park also has a boat ramp, if you prefer not to leave your boat in the water. Plus, a local outfitter, Paddle Santee, offers canoe and kayak rentals from the park. Dozens of professional guides work the legendary waters of the Santee Cooper lakes.
Santee Cooper, which offers 170,000 acres of fishing waters, encompasses lakes Marion and Moultrie, commonly known respectively as the Upper Lake and Lower Lake, plus a canal system that connects the lakes and diverts flows. The state park is located about halfway up Lake Marion, which is loaded with flooded trees.
Vast, fertile and filled with diverse forage and offering plentiful and varied fish habitat, the Santee Cooper Lakes offer fabulous fishing opportunities, and the best species to target really depend on your preferences.
Catfishing is world class and has earned the most acclaim around Santee Cooper for quite a few years. The world-record channel catfish, state record blue catfish and a tie for the state record flathead all come these waters. Landlocked striped bass were the lakes' original claim to fame, and that once "down" fishery has come back dramatically in recent years. Of course, Santee Cooper also offers excellent opportunities for bass, crappie, bluegills and shellcrackers. All offer numbers and legitimate trophy fish potential. In fact, the state record and former world record shellcracker or redear sunfish came from the Diversion Canal.
In the park area, you can find good fishing for bass, bluegills and crappie without ever leaving Poplar Creek, especially during the spring and fall, when these species are shallower and making more use of the creeks. Smaller cats can be caught year around off the park pier and near the mouth of the creek, and big flatheads and blues sometimes come from the Dead Forest, a part of which is directly out from the park on Lake Marion, along the Santee River channel. Big catfish call for heavy duty gear and big pieces of cut fish or live fish.
252 State Park Road, Santee, SC - 803-854-2408
Lodging: 10 pier cabins and 20 land cabins, all with two bedrooms and fully furnished, including linens and eating utensils. ($80-$150). Seven-night minimum stay during peak season for pier cabins.
Campground: Two campgrounds; 158 sites with hookups. ($16-$40)
On-Site: Boat rentals, boat ramp, fishing pier, visitor center/store, hiking trails, tennis courts
Nearby: Congaree National Park, Santee National Wildlife Refuge, Fisheagle Tours
Area Information: santeecoopercountry.org
EDISTO BEACH STATE PARK
If you like the coast but can live without the crowds that come with Myrtle Beach or Charleston, you might want to check out Edisto Beach State Park. The park is located on Edisto Island beside the town of Edisto Beach and it provides access to the beach, the salt marsh and the creeks that wind through the marsh, with maritime forest on the high land between the marsh and the beach. Edisto Island is a barrier island located about 50 miles from Charleston.
Seven cabins are located on the marsh side, along the edge of Scott Creek. In fact, a small dock that is open only to cabin guests provides a backyard spot for crabbing or fishing.
Realistically, though, while the dock provides a fun place to cast and maybe catch a few fish, it's not where you are likely to spend most of your fishing time. The park offers a mile and a half of beach front, providing excellent access for surf fishing for a host of species. Fishing fresh bait on a simple two-hook bottom rig in the surf is apt to produce everything from croakers to small sharks. It should be noted that during turtle season, which runs from May through October, no lights are permitted on the beach at night.
Bridges, roads and trails provide additional access for fishing on foot on the marsh side. In addition, the park has a boat ramp, which provides access to extensive marsh and a network of tidal creeks, where fishing can be very good for redfish, speckled trout, flounder and more. Some of the most fun marsh fishing occurs late in the fall, when the redfish and trout feed aggressively along the edges of the marsh and can be effectively targeted with topwater plugs and other artificial lures.
Of course the same marsh system connects with plentiful areas for waterfowl hunting, and with the park being at the edge of the ACE Basin, far more duck hunting areas along the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers are at least fairly near, and much general public hunting can be accessed from the rivers. Meanwhile, nearby Donnelly and Bear WMAs provide excellent opportunities to hunt waterfowl, but all are draw hunts that you need to put in for ahead of time.
Donnelly and Bear Island, which together cover more than 20,000 acres, also provide a place to hunt deer or turkeys, depending on the season. Both Bear Island and Donnelly are quality deer areas. Antlered deer must have at least four points on one side and a minimum 12-inch antler spread. All hunters and anglers must check in and out and keep a data/use card. The annual gun hunt on both WMAs is by drawing only.
Of course, if you have friends who own property that they will allow you to hunt this part of the state, you can take advantage of the Lowcountry's very long season and liberal regulations for deer hunting on private land.
8377 State Park Road, Edisto Beach, SC - 843-869-2756
Lodging: Two three-bedroom cabins and five one-bedroom cabins, all fully furnished, including linens and cooking and eating utensils (cost varies). Located beside salt marsh.
Campground: Two campgrounds. 112 sites with hookups ($21-$55). Five rustic tent sites ($15-$25).
On-Site: Boat landing, beach, hiking trails, picnic areas, playground
Nearby: Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge, halfway between Beaufort and Charleston
Area Information: southcarolinalowcountry.com