SECRET SPOT OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Story + Photography by Michele Roldán-Shaw
When I moved to Bluffton nearly two decades ago, Pinckney Island was the first place I explored. I was 22 and fresh from the Pacific Northwest, where there are no snakes, ticks or chiggers; the innocence with which I took to the woods of the Lowcountry was wonderful. After buying my first car ever, I pulled off Highway 278 at the brown National Wildlife Refuge sign (brown signs always mean recreation) and set out with a camera and my eyes full of wonder. Even the parking lot was amazing! This exotic habitat of vine-draped trees and palm fronds bundling out of the ground thrilled me, and I would spend the next several years immersing myself in it. That day I returned home with a white egret feather stuck behind my ear and a sense of new life before me.
Most visitors to Pinckney stick to the marked routes, carrying tripods to the rookery or perhaps going for training runs. But greater enchantment lies off-trail, bushwhacking through the jungle or striking off over dry sand flats. The best time to explore is at low tide on an unseasonably warm winter day, when the bugs are down, but the weather is a balmy dream. On one such expedition I discovered my personal secret spot on Pinckney, which is so secluded that even if I tell you how to get there, you’ll never find it. Enter the woods at an unmarked point left of the main road, just past the little hill with the bench overlooking the pond. After crawling through dense thickets, you’ll come out to a small clearing, then pick your way along the marsh edge to a delightful spot with soft grass flowing over a pair of ancient termite mounds. There is a spindly tree growing on this hillock, and you can lie under its sparse shade with a view over Mackey Creek.
Continuing from here you can wind in and out along the shoreline far from the sight of any trail — this is where the spectacular beauty of the Lowcountry opens up. I like to take friends on this hike, as even people who have lived here their whole lives are invigorated by it. One remarked appreciatively that any time she could look around in a 360° view and not see anything man-made, it was automatically a good day. Another broke out into handstands on the sand, his lean, upside-
down body superimposed against an unlikely background of golden tidal flats and little palmy hummocks. There was such an energy to that warm spring day as we hiked out to tiny islands to climb trees and eat snacks out of my backpack, and to this day I sometimes do handstands on the sand in his honor.
Tracing the island’s contour in this way, I can see Dick Point but not reach it across the flooded marsh mud. There comes a point where it makes most sense to return to the road, and from there it’s easy to catch the trail to Dick Point. There’s nothing particularly scenic or special about this little outcropping of forested land on Pinckney’s northwestern side, especially not after the grand views I’ve already seen. But it’s a convenient “destination” before turning around, and there’s something lovely about the little shell road to the point that floods on high tide. For those who aren’t up to the cross-country trek, just follow the improved road and signs to Dick Point from the parking lot — I promise it will be equally delightful. LL
Behind the name
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge was home to the plantation of Major General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a prominent lawyer active in South Carolina politics from 1801 to 1815.
How to get there
Where: Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Mode of transport: Foot
Directions: From the parking area, follow the gravel road to a four-way crossroads. Go left and continue until you reach a grass road off to the left, marked with a wooden sign to Dick Point. Follow this until you reach Dick Point for an out-and-back hike of 7.4 miles.
Travel tips: Bring snacks and plenty of water. Don’t be afraid to venture off trail and into the woods in winter or out over the sand flats at low tide.