Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River

Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River
Adventures on the Mighty Edisto River

Did you know that South Carolina is home to the longest, free-flowing, black river in the entire nation?! Pretty cool right? The mighty Edisto River spans 250-miles and is regularly ranked one of the prettiest in the East. 

About the Edisto River

As the American Rivers Organization emphasizes, the Edisto is “framed by massive oaks draped in Spanish moss and the largest old-growth stands of tupelo-cypress in America, as it ambles from spring-fed headwaters in the central Sandhills, through the heart of floodplain forests to the rich estuary of the Ashepoo/Combahee/Edisto (ACE) Basin. It’s a paddler’s paradise of some 250 miles, punctuated by the 56-mile Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail passing through both Colleton and Givhan’s Ferry state parks, both offering camping and picnicking sites.”

More than 130,000 acres of land have been protected through public/private partnerships in the heart of the ACE Basin, qualifying it as one of the most acclaimed freshwater natural areas found on the East Coast.

Our Canoeing Adventure

I was lucky enough to learn about an amazing, and let’s just say…eh hem…very rustic….adventure along the Edisto provided by the Carolina Heritage Outfitters on the Edisto River Refuge. Founded in 1989, this company provides the only treehouse camping available on the Edisto. 

Let me just tell you that this is hands down one of my favorite adventures to date in the Lowcountry, and one that I may have never experienced had it not been for my other half, who is a tried and true outdoorsman. He is the boy scout of all boy scouts. He prepared us thoroughly for this trip (I would have undoubtedly forgotten many items that he thoughtfully packed) and he convinced my leery heart that we would not end up in a modern-day sequel of the movie ‘Deliverance.’

We started by driving to the rendezvous point, at the Carolina Heritage Outfitters outpost in George, SC. You arrive early in the morning and you are only able to bring what will fit (doubly wrapped in plastic bags) in your two person canoe, without tipping it over. This trip is not the type for those that prefer luxury accommodations with Starbucks mobile ordering in range of location. It is a bare bones experience, but it is honestly quite freeing. 

Once the group arrives at the meeting place, everyone is ushered by van to the starting point on the river. It is a bit of a drive, and the reason for this is, each trip is a full circle paddle downstream, ending back at the Outfitter’s location, which is also where your car conveniently awaits, so it is very well planned and measured.

It is a two day excursion, with a 13-mile paddle to your selected tree house, and an additional 13-mile paddle down river, back to the starting point. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. The cell service was spotty (at best) and we were canoeing in seemingly the middle of nowhere. 

To add to the anxiety, we chose Halloween weekend for our reservation, so flashes of the steady diet of scary Halloween movies I had been watching since my teenage years began to creep into my imagination. Surely we would encounter a knife wielding maniac on our journey, but I put those fears aside enough to carry on. 

Our little group of four arrived at the starting point, gathered our things, and pushed off to embark on the first leg of our meandering trip. As we paddled along, the sounds of the rest of the group, who were there to inhabit the larger treehouses, slowly faded into the distance until all we heard were the sounds of nature and water rhythmically lapping against our paddles. 

I am not an expert canoe operator by any means, so it took a little adjusting to figure out steering and speed, but I quickly got the hang of it. The scenery is stunning and rural. Along the way, you are apt to spot great blue heron, egrets, wood storks, pileated woodpeckers, wood ducks, wild turkey, deer, muskrats and raccoons, all of whom take residence within the refuge. 

I can’t begin to tell you how rejuvenating the paddle was. We hit some rain, we got soaked, we took in the sights, had a few paddle races, paused to eat some snacks and take bathroom breaks, and mostly, we laughed together. It was what I would deem “good old-fashioned fun.” 

Fun in the Treehouses

After a few hours time, we grew close to the cabins and we were on ‘high-alert’ lookout so we didn’t miss anchoring at our boarding spot for the night, with sundown fast approaching. They weren’t super easy to spot so we had to pay attention to insure we didn’t miss the mark and have to paddle back upstream in the fading sunlight. It took a good couple of hours to paddle that first leg. Once we arrived, we got set up in our cabin and it very much mimicked camping, only with a much sturdier tent. 

There is no electricity or running water in the cabins, so we used an outhouse for restroom breaks and washed our dishes in the river. Cooking was done on a small grill provided by the Outfitters in the covered picnic table space located underneath the cabin. 

It was all quite cozy and rustic. We could hear the sound of the babbling water everywhere we went on the site, along with serenades from the resident frogs and owls. We heated up some chili we had brought along to eat, shot BB Guns at tree targets, walked the trails, played card games and sat around a campfire having laughs into the late evening. 

Our friend Stella who joined us did not disappoint on our Halloween adventure. She quietly slunk into the dark cloak of night at one point while we all busily chatted away around the campfire. Channeling her inner Jeff Goldblum, she popped back up in full costume, buzzing out of the darkness as a life-sized fly. Much to my relief, no knife wielding maniacs presented themselves during our stay.

Making Our Way Home

After spending our Saturday relaxing, we woke up on Sunday morning, had a little breakfast and packed up for the next leg of our 13-mile trek back to our starting point. While we did see homes perched along the banks, a good amount of the view remained stately trees and expansive passes of water along the twists and turns of the smooth river.

It is admittedly some work to row the boats. We felt a little sore in the arms paddling on day two, but this was all together an exceptional and memorable experience, and one that I highly recommend to anyone looking to do something uniquely different in the Lowcountry. Removing technology alone forces you to rely on self-entertainment. It was reminiscent of my time growing up in the 80’s, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Planning Your Own River Adventure

The first step in this journey, should you wish to partake, is to reserve one of three different sized available tree houses, depending on the size of your group. These trips are booked up well in advance, so be sure to plan ahead. 

Next you will need to carefully plan every inch of what you anticipate needing on the trip. Dress in layers and wear waterproof.  You will need to pack your food, plenty of water, toiletries, coffee press (that was an important one for me, at least), sheets, coolers, paper towels, backup toilet paper and just about anything else you plan or want to use. We brought our own dry logs for the fire since there was rain in the forecast, and we didn’t want to rely on scavenging once we got there with no guaranteed success. 

Keep in mind, there is NO electricity. I repeat…none! This means there is nary a plug to charge your phone or other electronics, and likely not too much in the way of service. I personally feel it is much needed for us all to unplug now and again, but consider yourself warned if this sounds like a frightening prospect to you.

A small amount of supplies are included in the cabins, such as pots for cooking, plates, cups, cutlery, a small gas powered cooking range, blankets and a few small lanterns to light your way to the outhouse in the night.

Be prepared that once you are on the river, that is where you will be for a few days. If the outdoors is not your cup of tea, I will freely offer the warning that there will be bugs, spiders, mosquitos, and all of the other things that Mother Nature brings when you are in her house. 

That said, the views are stunningly gorgeous and it is quite freeing to be out of touch with the modern world, if only for a couple of days. I urge you to go with it. Turn off your phone, take in the sights and enjoy the simple pleasures as nature intended. 

For more information on booking your own trip, visit the booking page on Carolina Heritage Outfitters website and check out available tour dates. They are also quite friendly and helpful if you prefer to shoot them an email at carolinaheritage@gmail.com or give them a call at 843-563-5051.