10 Reasons to explore the Grand Strand this Spring
Who doesn’t love springtime in the South, especially after the brutally cold winter we endured earlier this year? With the bright greens returning to the flora and the fauna busily tending to their new families in the warmer, sunny days, the Grand Strand comes alive and beckons couch potatoes and outdoor enthusiasts alike to explore her natural beauty. In case you need a nudge, here are 10 great destinations and activities guaranteed to rejuvenate your winter-weary soul.
1. Brookgreen Gardens
(Brookgreen Garden Drive at U.S. 17 South, Murrells Inlet)
So much has been written about this National Historic Landmark that we almost don’t need to remind you what this gem along the South Strand has to offer. But we still regularly run into newcomers, tourists and even longtime residents who’ve never been. Here’s what you’re missing and why now is the time to go. Though the gardens are a year-round attraction, spring means flowers are in bloom, and Brookgreen is known for its dazzling displays of diversity. This 9,100-acre sculpture garden and wildlife refuge is filled with miles of paved walking trails, outdoor spaces amid centuries-old moss-draped Live Oaks, and should be on everyone’s annual “must see” list. Visit brookgreen.org.
2. Conway Riverwalk
(Waccamaw Riverbank, Second Avenue, Historic Downtown Conway)
The great black river called Waccamaw was once the lifeline of the coastal Carolinas, carrying goods and ferrying passengers from Georgetown through Conway and into North Carolina. Ocean-going vessels and later smaller paddlewheel steamships were regular visitors to the downstream portions of the river, which included stops in Conway. The Riverwalk, a wooden boardwalk and boat landing along the Waccamaw, offers a scenic stroll down what is now a much quieter, serene portion of this once-bustling river that is still an important part of our local heritage.
3. Myrtle Beach Boardwalk
(14th Avenue to 2nd Avenue Piers, North Ocean Boulevard, Myrtle Beach)
With new extensions and new businesses along its two-mile length, the $6 million-plus Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, which opened in 2010, continues to grow and charm locals and visitors with its proximity to seaside beauty and carnival-like atmosphere. Before the days get too hot and the crowds too large, consider a visit to this regularly improved upon attraction. Already popular with walkers and joggers, the Boardwalk offers opportunities to enjoy the ocean and to also slip inside one or more of the dozens of restaurants and two piers that line the attraction.
4. Vereen Memorial Historic Gardens
(U.S. 17 at N.C. / S.C. state line, Little River)
We’ve mentioned this often overlooked 115-acre green space in Grand Strand Magazine before, and it bears a reminder while we consider springtime outdoor opportunities. This North Strand park is a gem for hikes, picnics and walks along well-groomed trails and sturdy boardwalks that take you through shady forests, over top of natural oyster beds, along tidal flats and straight out to the Intracoastal Waterway.
5. State Parks on the Grand Strand
Myrtle Beach State Park and Huntington Beach State Park are both an easy drive for just about everyone living in or visiting the region. Both have an oceanfront component, ample hiking and bike-friendly forest and seaside trails, birding, wildlife viewing (including alligators), maritime forests, unspoiled coastline and even camping. Take a peek back in time at what the entire Grand Strand coastline once looked like by visiting one or both of these parks, where it’s easy to reconnect with something primeval. Visit southcarolinaparks.com
6. Pedal Power
The Grand Strand is loaded with bike trails—paved and primitive—bike lanes and relatively flat terrain, making cycling (on or off road) a popular pastime. Don’t have a bike or a map? Any of the area cycling shops can hook you up with entry-level equipment or rentals and maps of the area’s best trails. Cycling clubs offer regular planned group cycling activities for those who don’t want to go it alone. A beach bike, with fat balloon tires, makes riding on the hard-packed sand a breeze. Nothing beats an easy cruise directly on the beach—just make sure to go at low tide and watch out for soft spots. Try Beach Bike Shop at (843) 448-5103 for more information.
7. Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge
(S.C. 701, Horry-Georgetown county line)
Just a little more than 30 minutes from downtown Myrtle Beach, the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors an up-close-and-personal view of the habitats of the region’s native flora and fauna. Poised along the banks of the Pee Dee River, the Waccamaw River and the Little Pee Dee River at their confluence, the National Wildlife Refuge is charged with preservation and education. Short trails offer a relaxing stroll through the woods, the indoor nature center offers interactive displays (perfect for kids) and volunteers and park rangers are at the ready to answer questions. An off-site hiking, biking and canoe launch area, the Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Center, offers additional outdoor opportunity. (843) 527-8069.
8. Canoe & Kayak
Though it may be too cold to get in the water, this time of year can be just right to get on the water. Dozens of boat launches and beach access points between Georgetown and Little River offer aquarians opportunities to brave the surf of the ocean (in a wetsuit), or paddle the quiet creeks and rivers teeming with wildlife. Not sure where to start? Several local rental companies offer guided tours and equipment rentals, along with advice and information for newcomers. In Conway, try Conway Kayak Tours or Black River Outdoors Center. In North Myrtle Beach, check out J&L Kayak Ecoventures. In Myrtle Beach, go to Sail & Ski Connection.
9. For the Dogs
As a responsible dog owner, you’re sure to give Fido plenty of outdoor breaks and walks around the block, but have you ever taken him to Disneyland (or something very Disney-esque in the mind of a pup)? We’re talking about the dog park or, more technically, “off-leash dog parks.” We have several designated, fenced parks along the Grand Strand where your dog can comingle with others, getting some exercise and socializing at the same time. Try the 14-acre Barc Parc South (Market Common), the Barc Parc North (next to the YMCA on 62nd Avenue North at U.S. 17 Bypass) or the newly opened dog park at the North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex off Robert Edge Parkway. The ocean is another great spot for Fido, though the rules for dogs on the beach vary with season and jurisdiction. Anyone who’s taken a dog to the beach knows that the magical place where the water meets the sand is a real treat for most canines.
10. Fitness Trails
Though our New Year’s resolutions have probably faded away by now, springtime often renews our inner outdoorsman, enticing a second round of get up and go. We all know 30 minutes per day of exercise is good for us. Most communities have designated fitness trails to make it easier, some with rubberized low-impact walking and running surfaces. Most have fitness stations providing tools and tips on stretching and other beginner-friendly workouts. Myrtle Beach has several such areas: Market Common (Howard Avenue, Myrtle Beach) has a two-mile walking/running trail with fitness stations along the way. Another popular Myrtle Beach trail is located seaside along North Ocean Boulevard around the 5600 block. North Myrtle Beach’s Central Park (1400 Outrigger Road) is a 20-acre recreation facility including a .25-mile walking/running trail. Even smaller Grand Strand communities have some version of a fitness trail, beckoning you up and out.
With these great attractions as a jumping off point, we’ll live longer and healthier lives, experience a positive change in our brain chemistries, sleep better and be engaged in what we once, as children, couldn’t get enough of. So forget the excuses, we’ll see you outdoors!
Photographs by Mac Kilduff and courtesy of SCPRT, J&L Kayaking Ecoventures, City of Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens, and the Market Common.