Edisto River adventure yields solitude, discovery and sweet slumber among the trees
Step in carefully, steady the boat, push the oar off the sandy bottom, paddle. Paddle. Paddle. That’s what they told us, and that’s what we do. And now we’re alone, the two of us on this river.
We figure out a method and a rhythm as we pass tree-lined banks of longleaf pine, cypress knees and live oak. The Edisto guides the canoe gently, leaving us plenty of time to watch and listen. As the wilderness envelops our senses with each passing hour, reality is reduced to leaves, trunks, water, mud and the creatures that inhabit them. Our discussion, at times full of wonder, is studded with self-conscious humor. We recognize this tree but not that one, and why are all the roots exposed? Did you see that tree growing sideways? I think that’s a heron. Or an egret? Periodic rounds of laughter ... nervous at first, perhaps, but more relaxed as we cover progressive miles of the river.
Jacquie and I have accepted the challenge and the opportunity of a treehouse adventure with Carolina Heritage Outfitters, an experience dubbed one of the “Top 5 Southern Escapes” by Garden and Gun, appearing on USA Today’s list of “Top Ten Magical Treehouses from Around the World” and featured on Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters episode “Ultimate Treehouses: Ingenuity and Engineering.” For about 30 hours, we will commune with nature by canoe and by foot, sleep in a treehouse, use no provisions but those in the canoe and speak to no one but each other. For us, novice campers interested but not terribly experienced in the outdoors, it’s a proposition of mystifying proportions, one we never would have attempted but for the nostalgic allure of the treehouse.
That’s the essential appeal of Carolina Heritage: for non-campers, the idea of sleeping in a solidly built, screened-in treehouse with a futon, open deck, grill and propane stove is sufficiently civilized to get them in the canoe and paddling. For experienced campers, the treehouse adventure is a luxurious alternative to pitching a tent and gathering firewood. We bring our own water, tether all belongings to the canoe seat, and learn to use our instincts as we progress on this self-guided, 23-mile journey down the longest free-flowing blackwater river on the East Coast.
The first day brings a 13-mile trek through the swamp water marine system that meanders as it progresses, eroding the outside banks of the river and causing trees to eventually fall into the water. We navigate the resulting obstacle course of waters, logs and branches, some dancing in the current and others lurking just below the surface. Our process of question, guess and attempt mostly brings success and produces a growing assurance that we got this.
The initial day’s journey concludes at the bank of the treehouse, where we find our noble and rustic lodging nestled within leafy branches, sufficiently hidden to make us feel ensconced in the forest but visible enough to yield confidence that we’ve found our destination. We spend late afternoon and evening exploring the 150 acres of wilderness, sitting on the deck listening to the chorus of critters and enjoying the victuals carefully stowed away in our canoe before falling asleep amid a summer breeze and the scent of pine. The next day brings a 10-mile expedition that concludes at the Carolina Heritage outpost.
“It’s a different experience we offer here,” Scott Kennedy says of his 27-year-old business, which includes three structures of varying sizes—the only commercial treehouses in the country accessible solely by canoe. “We feel that the educational value of it is spectacular. Our mission is to provide people with a wholesome leisure time activity that will foster an appreciation of nature and facilitate physical, mental and spiritual growth.”
Scott’s wife and co-owner of Carolina Heritage Outfitters, Anne, sees that growth every day when she greets canoers at the conclusion of their adventure. “When they return from their trip, they’re exuberant,” she states. “It’s the physical exertion, but also the sense of accomplishment and high of self-reliance. They always say, ‘It was better than I thought it would be.’ That’s the biggest part of education, really—they realize they really don’t need much. It’s a little knock knock on the door reminding people just how little they need their everyday stuff.”
Located in Canadys, about halfway between Charleston and Columbia, Carolina Heritage Outfitters is open April 1 through November 15, and fall is a popular season for adventurers. “People love October because the air’s a little cooler yet the water’s still warm enough to swim,” Anne explains. “They make a campfire at night, and it’s perfect sleeping weather.”
For a wholly unplugged experience exploring both the outdoors and just what you’ve got inside, Carolina Heritage Outfitters delivers. Regardless of the season, paddlers come away from the experience standing a little taller and looking nature right in the eye.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY J. SAVAGE GIBSON, COURTESY OF SARA SOBOTA AND CAROLINA HERITAGE OUTFITTERS