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Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Spotlight: Lake Marion

Make your way to this recreation mecca

Teeming with largemouth bass, ringed with well-maintained hiking trails and bursting with wildlife, Lake Marion in central South Carolina is a popular spot for anglers, campers, boaters and anyone with a love of the great outdoors.

At more than 110,000 square acres in size, the lake is far and away the largest in the state. It’s even among the top 50 largest lakes in the entire country. Together with nearby Lake Moultrie on its southern flank (connected via short a man-made canal and lock system) it sprawls across five separate counties in the heart of South Carolina’s Coastal Plain region, a low and flat stretch of land where the Atlantic Ocean is believed to have once reached far inland.

Most visitors will find themselves arriving at Lake Marion by way of Columbia (53 miles to the northwest) or Charleston (71 miles to the southeast). Upon arrival, visitors can set up camp in a range of towns and communities that dot the lake’s shoreline, though Santee is perhaps the most conveniently located. Santee sits directly on Interstate 95, just a stone’s throw from Santee State Park and just west of the single bridge that quickly connects one side of the lake with the other.

Deborah Holtzscheiter/SCPRT

Deborah Holtzscheiter/SCPRT

Swing in Santee

Golfers in particular will cherish their time in the small town of Santee. Home to less than 900 year-round residents, it annually attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, many of whom are looking to hit the links at one of nearly 20 courses located within a 50-mile radius of the town’s center. Lake Marion Golf Course and Santee Cooper
Country Club are both located within the town’s limits and each features scenic lakeside holes, making them among the most popular courses in the area.

But fairways and putting greens aren’t the only ways to savor to the great outdoors here. The lake itself remains the main attraction, and there’s no shortage of recreational activities to keep busy bodies active and outdoors all year long. The typical gamut of lakeside recreational options is available in spades. Canoeing, kayaking, boating, swimming and fishing are all popular Lake Marion pastimes for visitors and locals alike. Striped bass, largemouth bass, crappie, bream and catfish call the lake home, and an abundance of bait shops dotted around the lake’s shores make picking up a South Carolina fishing license quick and easy.

Most visitors will find themselves content enough to simply lace up their hiking boots and hit portions of the Palmetto Trail, six branches of which loop around the Lake Marion area. But more adventurous trail hoppers looking for a chance to go completely off-the-beaten-path will need more than a pair of hiking boots to do so. In order to trek the Cooper River Underwater Heritage Trail system, you’ll need a scuba diving certification or professional scuba trainer to help you navigate this historic pathway, which features underwater shipwrecks and structures dating all the way back to the American Revolution. While it’s certainly not the most accessible attraction in the area, it’s easily one of the most rewarding.

Beyond Lake Marion itself, Santee State Park manages to attract most of the recreational attention in the area—and for good reason. The park is home to Nature Adventure Outfitters, which rent canoes, kayaks or stand up paddle boards for fun on the lake. If you’re towing a vessel, you’re in luck: Two separate boat ramps in the park make launching in the lake a quick and easy breeze, even during peak season. Hikers and bikers can explore more than ten miles of marked trails that wind through the park, including the Limestone Nature Trail, Oak Pinolly Trail and Sinkhole Pond Trail.

Perry Baker/SCPRT

Perry Baker/SCPRT

Marion’s Wild Side

Twenty miles to the east and across the lake, Santee National Wildlife Refuge is big draw for hunters and nature photographers looking to snag the perfect shot of an alligator, grey fox or bobcat.

Finally, when it’s time for a break from campfires, trail heads and queuing-up at boat launches, head just south of Lake Moultrie to the Berkeley County Museum. Tucked into the corner of Old Santee Canal State Park near the small town of Moncks Corner, this 5,600-square-foot heritage museum features exhibits that tell the story of Berkeley County, with artifacts dating as far back as 12,000 years ago. The highlight is the Santee Cooper exhibit, which chronicles the New Deal-era creation of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie as part of the Santee Cooper Hydroelectric and Navigation Project.

Make no mistake: Man-made or not, the Lake Marion region is a boon for nature lovers and outdoors enthusiasts. Park the RV, grab your fishing rod or lace up your hiking boots and explore this surprising gem in the heart of central South Carolina.

For More Information

Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce
South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism