Best South Carolina Birding Destinations & Clubs

December 11, 2021 // 19 minute read

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The beautiful thing about birding in South Carolina is that the state is filled with many coastal habitats along the Appalachian highlands and the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the pristine habitat regions, there are a documented 430+ birds living in or visiting the state throughout the year.

Whether you live in South Carolina or you’re just visiting as a tourist, there are so many wonderful places to stay including Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island. But the wildlife refuges and bird habitats are scattered throughout the region and they’re a big part of the natural history of this wonderful place.

Even better, the state of South Carolina has a plethora of protected Southern bottomland hardwood and bald-cypress swamp areas including Congaree National Park, Bear Island Wildlife Management Area, and more.

So, if you’re trying to find the top free and paid birding destinations in South Carolina, you’ve definitely come to the right place. Besides sharing this invaluable information, we will also tell you about a few of the best birdwatching clubs in the Palmetto State.

If you’re looking for even more resources about some of the popular states surrounding South Carolina, we’ve also created pages with birding hotspots and bird watching clubs in neighboring states including North Carolina and Georgia.

Bird Watching Destinations In South Carolina: Free Destinations

Living or visiting South Carolina is a real treat for birders. There are a plethora of free and paid bird watching excursions to go on whether you live in this state, or just plan to visit in the near future. If you’re going to be in the vicinity of South Carolina at some point soon, you should make it your mission to check out one or more of the birding hotspots that I’ve shared with you below because they truly are amazing.

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge – Free Entry

Located near Savannah, Georgia across the Savannah River, this wildlife refuge is 29,175 acres of beautiful bottomland hardwoods, tidal rivers, and freshwater marshes. The reason birders love visiting this location is there’s so many different bird species that it’s hard to keep track of them all, along with other gorgeous wildlife that’s easily discovered in the area.

Location:

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

694 Beech Hill Ln.
Hardeeville, SC 29927

Phone: 843-784-2468

GPS: 32.2223° N, 81.1194° W

Hours Of Operation:

The visitor center is typically open on Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 4 PM, but it is currently closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Park itself is open 24/7/365, from dusk till dawn.

  • White Ibis
  • Bald Eagle
  • Painted Bunting
  • Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck
  • Snowy Egret
  • Wood Stork
  • Purple Gallinule
  • Mississippi Kite
  • Clapper Rail
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Least Bittern
  • Swallow-Tailed Kite

Hiking Trails:

Hikers are definitely going to appreciate this beautiful scenic place because there are seven wonderful hiking trails on the premises. You’ll get to spend lots of time outdoors soaking up the sun, enjoying the beautiful fall weather, and getting some great exercise outdoors as you visit with your favorite bird species in the area.

The names of the hiking trails are as follows:

  • Beech Hill Trail – easy difficulty, 0.3 miles, 10 minutes to complete
  • Little Back River Trail – easy difficulty, 5.7 miles, two hours and 15 minutes to complete
  • Plantation Island Trail – easy difficulty, 3.1 miles, one hour and 15 minutes to complete
  • Recess Plantation Trail – easy difficulty, 3.2 miles, one hour and 15 minutes to complete
  • Raccoon Island Trail – easy difficulty, 2.6 miles, one hour and five minutes to complete
  • Kingfisher Loop And Tupelo Trail – easy difficulty, 7.1 miles, two hours and 55 minutes to complete
  • Kingfisher Pond Loop – easy difficulty, 0.9 miles, 25 minutes to complete

Bear Island Wildlife Management Area – Free Bird Watching

Visiting Bear Island Wildlife Management Area is always a wonderful treat because there are flocks of birds constantly found in the wetlands and throughout the rest of this location. The low country in South Carolina is one of the greatest places for birders to visit, which is why this is such an appealing opportunity for hikers and birders alike.

Location:

Titi Road
Green Pond, SC 29446

Phone: 843-844-8957 (Daniel Barrineau, Contact)

GPS: 32.6130° N, 80.4438° W

Hours Of Operation:

The general public can visit Bear Island during daylight hours between February 9 through October 31. The only time you cannot visit the area is during hunting season.

  • Marsh Wren
  • Mississippi Kite
  • Mottled Duck
  • Tundra Swan
  • American White Pelican
  • Swallow-Tailed Kite
  • Black-Necked Stilt
  • Painted Bunting
  • Clapper Rail
  • Least Bittern
  • Black Rail
  • King Rail

Hiking Trails:

This is a wonderful place to explore, but unfortunately, the hiking trails mostly do not have a name. Although there is one long trail on Bear Island that I’d like to tell you more about below.

The name of the trail is:

  • South Edisto River Loop – although it is definitely long, it’s also very easy to walk along because it is a defined hiking trail that is properly cared for and maintained by the people in charge of the wildlife management area. Overall, the trail is 9 miles long, and it should take an average walker around three hours and 40 minutes to complete from the beginning of the trail to the end.

Congaree National Park – Free Bird Watching

One of the great things about visiting the National Park is it’s always free and open to the public. And it’s always well-maintained because the National Park Service does a fantastic job of maintaining the premises. Birders will love this place because there is a boardwalk loop, other hiking trails, and hundreds of different bird species associated with this location, so you’re bound to see lots of birds that you absolutely adore.

Location:

100 National Park Rd.
Hopkins, SC 29061

Phone: 803-776-4396

GPS: 33.8301° N, 80.8231° W

Hours Of Operation:

The National Park is open 24 hours a day, all year round.

  • Mississippi Kite
  • Barred Owl
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
  • Great Egret
  • Louisiana Waterthrush
  • Brown-Headed Nuthatch
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Wood Duck
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • White Ibis

Hiking Trails:

The best thing about a Congaree National Park is the amazing hiking trails on the premises. If you love hiking and bird watching and really enjoy this pastime, you’ll definitely have a great time here because the trails are beautiful, the boardwalk is amazing, and it’s one of the nicest places in South Carolina to visit.

The name of the hiking trails are as follows:

  • Weston Lake Loop Trail – easy difficulty, 4.6 miles, one hour and 55 minutes to complete
  • Sims Trail – easy difficulty, 2.4 miles, one hour to complete
  • Kingsnake Trail – easy difficulty, 7.8 miles, three hours and 10 minutes to complete
  • Bates Ferry Trail – easy difficulty, 2.3 miles, 55 minutes to complete
  • Congaree River Blue Trail – moderate difficulty, 46.8 miles, this is a canoe trail not a hiking trail
  • Bluff Trail – easy difficulty, 2.1 miles, 50 minutes to complete
  • River Trail – easy difficulty, 9.9 miles, four hours to complete
  • Oak Ridge Trail – easy difficulty, 6.3 miles, two hours and 35 minutes to complete
  • Boardwalk Loop Trail – easy difficulty, 2 miles, 50 minutes to complete

Santee National Wildlife Refuge – Free Entrance

Birders rejoice because this beautiful national wildlife refuge is 13,000 acres of land and the refuge is located on the north shore of Lake Marion, which is the largest lake in South Carolina. Even better, there are four separate units of the wildlife refuge that make up 10 miles of protected land that’s filled with tons of amazing birds to visit the next time you’re in the area.

Location:

2125 Fort Watson Rd.
Summerton, SC 29148

Phone: 803-478-2217

GPS: 33.5269° N, 80.2853° W

Hours Of Operation:

The grounds and refuge trails are open each day from sunrise to sunset. The only exceptions are the Bluff and Cuddo units. Their hours are as follows:

  • October 1 through February 28 – 7 AM to 5 PM
  • March 1 through September 30 – 6 AM to 8 PM

The visitor center is open on Tuesday to Friday from 8 AM to 4 PM.

  • Wood Stork
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Osprey
  • Brown-Headed Nuthatch
  • Wild Turkey
  • Pine Warbler
  • Painted Bunting
  • Bachman’s Sparrow
  • King Rail
  • Bald Eagle
  • Wood Duck
  • Anhinga

Hiking Trails:

Although there are many trails to travel upon throughout the wildlife refuge, most of these trails do not possess a name. But there is one trail in particular that I’d like to tell you about.

The name and pertinent information about this trail are as follows:

  • Wright’s Bluff Nature Trail – this trail is very easy to walk upon because it’s a boardwalk trail that you can travel across as you look upon the wetland marshes. The length is only 1.1 miles in total distance, which should only take you about a half an hour to complete the total trail from beginning to end.

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge – Free Bird Watching

If you plan on visiting South Carolina in the near future, I absolutely recommend stopping by Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge while you’re here. This amazing place is one of the best hunting, fishing, and bird watching and wildlife viewing locations in the entire state. There are so many good birding spots within a mile of the refuge office, that it’s very easy to spot your favorite birds like songbirds, woodpeckers, raptors, and more and you don’t even need binoculars to see them.

Location:

23734 US Highway 1
McBee, SC 29101

Phone: 843-335-8350

GPS: 34.5822° N, 80.2335° W

Hours Of Operation:

The administration office and visitor center are open Monday through Friday from 7 AM to 3:30 PM. The wildlife refuge itself is open every day of the week, from sunrise to sunset.

  • Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
  • Chuck-Wills-Widow
  • Swainson’s Warbler
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Bachman’s Sparrow
  • Brown-Headed Nuthatch
  • Mississippi Kite
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Prairie Warbler
  • Northern Bobwhite

Hiking Trails:

The beautiful thing about visiting Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge is the amazing hiking trails that you’ll come across as you visit the premises. These passages have boardwalks, clearly defined and marked trails that take you from beginning to end, and they are also very easy and relatively straightforward to navigate, so you never have to worry about getting lost or disoriented while out on the trails.

The names of the exciting trails that you get to walk upon in this location are as follows:

  • Hamburg Lake Trail – the great thing about this trail is that it’s very easy to walk along because the path is clear, the grass is freshly mowed and maintained along the trail, and the caretakers make sure that these trails are simple to walk across. Overall, this trail is 2.1 miles long, which should be no trouble for avid walkers to handle. In fact, you should be able to complete the entire trail in about 50 minutes from end to end.
  • Tate’s Trail – even though it’s definitely a lot longer than the first trail recommended, it’s also a great one to walk across because there is a boardwalk, clearly defined and easy to navigate pathways, and the premises is also always well-maintained, which makes it simple to navigate and prevents unnecessary obstacles from blocking your path. The total length of this trail is 5.8 miles. If you walk at an average hiking speed, you can complete the entire trail from beginning to end in two hours or less.

Bird Watching Destinations In South Carolina: Paid Destinations

Huntington Beach State Park – Paid Admittance

This Oceanside Park is a beautiful place to visit if you’re an avid bird watcher or hiker looking to spend time in nature. Within the park, the potential is there to see more than 300 species of birds, which makes it an exciting birding destination. Beachgoers really love coming here as well during the summer, and it’s a great place to visit during the winter between September to May to satisfy all of your birding needs.

Location:

16148 Ocean Hwy.
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576

Phone: 843-237-4440

GPS: 33.5146° N, 79.0609° W

Hours Of Operation:

The park is open from 6 AM to 6 PM each day, and during daylight savings time the closing time extends to 10 PM.

The office is open every day including weekends from 9 AM to 5 PM, and office hours extend to 8 PM during daylight savings time.

Admission Fees:

  • Adults – $8
  • Senior Citizens – $5
  • Children Age 6-15 – $4
  • Children Aged 5 and Younger – Free
  • Red-Throated Loon
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Wood Stork
  • Swallow-Tailed Kite
  • King Rail
  • Anhinga
  • Least Bittern
  • Common Loon
  • Black Skimmer
  • Black-Necked Stilt
  • Wilson’s Plover
  • Reddish Egret

Hiking Trails:

Hikers are also in for a treat whenever they visit Huntington Beach State Park. There are two very leisurely trails that are easy to navigate in this beautiful place in nature.

The names of the trails in question are as follows:

  • Huntington Beach Marsh Boardwalk – obviously, walking along the boardwalk is going to be fairly simple to navigate since it’s a flat wooden path instead of uneven ground. The total distance is only 0.4 miles, so it’s relatively short. And it should only take about 10 minutes, which is very quick in my opinion.
  • Huntington Beach State Park Trail – although very easy to navigate because the ground is very level, this is actually much longer than the first trail coming in at 2.8 miles in total distance. This trail should take about an hour and 10 minutes to complete from beginning to end.

South Carolina Birdwatching Clubs

South Carolina residents are absolutely in luck if they happen to have an interest in birding and birdwatching. This state has many different locations to visit that provide immense opportunities to see gorgeous birds in a lush outdoor environment. If you’re interested in birdwatching and connecting with other like-minded individuals, you’ll certainly benefit from joining one or more of the recommended groups or clubs below.

Greenville County Bird Club

This exciting organization is located in upstate South Carolina. They entice members with a wide array of social events, workshops, and birdwatching outings throughout the year. They briefly stopped all social activities during the coronavirus pandemic, but they are now beginning to open up and enjoy outdoor outings and events. Join this club if you’re in upstate South Carolina and you’re looking for a birdwatching group to call your own.

Past and Future Events

  • Lake Conestee Nature Preserve (Longer Walk) – the bird club visits this location on the third Saturday of each month. For the longer walk, it begins at 7 AM and finishes at noon from April through September. From October through March, the walk begins at 8 AM and finishes at noon. You’ll meet at the nature preserve behind the baseball stadium to walk for four or five hours and view a wide range of amazing birds in their proper environment.
  • Lake Conestee Nature Preserve (Shorter Walk) – the bird club also goes on a shorter walk every third Saturday of the month at this location as well. In this particular case, the walk begins at 8 AM and ends at 10:30 AM all year round. This walk is much slower paced, so if you aren’t the fastest walker or you prefer going at a slower more leisurely pace for a lesser distance, this is definitely the better choice to view many wonderful birds in their outdoor habitat.
  • Impromptu Outings – the club also has many impromptu outings throughout the year, although none happen to be scheduled at the moment. These outings are for both more experienced birders or less experienced birders, depending on the location, the trip leader, and other possibilities.

Membership Fees

  • Household Membership – $15 (this is the only membership level and it acts as an individual membership as well)

You have two options to join Greenville County Bird Club. You can visit their website and scroll down to step one and pay via PayPal online.

Or if you prefer, you could mail a check made payable to the following name and address:

Greenville County Bird Club
c/o Erica Pickering
13 Sullivan St.
Greenville, SC 29605

Continue following the on-screen instructions to complete steps 2 and 3.

Greenway Birding Club

This birding club is really interesting because they have over 2100 acres of beautiful land at their disposal at Greenway. Greenway is the home of this birding club and it’s their home base. There is so much birdlife found in this location, that you don’t even have to venture away from here in order to see astonishing bird species. Yet they also enjoy the occasional outing from time to time as well.

Past and Future Events

  • Lansford Canal – this event recently took place on June 5 at 8 AM. The club got together for a 2-3-hour bird walk where they walked around the canal and spotted many remarkable birds. They recommend bringing binoculars, but they aren’t necessarily needed. This group was made up of 12 participants and round-trip, they walked a total of 2 ½ miles enjoying the scenery and the local wildlife.
  • Adventure Road Parking Area – on June 13, the Greenway Birding Club met at 8 AM to explore the parking area of Adventure Road. They walked around for 2-3 hours and spent the whole time furiously looking for as many bird species as they could possibly catalog. They limit their group participation to 12 members, so remember to sign up early. On this hike, they saw some beautiful birds including summer tanagers, blue grosbeaks, and indigo buntings.
  • Dairy Barn Parking Lot – this upcoming event is going to take place on July 17 at 8 AM. Attendees will meet at the Dairy Barn parking lot bright and early in the morning, as they get together and explore the area as a group for 2-3 hours. You’ll walk around the parking lot with binoculars and continue looking for as many interesting and exciting birds as you can find. You’ll even take a walk down to Lake Katherine, where you are likely going to see many kingfishers and herons in the area.

Membership Fees

To become a member of the birding club, you have to become a member of Greenway first. It’s free to join the birding club, but there are monthly or yearly fees to join Greenway that include:

  • Individual Monthly Membership – $5 per month
  • Individual Yearly Membership – $60 per year
  • Family Monthly Membership – $10 per month
  • Family Annual Membership – $120 per year

To sign up to become a member of Greenway, please visit their membership page here.

Audubon South Carolina

Audubon South Carolina is a wonderful organization focused on conservation, birds, and connecting with other like-minded individuals who want to protect the environment and its wonderful inhabitants. You can join this club or one of its many chapters in South Carolina for free. Or if you prefer, you can make a healthy donation to help the club continue to pursue its positive efforts in the community.

Past and Future Events

  • Visit Beidler Forest – this birding event will take place on Thursday, June 24 at 9 AM and it’s an all-day event that will end at 4 PM. The event is being held in Beidler Forest in Harleyville, South Carolina at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center & Sanctuary. Be prepared to walk along the boardwalk and other hiking trails while viewing outdoor wildlife and many amazing birds on this trip.
  • Silver Bluff – this bird walk previously took place on May 29 where participants got together and met at the visitor center picnic pavilion at 8 AM. They walked along the Quail Trail Loop, which is 3 miles in total distance, and were able to look at many wonderful summer birds, dragonflies, and butterflies as well.
  • Lovers Lane – this event took place on March 20, when a group got together and drove to Lovers Lane. It’s cold outside at the end of March, so participants always must remember to dress warmly and wear winter clothing. At the destination, they were able to look at many gorgeous birds in the wilderness in their natural habitat.

Membership Fees

As I already mentioned, it’s free to join Audubon South Carolina. The organization does except donations. You can contribute once, every month, or once a year. To provide your support, please visit the donation page to lend your financial support to this beautiful organization and help them continue to do the amazing work that they do.

Final Thoughts: Top South Carolina Birding Destinations & Clubs

Thanks for taking the time to read all about our favorite South Carolina birdwatching clubs and bird-watching hotspots and destinations. We’ve discovered many wonderful locations throughout the years and we are happy to share them with you, our readers.

It’s always a pleasure to provide the most up-to-date info about bird watching clubs including their membership fees and other pertinent info. We’ve also shared information about field trips and bird walks that local organizations host throughout the year.

Before leaving us:

Do you know of any South Carolina birdwatching destinations or local birdwatching clubs that we may have missed while sharing these valuable resources? If so, please feel free to send us a message right now and tell us about your important resource so we can add it to the list.

We intend to remain the best South Carolina birding resource, so please lend us a helping hand!

Birding in South Carolina - State Bird Carolina Wren
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