Charleston may be a model of southern gentility, but just outside of town things get rough-and-tumble in the tupelo swamps, cypress forests, and intercoastal waterways of the South Carolina lowlands. Three days is ample time for cruising past sprawling plantations, paddling to barrier islands, and gaping at some of the tallest trees in the East. Spend a fourth enjoying the hidden gardens and unfailing hospitality of the city, then bike to the new Cooper River Bridge for sunset views of Fort Sumter and Charleston harbor.
Scores of barrier islands protect the coastline from the pounding Atlantic surf. Some, like Hilton Head, feature tennis courts and condos; red wolves and sea turtles populate others. Mount Pleasant-based outfitter Coastal Expeditions leads paddling trips to Capers Island, where "boneyard beach" is studded with the twisted trunks of trees killed by salt water. Recuperate in Charleston at the Planters Inn, where a private garden offers shade and quiet.
Congaree National Park
Line up early for biscuits and country ham with mushroom gravy at nationally acclaimed Hominy Grill, then head north to Congaree National Park (www.nps.gov/cosw). Designated just two and a half years ago, Congaree is one of America's youngest parks, but many of its cypress and oak trees are older than the nation. There's scant lodging near the park; spend the night in Columbia (an hour away) at sleekly designed Claussen's Inn, in the revitalized Five Points district.
Traveling hundreds of miles from mid-state to the Atlantic, the Edisto River—a languid flow of molasses—is one of the country's longest undammed black-water rivers. The Edisto gathers reflective tannins from swamp plants rooted in its bed, creating a surface that mirrors the forest canopy. Coastal Expeditions provides a canoe and a shuttle; you paddle at your leisure to their rustic swamp tree houses, where you'll fall asleep to the hooting of owls.
Good manners are the law in Charleston. Home to the nation's first Livability Court, the city can fine the pants off you for such offenses as failing to clean up after your dog. See the unspoiled historic district by renting some wheels from the Bicycle Shoppe. Ask for the route to the Cooper River Bridge for a good tour of the city's past and present. End your stay with a massive porterhouse at the new Oak Steakhouse, located inside a restored bank building.
Day 1: Paddle two hours to Capers Island, a sandy, uninhabited three-mile-long (five-kilometer-long) barrier island where you can camp and catch your own seafood.
Day 2: It's an easy day hike to groves of stately, 250-year-old behemoths along the seven-mile (11-kilometer) Oakridge Trail.
Day 3: Load up your canoe. It's 12 miles (19 kilometers) down the black-water Edisto River to your own riverbank tree house in a private 140-acre (57-hectare) refuge.
Day 4: Charleston was largely spared Sherman's wrath in 1865—granting modern-day bicyclists a chance to pedal through the antebellum South.
Do: Coastal Expeditions ($88 for a six-hour barrier island paddling tour; $90
for an overnight trip on the Edisto River; www.coastalexpeditions.com); The Bicycle Shoppe ($40 a day bike rental; www.thebicycleshoppecharleston.com)
Eat: Hominy Grill (www.hominygrill.com); Oak Steakhouse (www.oaksteakhouserestaurant.com).
Sleep: Planters Inn ($225; www.plantersinn.com); Claussen's Inn ($130; www.claussensinn.com)
Pick up the March 2006 issue for more secrets of the Southwest, nine Caribbean adventures, the best gear for runners, and our World Class outfitter trips.
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