A Walk in the Woods at Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve
In the summertime, the road connecting the beaches and resorts of Hilton Head Island with the South Carolina mainland is notoriously busy, lined with happy vacationers with sand, surf and maybe a few rounds of golf or sets of tennis on their minds. For wildlife watchers, mountain bikers and hikers, there’s also the roads and trails of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, a tiny island tucked securely behind Hilton Head.
But just up the road towards Bluffton is another peaceful walking trail that gets considerably less attention, but that can still provide a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon’s hike — the path at the DNR’s Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve. Local deer hunters know Victoria Bluff well, the preserve is open for archery-only hunting between mid-September and the end of deer season, and on a drive down Sawmill Creek Road in the early AM in late fall or winter you can often spot a handful of trucks pulled off at various entry points where hopeful archers have staked their claim to some of the preserves 977 total acres.In the spring and summer, increased traffic on Sawmill Creek road during the early morning hours is more likely to take the form of trailered boats headed for the H.E. Trask Sr. Boat Landing on the Colleton River, a popular spot for recreational anglers and boaters. Look on the map and you might also see Daws Island Heritage Preserve sitting at the top of Port Royal Sound like a sentinel guarding the twin fingers of the Broad and Chechessee Rivers. Well worth checking out, if a boat ride is in your future, but today the name of the game is simply finding a peaceful place for a walk in the woods, and the loop trail at Victoria Bluff fills that role admirably.
Birders will want to bring binoculars and keep a sharp eye out, particularly in the spring. The understory thickets dominated by saw palmetto and a range of evergreens make a noisy temporary home for migratory species such as tanagers, white-eyed vireos and a host of different warblers. Overhead, massive live oaks, and longleaf and slash pines cast deep shadows on the trail. In no time at all during a midday walk, things get cool and quiet.
The trail can be boggy at times. More than sixty isolated wetland depressions on the property hold plenty of water, so be prepared to get your feet wet if visiting after a heavy rain. On the upside, there water-holding areas are a magnet for wildlife. Stake one out with your camera and with a little patience (and a generous amount of bug spray) you might well be rewarded with the sight of some bird life, a fox squirrel, or even a wary deer. Breathe deep. That aromatic smell you smell is “pond spice” (Litsea aestivalis) a relatively rare shrub that favors wet, shady environs. All in all, you could not ask for a more pleasant afternoon in the woods than one spent exploring the trails at Victoria Bluff. From the town of Bluffton, take Hwy 278 towards Hilton Head and take a left on Sawmill Creek Road. You’ll find a parking area and information kiosk approximately 4 miles down on your right. The preserve is open year-round during daylight hours, but be very aware and pay attention to special rules during the fall and winter deer hunting periods. Water, bug spray and sturdy walking shoes are recommended. A camera is a must.