One of my favorite things about living in Charleston is the wildlife.
I get to see a variety of birds in my backyard every morning. As I drive across the Connector, I see dolphins swimming in the harbor when they come up for a breath with their calf close behind. The critters crawl at the beach, the alligators lounge in the marsh, and the herons fish for their next meal in the creek at low tide.
This is magical for me. Being able to see it all every day is such an unspoken reason for living in Charleston. Not only do I get to witness nature’s beauty every day, but so do my kids.
“Look in the water, you can see a dolphin! Keep looking, just past that boat, you’ll see his little fin pop up!” My boys know how much wildlife makes me happy, even if they hear it day in and day out.
So I want to share with you some of my favorite places to see the wildlife in Charleston, and I’d love to hear about your favorite places so I can go explore some more!
Where to Find Wildlife in Charleston
1. Caw Caw Interpretive Center
If you have the stamina and ability to do a little bit of walking, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is one of my top favorite places to go to see wildlife. The red-winged blackbirds flitter about on the marsh reeds, while the sound of the pileated woodpecker echoes amongst the trees (they sound like a monkey, FYI). As you walk through the rice fields, you can spot alligators and anhingas sunbathing. Make your way to the swamp and you’ll find a myriad of reptiles like frogs, snakes, and lizards. Take your time, bring some binoculars and a camera, and keep your eyes peeled for these amazing creatures!
This state park is not only super fun for the kiddos, but the animals that you will see here will take your breath away. You can walk the trails and find fun critters like rabbits and alligators in the ponds, but they also house an amazing Animal Forest with wildlife that would have been found in colonial Charleston. River otters, turkeys, deer, buffalo, goats, pigs, bears, bobcats, and skunks — you name it. This is such a great place to bring the little ones and search for your favorite animal!
3. Other Charleston County Parks
Other county parks besides Caw Caw have some wonderful wildlife spotting. Take the James Island County Park for example — you can see some alligators in the ponds, beautiful herons flocking to the trees, and even little fiddler crabs crawling through the pluff mud at the side of the walking trails. Wannamaker County Park is also a wonderful one to find wildlife, as you can find deer and all types of birds when you walk through their paved trails. The Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve on Folly Beach is a great place to see some amazing sea birds and even get a glimpse of sea creatures like washed-up jellyfish and fiddler crabs. (WARNING: Do NOT swim at this beach. The tide is extremely dangerous and you should never get in this water. If you want to swim, do not visit this beach.)
4. Shem Creek
If you haven’t walked the boardwalk at Shem Creek, stop reading this article and drive over there. This is a beautiful area to spot some native wildlife. My favorite thing to look for at Shem Creek is the dolphins. Pick a spot to sit on the dock and just let your eyes paint the water as you look for their fins. You can also see some gloriously graceful pelicans as they swoop low to the water across the creek. Keep an eye out for those seagulls if you plan to bring a picnic, though. They are daring and WILL go after your food!
Talk about beautiful — not only are the oak trees phenomenal at this park, but the wildlife viewing is wonderful. Many different kinds of birds make their nests in the trees, including the amazing Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Watching these flocks of big birds make nests in the oak trees is something to see, so don’t forget to look up. Take a short hop across the street to the harbor and watch the pelicans plunge into the water for their fresh catch. And hey, you might even see a horse at White Point Gardens!
6. Hampton Park
Hampton Park is not only one of the most beautiful parks in Charleston because of its landscaping, but it has some wonderful wildlife that you can visit! The main attraction is the pond full of ducks and geese that waddle around looking for someone with some crumbs. These ducks come in many different breeds, with my favorite being the Muscovy duck (which may not be the prettiest bird out there, but they are so cute and sweet).
If you have some time to spend all day in this garden, I highly recommend it. The wildlife is close enough to touch! Take a ride through the swamp in a paddle boat and find frogs, snakes, and alligators swimming through. They also have a butterfly house and a super cool “Swamperium” where you can see all the swamp life up close and personal (but safe and in aquariums). This is a must-see for those looking to learn about the Lowcountry wildlife!
We live in a pretty amazing city where you can go almost anywhere and find some cool creatures, and I know this list doesn’t include all the cool places!
Old Santee Canal is our favorite!! Love this list, though!