Sun, Surf, and Sand: Kayaking the Grand Strand, South Carolina

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14209A, Kayak


  • Kayak the unique and diverse waterways of coastal South Carolina
  • Stay at a beachfront home with an amazing panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean
  • Enjoy autumn bird migration and ample wildlife viewing


  • Kayak, pfd/life jacket, and paddle rental
  • Six nights lodging at an oceanfront house and most meals
  • Admission to several local attractions and historical sights


DatesOct 12–18, 2014
StaffJohn Kovacevic

Trip Overview

The Trip

The Grand Strand of South Carolina refers to an over 60-mile stretch of essentially uninterrupted beach that extends from the city of Little River to the city of Georgetown. It is said that the word "strand" was coined in the 1940s as another word for “beach.” The Grand Strand is considered part of “The Lowcountry," an area characterized by mysterious swamps, beautiful blackwater, magical saltwater marshes, twisting live oaks heavy with moss, and glistening beaches. Locals and those in the know consider autumn to be one of the best times of the year in The Grand Strand. The crowds of summer are long gone, air and water temperatures are near perfect, local oyster roasts and fresh shrimp are on the menu, and autumn bird migration is in full swing.

Many adventures await our group in The Grand Strand. We’ll kayak blackwater, where a variety of wildlife awaits our scanning eyes around each bend in the river. Migratory birds, otters, alligators, snakes, and even black bears are common sightings. Blackwater rivers are so named because of the black color of the water. The color comes from tannic acid that is leached from fallen leaves and other organic matter. Old-time mariners would seek out and stock their ships with this blackwater as it would stay fresh for up to two years! We’ll also kayak saltwater, where there is always a chance that a playful dolphin will pop up right next to us as we glide along in our kayaks. The marsh is an ever-changing landscape as the tide flows in and out twice daily. We’ll paddle around and explore a unique and mysterious island trapped in time, where the landscape has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. We’ll kayak an amazingly scenic creek within Francis Marion National Forest. We’ll take another step back in time, visiting and exploring some of the many historic plantations that date back to 1735 and beyond.

After kayaking and exploring some of the most scenic areas on the entire East Coast, we’ll return each night to an oceanfront home. From its back porch you can take a few steps and stand directly on one of the nicest stretches of beach in The Grand Strand. Whether dipping into the Atlantic Ocean for a swim, searching the water for frolicking dolphins, casting a fishing line, or just relaxing, the beach and ocean have a way of drawing us in. Perhaps John F Kennedy put it best: “We all came from the sea. It is an interesting biological fact that each of us has in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean. We all have salt in our blood, in our sweat, and in our tears. We are tied to the ocean and when we go back to the sea, we are going back from whence we came.”


Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to tides, wind, weather, group ability, or other unforeseen factors. Safety will always be our top priority. Please be aware that we will be going to real wilderness areas where alligators and snakes are common sightings.

Day 1: We will meet at 4 p.m. at our lodging. Rooms will be assigned, introductions will be made, and then we’ll enjoy a huge welcome dinner that features local cuisine. After dinner, we’ll have time to go over the itinerary for the week. A walk on the beach (which is just a few steps outside our back door) or to a nearby ocean pier will be a great way to start or end the day throughout the week. For those wishing to bring fishing gear or bikes, you’ll have some time to use them during the week

Day 2: We’ll start the day with a hearty breakfast. We’ll then give paddling instruction and get everyone geared up for an exciting week of kayaking and exploring. Next, we’ll head to the Little Pee Dee River for our first paddle of the week. This river has a swamp-like appearance and many twists and turns. An abundance of wildlife can be seen from the river, and we’ll likely encounter beavers, deer, wood ducks, woodpeckers, and a variety of other wildlife. This section of the river is an easy float and a great way to kick off an exciting week of kayaking. An evening or night walk on the beach or nearby Garden City Pier will be a great way to finish off the day all week long.

Day 3: Today, we head north to paddle a section of the Waccamaw River, which is the only river that originates from a Carolina Bay. The Wacamaw flows for approximately 140 miles before terminating into the Atlantic Ocean. We will be in the Waccamaw River Heritage Preserve, which protects 28 miles of the river. As we pass through bottomland hardwood forests, we will again scan the shoreline for otters and numerous birds, and we may even spot a black bear. The preserve serves as an important travel corridor for the black bear.

Day 4: We’ll head south and spend the day kayaking and exploring the saltwater marsh, trails, beach, and Atalaya Castle ruins at Huntington Beach State Park. Huntington Beach is known as one of the best areas for birding on the entire East Coast. A naturalist will join our group to give us added insight and to help identify the numerous birds that we will encounter. It is not uncommon to see dolphins while paddling this area. The ruins of Atalaya are very interesting to explore and give us insight into the story of Huntington Beach State Park and nearby Brookgreen Gardens. We’ll finish off the day with dinner at a restaurant in Murrells Inlet, which is known as the seafood capitol of South Carolina.

Day 5: A unique adventure awaits us, as today we explore Sandy Island. We’ll paddle past sandy banks, old rice fields, expansive stretches of marsh, and a wide variety of wildlife, likely including alligators. Migratory birds should again be abundant. Sandy Island is 9,000 acres of pristine woodland, much of which is protected within and as part of the surrounding Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. Rich in nature and culture, the forested bluffs and cypress-studded creeks of the island have changed little in the last few centuries. Over 100 people call this island home. Many of them are descendents of slaves who once worked the island’s rice plantations.

Day 6: We’ll head south today to paddle Wambaw Creek, a blackwater tributary of the Santee River that’s located in the heart of Francis Marion National Forest. The Wambaw is considered by many to be one of the most scenic paddles in The Lowcountry. Next, we’ll explore historic Hampton and Hopsewee Plantations, which both date back to 1735.

We’ll finish off the day on the Historic Georgetown Waterfront, where we’ll enjoy a group farewell dinner at a famous local restaurant. Today will be a long day, but a great way to finish off a fantastic week of kayaking and exploring the Grand Strand!

Day 7: After sharing a final breakfast together, we’ll pack up and bid farewell to new friends. This is a good morning to sleep in a bit, or go for one last walk on the beach or swim in the ocean. The trip will be officially over by mid morning. For those wishing to spend some extra time in the area, there is no shortage of things to do.



Getting There

Myrtle Beach Airport is the nearest airport and is located within a half-hour drive of our lodging. Charleston Airport is two hours south of Myrtle Beach, but may offer better airfares. We encourage carpooling to/from the outing and we will also carpool to our various destinations throughout the week. Driving directions and a participant list will be sent out prior to the outing.

Accommodations and Food

We will spend six nights in an oceanfront home located in Garden City, South Carolina. A few steps out of the back door put you directly on the beach and there is a fantastic panoramic view of the ocean from the main room as well as a huge outdoor porch overlooking the water. Participants coming alone will share a room and couples will room together. Participants will take turns helping the leaders prepare meals and clean up. The first meal will be dinner on day one of the outing. The last meal will be breakfast on day seven. We will go out to dinner twice during the week, and these two meals are NOT INCLUDED in the trip price.

Trip Difficulty

We will paddle moderate intermediate routes, averaging five to ten miles and three to six hours on the water each day. You should be comfortable sitting in a kayak for up to three to four hours at a time. You need not be an expert paddler, but you should have some previous kayaking experience. Basic paddling and safety instruction will be given on the first day of the outing. Each participant should understand that this is a group outing and that they will be required to stay with the group while we are on the water. You should be flexible as plans and itineraries often change due to tides, weather, water levels, group ability, or other unforeseen reasons. Hikes or sightseeing will involve one to two miles of walking on flat terrain or sandy beaches. We will carpool/caravan to our various destinations throughout the week. Due to limited parking at some of the put-ins, you may be asked to share (give or get) a ride with another participant(s).

Equipment and Clothing

We will provide a rental kayak, pfd/life jacket, and paddle to each participant. We also provide all group cooking gear. We will carpool/caravan to our various destinations and we will need volunteer drivers to make this happen. A participant list will be sent out to facilitate carpooling to/from/on the outing. A full gear list will be sent to all participants prior to the outing.


  • Edgar, Walter, South Carolina: A History. University of South Carolina Press, 1998.
  • Bowen, John, Adventuring Along the Southeast Coast. Sierra Club Books, 1999.
  • Bass, Robert D,. Swamp Fox: The Life of General Francis Marion. Sandlapper Publishing Co, Inc, 1974.
  • Jerman, Patricia L., South Carolina Nature Viewing Guide. University of South Carolina Press, 1998.
  • Bannon, Jim, Sea Kayaking the Carolinas. Out There Press, 2003.


Hosting almost 15 million visitors annually, the over 60 miles of uninterrupted beaches of the Grand Strand are one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire United States. Most visitors are surprised to find out that over 50 percent of the South Carolina coast is protected in one form or another. National wildlife refuges and forests, state parks, local parks, and privately owned preserves all make up this protected land. Much of the preserved South Carolina Coast is located between Myrtle Beach and the city of Charleston. We will discuss what the difference is between the various forms of protection, as well as view and explore some of this magnificent coastal landscape up close.
In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



John Kovacevic has led and co-led many Sierra Club Outings since completing an Outdoor Leadership Training Course in 2004. He is certified as a Wilderness First Responder, and completed both ACA kayak instructor certification courses as well as several water rescue courses. John’s current focus is on kayak trips in the Southeast, with South Carolina, Coastal Georgia, and Florida being like second homes and favorite paddling destinations. John looks forward to sharing some amazing places with you that he has explored and discovered, as well as finding some new ones. After adding cozy and comfortable lodging in scenic locations and great meals to the mix, you’ll enjoy the trip of a lifetime!

Assistant Leader:

Terry DeFraties leads local outings for the Thomas Hart Benton Group (Kansas City) of the Sierra Club Missouri Chapter and lives in the Kansas City area. He owns a small construction company and backpacks, canoes, kayaks and caves whenever he can. He has participated in, organized and led wilderness trips for over thirty years. With Sierra Club national outings, he has led or assisted on service, backpack, kayak and canoe trips. He is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

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