The Grand Strand is a 60 mile stretch of coastline, tourist shops, and endless miniature golf courses on the Northeast coast of South Carolina. It’s crowded, it’s chaotic, and at times can completely overwhelm your senses. But scattered among the endless restaurants (1,900+) and hotel rooms (98,600 +) you’ll find a few hidden gems – perfect for those who like to escape into the quiet and serene beauty of nature. Right at the border of North and South Carolina, immediately off of busy highway 17, hides one of those magical places: Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens.
Located in Little River, South Carolina, Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens is a 115 acre nature park. It’s currently open to the public, and maintained by Horry County Parks and Recreation. Originally owned by the Vereen family, it was donated to the Horry County Historic Preservation Commission in 1971. Today, the Gardens are free (as in zero entry fee) to visit, and open year round.
Having lived in the Grand Strand area on and off for about 12 years now, it surprises me how many locals have never even heard of this place. The bright side of that, of course, is that this park is relatively quiet and definitely uncrowded.
5 Reasons to Visit Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens
If you’re in the Myrtle Beach / Grand Strand area, and you too enjoy escaping the “MTV Spring Break circa 1999” vibe for something a little more Arcadian, I highly recommend checking out the Vereen Gardens. Here’s why:
I live for the kind of places that are so beautifully isolating, you temporarily forget about whatever “real world” things are plaguing you. Vereen Gardens is one of those places. A place where feel your shoulders immediately relax, tension release, and your heart rate lower as you breathe in the marshy air (even though my kid rushes us over the wooden walkways, claiming marshes are too smelly).
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the mountains of Vermont, but the salt marshes and twisting branches of Spanish moss covered oak trees still take my breath away. Vereen Gardens has all of that, and more. It feels like a glimpse of what the area must have looked like hundreds of years ago. You know, before the hotels and strip malls moved in.
Vereen Gardens feature a number of different natural habitats, from the Intracoastal Waterway shoreline, to maritime forest, to salt marshes, to wooded forest, and even a pond. In the same visit, you can sit on the shoreline sifting through oyster shells as pelicans float by, then head to the marsh to watch herons feeding, and finish off with a hike through the woods listening to the pileated woodpecker hunting for it’s meal in a tree.
There’s over 3 miles of trails (more on that soon), 1,500 feet of marsh boardwalk, and a slew of park benches scattered throughout the Gardens for you to sit and relax on.
The Vereen family was one of the first families to settle in the Grand Strand area. The Gardens are a portion of what remains of the former Vereen plantation, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The Gardens include the historic Vereen Family Cemetery, which features Revolutionary war graves .
Vereen Gardens also includes part of the original Kings Highway which was a part of the Atlantic Coastal Transportation system. What is now Highway 17, “Kings Highway was once an unpaved, sandy, 1,300 mile road connecting Boston and Charleston, which was completed in 1735. It is one of the few stretches of the Kings Highway to retain its unpaved original appearance. When President George Washington made his journey along the Kings Highway in 1791, it was Jeremiah Vereen who hosted the President overnight when he arrived in South Carolina.
There are about 3 to 4 miles (depending on who you ask) worth of trails and boardwalks at Vereen Memorial Gardens, suitable for people of all ages and fitness abilities. The trails are wide, sandy, and mostly smooth. When we visited recently, parts of the trail were clearly recently raked / groomed and obviously well maintained.
A surprising feature, especially for this coastal area, is the fact that there are actual hills on these trails. No, it’s not a difficult mountain trek. But the thing is, the Grand Strand area is typically flat as a board. So to see elevation of any kind is a rare – and welcome – treat.
Trails can be accessed from the parking lot at the top of the Gardens, near the C.B. Berry Community Center, or from the parking lot at the bottom of the Gardens. Two main trails on either side of the main road are marked well with either blue or red blazes.
However, there are a TON of other connector trails that are unmarked. Be sure to grab a trail map if you have a tendency to get turned around. Or, look for trail maps hanging on kiosks throughout the trail.
The trails are wide enough for a jogging stroller, and are dog friendly (the Gardens ask that you leash your dogs and obviously clean up after them). Mountain bikes are also allowed on the trails (though not the wooden boardwalks), but skateboards, skates, and scooters are prohibited.
In my family, we lovingly refer to bird watching, or birding, as “bird nerding”. This is because I geek out about birds. It’s a new development – we’ll see how long it lasts. However, I don’t own a fancy camera, and typically have this super enthusiastic side kick in tow, pictured below. So, a) we are often too noisy to see a ton of birds, and b) I don’t have a camera worthy of capturing pictures of said birds if we did.
But he’s really fun.
Rumor has it you can see endless species of birds here across the varying habitats. Pelicans, herons, egrets, owls, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, osprey, and so much more.
In 1988 Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens was officially dedicated as a state wildlife sanctuary. In addition to birds, you’ll find a slew of other local wildlife – if you stay quiet and look. On our most recent adventure, we passed a gentleman on the trail who handed my son his binoculars and pointed them up towards the tree tops. Lo and behold there was a raccoon curled about a hundred feet up a tree, fast asleep.
Throughout the park there are signs describing wildlife you may see, such as foxes, rabbits, deer, and even dolphins! There were also endless tree and plant identification signs, and even educational explanations of things like how the mood affects the tides. It’s great for outdoor lovers of all ages.
Know Before You Go:
- The physical address for Vereen Gardens is:
2250 Hwy 179, Little River, SC 29566
- The Park is open daily from sun up to sundown. The sign at the front gate will tell you exactly what time the gates will be locked.
- Parking is available, but limited. Get there early!
- There are a number of picnic shelters available, so bring lunch! However, there are no water fountains or water access, so be sure to pack plenty of water – especially in the summer.
- The only bathroom facilities on site are port-a-potties.
- Admission to Vereen Gardens is free, however, donations are welcomed. There are a couple of “iron rangers” throughout the park if you feel inclined to donate.
- For more information, contact the Horry County Parks and Recreation department, or call 843-249-4157