Certainly one of the best parts of this Ultimate Outsider adventure is having absolutely no idea what to expect when you put a park’s address into your GPS. About 10 minutes into our drive towards Woods Bay State Park, we found ourselves at a stoplight intersection in Conway, about to take a left onto 378…a road none of us have ever been on.
Sometimes I stop and think about how big this country is – never mind the world – and marvel at how I could likely spend every single day of the rest of my life traveling, and still not see all of it. And finding yourself on a major roadway not 15 miles from your house, that you’ve never once been on before, definitely drives that point home.
And thus began our adventure to visit Woods Bay State Park, our third South Carolina State Park for the year.
Woods Bay State Park
Woods Bay is 1,590 acre State Park located in town called Olanta, SC (Florence county). The park features a wide range of habitats including marsh, sandhills, oak-hickory forest and shrub bog. While 1,500+ acres is nothing to scoff at, we would discover that this is one of the smaller parks as far as “things to do”. Not that this fact deterred us from having a really good time.
Woods Bay is one of the last remaining Carolina Bays on the Atlantic Coastal Plain. If you’ve never heard of the term before, a Carolina Bay is not a bay, nor is it isolated to the Carolinas (though, I personally had not heard of them until we moved to the Carolinas, but I digress.) Carolina bays are sandy, boggy, shallow wetland depressions that are fed by rain or groundwater, and can range in size from less than an acre to thousands of acres. The origin of these bays is unknown, but some popular theories include underground springs, meteorites or tidal eddies.
These unique reservoirs are home to many species of carnivorous plants (like pitcher plants and Venus fly traps!), salamanders, frogs, turtles, birds and mammals.
Visiting the Park:
Woods Bay State Park does not have a campground, so you’ll want to plan your visit as a day trip. GPS brought us easily to the park entrance, with no confusion or hassle. The park is not gated, and there is no entrance fee (however, there is a donation box in front of the nature center if you’d like to contribute!)
From the entrance you’ll drive about a half a mile down a narrow dirt road. The road will end in a loop in front of the nature center, rest rooms, and picnic shelter. Park along the side of the loop.
The welcome kiosk is home to a ton of helpful information and pamphlets. In addition to getting our Ultimate Outsider stamp, we were able to find a park map, and a Woods Bay State Park bird list. That made the bird-nerd in me very happy.
Our family day consisted of walking around the park, throwing a football in the field by the picnic shelter, intermittently seeking shelter from the rain drops, and enjoying lunch. It was a super casual, very laid back park trip – the term “adventure” seems like an overstatement. Even so, we truly enjoyed our morning and afternoon in the quiet and serene confines of Woods Bay State Park.
5 Things to Do at Woods Bay State Park:
Taking a trip to Woods Bay? Here are 5 things you should do while you are there:
Take a Stroll on the Boardwalk
One you park your car, you’ll see the signs pointing you towards the nature trail and boardwalk just past the picnic shelter. A few hundred yards down the trail, you’ll find the start of an 1,150 foot boardwalk that passes through through a cypress-tupelo black water swamp. It’s equal parts beautiful, and downright eerie. You almost expect the “Creature of the Black Lagoon” to pop his head up from behind a cypress tree. (Better than Ol’ Gregg...)
Walk quietly – there is wildlife to be seen. While my boys were hoping to see an alligator or a bowfin (mudfish) surfacing for air (it’s tactic for survival in extremely low oxygen blackwater), all we ended up seeing was this guy (or gal): a harmless water snake warming itself on the boardwalk.
Unfortunately for us, the boardwalk was taped off a few hundred feet in, likely under construction and repair. Never the less, the bit we did get to enjoy was beautiful.
Hike the Nature Trail
The Mill Pond Nature trail is a 0.9 mile hiking trail at Woods Bay State Park that circles around, you guessed it, Mill Pond. The trail is flat, and easy to navigate, though there are quite a bit of cypress roots to navigate over.
According to the website, this trail is perfect for wildlife viewing. Over 81 species of birds have been viewed at Woods Bay, as well as (but not limited to) raccoons, river otters, alligators, and various snakes.
Unfortunately, there were no wildlife sightings for us. My crew, complete with an 11 year old and 13 year old, would rather swing sticks around like swords and tell fart jokes than quietly tiptoe looking for birds. They humor me MOST of the time, but sometimes I just have to let them be wild boys. Including this full grown one:
On the southeast end of the millpond loop, you can see the remains of historic structures that were present at Woods Bay State Park: two grist mills and a cotton gin. The last mill structure’s brick foundation was present at the purchase of the park in 1973 and can still be seen today.
Paddle the Canoe / Kayak Trail
Apparently, the best way to explore Woods Bay State Park is by boat. A 1.0 mile marked canoe trail is accessible most of the year, and according to the website, will allow patient paddlers a chance to see wildlife such as alligators, herons, egrets, and osprey.
That was not us, because we didn’t bring any boats. But if this is something that interests you, bring your own kayak or canoe.
There is a nature center / visitor center at Woods Bay State Park. Unfortunately, it was closed when we visited. It wasn’t unexpected – this is a small park, and we visited in January.
That said, according to the website, the nature center is home to Tex, Woods Bay’s 14-ft American Alligator exhibit. The Nature Center provides free information about the park, as well as offers an educational area for school programs and lectures.
Food tastes better outdoors. Period. Try to prove me wrong.
The picnic shelter at the park has has one small grill, five picnic tables, and can accommodate up to 50 people. If the shelter is not reserved, guests may use it on a first-come, first-served basis at no charge.
And if it’s raining, you can always seek shelter with a hammock and a good book between the support beams…
Know Before You Go:
- Woods Bay State Park is a “trash free” park. In order to protect wildlife, visitors, and the park, there are no trash cans available. Bring a garbage bag, pack your garbage out.
- Park hours are 9 am to 6 pm.
- There is no admission fee.
- Pets are allowed in most outdoor areas provided they are kept under physical restraint or on a leash not longer than six feet.
Our Review (in a paragraph or less):
Woods Bay State Park was a wonderful, relaxing expedition. It was a bit of a drive for us, about an hour and a half, so it likely isn’t one that we will return to on a regular basis. That said, I’m definitely glad we went, and if we ever go back…I’m bringing a kayak.