I’ve always been the type of person who loves to make unplanned stops on road trips. Perhaps it was because I grew up with parents who would often load my sister and I up in the car, and head out for a day that can only be described as “we’re not exactly sure where we are going, but we’ll know when we get there” sort of adventure. We’d stop at countless antique shops, country stores, and tourist attractions along the way. Living in New England, there was never a shortage of these things on the endless back roads. And that “oooh I wonder what this place is?” tendency is what (sort of) led us to Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center the first time.
Highway 17, between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, tends to be a little monotonous, from a driving standpoint. Once you leave the confines of Georgetown, you find yourself on the semi desolate outskirts of the Francis Marion National Forest. The road is flat and straight, and you’ve got nothing but pine trees to look at for miles upon miles.
OK I’ll be honest, the reason we first stumbled upon the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center…was to use the restrooms. Again, there are not a lot of places to stop on this stretch, and when you’ve got to go, well…you stop at any public looking place, and hope for the best.
I’m really glad we stopped here.
Because what we actually found was so much more than just a clean bathroom- and the “I love road trip adventures!” side of me was thrilled with this discovery.
Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center
The Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education center is located on highway 17, sandwiched between the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and the Francis Marion National Forest. Jointly operated by the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, this 9,000 square foot facility features hands-on interpretive displays, trails, and other activities exploring the unique and valuable ecosystems of the forest and refuge.
(And, it has super clean bathrooms. But you already knew that.)
Our most recent visit was on a dreary, gloomy January day, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying all that the Center had to offer. Here are 7 things to do when visiting the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center.
My Dad used to always tell me that it was important to learn one new thing every day – more if you could. And I take that life advice to heart. If you are somewhere you’ve never been before…the possibilities for gaining new knowledge are endless.
Upon walking into the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center you are greeted by a very friendly, and very knowledgeable volunteer. In all of the times I’ve stopped here, I’ve always been met with a smile. Southern hospitality at it’s finest! If you have any questions about the refuge, all you need to do is ask. For example, as avid athletes, we recently had a long conversation with a volunteer about areas where kayaking is allowed, and where it is frowned upon, on the perimeter of the refuge. Trying to get an edge on an upcoming adventure race (research is not cheating, I don’t think…).
But if you’re more of the self-guided type, you’re in luck. The visitors center has multiple interactive exhibits on the refuge and forest ecosystem. There’s also an 82 seat auditorium with an orientation film that teaches you more about the refuge and forest. But being the type that doesn’t sit still for long…I’ve yet to opt for the film. I’m sure it’s great though.
Stretch Your Legs
Trails! My heart is happiest on the trails, so if the place I’m visiting has one, you know I’m going to check it out. The Sewee Visitor Center features a gorgeous, easily accessible, and beginner friendly hiking trail. Start your hike on the patio behind the visitors center, and look for the trail head. Then, you can follow a boardwalk that passes through the forest, past a large pond, and brings you to the Red Wolf enclosures (more on that soon).
The boardwalk is very well maintained, and wide enough for two way traffic, strollers, and wheel chairs. Keep your head up along the way: there are interpretive and educational signs explaining the flora and fauna of the area, and describing why they are integral to the local environment.
About halfway down the mile long loop, the boardwalk ends and gives way to a pine needle covered trail. Continue to follow the loop back to the visitors center, or head left (at the sign) to visit Nebo Ponds. The trail is CLEARLY marked, and wide enough that it’s virtually impossible to get lost.
If you’re on a car trip, this one mile trail is just the perfect distance to stretch your legs out and get a healthy dose of fresh air. Running pals: it’s absolutely, 100% runnable.
*NOTE – no dogs are allowed on the boardwalk section of the trail. Likely, because of the wolves…
See the Red Wolves
The Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center is home to four endangered red wolves. With a population of approximately 200 in captivity, the red wolf is one of the most endangered animals in the world today. Red wolves are housed at the Center for observation, education, and breeding. These captive wolves help to ensure the genetic diversity of the species. Normally I’m not a fan of captive animals – unless it’s for rehabilitation purpose or the greater good of the population, which this situation seems to be.
The wolf viewing area is located just a few minutes walk from the main center, on the boardwalk. The area has a number of signs explaining the story of the red wolf as well as conservation concerns. But if you want to learn more, the wolves caretaker, otherwise known as “Wolfman Rob” conducts red wolf feedings and interpretive talks open to the public on Saturday mornings at 11:30 AM, and Thursday afternoons at 3:00 PM.
As mentioned earlier, it was a gloomy, impending storms type of day when we visited the Sewee Center on our way to a race this past weekend. Therefore, the forest and the ponds were silent.
That said, the Sewee Visitors Center and Nebo trail pass through freshwater ponds, swamp bottomland, and pine uplands. All of these habitats offer a chance to spot local wildlife such as birds and reptiles.
Further, if you’d like to see some animals UP CLOSE, the Center has a handful of reptiles in their laboratory on display.
Attempt the Animal Olympics
Instead of a traditional playground, the Sewee Visitor & Enviornmental Education Center has an “Animal Olympics” obstacle course for kids. Do pushups like an Anole, or balance on a beam like a bluebird.
Or do some woodpecker pull ups. Start with ten…haha. Oh National Parks Service, you’ve wildly overestimated my pull up skills…
Attend a Workshop or Event
The Sewee Visitors Center has a classroom and laboratory onsite, designed for lectures and hands-on activities. But there are also a number of activities and events, for kids and adults, offered monthly. Scroll to the bottom of the “about” page on the official Sewee Visitor Center website to find a link to the current events being held that month. Or, check out the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page for a list of events. You’ll find everything from pictures with Smokey Bear (seriously bummed I missed that one, I’m kind of a fan girl) to “Turtle talks” outlining
It’s no secret, I have a sudden obsession with watching birds. I’m pretty sure this is simply an onset of middle age, but whatever, I’m loving it. On our hike towards Nebo Ponds, we discovered a pretty cool bird blind looking out over one of the ponds. That pond was full of bird houses, and while we didn’t see anything (again, impending storms kept everyone in hiding) I can only imagine this is the perfect spot for birding and photography.
What to Know Before You Go:
Thinking of heading to the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center? Here’s what you need to know:
- Entry fee: nothing. It’s free to visit the Center. Thank you, tax payer dollars!
- Hours: Wed – Sat, 9:00am – 5:00pm (the center is closed Sunday through Tuesday, and on major holidays.)
- Address: 5801 Highway 17 North, Awendaw, SC 29429
- Contact info:
Phone: (843) 928-3264
Fax: (843) 928-3803
Email: [email protected]
- Parking: plenty. Including room for buses and RV’s.
So there you have it! Whether you are looking for a quick stop to stretch your legs, or a day full of outdoor education, you won’t regret taking the time to visit the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center.