Buck Hall Recreation Area and campground is a beautiful, yet not so obvious, Lowcountry escape. Hidden behind the coastal pine forest off the side of highway 17 in McClellanville, South Carolina, as the saying goes “if you blink, you’ll miss it”. Located on the Intracoastal Waterway, the recreation area, managed by the National Forest Service, is a gateway to both the 258,864 acre Francis Marion National Forest, and the 65,000 acre Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.
Buck Hall Recreation Area and I go way back. In fact, I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this post that it was at Buck Hall where I essentially began my journey into trail running. And as many of you know, trail running is a fundamental part of my very being.
Back in 2010, a local running friend and I signed up for our first trail marathon. We figured it might be a good idea to practice running on trail at least once before race day. Back then, the Swamp Fox passage of the Palmetto Trail, which begins at Buck Hall, was the only local(ish) trail we could find. (The “Hulk” hadn’t been built yet). So we made the hour drive from Myrtle Beach McClellanville, SC. And put in nearly a dozen trail miles on our legs.
It was the start of a beautiful relationship.
Fast forward to today: a number of the ultra running events I’ve participated in have started and finished at Buck Hall Recreation Area. And so I’ve spent plenty of time on the trails and in the back corner of the overflow camping field. But, this past spring was the first time, in all of these years, that we’ve stayed in the actual campground portion site of Buck Hall.
I’ll be honest, it’s hard to complain about this view.
Camping at Buck Hall Recreation Area
The main campground as a whole is very basic: it’s essentially a giant field with a few trees scattered about. There are 14 RV sites with standard electric hookups, and 5 tent-only sites. All of the sites can be booked through the recreation.gov website.
If you are the type of camper who loves a secluded campsite, with a heavy dose of trees or foliage separating you from your neighbors…this might not be the place for you. But, if you are looking for a unique campground right on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway near the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Buck Hall Recreation Area has you covered.
Further, the open setting of Buck Hall Recreation Campground is perfect for families. The open areas are perfect for little ones to run around. Little kids learning to ride bikes will loved the paved loop. And parents will too: the entirety paved loop can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the campground.
The negative, of course, is that the open layout can leave the campground feeling noisy. I woke up one night to a multi site group party singing their rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”…but you can’t win them all. (They did quiet down not long after standard quiet hours…I just go to bed early.)
Now, we are currently tent campers, so I can’t speak to the exact details of the RV sites. I did watch a number of people arrive and park their RV’s with no issues, however. As mentioned: it’s a big open field.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about Tent site #2, where we spent two lovely nights in our beast of a Kodiak tent mid-March.
The campsites all feature the standard picnic table, lantern pole, and campfire ring with a grill top. Tent sites are slightly raised on platforms, though over the years the ground has definitely begun to absorb the platforms. Still, there is enough elevation that if it rains, your tent will not end up in a puddle. The tent platform substrate was easy enough to put the Kodiak’s massive tent stakes into, without any issues.
There is one bathhouse in the campground portion of Buck Hall. (There is another over near the boat ramp / picnic area). The bathhouse included three toilets and one shower, which had moderately warm water. It was that “this isn’t really uncomfortable, but it’s also not really enjoyable, so let’s get this over with quickly” temperature.
Palmetto Trail at Buck Hall
The Palmetto Trail is a future 500 mile trail that, when complete, will span from the Eastern coast of South Carolina to the North West Upstate corner of the state. Currently 350 miles of the Palmetto trail are completed. Personally, I’ve covered at least 53 miles of that trail (more than once). And so I can attest that it’s absolutely worth the trek (even for just a few miles)
Buck Hall Recreation Area is the eastern most terminus of the trail. It contains the 7.1 mile Awendaw Passage section of the trail. From Buck Hall, you can easily access the 47.2 mile Swamp Fox passage section of the Palmetto Trail. On this section of trail you can:
- Trail Run
- Horseback Ride
- Mountain Bike
The Buck Hall section of the Palmetto trail winds in and out of the forest and along the waterway, and over bridges spanning across swamps, creeks, and marshes. The difficulty level of the trail is easy (or, 1 out of 6, according to the Palmetto Conservation), making it ideal for all ages and abilities.
Boat Ramp / Water Access
Buck Hall Recreation Area features a boat ramp, as well as a floating dock , giving access to the Intracoastal Waterway for all types of boats. Personally, we’ve only kayaked here (during the 2020 Palmetto Swamp Fox Adventure Race), but have seen a number of larger fishing and leisure boats with motors.
There’s also a small fishing pier, perfect for bird watching or simply enjoying the sunshine.
And of course, if you have one of the waterfront tent sites, there are a handful of benches and trees perfect for hanging a hammock.
If you’re stopping by Buck Hall Recreation Area for a day visit, there’s plenty of parking as well as a decent sized picnic area to enjoy a meal outdoors. Food always tastes better outside, am I right?
Other Important Buck Hall Recreation Area Info:
- Physical address: 999 Buckhall Landing Rd, McClellanville, SC 29458
- There isn’t a park ranger on site 24/7
- However, there is a campground host on site that can assist you with any campground issues
- There is no campground office
- While there is a gate on premises, it isn’t typically locked, so arriving before / after hours isn’t a concern
- The quaint town of McClelanville is just 6.5 miles North on Highway 17. There you can find restaurants, gas stations, and a Dollar General
- The closest full grocery stores are located about 32 miles North in Georgetown or 23 miles South in Mt. Pleasant
If you are looking for a place to rest your head at night in your RV or tent, while you explore the Francis Marion National Forest or Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge by day, Buck Hall Recreation Area is it.