In retrospect, my introduction to Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve was a hilarious one. I was a brand new mountain biker who was still a nervous wreck on my bicycle. My bike seat didn’t fit correctly, my handlebars were too wide, and I was fearful that every wrong move was going to send me over the top of my handlebars.
(Note: Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve offers far more than mountain biking, but bear with me while I tell the story.)
So my husband and I decided it would be a good idea for us to tag along with a group of friends on an evening bike ride through a local wildlife preserve. Long story short, I white knuckled my way through dirt roads full of slippery sugar sand, crying on the inside out of a combination of fear and a sore saddle.
I was so happy when the ride was over.
But after mulling over the adventure, I eventually vowed to continue to go back to Lewis Ocean Bay. Partially to conquer my fears/work on my bike handling skills, but more so, to further explore this incredible piece of land. As a life long New Englander, this area was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Over the last few years, we’ve spent countless hours and hundreds of miles running, riding, and exploring this preserve. It’s become one of my favorite places in Myrtle Beach, and I’m happy to share it with you too.
Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve
Located in the Carolina Forest area, on the border of Conway and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve is a 10,427-acre wildlife management area. Maintained by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the land is open to the public year round for limited use. The Preserve is a stark contrast to the crowded, busy beach front Myrtle Beach is known for. Once you find yourself among the massive pine trees, you’ll likely forget you’re in Myrtle Beach at all.
Lewis Ocean Bay features 23 Carolina Bays – the largest number of undisturbed Carolina Bays in one place in South Carolina. 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, elliptical or oval shaped shallow wetland depressions that are fed by rain or groundwater. They can range in size from less than an acre to thousands of acres. Typically when you are in one: you don’t even know it. The origin of these bays is unknown, but some popular theories include underground springs, meteorites or tidal eddies.
The result is an ecosystem full of surprises – like bleached white sugar sand (the kind that your bike tires will slide around in), carnivorous plants, beautiful wildflowers, deer, turkeys, bears, and endless wildlife.
How to Get There
While the land has been a preserve since 1988, a more prominent entrance and parking area was not easily accessible until the opening of International Drive in July of 2018. Now, outdoor enthusiasts can easily enter Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve at the intersection of Old Kingston Road and International Drive.
You can either choose to park here and begin your exploring, or continue driving down the roads (assuming they are open – there are gates that are maintained by DNR) to park .
If you park, head to the information kiosk for a view of the map, and any current, important information.
It should be noted that Lewis Ocean Bays Heritage Preserve is NOT set up like a typical educational park – there are very few signs and no specific “nature paths” to follow. You’ve got to “create your own adventure” , and there is no shortage of land to explore out there. That said, please keep in mind that wildlife biologists recommend you stay on either the roads or the firebreaks (more on that below), in order to help preserve the natural environment.
Hiking / Biking / Off- Road Running
If you’re looking to cover some off road mileage, without hitting any overly technical (or single track) trail, Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve is for you. The majority of the traversable terrain includes well maintained dirt roads. While these roads are occasionally traveled by motor vehicle, they are typically pretty quiet.
During the heat of the summer, the roads tend to be really dry and sandy. During a wet spell? Well get ready for some squishy mud, if not deep puddles. While flat out there, it’s not necessarily always an “easy” ride. I’d definitely recommend some sort of off-road tires.
There are also firebreaks scattered throughout the preserve. The purpose of these firebreaks are to reduce the spread of wildfire and to contain prescribed burns (which happen on a regular basis here). The firebreaks are open to foot traffic only. That said, they are typically very sandy, so definitely run/hike with caution.
Depending on the time of day (and time of year), the main roads provide very little shade. It gets really HOT out there, so plan accordingly.
Flora & Fauna
As mentioned already, Lewis Ocean Bays Heritage Preserve is a DNR Wildlife Management Area. And as you can imagine, there’s a lot of wildlife out there. Out here you may run into:
- Red- cockaded woodpecker – a federally threatened species
- Bald eagles (also protected)
- Black Bears
- native orchids, azaleas and other wildflowers
- insectivorous Venus flytraps or pitcher-plants
If you’re a bird-nerd (like me), you’ll be happy to know that the National Audubon Society considers Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve “a place of birding significance.” It’s where I saw my very first Red Headed Woodpecker (rather than the red bellied we see at our backyard birdfeeder). And of course, there is no shortage of song birds flitting among the trees.
The carnivorous plants are one of the highlights of the preserve, in my opinion. Lewis Ocean Bay is one of the few places where you can find Venus flytraps growing naturally in the wild.
Hunting & Horseback Riding
I know what you’re thinking: what the heck do hunting and horseback riding have to do with each other? Answer: I don’t participate in either, so I can’t really give you specifics.
I can, however, tell you that both are allowed at Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, to some extent. Contact SCDNR for more information on both.
Non hunters, I can tell you this: during various times of the year, you MUST wear blaze orange if you are on the LOBHP property. You can – and I know people who have – get stopped by a DNR ranger and issued a ticket for not complying.
Further, as of the date this post was published, Sundays are the only day of the week when hunting is not allowed on the property. Making it one of the more popular days among hikers and cyclists.
Know Before You Go: Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve Insider Tips
Some more Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve fun facts:
Throughout the year, there are schedule/prescribed burns in the preserve. Prescribed burning play a major role in shaping the bay habitat and pine flatwoods and preserving natural habitats. Fire spares fire-tolerant trees, such as the longleaf and pond pine. The fly traps, pitcher-pants and native orchids also thrive with prescribed burns. So, while it may look alarming…it’s actually a good thing. Stay up to date with scheduled burn plans at the SCDNR website.
There are ZERO facilities available at Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve. No bathrooms, no water fountains, no garbage cans, nothing. Plan accordingly: bring plenty of water, and pack out what you pack in.
The coordinates to the preserve main entrance are: 33.805770, -78.890813
Coming from Myrtle Beach, drive approximately 3.75 miles West from the intersection of River Oaks Drive and International Drive.