Exploring the Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area Trails at the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge

I’m ashamed to admit that I spent far too many years as a resident in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, before discovering the Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area trails. As an avid trail runner and general seeker of off-road-adventures, I thought I knew of every trail the Grand Strand had to offer. As such, I spent thousands of miles running in circles on the same trail system, because I thought that was my best option.

It was a na├»ve assumption, of course. Because to this day, over five years after moving here, I’m still discovering new trails and hidden outdoor gems all over Myrtle Beach and the surrounding area.

Better late than never, right?

Exploring the Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area Trails at the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge

Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area

Just across the Myrtle Beach / Conway border, you’ll find the Cox Ferry Recreational Area. Though by no means “new”, this area is “new to me”, and I’m kicking myself that it took me this long to discover it. It’s the perfect place to easily escape into nature for a few minutes, or a few hours and get my daily dose “forest bathing”.

(It’s a real thing.)

Minutes from Coastal Carolina University, this 355 acre area, open to the public year round, is a gateway to the 55,000 acre Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. This incredibly well maintained park includes six trails, two separate picnic areas, and a handful of water access points for boating and fishing.

Information Kiosk at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area , Conway, SC

You’ll find multiple ecosystems at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area, from coastal wetlands, to pine forest, and of course, the Waccamaw River. It’s a gorgeous, family friendly place to explore the outdoors, with an incredibly easy to access trail system for hiking, trail running, and mountain biking.

Best of all: it’s rarely crowded, unlike the Horry County Bike & Run Park in Myrtle Beach. (Sorry Hulk, I love you…but you are so damn crowded).

Getting There/Parking:

There are two major access points and three parking lots available at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area. The first two are located off of Gray Lake Boulevard, by way of Jackson Bluff Road, via 544. At the intersection of Jackson Bluff and Gray Lake, continue to go straight down Gray Lake. You might think you’re lost, but I promise you aren’t…keep going.

Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge sign

Shortly after the main Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge sign, you’ll see a parking lot on your left. It’s easy to miss (I’ve seen friends who were meeting me there blow right past it in their car), but this one will bring you to the trailhead of the blue trail.

Parking lot signs for the Cox Ferry lake Recreation Area

If you DO miss this first entrance, you’re in luck: there’s another. Continuing down Gray Lake Boulevard until the very end, you’ll find another parking lot by a pond, with access to the red, orange, and yellow trails.

The second major entrance to the recreation area is located off of Cox Ferry Circle (a few miles further down 544), and will bring you to a trailhead near Cox Ferry Lake Landing.

Cox Ferry lake Recreation Area Trailhead sign

Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area Trails:

There are currently 6 trails at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area, totaling just over 5 miles. When you add in the road distance required to access the white trail, you easily log a 10K total. They are all well marked, and maintained, making these trails perfect for users of all abilities. Here’s what you need to know about each trail:

trail signs at an intersection at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation area

Blue Trail

When starting at either the recreation area parking lot off of Gray Lake Boulevard, or the parking lot at Cox Ferry Lake Landing, you’ll first come across the Blue Trail. The blue trail connects these two parking areas, and gives access to the orange and yellow trails along the way.

The highlight of the blue trail is the wooden boardwalk that raises the trail above the bottomland hardwood swamp. The combination of bright green foliage over the black water and cypress trees is stunning. Along the boardwalk you’ll find two observational decks where you can pull over and really take in the scenery.

Runner on boardwalk at Cox Ferry lake Recreation area

Heads up: after heavy rainstorms, the blue trail tends to flood, blocking access to the boardwalk.

Orange & Yellow Trails

I’m putting these two trails together, as they are essentially very similar. Both trails are wide – at times wide enough to drive a car through (though, the trails are closed to motor vehicles). I’d call these more “cart paths” than trails specifically. If you are:

  • learning to off road run, and still timid with trails
  • a little kid learning to ride a bike
  • pushing a stroller
  • unsteady on your feet
  • simply want an easy hike
Mountain biker on the yellow trail at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area

These are the trails for you (in addition to the blue trail). Keep in mind, they are still trails, with dirt, rocks, and occasional roots. But they are relatively smooth, and pretty flat, with only the occasional small hill. Along these trails, you’ll find a number of interpretive trail signs, teaching you about the history of the land, as well as flora and fauna in the area.

Both trails are “out and back” trails, you will eventually run into the blue trail once you complete either the yellow or orange trail.

Green Trail

Love single track, technical trail? The green trail is for you! The green track is specifically marked as a “bike trail”, but is open to foot traffic as well. This trail is by far my favorite at Cox Ferry Lake.

Mountain bike perched against a bike trail sign

The green trail winds through the recreation area, crossing both the yellow and orange trail in multiple places. You will find twists, turns, roots, rocks, and even a few ridgelines overlooking small ponds. It’s quiet, peaceful…and often full of face level spiderwebs. Apparently, this trail is not as frequently traveled. So, consider that your warning.

Woman trail running through green trail at Cox Ferry Lake Recreational Area

Red Trail

The red trail can be accessed from the parking lot on the far end of Gray Lake Boulevard. This section of the recreation area, referred to as the Long Tract, was obtained in 2018. The red trail circles around a small pond, and past an old sand mine that is now flooded, resembling more of a pond.

Flooded former salt mine at Cox Ferry Lake Recreational Area

The red trail terrain varies, from gravel path, to pine needle covered trail, to single track that winds through tall grass in a field. It’s an easy, beginner friendly half mile loop for all abilities.

White Trail

The white trail is the most “primative” trail of all. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until my 4th or 5th visit to Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area. To access the white trail, you must head down a dirt road that is approximately halfway between both parking lots on Gray Lake Boulevard (don’t worry, it’s marked). Follow the signs for the “Canoe Launch”.

Once you reach the parking area near the canoe launch, look to your right for the trailhead.

Bicycle riding down the white trail at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area

The white trail winds through the pine forest, past the old sand mine, and through a big open field. This trail floods easily, so prepare to potentially get a little wet. It’s not my favorite of the 6 trails, but if you’re looking to add more mileage without repeating trails, then definitely hit this one up.

Wildlife Viewing

While you’re on the trails, keep your eyes open for the incredible plethora of wildlife that calls Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area home. Red-cockaded woodpeckers, swallow-tailed kites, and bald eagles – all threatened species – nest and thrive in this area.

You’ll also find all sorts of woodland creatures, from snakes to squirrels, salamanders to snails, and so much more.

Bright orange newt in a hand

Paddling / Water Access

If you’re looking to take your adventure out onto the water, Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area has you covered.

Cox Ferry Lake

Cox Ferry Lake is essentially a tributary of the Waccamaw River. You can stay within the confines of the small lake area, or you can head out onto the Waccamaw itself. And if you get a chance to paddle the Waccamaw – do it. The portion of the Waccamaw River that runs throughout the Refuge has been designated as a National Water Trail by the National Park Service. Rightfully so, it’s gorgeous and full of wildlife.

Tandem kayak launching at canoe launch at Cox Ferry Lake Landing

Cox Ferry Lake has a canoe launch, fishing pier, and boat dock available to the public.

Fishing pier and boat dock at Cox Ferry Lake Landing

Fishing Pier on the Pond

At the parking lot at the end of Gray Lake Boulevard, you’ll immediately see a fishing pier. I’m not certain that you can launch a canoe or kayak into this pond, but I’ve also never seen signs telling you not to.

Fishing Pier at pond at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area

Canoe Launch at Sand Mine

Lastly, there is a canoe launch near the White Trail, that will allow you to paddle around the old sand mine. Again, follow the signs while traveling down Gray Lake Boulevard

Canoe launch near white trail at Cox Ferry Lake recreation area

Picnics, Facilities, & More:

Bring a lunch, and make a full day out of your adventures at Cox Ferry Lake! There are two places at the recreation area to sit down and enjoy lunch. The first is at the Cox Ferry Lake launch end of the blue trail.

Picnic shelter at Cox Ferry Lake Landing

The second is at the end of Gray Lake Boulevard, near the small pond and red trail.

Picnic area at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area

An important thing to note is that there are NO bathroom facilities at Cox Ferry Lake Recreation area. Not even port-a-potties. So keep that in mind when heading there, and have a backup plan. (An environmentally friendly one, at that. Please practice leave no trace methods!)

Know Before You Go:

  • Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area is open from sunrise to sunset
  • The area is maintained by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • More information can be found at their website, or at the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and Administration Office
    • 21424 N Fraser Street (Hwy 701), Georgetown, SC 29440

In short, if you’re in the Myrtle Beach / Conway area, and looking for trails that feel more secluded and less crowded than what the immediate confines of Myrtle Beach have to offer, definitely consider making the drive to Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area. It is absolutely worth the trip!!

About Heather

Hi. I'm Heather. Exercise physiologist by day, adventure seeker...also by day, and sometimes night. I like: mountains, running long distances, rabbits, sleeping in tents, poking at campfires with a stick, and Gordon Lightfoot. I dislike: peanut butter, bent tent poles, sitting still for too long, and writing "about me" sections.