If you know me, you know I’m always on the look out for interesting, southern destinations to share. So, when I was invited to visit Berkeley County, South Carolina – part of Santee Cooper Country, which includes five other counties in the area – I jumped at the chance to learn more about this part of the south.
I’d traveled to coastal Carolina several times in the past but I had no idea what to expect of Berkeley county. Let’s just say I quickly fell in love with this historic region for so many reasons.
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Why You Should Visit Berkeley County
In the heart of Lowcountry, Berkeley County is home to numerous historical sites and has many Revolutionary War connections and stories to tell. The county alone was the setting for 32 battles in South Carolina during the war.
Also, due to its close proximity to scenic rivers and waterways, the county is full of parks and nature reserves that provide many options for hiking and wildlife viewing and a variety of outdoor experiences.
Next, Berkeley County is a destination that appeals to just about everyone – couples, families and even solo travelers. It’s the perfect mix of history and outdoors. Here’s just a few of the reason to visit Berkeley County.
1. Prime Location
Berkeley County, in the state of South Carolina, is located in the eastern part of the state, not too far from the Atlantic coast. The county has a population of approximately 232,000 people, making it one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. However, it’s still got that small town feel and people are super friendly.
The fact that it’s just across the Cooper River from Charleston only adds to its appeal. Base yourself in Berkeley County and explore the popular sites the county has to offer, South Carolina’s coastal islands and beaches and even Charleston.
Stay on swanky Daniel Island and you can easily access many of Charleston’s popular attractions just by crossing a bridge or two.
From Charleston, Berkeley County is a hop and a skip. If you are driving or road tripping, then the capital of South Carolina, Columbia, is less than two hours away, Savannah is just over a couple of hours drive and Atlanta is four and half hours away. For convenience, I’ve linked to Google Maps here.
2. Fascinating History
This region of South Carolina, and Berkeley County in particular, is steeped in history for various reasons. One of the most significant is that it was home to several important battles during the American Revolution, including the Battle of Monck’s Corner and the Battle of Biggins Bridge.
These battles played a crucial role in the American victory over the British and really helped to shape the future of the country. History buffs can look for historical markers all over the county.
A popular historical stop in Berkeley County is Francis Marion’s Tomb. Most people are familiar with Marion, aka the Swamp Fox, as the main character in the movie The Patriot, on whom the film is loosely based.
Marion was a Revolutionary War hero who led a rogue group of fighters against the British during the American Revolution. He’s pretty much a legend in this part of Berkeley County.
Learning about Francis Marion and visiting his burial site is a way to pay respects to one of South Carolina’s – and America’s – legendary heroes. The grave is located in a peaceful wooded setting in Belle Isle Plantation Cemetery and is an easy stop to include on a Berkeley County road trip.
3. Serene Rivers + Lakes
Home to impressive rivers and lakes, Berkeley County has plenty of chances for adventure with boating, fishing, and other water-based activities. Paddle a kayak on the Berkeley Blueways – a water adventure trail that includes 235 miles of fun with over 25 kayak trails for every skill level and suitable for the entire family. There’s even kayak camp trails for overnight camping.
The Santee-Cooper Lakes are also highly popular with outdoor enthusiasts. The two lakes, Marion and Moultrie, offer some of the best fishing in the state, with species including largemouth bass, catfish, and crappie.
Visitors can enjoy boating, water skiing, and other water sports on the lakes. Many of the lakefront areas have cabins and fish camps for stays right near the water.
The Cooper River is another ideal location for outdoor activities. The river is known for its excellent fishing, particularly for striped bass and catfish. Visitors can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and other water activities on the river.
4. Fun Small Town Vibe
Get to know Moncks Corner. This quaint little town is the county seat and has a big personality. The friendly locals, delicious southern cuisine, and charming historic buildings make it a must-visit destination for anyone looking for a taste of southern hospitality.
Additionally, there are plenty of other welcoming smaller communities in the county. The small town of Cross is a close-knit rural community surrounded by farmland and forests on Lake Moultrie. For outdoor enthusiasts, visiting Cross offers an variety of lakeside dining, camping and fishing fun.
5. Interesting Museums
The Berkeley County Museum and Heritage Center, located in Old Santee Canal Park, is the perfect destination for history lovers. The museum features artifacts and exhibits on the history of Berkeley County, from its Native American inhabitants to its role in the American Revolution. Additionally, there’s a variety of educational programs and events happening at the museum throughout the year.
On Daniel Island, the Keith School Museum, is a reconstruction of the original Keith School, which provided education to children from the local communities for 30 years at the height of Jim Crow segregation. In the past, it was an important space for the development of community culture and identity in the area and continues that legacy even now with tours and events.
6. Unique Places
One of the things that really sets Berkeley County apart are the unique places scattered throughout the county. Take for instance, the opportunity to connect with your spiritual side. One such place to do that is at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery founded by a group of monks in 1949. It has been a spiritual center for the community in Berkeley County ever since.
Once you visit, you’ll see why. The grounds of Mepkin Abbey are beautiful and so peaceful, featuring gardens, huge old trees, walking trails along the river and my favorite thing – a calming labyrinth full of colorful grasses and vibrant flowers ideal for a meditative experience.
When visiting the Abbey, don’t miss the Creations Gift Shop, which features handmade pottery, artwork, and the fresh and dried oyster mushrooms grown onsite by the monks themselves. The gift shop is a great place to find other unique gifts and souvenirs that reflect the spiritual traditions of the monastery.
The monastery is open to visitors for tours and day trips and offers retreats, spiritual direction, and other programs to help people deepen their faith.
Another unique place in Berkeley County is Biggin Church. The church is a colonial-era Anglican church that was built in the 1760s and used until the Revolutionary War. During the war the British troops utilized the church to store their ammunitions. Once defeated, they left the area and sadly, burned the church down.
Today, the haunting ruins are a popular attraction. The site is accessible by a short hike along a nature trail where you can walk around the ruins and learn about the church’s history through interpretive signage and exhibits. The site is also a popular destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts and has an old cemetery onsite as well.
7. Interesting Historic Homes
Berkeley County has a rich agricultural history, particularly in the cultivation of rice. The area’s low-lying swampy land was ideal for rice and as a result, many rice plantations were established in the county during the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the plantations aren’t open to the public but there are a couple of historic homes to visit.
One of the most impressive homes is situated high on a bluff, overlooking the Cooper River. Stony Landing, named for the high grade of lime-rich clay found on the plantation, is a charming colonial-style home built in the late 18th century.
Since the house was located near an important early settler trade route and supplies were brought to the area from the river, the house has gone through many uses during its history. It first served as as a private residence and rice plantation. Later it was a Confederate Army headquarters during the Civil War.
Inside, the home features spacious rooms with high ceilings, intricate woodwork, and elegant furnishings that transport visitors back in time. Outside, the well-manicured grounds are dotted with flowering bushes and towering oak trees, full of that dreamy Spanish moss we all love.
8. Public Lands
With no shortage of public lands and parks, Berkeley County is a outdoor enthusiasts dream. Old Santee Canal Park gives visitors a chance to learn more about the history of the lakes and the canal that connects the Santee and Cooper Rivers.
The park offers an Interpretive Center, chronicling the area’s history through film and educational displays. Learn about the local flora and native fish and wildlife found in a cypress swamp. Visitors can also explore the park’s many trails and gardens.
Additionally, the nearby Francis Marion National Forest is a popular destination for hiking, camping, and fishing. With over 250,000 acres of forest to explore, there’s an abundance of trails and opportunities for outdoor adventure. The forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and black bears.
9. Mouthwatering Food
Like so many other places in the south, Berkeley County prides itself on its delicious Southern cuisine, with more than a handful of great restaurants to choose from. Whether you’re craving fresh seafood, a country-style meat and three or Carolina BBQ, you’re sure to find it in Berkeley County.
In Moncks Corner, I was introduced to the beauty of a BBQ buffet at Music Man BBQ with what looked like half the town also enjoying lunch. This was the first BBQ buffet I’ve run across in all my southern travels and I can’t say I’m upset about it.
Name your favorite BBQ choice and I’m sure they have it and all the homemade sauces to top it off. Bonus points for their mac-n-cheese – the tastiest, most creamy mac-n-cheese I’ve had in awhile.
Then on Daniel Island, I had the most fresh catch of the day and a carrot cake so good, I could have just eaten that for dinner. The Kingstide is a upscale eatery with awesome river views and a huge rooftop deck for enjoying the coastal views. Their menu is simple and has plenty of raw dishes – that means oysters – and and other tasty delights prepared over a wood-fire.
And in Cross, my lunch of fried fish was as delicious as the location. Mac Daddy’s, part of the Canal Lakes Fish Camp, sits directly on the Santee Canal where you’ll have the best views of the water and boat passing by while you dine. You might even spot some wildlife. We were lucky enough to see two eagles during our meal.
10. Cypress Gardens
If you only have time for one thing to do in Berkeley County, then Cypress Gardens is a must-visit destination. This stunning 170-acre oasis features a swamp and botanical gardens with a beautiful collection of plants, flowers, and trees. Visitors can explore the park via a boardwalk and paths that winds through the cypress trees or by boat – either on a guided tour or in your own canoe.
If the gardens look somewhat familiar, it’s because they are. Many Hollywood movies have used the tranquil setting as a filming location. The two most famous include the Patriot, that I mentioned above, and the Nicholas Sparks’ movie The Notebook.
The gardens are also home to an impressive variety of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, and egrets. In fact, the biggest alligator in captivity in South Carolina – all 14ft of him – lives in the park.
Quick Guide to Berkeley County
Berkeley County is easy to get to from Charleston. The closest airport (CHS) is located is just 30 miles from Monck’s Corner and just a bit further from downtown. Driving is super easy on well maintained roads throughout the county.
For convenience, I recommend staying at the Home2 Suites on Daniel Island in southern Berkeley County. That way you can day trip around the county to the popular spots and also have the option to visit Charleston, North Charleston and even the beaches.
The Best time to Visit
There’s no bad time to visit South Carolina since winters are generally mild. However, spring brings thunderstorms and summers are much more humid. Pack a rain jacket or umbrella. Also just keep in mind that hurricane season is June through November.
How Much time do i need
Plan on a day for Cypress Gardens and at least two to three days for everything mentioned here. A week on Daniel Island would give you plenty of time to explore Berkeley County and the surrounding area.
Is it safe?
Yes, very safe. Exercise normal travel precautions. Lock your car and never leave bags or luggage in plain site. Daniel Island is very safe as well. I drove around and walked around at night by myself.
Berkeley County Final Thoughts
Thank you to Berkeley County Tourism and Santee Cooper Country Tourism for inviting me for a visit to learn a little about this remarkable area of South Carolina. As always, even though I was hosted, all the experiences and opinions are my own.
Berkeley County is a lovely and diverse area with friendly people and plenty of fun, different things to do. I hope you’ll add it to your wish list of southern destinations.
See you on the road!