On our third day of vacation at Myrtle Beach we decided to check out the state parks: Myrtle Beach State Park and Huntington Beach State Park. We did both parks in a single day because if you buy a ticket to one park it is good at the other park as well (same day pass). They are also very close to one another so it was very convenient to see both on the same day. To keep this post from getting too long, I will cover Huntington Beach State Park in today's post and Myrtle Beach State Park next week.
If you love nature, especially bird watching or the excitement of seeing an alligator in the wild, you will love Huntington State Park. It's wonderful that it is so close to Myrtle Beach (about a 30 minute drive) because you can escape the hustle and bustle of the tourist town and enjoy the peace and quiet of this pristine, natural beach.
The park is 2500 acres and contains a beach, fresh and saltwater marshes, hiking trails, observation decks, boardwalks, and a castle. Yes, you heard me right, a castle. But more on that later!
If you own a pair of binoculars, be sure to bring them along as you will see a lot of gorgeous waterfowl and alligators! Can you see the bird tucked in the brush in the middle of the photo below?
Here we caught a bird coming in to either catch something out of the water or land.
Some beautiful white birds.
This is the Marsh Boardwalk Trail. It is a one mile boardwalk trail that extends into a saltwater marsh. It's so neat how far out into the water it goes. It's like being on a boat!
In addition to the Marsh Boardwalk Trail, there are two other trails in Huntington Beach State Park: The Kerrigan Nature Trail and the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail. We considered going on the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail but after looking at it on the map and seeing the start of the trail, we decided against it. It is a 2 mile trail that goes through a forest and meanders alongside a saltwater pond. We were concerned about how muddy the trail looked and we weren't sure the forest would be worth fighting through all the mud. We hike all the time in the forests of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado; as pretty as South Carolina is, their scraggly forests do not compare to the state forests were used to. Plus, it looked like we could get to the main features on the trails by car...so we did! We just drove down the road slightly past the beginning of the Sandpiper Pond Trail and there was a parking lot where you can access the observation deck of the pond and also take the boardwalk to the beach. This is me on a boardwalk alongside the pond.
And here is a view of the pond from the observation deck.
After spending some time at the pond, we headed down to the beach. There is a pretty boardwalk that takes you from the parking lot, over the dunes, and onto the beach.
We saw so many dead jellyfish on the sand in Myrtle Beach. We found that so odd, as we had never seen this at any other ocean beach before.
Huntington Beach reminded me very much of Cape Canaveral. It's a natural, untouched beach with far less people around than at the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk!
We really enjoyed the solitude of this beach.
This was my favorite shell that I found on this vacation. My husband got very lucky and found a large one! At his suggestion, I wrote "Myrtle Beach 2017" inside the shell with a marker. It was large enough to do that!
After spending some time on the beach hunting for shells, we then headed for the Kerrigan Nature Trail. This trail is only 0.3 miles and goes through a pretty pine forest ending at an observation deck at a freshwater lagoon.
This trail looked more appealing to us...no mud! So off we went.
There are two observation decks of this lagoon. The first one is very accessible because it's directly in front of a parking lot and the second one is only reachable from the Kerrigan Nature Trail.
We did spot a couple of alligators swimming in the water from the observation deck. Can you spot him in the picture below?
After all the trails and the beach were explored we then headed to Atalaya Castle! The castle is located right inside the park, but it costs an additional $2.00 to see inside.
The castle was the winter home of industrialist and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington and his wife the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. If you plan on visiting Myrtle Beach and going to Brookside Gardens, you really must go to Huntington Beach State Park too (they are right across the street from each other) to understand the history of this area. The Huntington's owned all this land before donating it to the public. The history of the land and their lives are documented in the ruins of this castle and also at Brookside Gardens where Anna's sculptures are displayed.
The castle was built in 1931 as a winter home for Anna who suffered from tuberculosis. It is in ruins now, but when you pay your admission you receive a map that guides you through each room explaining what the room was used for.
This is the entrance to the castle.
The outer walls of the masonry structure form a square, with the east side facing the ocean. Within the walled structure, there are two grassy courtyards with a main entry court (pictured above) on the west side.
The living quarters consist of 30 rooms around three sides of the perimeter. Almost every room in the castle had a fireplace. Each room had a sign like the one displayed above the fireplace, explaining what the room was used for.
I loved this green gate on the property. It opened into the courtyard where the garage, wood/coal storage, generator, incinerator, and oyster shucking room were held.
The other side of the green gate.
I absolutely loved walking around and exploring every nook and cranny of this place!
During WWII the Huntington's vacated the property and let the military occupy it to defend the seashore.
This is the entrance to the castle. After passing through the entrance courtyard, you then walk through a covered hallway of open brickwork lined with archways and planters on both sides.
The view from inside the courtyard looking back at the house.
View of the courtyard.
Anna was a sculptor and she had a studio with a 25 foot skylight which opened onto a small enclosed courtyard where she worked on her sculptures. She kept animals in these courtyards to use as models for these sculptures.
These are bear pens. Yes, Anna kept bears in these pens. It really made me sad to think of the poor bears spending their lives in these pens just so someone could have a live animal to use as a model for their sculptures. She also kept horses and dogs in this area.
"Atalaya"is a Spanish term for "Watchtower". The house was designed after the Moorish architecture of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast. The square tower pictured below is in the center of the courtyard. It is 40 feet tall and once contained a 3000 gallon water tank.
If you have an appreciation of history and love architecture, you will love visiting Atalaya Castle.
The cost to get into the state parks is $5.00 per person, and $3.00 for a youth. I thought that was a little high considering most state or federal parks usually just require a vehicle fee and does not charge per person. But since it was just the two of us, it was only $10.00, plus an additional $4.00 to see the castle. I can see it getting a little unaffordable for a large family. It's too bad they don't have a car load admission option.
Have a Great Day! Amy
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