Myrtle Beach is popular for its many manmade attractions, such as thrill parks, restaurants and shopping centers, but the natural beauty of the Grand Strand is its best kept secret. The South Carolina coastal region, known for its sandy beaches, tidal creeks and salt marshes, is one of the most scenic in the United States, and is perfectly preserved at two local state parks. Myrtle Beach State Park is located on the southernmost end of the Myrtle Beach city limits and offers 312 acres of pristine maritime forest. The land was donated by the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base and continues to serve as an island of conservation amid surrounding major development, such as Market Common and the Myrtle Beach International Airport. For a taste of the scenic South Carolina Lowcountry, venture south to Huntington Beach State Park. Located between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, about a 20-minute drive from Myrtle Beach, this 2,500-acre oceanfront park was once part of a sprawling rice and indigo plantation. It now serves as preserve filled with beautiful beaches, maritime woodlands, coastal wetlands and abundant wildlife. So if you are looking to truly get away from it all during your Myrtle Beach vacation, and give the kids a taste of the world before the invention of the cell phone, here are five fun activities to take part in at our local state parks: Beachcombing: Finding unique shells and sharks’ teeth is a numbers game; less competition means more for you. So sometimes the beaches around larger hotels seem “shelled out” while more secluded stretches, such as the state parks, produce some spectacular specimens for those who prefer to find their own souvenirs. Both parks have nature centers where you can learn about what you unearth. Fishing: Two of the sweetest honey holes on the Grand Strand are located in our two state parks. Huntington Beach border the southern mouth of Murrells Inlet, and a jetty allows anglers to go as close as you can get to the big ones are without a boat. Pack light because it is a bit of a hike down the beach to this hot spot. For a more convenient but equally productive fishing excursion, Myrtle Beach State Park has a pier with a full-service bait and tackle shop that also offers rod rentals and expert tips. Hiking: The coastal woodlands are unlike anywhere else in the world, and both local parks offer trails that give guests an up close and personal brush with native flora and fauna. Both trails take hikers through a myriad of towering pines, twisting live oaks, stately cypress and palmetto trees. Throw on some sneakers instead of flip-flips because the trails can get swampy. Picnicking: There’s nothing like a picnic on the beach, and Myrtle Beach State Park is one of the few places you can do it. Oceanfront picnic shelters provide a break from the wind but allow a cool ocean breeze to flow. Huntington Beach also has shelters near the beach accesses, as well as a country store where you can buy sandwiches and snacks. Sightseeing: Fill your photo album with keepers of the natural beauty of the Carolina coast. In addition to the scenic charm of both parks, Huntington Beach also offers a manmade marvel in Atalaya, a Spanish-style castle that stands guard over the beach. Self-guided tours of the castle and courtyard are available daily and occasional guided tours are offered. The setting sun over the salt marsh offers a memorable photo op. Both state parks charge a small admission fee and have seasonal hours, but sunrise to sunset is a good rule of thumb. For more information, visit www.scstateparks.com. (Posted: 2/3/15)
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