Woods Bay State Natural Area
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The best site associated with Florence is actually south of town in the country, near tiny Olanta (but still conveniently close to I-95). Woods Bay State Natural Area (11020 Woods Bay Rd., 843/659-4445, www.southcarolinaparks.com, daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m., free) is one of the largest remaining Carolina Bays, a unique and somewhat mysterious geological phenomenon. These elliptical depressions, scattered throughout the Carolinas and all oriented in a northwest-southeast direction, are typified by a cypress/tupelo bog environment. There’s also a rich variety of flora and fauna, including the rare Cooper’s hawk and southern twayblade orchid.
Sixteen hundred-acre Woods Bay is a particularly nice example, with a meandering 500-foot boardwalk that takes you right out into the middle of the swamp, which usually has at least three feet of water. A nature trail goes around the circumference of the Bay.
Fishing is permitted in its waters with a valid state fishing license (www.dnr.sc.gov). An adjacent heritage preserve protects the bay’s sand rim, a distinctive feature of Carolina Bays. No bicycles anywhere on the site, please.
Getting to Woods Bay State Natural Area
Though the signage is good, it can still be a little tricky getting here. The quickest route is exit 146 off I-95, but if you’re coming in from Florence, take Highway 52 (Irby St.) through the city and take a right on Highway 301 south of town.
When you get to Olanta, start looking for the brown signs for Woods Bay. To get back on I-95, take a left onto Woods Bay Road and continue on to little Shiloh. I-95 is a short distance away.
© Jim Morekis from Moon South Carolina, 4th Edition