For 22 miles, the Cape Romain Wilderness stretches wild and free along the coastline of South Carolina, protecting sanctuaries of open water, sandy beaches, saltwater marshes, and tens of thousands of water-loving birds. No other place on the Atlantic coast attracts as many oystercatchers during winter. Waiting patiently until an oyster opens up, these splendid black and white birds strike suddenly, using their long red beaks to rip at the oyster's muscle. Here in summer you'll find thousands of terns and brown pelicans, and black skimmers flying with their black and red bills gaping to skim food from the surface of the ocean and estuaries. Hundreds of herons and egrets pace on long legs looking for food, and the beaches stir under the feet of godwits, whimbrels, and dowitchers. In the marshes, the clapper rails, sometimes more than 25,000 of them, fill the air with their strange clattering. Colorful songbirds migrate through in spring, joining year-round residents such as flickers and yellow-throated warblers.
Loggerhead sea turtles lay more eggs in these beaches than anywhere else along South Carolina's coast. Don't be surprised if you miss them, since they most often choose the night, when Cape Romain NWR and therefore Wilderness are closed, to drag their great broad backs from the ocean.
Two historic lighthouses, built in 1827 and 1857, stand as sentinels on Lighthouse Island. Within stands of maritime forests, vegetation in the area includes oaks and shrubs as well as palmettos. Beaches and dunes are often carpeted in a layer of sea oats and colorful verbenas. The best way to see Cape Romain is by sea kayaking.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Cape Romain Wilderness.
The south boundary is located 14 miles northeast of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The north boundary is 5 miles east of McClellanville, South Carolina. The wilderness lies east of the Intracoastal Waterway. The Refuge is bordered by Capers Island to the south and Murphy Island to the north, both S.C. Department of Natural Resources protected lands. To the west of the Intracoastal Waterway lies the Francis Marion National Forest.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Knowledge of current weather conditions in the area will make the trip to Cape Romain more pleasurable. Calling the Refuge Headquarters prior to your trip is recommended to be adequately prepared for the environmental conditions during your expected visit.
The wilderness is accessable only by boat and consists of marshes, beaches and islands. Recreational activities include walking along the beaches, birding, fishing and boating on the numerous waterways throughout the area.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Weather is hot and humid from mid-spring through early fall. Insect numbers are high at times through the summer. Bring plenty of insect repellent and water. Sandspurs and prickly pear cactus are numerous on the interior of the islands so bring appropriate footwear. Poison ivy and venemous snakes inhabit the islands.
Safety and Current Conditions
Islands are only accessible by boat and are located miles off the mainland. Thunderstorms are common daily occurances during the warm months and can form quickly. High winds and waves can make landing and anchoring boats difficult and dangerous. Always check weather conditions before going out. The tidal amplitude averages 5.5 feet. A nautical chart of the creeks is recommended as getting stuck in shallow areas is possible without proper knowledge of the waters.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.