Thursday, October 2, 2014

Santee State Park: Limestone Nature Trail (Blog Hike #490)

Trail: Limestone Nature Trail
Hike Location: Santee State Park
Geographic Location: northwest of Santee, SC
Length: 0.8 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: September 2014
Overview: A short lollipop loop along the shore of a pond.

Directions to the trailhead: In central South Carolina, take I-95 to SR 6 (exit 98).  Exit and go west on SR 6.  Drive SR 6 west 1.2 miles to State Park Road and turn right on State Park Rd.  State Park Rd. ends in the park.  After entering the park, drive to the park’s main crossroads, and turn right on Cleveland Street, heading for the picnic shelters.  The signed Limestone Nature Trail trailhead is located on the right side of the road just before you reach the picnic shelters.  There is no designated parking area, but there is plenty of roadside parking.

The hike: Located on the west shore of Lake Marion, South Carolina’s largest freshwater lake, Santee State Park consists of 2500 sandy-soiled lowland acres in the heart of the famous Santee Cooper region.  (For more information on the Santee Cooper region, see the next hike.)  The park features a 158-site campground, 30 cabins overlooking Lake Marion, 2 boat ramps, and 6 picnic shelters.  The park’s location far from major cities makes the park less visited than you might expect given its excellent amenities.
            The park contains several hiking trails, the longest of which is the 7.5 mile Hiking/Biking Trail.  I came here intending to hike the long trail, but other members of my party were not up for such a lengthy endeavor.  Thus, I settled on the short Limestone Nature Trail described here.  I did not get the miles I wanted, but I still had a nice hike.
Trailhead: Limestone Nature Trail
            The signed trailhead for the Limestone Nature Trail is located on the south side of the picnic area entrance road.  A sign warns of alligators, though I did not see any of those intimidating reptiles during my visit.  The sandy dirt trail immediately enters the forest, descending slightly.  Ignore an unmarked trail that exits left for the picnic shelters.  The picnic shelters are another place from which this hike could be started, but the trailhead near the picnic shelters is not marked.  Thus, that trailhead may be difficult to find if you are not familiar with the area.
Bridge over pond

Tree-lined pond
            At 0.1 miles, you reach the bank of a large pond that the trail crosses on a long wooden bridge.  The view left looks out to Lake Marion, while the view right is of a tree-lined pond.  At the far side of the bridge, the trail splits to form its loop.  Expecting a flat low-country hike, I was a little intimidated by the relatively steep trail going straight, so I turned left to hike the loop clockwise.
            The trail stays close to the pond as it curves right to rise slightly.  I saw some common birds and aquatic insects around the pond, and a pileated woodpecker flew just a couple of feet over my head.  Despite the trail’s name, the only exposed limestone I saw on this trail was the sand under my feet.
            0.6 miles into the hike, you come to an unmarked T-intersection with trails going right and left.  You need to turn right here to continue the Limestone Nature Trail.  The trail going left rises slightly to quickly reach the paved Lakeshore Campground and boat ramp road, which in turn could be used to reach the Sinkhole Pond Nature Trail, another of the park’s short trails.
Hiking over the high ground
            The remainder of the Limestone Nature Trail stays on the high ground in the middle of the U-shaped pond.  The final few feet to close the loop may be the steepest trail this side of Columbia.  After closing the loop, a short walk back across the wooden bridge to the park road is all that remains to complete the hike.

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