Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series highlighting southern coastal trail running gem, Charleston, South Carolina. Contributions and photos by Victoria Nagel, Fitness and Wellness Coordinator at the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.
Charleston is situated in the southern United States famous “Lowcountry,”a geographic and cultural region along South Carolina’s coast known for its unique history, food, agriculture, architecture, and overall “Southern Charm.” The city itself is defined by its cobblestone streets, pastel antebellum houses, palmetto trees, and shrimp boats, while the surrounding countryside conjures up images of antique homes with large front porches, rocking chairs and pitchers of sweet tea. Charleston has been on the rise for the past ten years as one of the best places to live south of Pennsylvania and Delaware.
It is also the largest city in the state with a population of over 150,000 and an estimated surrounding metropolitan area of almost 800,000. In addition to the historic city atmosphere and visually stunning areas such as the “French Quarter” and “Battery District,” there exists endless forests, marshland, and an expansive system of parks that are great for trail running. Mild winters help make outdoor running a year-round activity for those who live in the area. The trail running community is strong and continues to grow as more people seek outdoor recreation opportunities.
Located throughout Charleston, the county parks’ system has been recognized as one of the best park systems in the state. The ecosystems vary widely from park to park providing expansive views of marshes, rivers, and forests. Trail distances vary from 1.5 to 5 miles and the elevation gain is typically minimal.
The newest park, Stono River County Park, has a beautiful boardwalk which leads out to a small 1.5 loop trail around an island in the middle of the Stono River. This is a great trail for shorter runs or those just getting started trail running. Keep your eyes peeled if you run at the Caw Caw Interpretive Center, which is also a county parks’ property. Alligators and hundreds of different bird species also call the wildlife preserve their home.
Other trail running options in the parks include:
- Johns Island County Park: 738 acres of wooded trails for equestrians, walkers, and runners. There are over 20 miles worth of trail and the park also offers archery, disc golf and several of the most beautiful wedding venues in the area.
- Laurel Hill County Park: 745 acres of beautiful meadows, abundant wildlife and a small lake with an overlook. Accessible for most types of trail users including runners, walkers and bikers.
- Wannamaker North Trail: This trail is for thrill seekers! Designed specifically for mountain biking, but also open to hikers and runners, this 13-mile trail offers challenging hills and sharp corners, as well as natural and manmade obstacles.
- Wannamaker County Park: An expansive park with over 1,000 acres of woodlands and wetlands that is great for running and family activities. The park has a sprinkler-play area, 18-hole disc golf course, dog park, and bike and boat rentals among many other attractions.
- Meggett County Park: Home to large oak trees and stunning marshland. This park also features an island with spectacular views of the marsh and is open to many types of trail users including runners and equestrians.
- James Island County Park: The park for year-round activities and family fun! This park offers over 124 campsites, a climbing wall, dog park, waterpark, and saltwater fishing among many other activities.
In addition to the parks system, there are many other popular trails in Charleston including:
- Awendaw Passage – 8.2 miles
- West Ashley Greenway – 7.8 miles
- Charles Town Landing State Historic Site Trail – 2.0 miles
- I’on Swamp maps
- – 1.9 miles
- Santee Coastal Reserve
Parking and Transit
Once you are situated in the city, you may consider getting around by bike, as there are many bike paths that can be used to connect to popular tourist destinations and trail systems. The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority has several bus routes as well. Parking is ample and getting around Charleston by car is simple. If you are arriving by plane to Charleston International Airport, you can relieve your jet-lag with an easy trail run at most of the major parks, which are only a short 20 to 30 minute drive from the airport.
When it comes to community, no city defines “Southern Hospitality” quite like Charleston. Most people you will encounter act like they’ve never met a stranger and will treat you as family. The outdoor endurance community reflects this sentiment with many groups including two triathlon clubs; Blue Sky Endurance and Palmetto Tribe, as well as the Charleston Running Club and Eagle Endurance for runners. These groups promote fellowship and healthy competition in the area. If you are in need of running gear, Blue Sky Endurance, Fleet Feet, the Foot Store and Half-Moon Outfitters are all great places to shop. These shops offer friendly, knowledgeable service to answer your trail running questions and carry a variety of running shoes and other endurance sport apparel and products.
There is no shortage of trail races in Charleston. The following list of trail races are fueling more interest for Charleston’s ever-expanding trail running community and creating more interest in trails for recreation and racing on foot or bike:
- Off-Road Duathlon at Laurel Hill County Park (January)
- Where the Wild Things Run 5K at the Caw Caw Interpretive Center (March)
- Mullet Haul 5K and 10K at Johns Island County Park (April)
- Lowcountry Trail Half Marathon and 5K at Johns Island County Park (October)
- Chili 5K at Laurel Hill County Park (November)
- 5K Trail Race Series Combination of four 5-kilometer trail races offered throughout the year including Where the Wild Things Run, Mullet Haul 5K, Lowcountry Trail 5K and Chili 5K.
For more local races and places to run, the county parks website is a great spot for information.
When you’re in need of caffeine to fuel your trail runs, be sure to check out some of our favorite coffee shops. The Daily serves a variety of coffees and teas, as well as protein smoothies, shakes, and delicious breakfast and lunch options. Bitty and Beau’s Coffee is a local coffee shop dedicated to improving the lives of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. If you’re looking for coffee and tasty treats that promote inclusion and acceptance, this is the place for you.
Food and Beer
If your love for running matches your love for great food and beer, Charleston is the place to be. Edmunds Oast Brewing Co., Palmetto Brewing Co. and Cooper River Brewing are some of the most popular breweries in Charleston. Each brewery has their own unique, craft beers and amazing foods. You can’t go wrong with any of them! A trip to Charleston isn’t complete until you’ve stopped for local seafood. 167 Raw will fill the seafood sized hole in your heart. Their menu has a variety of local seafood, but they are best known for their oysters (when they’re in season of course). If seafood isn’t your thing, The Tattooed Moose has you covered with amazing sandwiches and burgers, including the “Duck Club” sandwich featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Charleston’s relaxed southern coastal atmosphere is a great compliment to a day filled with trail running or racing adventures. Head out to Sullivans Island or Folly Beach and grab a bite along Center Street or Middle Street before taking a short walk to feel sand between your toes and watch surfers. Shem Creek is another favorite spot for fresh seafood where many restaurants buy directly from the shrimpers who pull up to the docks around the city. If downtown is more your style, take a trip “South of Broad” street to admire the historic homes or take a horse drawn carriage ride down cobblestone street.