Edisto Island National Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2009)
- Intrinsic QualitiesScenic
- Length17 miles
The Edisto Island National Scenic Byway is known for its views of natural beauty. One of the hallmarks of the byway experience here is traveling under the Spanish-moss-draped live oak canopy and past multiple pristine waterways that meander throughout the island offering expansive views of marsh and seabirds feeding on their shores. And when the Byway terminates at the Atlantic Ocean/Edisto Beach, it's clear to the traveler that Edisto Island is a very special protected place -- it’s like visiting the South Carolina Lowcountry of half a century ago.
Story of the Byway
Most South Carolina sea islands and much of the coastal lands in the southeast US have experienced significant development and commercialization, making one resort area look much like another. But Edisto Island is different – it has escaped the ravages of “progress.” There are no stop lights, no malls, no high-rise resort hotels, no waterslides, no fast food restaurants. Instead there is scenery that takes you back in time: thousands of acres of farm lands that have been cultivated since the 1600s, live oaks canopies over the byway that are 200+ years old. Thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and rural lands have been permanently preserved – these natural scenic views from the byway will never change.
This area was inhabited as early as 2,000 B.C. when archaic cultures lived on the sea islands and consumed shellfish, giving rise to shill middens. By the mid second millennium, the Edistow Indians, one tribe of the Cusabo Indians, harvested seafood and grew crops. Europeans began to engage with this area by the 1550s, and the first settlements occurred in 1683. The Edistows had all but disappeared by 1750 due to displacement and disease. Thanks to an enslaved population, the island flourished agriculturally for a century, growing sea island cotton, and many former slaves continued to work on the plantations after the civil war. By the 1920s, the boll weevil ended cotton cultivation, prompting a switch to the seafood industry and truck farming for the area.
The route begins at the foot of the McKinley Washington Jr. Bridge, also known as the Dawhoo Bridge, which spans the Intracoastal Waterway, and ends 13.5 miles later at the Atlantic Ocean on the Edisto Beach. The McKinley Washington Jr Bridge and Dawhoo Landing are favorites of local photographers for the wide array of greens and blues, which are perfect for a family portrait or holiday card. Along the Byway there is much to soothe the spirit and awaken the senses. Traveling through tunnels of moss-draped live oak canopies, the Byway opens to expansive marsh vistas with meandering creeks, ever changing with the tides and the seasons. You may spot bald eagles, egrets, wood storks, osprey, hawks and herons, or catch a glimpse of songbirds, mammals and reptiles, as the Byway rambles past tidal creeks, maritime forests, farm fields, roadside markets, conserved lands, and historic churches and buildings. The Byway's many points of interest tell the story of a community of people living and working on the island, many with roots that go back to colonial times.
Along the way visitors should take the opportunity to slow down the pace of life to discover an authentic way of living. There are many opportunities for visitors to take their time and breathe deep: this “Edis-slow ramble” is a visual delight that will cater to the soul. Along the way, visitors can stop at a stand and buy a handmade sweetgrass basket and fill it with fresh local produce at a roadside market and fresh seafood dockside. The local produce and products will entice even the most frugal travelers with their distinct regional symbolism and influence, allowing visitors to take a piece of the byway with them. Visitors can go for a picnic on the beach, keeping an eye out for dolphin and horseshoe crabs while they go shelling.
The Edisto Island National Scenic Byway begins at the foot of the McKinley Washington Jr. Bridge and continues for 17 miles to where it terminates at Edisto Beach Pavillion on the Atlantic Ocean. This route is also known as SC Highway 174.
Points of Interest
This Welcome sign is on the northern end of the scenic byway to welcome visitors.
Dawhoo Bridge (McKinley Washington Jr Bridge)
This is an impressive, scenic bridge that stretches over North Creek
Edisto Island Musuem
This museum preserves the history of Edisto Island and features exhibits on Edisto Island's plantation and Native American history.
An Afternoon on Edisto Island
Begin at the foot of the McKinley Washington Jr. Bridge, as known as the Dawhoo Bridge. This bridge spans the intercoastal waterway and begins your journey onto Edisto Island. Take a family picture and enjoy the scenic greens and blues of this area.
As you drive along the byway, be sure to stop by scenic overlooks for a chance to peek at the unique ecosystems found on Edisto Island. As you continue along South Carolina Route 174 into the heart of Edisto Island, discover the old way of life. Buy fresh produce from a local farmers market or a sweetgrass basket from a stand.
Those who wish to learn more about the island’s history should visit the Edisto Island Museum. The museum features exhibits on Slavery and Freedom as well as the Edisto Indians, the original inhabitors of the island. The museum occasionally offers tours of the historic sites along the island such as Middleton Plantation and Shady Side.
Drive under the mystical live oak canopy and then spot a number of historic churches that have a home on the island.
From the churches continue along South Carolina Route 174 to the beach. Spend your day playing in the waves or building sand castles in the sand at Edisto Beach State Park. Relax and watch the sunset as you finish your day on the byway.
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