Trip Number: 13051A
Staff: John Kovacevic
- Kayak the three main waterways of the ACE Basin: The Ashepoo, Combahee
and Edisto rivers
- Kayak and explore Francis Beidler Forest, Four Holes Swamp, and Sparkleberry
- Observe abundant wildlife, peak spring birding, and spring flowers in
- Kayak, paddle, and pfd rental
- Experienced kayak guides and local naturalist
- Six nights lodging in riverfront cabins above the Edisto River, most
The ACE Basin is an area that is best experienced by water, and it seems to
be a world that was created for kayaks and canoes. There are so many miles of
waterways that you would literally need a lifetime to try to paddle all of them.
Add spring flowers in bloom and numerous birds in spring migration, and you
may think that you have gone to paddler's heaven! Join us as we kayak through
narrow and winding blackwater rivers and creeks lined with Spanish-moss draped
live oaks and giant 1,000-year-old bald cypress and tupelo gum trees. You'll
feel transported into another world that you may have thought could only be
found in storybooks.
South of Cape Romain NWR and Francis Marion NF, and occupying pretty much
the entire area between the cities of Beaufort and Charleston, is the area known
as the ACE Basin. The ACE takes its name from the three major rivers that drain
and nourish the basin: the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers. All three start
out as freshwater rivers that flow out of South Carolina’s piedmont, but
once they reach the flat coastal plain they are subject to the influence of
tidal flows and saltwater from the ocean mixes with freshwater from the uplands.
It is this mix -- and the diversity of habitats that it creates in a relatively
small area -- that produces the estuaries that are among the most biologically
rich habitats on earth. The ACE Basin’s three core rivers, the Edisto
being the longest, are the framework for a matrix of waterways criss-crossing
its approximately 350,000 acres of salt marsh. A variety of wildlife, both common
and endangered, thrive in the ACE Basin, including wood storks, alligators,
sturgeon, loggerhead turtles, teals, and bald eagles. In the mid-1700s the tidal
swamps along the rivers were cleared and used for growing rice. After the rice
culture declined in the late 19th century, wealthy owners purchased many of
the plantations for use as hunting retreats. Development threats in the 1970s
and 1980s galvanized a group of private landowners into finding a way to protect
the unique character of the area. Today a coalition of groups form the ACE Basin
Task Force in an ongoing commitment to protect the natural habitats within the
Photo: John Kovacevic
Note: This itinerary is tentative and subject to change due to wind, weather,
tides, water levels, or other unforeseen factors. In case of inclement weather,
alternate activities are planned. Safety will always be our top priority.
This outing also coincides with the East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival, which
take place on nearby James Island on April 19-21. This offers you the opportunity
to browse or try out the latest paddling gear, take a paddling class, or mingle
among fellow paddlers prior to this outing. Also nearby is historic Charleston,
which is a great place to spend a few days exploring either before or after
Day 1: We will meet at our lodging at 4 p.m. and you will
be assigned a cabin at that time. We will make introductions, go over the itinerary
for the week, and eat dinner together. Time permitting, we will go for a short
evening hike. Our cabins are right next to the Edisto River, so jumping in for
a swim, fishing, or just relaxing next to the river will all be great options
throughout the week.
Day 2: After a hearty breakfast, we will give safety and paddle
instruction and gear everyone up for an exciting week of paddling and exploration!
Our first paddle will be on the Edisto River, which is said to be the longest
free-flowing blackwater river in North America. The Edisto drains ten percent
of the state of South Carolina while traveling over 200 miles from its origins
in the west-central part of South Carolina all the way to St Helena Sound and
the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Charleston. The Edisto is one of the most
enchanting rivers in South Carolina, making it the perfect introduction to the
Day 3: Today we kayak the Combahee River. The Big and Little
Salkehatchie Rivers merge and form the Combahee, which then flows past old rice
fields and plantations and through coastal marshes on its way to the Atlantic
Ocean. The Combahee is the southernmost of the three main rivers that form the
ACE Basin and is a fantastic river to paddle, with abundant wildlife viewing.
Day 4: Today we’ll explore The National Audubon Society’s
Francis Beidler Forest. Here, 1,000-year-old trees and native wildlife abound
in a pristine 16,000-acre sanctuary that has been untouched for centuries. An
Audubon naturalist will join us as we hike the two-mile boardwalk trail and
kayak among giant bald cypress and tupelo gum trees in Four Holes Swamp. Four
Holes Swamp is a natural swamp and water levels are high enough at only select
times of the year to paddle this amazing area.
Photo: John Kovacevic
Day 5: Today we start out by kayaking the Ashepoo River, which
flows directly into the heart of the ACE Basin. The Ashepoo is the shortest
of the three rivers making up the ACE Basin, but there will be no shortage of
scenic vistas and wildlife on this beautiful river that many call their favorite
river for paddling. After our paddle, we’ll head over to Edisto Beach
on Edisto Island where we’ll enjoy a walk on the beach. You’ll also
have time for a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll finish off the day by
having dinner at one of the famous local restaurants on Edisto Island before
heading back to our cabins after an action-packed day.
Day 6: We’ll drive to Sparkleberry Swamp to enjoy our
final kayak trip of the outing. As we enter the swamp, you will be overcome
by the primitive otherness of it. The vast flooded bottomland forest at the
confluence of the Congaree and Wateree rivers was created in the 1940s when
the Santee River was dammed in a project to bring cheap hydroelectric power
to rural South Carolina. This damming formed Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie as
well as flooding the hardwood forest which is now a manmade swamp known as Sparkleberry.
Afterwards and time permitting, we’ll explore the Santee National Wildlife
Refuge or Santee State Park. We’ll finish off the day with dinner at a
unique local southern buffet in the town of Walterboro.
Day 7: After breakfast and packing up, the outing is officially
over. For those who have extra time, we’ll do a nearby hike where springtime
birds should be in great abundance. After bidding farewell to new friends, you’ll
look back with many fond memories of an area that most people don’t even
know exists and most visitors find hard to forget -- the ACE Basin.
We will be staying in riverfront cabins located near Canadys, South Carolina,
which is about an hour east of Charleston, South Carolina. The nearest airport
is located in Charleston, with Columbia and Myrtle Beach also offering nearby
airport options. Whether driving, or flying in and renting a car, we always
encourage participants to carpool to and from Sierra Club Outings. On this outing,
we will also carpool throughout the week to our various destinations. Detailed
directions will be sent out to confirmed participants prior to the outing.
Accommodations and Food
We will be staying in cabins located on a bluff above the Edisto River. These
rustic riverfront cabins are fully furnished with beds, kitchens, porches, and
many other amenities. Linens and towels will be provided. Participants will
share rooms and couples will room together. The first meal provided will be
dinner on day one of the outing, and the last meal provided will be breakfast
on the last day of the outing. Meals will vary, with an emphasis on local cuisine.
Vegetarians can be accommodated with prior notice. Participants will take turns
helping out with cooking and cleaning up. We will also go out to dinner at local
restaurants on two evenings, and the cost of these dinners is NOT included in
the trip price.
Photo: John Kovacevic
You need not be an expert kayaker, but it is expected that you have some prior
kayaking experience and you will be expected to keep up with the group at a
reasonable pace. Each participant should understand that this is a group outing
and that they will be required to stay with the group while we are on the water,
as well as follow all instructions given by the kayak guides. You should also
have a positive attitude and be flexible as plans and itineraries often change
due to wind, weather, group ability, tides, water levels, or other unforeseen
reasons. The planned paddles are “intermediate” level. We will be
on the water for 4-6 hours per day and average 8-12 miles of paddling per day.
Optional hikes will be on level terrain and average 2-3 miles in length. We
will carpool/caravan to our various destinations throughout the week. Due to
limited parking at some of our destinations, you may be asked to share (give
or get) a ride with other participants to minimize the number of vehicles.
Note: This outing offers a true wilderness experience with abundant local wildlife.
Snakes and alligators are regular highlights while paddling and hiking in this
part of South Carolina. Ticks and poison ivy are common. Strainers and downed
trees/branches are possible along the rivers that we will be kayaking. You should
be comfortable paddling and hiking in this rustic type of environment.
Equipment and Clothing
We will provide all group cooking gear. We will provide rental kayaks, PFDs,
and paddles, as well as experienced guides. You are also welcome to bring your
own favorite equipment with prior notice and leader approval. You are welcome
to bring fishing gear, bike, lounge or beach chair, or other recreational equipment.
A full detailed gear list will be sent prior to the outing and the leader is
available to answer any questions regarding gear. We will carpool/caravan to
our various destinations throughout the week and we will need several personal/rental
cars and volunteer drivers for that to happen.
- Bannon, Jim, Sea Kayaking the Carolinas. Out There Press, 2003.
- Jerman, Patricia L., South Carolina Nature Viewing Guide. University
of South Carolina Press, 1998.
- Bowen, John, Adventuring Along the Southeast Coast. Sierra Club
- Bostick, Douglass W., The Union is Dissolved: Charleston and Fort Sumter
in the Civil War. The History Press, 2009.
- Earhart, Ralph, Kayak Charleston. Ralph Earhart, 2005.
Photo: John Kovacevic
The ACE Basin represents one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the entire
east coast. Through a unique partnership of federal, state, local, and private
landowners, the ACE Basin currently has over 350,000 acres including pine and
hardwood forests, brackish and salt-water marshes, and barrier islands and beaches.
New areas continue to be added to this acreage in an ongoing effort to maintain
the natural character of this area. The Nature Conservancy works with donors
and local government to purchase land or have it donated, while the South Carolina
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages much of the donated or purchased
land. A coalition of groups form the ACE Basin task force, including the Nature
Conservancy, the South Carolina DNR, Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, and private landowners. They combine their efforts in an ongoing commitment
to protect the natural habitats encompassed within the ACE Basin. We will discuss
the history of the ACE Basin, as well as experience the beauty of this area
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
John Kovacevic has led Sierra Club Outings in the Rocky Mountains, Boundary Waters, Okefenokee Swamp, Coastal Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. John completed the Sierra Club Leadership Training course in 2004, served as the Southeast Subcommittee Finance Officer for several years, and is a certified Wilderness First Responder as well as an ACA certified kayak instructor. Whether hiking or paddling, he gets outdoors as often as he can and has done trips all over North America. His current focus is on kayak trips in the Southeast U.S., with coastal South Carolina being his favorite paddling destination. John likes to combine historical, natural and environmental perspectives on his outings while paddling as many of the unique waterways of each area as possible in one week.
Terry DeFraties leads local outings for the Thomas Hart Benton Group (Kansas City) of the Missouri Chapter and lives in the Kansas City area. He owns a small construction company and backpacks, canoes, kayaks and caves whenever he can. He has participated in, organized and led wilderness trips for over 30 years. With Sierra Club, he has led or assisted on service, backpack, kayak and canoe national outings. He is a certified Wilderness First Responder.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips