Updated: May 21, 2015
South Carolina Cypress Garden ToursIf you've visited the southeast, you know that the low-lying coastal areas of Florida and South Carolina are fairly swampy. The southeast coast of South Carolina is known as the "lowlands", and you will be hard-pressed to find anything resembling hills or mountains here - the flat lands simply melt away into the swampy coastal seas at the margins. One highlight of visiting this area is a trip to some swamplands and swamp parks. In the Charleston area, one of your best bets is the Cypress Gardens if you are looking to explore some swamps during your Charleston vacation. This is an especially fun place to visit if you have kids in tow on your southeast vacation -- there are plenty of thing to keep them busy in this fun swamp setting. In this guide, we will take a look at a trip to the Cypress Gardens - how to get there, maps, ticket prices, what to see, etc.
The Gardens used to be part of Dean Hall, an old Cooper River rice plantation from the days before the Civil War. Nowadays, apart from the towering cypress trees, you will find azaleas, daffodils, wisteria, dogwoods, and much more. Explore more than 80 acres of swampland and natural South Carolina environment.
Charleston Swamps - Cypress Gardens MapIf you have 2 days to spend in Charleston, we recommend a full day spent touring the streets and mansions of Charleston, and a day spent visiting the nearby plantations and swamps to get a feel for the "real" low country of South Carolina. To see the traditional swamps of the area, be sure to take a morning or afternoon trip out to Cypress Gardens. For a map of Cypress Gardens, see below.
To get to the Cypress Gardens from Charleston, take I-26 westbound to exit 209A, then take Hwy 52 west towards Moncks Corner and Goose Creek (about 7 miles). Turn right onto Cypress Gardens Road (look for signs to Cypress Gardens) -- drive a few miles and you will run right into the Cypress Gardens -- just follow the signs. There is plenty of free parking here. How much are tickets to the Cypress Gardens? Adult entrance tickets are $10, and children 6-12 are $5 (under 6 free). The park is open everyday from 9-5, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years (www.cypressgardens.info).
With your admission fee, you get access to everything in the park -- aquarium, free boat rentals, etc.
What to see at the Cypress GardensThe highlight of the Cypress Gardens is the Cypress swamp area. Spring is the best season to visit, when flowering blooms are in season and the summer heat and insects are not in full force yet. However, there is plenty of shade and indoor activities in the summer months, and even cool fall and winter months give you quiet, peaceful access to the swamps. Be sure to check out the free flat-bottom swamp boats available about 100 yards from the entrance on the left. There is a clearly marked arrow path through the cypress swamps, and you are never more than 50 yards from the land at any time. These boats are easy to maneuver with two paddlers, and it is a great, quiet way to make your path through the swamps -- keep an eye out for wildlife, including birds and alligators if you are lucky. You'll pass through the Wedding Garden, Woodland Garden, and Camelia Garden as you make the loop. Expect to spend about 45 minutes to make the self-guided boat trip at a leisurely pace.
You can also follow the hiking paths around the swamp, but if you have completed the boat tour, you have already seen most of it. Take this opportunity to see some of the other wildlife exhibits. Start at the Butterfly House. Be careful not to let the little woodduck out as you enter the doors - the Butterfly House is like an enclosed greenhouse complete with plants, flowers, and running water, home to hundreds of flitting butterflies. Next check out Crocodile Isle - you'll see live species on display here, but we enjoyed the Aquarium and Reptile center much more. These indoor exhibits highlight both native and foreign reptiles and fish - check out the huge stuffed 12ft gator caught a few years ago, alongside the live pythons and anacondas that inhabit these dark corridors. Kids and adults will both enjoy the up-close glimpse of these mysterious creatures.