The Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Hiking, fishing, picnicking and wildlife viewing opportunities abound in the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve. The Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field is a "must see" in spring. Be sure to visit the 4000 year old Indian Shell Ring, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and enjoy a scenic ride down the rice dike. Bicycles are not permitted on the nature trails, so please park your bicycles at the locations provided.

A Brief History of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve

The Sea Pines Forest Preserve Vanishing Swamp 

The Sea Pines Forest Preserve has a long and colorful history. Its landscape of sand ridges and long wetlands was sculpted by changing sea levels over the past 15,000 years. The first inhabitants, 4,000 years ago, were nomadic Indians who hunted and gathered shells in salt marshes that are freshwater wetlands today. They left a trace of their lives in the Sea Pines Indian Shell Ring, an elliptical mound of shells and other materials that were placed near their huts. Since 1700, the area has been used for growing rice, indigo and cotton as well as for hunting and for harvesting timber.

When Charles Fraser began developing Sea Pines in the early 1950s, he concentrated on keeping the island's abundance of natural beauty as untouched as possible. In 1959, the Fraser family, founders and developers of Sea Pines, established a tract of 572 acres for the Preserve and in 1970 they filed legal covenants dedicating a total area of 605 acres for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.

The first trails in the Preserve were constructed in the early 1970's. They followed ante-bellum rice dikes, originally built by hand around 1840, and old logging trails from the 1950's. Bridle paths, wetland boardwalks, observation decks, bridges, and fishing docks have been added to improve visitor access and enjoyment. Fish Island Trail was constructed to allow motorists to drive to lakes in the center of the Preserve.

Between 1968 and 1980 several small ponds and four lakes were dug. The lakes, named Lake Joe, Lake Thomas, Lake Mary and Lake Chapin, are the largest open freshwater resources on the island and are renowned for their birdlife and fisheries. Since 1981, the Sea Pines Public Service District has utilized the wetlands,  known as Boggy Gut,  for innovative filtration of advanced-treated water.

In 1994, Sea Pines Company gave ownership of 404 acres of the Forest Preserve to the property owners of Sea Pines. The gift will assure that the scenic wildlife habitats will be preserved in perpetuity for all to enjoy.

Visit These Points of Interest

Sea Pines Forest Preserve Wildflower Field

The Indian Shell Ring is the site of a 4,000 year-old Indian village. Acres of native flora bloom in the Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field by Lake Thomas. At Rookery Point on Lake Mary, you can see a colony of nesting wading birds in spring and summer. At Old Lawton Rice Field, view marshes and wildlife from a boardwalk and three observation decks. The boardwalk through Vanishing Swamp explores a secluded forest, where surface water rises and falls through the seasons. Fish Island, the center of the Preserve, offers prime views of the lakes for picnickers

Walking Distances and Times on Trails

The Sea Pines Forest Preserve Boardwalk

Two popular trail routes in the Preserve have been marked with colored arrows. Both of these trails explore a variety of habitats. In order of average walking times they are: Blue Arrow Trail: 1 mile (1 hour); and Orange Arrow Trail: 2 miles (2 hours).

  • Lawton Entrance to Indian Shell Ring: 0.4 miles (25 minutes)
  • Greenwood Entrance to Fish Island: 3/4 mile (45 minutes) via Vanishing Swamp Trail
  • Greenwood Entrance to Indian Shell Ring: 1 mile (1 hour) via the Orange Trail
  • Fish Island to Lake Mary & Rookery Point: 0.4 miles (25 minutes)

Discover the Forest Preserve on Horseback

Lawton Stables offers guided group trail rides for adults and children 8 years old and up. For more information or to make reservations, please visit Lawton Stables or call 843-671-2586.

Heritage Farm

Sea Pines Heritage Farm

The Heritage Farm is a community garden located on the northwestern corner of the Forest Preserve. Operated by the Heritage Farm Association, its members have their own plots, where they grow flowers and vegetables. Heritage Farmers annually produce nearly 5,000 pounds of food that is donated to the Deep Well Project for distribution to the needy on Hilton Head Island.

Facilities and Regulations

  1. Hours: The Forest Preserve is open to visitors from sunrise to sunset.
  2. No smoking or open fires are permitted.
  3. Respect nature. Do not handle or feed animals, or collect plants. Stay on trails and boardwalks at all times.
  4. Fishing: The stocked fishing lakes in the Forest Preserve are reserved for Sea Pines property owners, their guests, and resort guests. Fishing permits may be obtained at the CSA Security Office on Greenwood Drive (see map). Minnow bait is not allowed.
  5. Boats must be registered annually with the Sea Pines Security Office. They may be powered only by electric motors and stored only on Fisherman's Point.
  6. Bicycles are not permitted on the nature trails. Please park your bicycles at the locations provided.
  7. Motor vehicles may enter via Lawton entrance, proceeding along Lawton Canal Road to Fish Island Trail.
  8. The picnic area on Fish Island is equipped with a shelter, picnic tables, grills, drinking water, and portable toilets. Permits for group outings must be obtained by calling the CSA office at 843-671-1343.
  9. No swimming is permitted in any of the lakes or ponds in the Preserve.
  10. Trash: Please use receptacles where provided or take your trash with you out of the Preserve.

To Make a Donation

Donations for conservation efforts or a memorial in the Forest Preserve should be sent to The Sea Pines Museum & Forest Preserve Foundation, a non-profit organization, 175 Greenwood Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928.