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Home » South Carolina Scenic Drives and Road Trips

Ashley River Road National Scenic Byway

Plantations, history, and Southern charm

Mileage13 miles (21 km)
DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.18 minutes
SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.All Seasons
RoadwaysAshley River Road
ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.Goose Creek, SC, Ladson, SC, Summerville, SC, Hanahan, SC, North Charleston, SC, Charleston, SC, Johns Island, SC, Mount Pleasant, SC, more...Goose Creek Heights, SC, Ladson Village, SC, Summerville Farms, SC, Summerville Place, SC, West Greenview Acres, SC, West Oaks, SC, Liberty Park, SC, Charleston Farms, SC, Greenwood Park, SC, Charleston Heights, SC, Myrtle Grove, SC, Charlestowne Estates, SC, and Garden Hill, SC
Rating
1.8 average from 6 votes
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Elevation Graph for Ashley River Road National Scenic Byway

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This short 13-mile byway is a historic journey along the Ashley River. Plantations and expansive gardens dot the route along with significant Revolutionary and Civil War sites. This pastoral scenic drive makes an illuminating route to Charleston, or a must-experience daytrip if you’re already there.

Live oaks draped in Spanish moss
Live oaks draped in Spanish moss

If you’re coming from the north, consider these state parks before beginning the official byway. Admission to the small 35-acre Colleton State Park (H2) is free and you’ll find walking trails, camping, and fishing for bream, redbreast and catfish. A valid South Carolina fishing license is required and rods and reels are available for loan from the park office. The Edisto River is popular for canoeing and kayaking, and you can paddle your way to Givhans Ferry State Park, a 23-mile distance.

At Givhans Ferry State Park (H3) enjoy swimming and fishing for flathead, catfish, largemouth bass, and eels. Walk the 1.5 mile River Bluff Nature Trail or the 5-mile Old Loop Trail for stunning views and an abundance of wildflowers. Make it an overnight tent or RV camping, or in a cabin rental. There is a small entrance fee or consider getting an annual South Carolina State Park Passport.

The drive officially begins at milepost 5.84 (Charleston County) in Church Creek, and heads east on the tree-lined Ashley River Road/SC-61.

In Summerville, the Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site (A1) preserves a trading settlement active from 1697 through the Revolutionary War. Built in 1757, the fort is made of oyster shell concrete called tabby. Traverse the grounds and discover remnants of stone walls, the Bell Tower of St. George’s Anglican Church, the Fort, Powder Magazine, as well as an historic cemetery. Archaeological digs are ongoing and you can observe the excavation. Learn more from guided walks and hands-on educational programs. There is a nominal entrance fee for all 16 and older.

Step back in time and immerse yourself in history at Middleton Place Plantation (A4). The National Historic Landmark preserves the stories of the Middleton family, the enslaved, and the freedmen. In the House Museum built in 1775, view original furniture, artifacts, documents, jewelry, and fine art. Then walk to the stable yards, blacksmith, textile and pottery shops where you can observe demonstrations of tasks pertaining to plantation life in the 18th-19th centuries by costumed crafts-people. Tour the slave quarters and freedman’s house to learn about the people and their legacy on the plantation. Wander through the oldest landscaped garden in the U.S. boasting 65-acres of meticulous formal gardens with majestic oak trees and fragrant magnolias. Look for alligators swimming or basking along the water’s edge. The working farm features heritage breeds such as cattle, cashmere goats, gulf coast sheep, Belgian horses, water buffalo and Guinea hogs. There is an entrance fee.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (A3) was founded by the Drayton family in 1676 as a rice plantation. The gardens are designed to reflect a natural, relaxed beauty. Meander the tranquil pathways and wooden bridges among bounteous specimens including towering oaks, delicate camellias, and dazzling azaleas. The admission fee includes a self-guided tour of the gardens, petting zoo, conservatory, and 30-minute film. There are add-on fees for other tours and activities such as the Plantation house, From Slavery to Freedom: The Magnolia Cabin Project Tour, Nature Train or Rice Field Boat Tour, and Audubon Swamp Garden. Plants are available for sale at the Gilliard Garden Center which is free to enter. Built in 1738, Drayton Hall Plantation (A2) is a prime example of Palladian architecture and has never been restored. Touring here truly reflects the period and lifestyle at the time. The stately home boasts extraordinary millwork and plaster work, but no furniture, electricity, or plumbing. Visit the Stephen and Laura Gates Gallery to discover a rotating collection of decorative arts objects, as well as the Caretaker’s House, the Lenhardt Garden, and the interactive program Connections: From Africa to America. Take a self-guided walk around the gardens, and to the entrance of one of the oldest documented African American cemeteries in the nation still in use. There is an admission fee.

The Old St Andrews Episcopal Church (A5) was founded in 1706, and today is the oldest surviving church structure in South Carolina.

The byway officially ends in Dorchester County at milepost 15.75, but there’s so much more to explore.

Part of the South Carolina State Parks system, Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site (A6) preserves the first permanent colonial settlement in Charleston in 1670. With 664-acres, there’s a lot to do here. Explore the 12-room interactive museum with hands-on exhibits in the Visitor Center, take an audio tour along a self-guided history trail, climb aboard the Adventure, a replica 17th-century sailing ship, and see bison, elk, otters, and wolves which were indigenous to South Carolina in the Animal Forest. Miles of pleasant trails for walking or biking (bikes available for rent on-site) reveal egrets along the shoreline, turtles, alligators and romantic live oak trees draped with Spanish moss. Take part in the many programs and events led by living history demonstrators in period costume. Cannons are fired on the first Saturday of each month. There is an admission fee.

Charleston exudes with Southern charm. Meander cobblestone streets lined with elegant mansions, a vibrant downtown with eclectic shops, arts and culture, music and nightlife. The Historic Charleston City Market (A11) which spans 4 blocks is brimming with food, art, sweetgrass baskets, clothing, toys, jewelry, crafts, and so much more from over 300 vendors. A foodie haven in and around the market, savor diverse cuisine from around the world and Southern specialties like fresh oysters, crab cakes, and pan-roasted boat catch. Save room for decadent desserts.

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (A13) is a National Historic Landmark. Completed in 1771 in the Georgian-Palladian style, the exchange has seen some history. In 1788, the U.S. Constitution was debated and ratified here by the state. In 1791, city leaders entertained President George Washington here while on his southern tour. The bottom floor was a military prison known as the Provost or “dungeon.”, and public slave auctions were held. There is a fee to enter which includes a guided tour of the dungeon and self guided exhibits on the upper floors. Across the street, the Old Slave Mart Museum (M1) offers an emotional, but realistic look into life as a slave. There is a small fee to enter or consider a combination ticket offering entrance to both sites.

Walk, jog, or cycle along Charleston Waterfront Park (H1). The wooden pier is the perfect spot for watching boats and dazzling sunsets. Stop at the iconic Pineapple Fountain.

At the Nathaniel Russell House (A12) gaze upon the opulent life of Charleston’s elite. A National Historic Landmark, the Federation-style residence was built over a five-year period and completed in 1808. It has been beautifully-restored and furnished with period antiques, porcelain, hand-woven rugs, and art. The focal point is the free-standing three-story spiral staircase boasting unequaled craftsmanship. Knowledgeable docent-led tours examine the lives of the Russell family and the slaves who cared for the household. There is an admission fee and a combined ticket if you plan to visit the Aiken-Rhett House. Built in 1820, the Aiken-Rhett House (A8) is preserved “as-found” and neither the furnishings or architecture have been altered since the mid-19th century. It is a fascinating glimpse into everyday life at the time.

White Point Gardens (A16) is a city park which overlooks Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor. Enjoy great views, Civil War cannons and war monuments amid large trees.

The American Civil War began at Fort Sumter when Confederates fired upon Union soldiers on April 12, 1861. The Fort Sumter National Monument (A10) Visitor Education Center features compelling exhibits and is free to enter. However, to visit Fort Sumter you will have to take a ferry ride through the National Park Service authorized concession-operated ferry, or a personal boat. Ferries leave from Charleston/Liberty Square or Mt. Pleasant/Patriots Point. Advance reservations are highly recommended. During the ferry ride park rangers enlighten with an enriching history lesson, and views from the water are fabulous. Keep your eyes out for dolphins. At the fort, take a self-guided tour to explore the fort construction, barracks, Officer’s and Enlisted Men’s Quarters, cannons, and more. Don’t miss one of the ranger-led programs.

Kids will love the South Carolina Aquarium (A14). Discover marine animals native to South Carolina, American alligators, touch tanks, a two-story, 385,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank with sharks and sea turtles, and exhibits featuring snakes, birds and otters. There are educational programs and a Sea Turtle Hospital. There is an admission fee.

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America. The 3.5 mile span is beautifully-designed. If you have chance, experience it by walking or biking across. Once you cross, stop at Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park and Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (A15) and enjoy the nautical-themed playground, 1250-foot Mount Pleasant Pier which features picture-perfect views, fishing, and special events.

Don’t miss exploring Fort Moultrie (A17) on Sullivan’s Island. Learn about the history that spans from the Revolutionary War, Civil War to World War II. A self-guiding brochure is available at the Fort Moultrie Visitor Center. There is a small entrance fee or use your America the Beautiful Annual Pass.

Visit Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum (M2), home of the USS Yorktown CV-10 and other ships. The museum explores the military history of the United States, the inner working of aircraft carriers, military aircraft, marine science, and so much more. There is a lot to see and easily a whole day can be spent here. There is an entrance fee.

Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens (A18) is famed for its Avenue of Oaks. Tour the well-appointed mansion built in 1936 and original slave cabins to learn about the history of the plantation and the Gullah culture. Stroll the gardens, delight in the Butterfly Pavilion and u-pick fields which are open in season.

And when the touring is done, kick back and relax on the beach. Folly Beach (W1) is a classic beach town beaming with southern charm featuring shops galore, a myriad of eateries, and many lodging options. Bask on 6 miles of sandy beach, swim, fish, kayak, surf, and try stand-up paddle-boarding. The Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier is perfect for dolphin spotting and glorious sunsets. Don’t miss seasonal festivals such as Folly Gras in February and the Sea and Sand Festival in September.

Laid back Isle of Palms (W2) is another gem. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, discover pristine beaches, loggerhead turtle nesting sites, a bounty of water recreation, and top-rated golf courses. Board a fishing excursion, or an Eco-tour through the Barrier Islands and salt marshes rich in wildlife and birds.

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