The mild weather and flat landscape of Charleston, SC, make it an ideal place for bicycling. Whether you’re in the mood for a gentle cruise or want to log some serious miles in the saddle, there’s no better way to see Charleston’s sights than by bike. Here are 5 trails and tours worth exploring.
For a bicycle vacation that covers every detail, Charleston Bicycle Tours is the Lowcountry’s first choice. At least half of the husband-and-wife team that owns this small company personally leads each tour, giving trips a local feel. Tour packages range from 3 to 6 days, and feature rides through historic plantations, coastal islands, quaint towns and nearby Southern gems like Savannah, GA, and Beaufort, SC. Tours include luxury accommodations at the area’s most elegant hotels, including Charleston Place and the Francis Marion, and dining at 4-star restaurants serving local seafood and other fare. Tour participants can simply show up and let Charleston Bicycle Tours take care of everything, allowing guests to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of Charleston from a unique perspective.
If you prefer a self-guided cycling experience, Charleston is also home to many bike trails that suit a range of fitness levels and tastes. One of the oldest trails in Charleston County, Swamp Fox is a 42-mile unpaved rail trail that takes cyclists on a flat journey through swamps and coastal pine forest. The path was named after Revolutionary War General Francis Marion, whose tactical decision to hide from British troops in Lowcountry swamps earned him the nickname “Swamp Fox.” Today, cyclists encounter deer, waterfowl, songbirds and other wildlife in the wooded wetlands lining these old logging railbeds.
The West Ashley Greenway is an easy, mostly packed-dirt corridor that starts west of the Ashley River. Get food and supplies in the shops and restaurants at South Windermere, then pick up the trail head behind the shopping center. The 10.5-mile path travels out of residential and commercial areas to meander over bridges and through beautiful marshland as it winds toward the turnaround point on Johns Island. Those preferring a short, paved cruise can check out the West Ashley Bikeway, a 2.5-mile easy ride that lets casual cyclists of all ages enjoy Charleston’s fresh air and sunshine.
James Island County Park’s 5 miles of interconnecting, paved, multi-use trails are accessible from any parking area in the park. Pedal by the fishing pier where fiddler crabs scuttle alongside the path, stop off for a turn at the climbing wall, enjoy refreshing breezes around the lake, or take a leisurely ride beneath stately oaks festooned with Spanish moss.
At Palmetto Islands County Park in Mount Pleasant, explore an island paradise on paved and unpaved trails that take cyclists through dense foliage and tidal marsh, enticing nature lovers with a wide variety of local flora and fauna. Herons and egrets stalk through wetlands bordering the trails, while sweet gum, cedar, magnolia and palmetto trees arch overhead. Make a pit stop at the 50-foot observation tower for a bird’s-eye view of the park.
When the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge opened in 2005, its 2.7-mile pedestrian walkway and bicycle path quickly became one of Charleston’s most popular attractions. The 4%-incline to the bridge’s peak provides a light workout, then a big reward in the form of panoramic views of Mount Pleasant, the Charleston Peninsula, Fort Sumter, World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the busy port. The path connects to the Waterfront Memorial Park area and Mt. Pleasant fishing pier, where parking is available. Visitors can rent a bicycle at several area bike shops, and the recreational bike club Coastal Cyclists offers maps and a book of Charleston-area cycling routes.