There is a jungle in South Carolina.
No, I am not talking about a tropical rainforest, or even a cypress-crowded river bottom. The Jungle is the name of a region along the eastern shoreline of Lake Moultrie, and one visit there is a horizon-expanding experience.
The Jungle is accessible by kayak, canoe or small boat, and provides a glimpse into nature that appears to be different from the rest of the lake, one that is reminiscent of the great Okefenokee Swamp of South Georgia.
Vast fields of water lilies, lotus flowers and carpets of other aquatic plants form a flowery, floating landscape as tupelo and cypress trees rise out of the shallow waters. Egrets and other wading birds hunt among the lilies, and alligators silently cruise before slipping beneath its dark waters.
A journey along The Jungle trail is like a journey back to another time — but a journey that you can make today and be back in time for dinner.
The Jungle is officially a section of the E. Lake Moultrie Trail and is part of the Berkeley Blueways, a system of managed kayak and canoe trails in Berkeley County. Lake Moultrie is the third-largest lake in South Carolina and one of the true Lowcountry lakes that can be experienced.
Located near Moncks Corner and St. Stephen, about two hours from the Beaufort area, the lake was built in the 1940s as a reservoir and source of hydroelectric power for the growing state. Lake Moultrie is wide and shallow and formed by the Pinopolis Dam and a series of earthen dikes. These impoundments flooded vast fields, forests and farmlands of the Santee River region, creating the lake and a green network of swampy forest that soon became a haven for wildlife — and nearly impenetrable by humans.
The Jungle trail offers access to such a watery wonderland and it must be experienced to be appreciated.
Cypress and water lilies and osprey, oh my!
The Jungle trail begins in Lake Moultrie and easily reachable by kayak or canoe. You can launch at the Gourdine boat ramp or any number of public landings on the lake. From Gourdine landing, the passage to the Jungle and back is approximately 4-6 miles round trip, though you may take longer depending on your route.
Paddle along the eastern shore of Lake Moultrie to the entrance of The Jungle. This section of the lake is dotted with solitary or small groups of cypress standing in the shallow waters. Many of the trees provide nesting perches for osprey, and these ever-present fishing birds will watch you closely as you journey past.
After approximately 2 miles, the entrance to The Jungle will appear as a gap in the treeline on the eastern shore of the lake. Here you will depart open waters and enter the sylvan region of water lilies and their floating world, and it will indeed conjure images of the Okefenokee and its “land of the trembling earth.”
A visible trail will take you in a nearly straight line through this region to dead end into a retaining dike and deep lateral canal. Here, you can return to the lake to seek another entrance or, if you are more adventurous, follow the canal to another section of The Jungle.
Recently, I paddled The Jungle trail with a group of friends. We elected to follow the canal and discovered a dead-end at a grassy culvert that provided forest management access. Glimpsing the canal as it continued on the other side, we portaged our kayaks across the small obstruction easily and continued on our way.
The canal was also home to myriad aquatic plants and wildlife, and we were soon rewarded with a new passage to return to the lake. We followed the ruler-straight contour of the Wire Fence Canal and were soon back in the lake and its flooded cypress vista. After a short rest at a sandy beach on a convenient island, we returned to the landing paddling the glass-calm waters of Lake Moultrie beneath the Lowcountry sunshine.
The Jungle trail is a fascinating destination for recreation and for experiencing the natural world in one of the most unique settings the Lowcountry has to offer. Whether you seek a new destination for kayaking or canoeing or simply enjoy a day fishing on the lake, The Jungle trail will provide a world that you will not soon forget.
E. Moultrie Trail is rated “moderate, 4-6 miles” by the Berkeley Blueways organization. The water trail can provide enjoyment for all levels of experience with the proper preparation and understanding. A portion of the trip will be on the exposed lake, and good weather is important. The lake can be subject to sudden storms, and a breezy day can create choppy conditions.
Plan ahead and bring plenty of water, sunscreen and insect repellant according to the season. A convenient access point is the Amos Lee Gourdine boat ramp in Russellville, and this will provide a 4-6 mile round trip.
From the Beaufort area, take I-95 north to Exit 90 for US-176 toward Holly Hill. Turn left onto SC-45 and follow for approximately 25 miles to SC-35. At 2.5 miles, turn sharp right onto Russell Store Road, and the road will end at the landing.
For more information on The Jungle trail and the Berkeley Blueways program, visit https://berkeleyblueways.com/2020/04/27/the-jungle/