The ACE Basin: A Natural Marvel in South Carolina

Just a 25-minute drive from Bluffton lies a natural marvel untouched by commercial industry. The ACE Basin — named for the convergence of the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers — offers 350,000 acres of diverse ecological beauty and the Southeast’s most expansive estuary system.



Although some of the area’s tidal wetlands were converted to rice plantations in the mid-1700s and into hunting retreats in the late 1800s, the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge has ensured that approximately 12,000 acres of this natural environment will serve as a protected habitat for the creatures that call it home, including a number of endangered and threatened species.

Bird watchers travel to South Carolina’s ACE Basin to watch bald eagles soar overhead and marvel at the ospreys, egrets, herons and sandpipers as they gracefully flit around the wetlands of Bear Island. Hunters seasonally descend upon the forests of the basin’s Donnelley Wildlife Management Area in search of white-tailed deer and wild turkey.

The basin’s collection of pristine freshwater streams, saltwater marshes, tidal creeks and brackish waters offers fishing enthusiasts a chance to catch large bass and to spot members of the ACE Basin’s large family of alligators. Visitors are invited to paddle through this area by kayak or canoe and enjoy the sights and sounds of this natural treasure.

Offering excellent hiking, biking and nature trails, the ACE Basin is the perfect place to introduce children to the wonders of biology and ecology. The less adventurous can get a taste of the basin’s swamps, wetlands, uplands and forests by driving along designated dirt roads or down the make-shift road lined by moss-draped live oak trees to Grove Plantation. The antebellum house that now serves as the office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge, was once owned by Brooks Brothers’ President Owen Winston and occupied by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.

The ACE Basin’s public sites, including Bear Island, Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, the Edisto River and the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge, are open to the public year-round during daylight hours. Dogs are permitted, but must be on leashes.