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A Lowcountry Family Getaway to Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina

By Stratton Lawrence

Jan 7, 2021

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Most of Palmetto Bluff’s 20,000 acres in South Carolina Lowcountry are wild and free.

Courtesy of Palmetto Bluff

Most of Palmetto Bluff’s 20,000 acres in South Carolina Lowcountry are wild and free.

Luxury abounds at the sprawling Montage Palmetto Bluff, but the resort’s best assets are the waterways and wildlife across 20,000 acres of South Carolina Lowcountry.

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During a long weekend at Montage Palmetto Bluff, you might not immediately notice that wildlife abounds. You’ll immediately be impressed by the courteous service—including staff that radios ahead so you’re constantly greeted by name—and the carefully curated decor across the resort’s properties. Original oil paintings and gorgeous Lowcountry photographs line the rooms, from the luxury cottages and village homes to the Montage’s main inn. 

Consider this two types of sanctuary: one in nature, one of nuture. Most of Palmetto Bluff’s 20,000 acres—a mix of residential, resort, and recreational space in South Carolina’s Lowcountry—are wild and free. The former hunting preserve is carefully managed to support a thriving population of wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and yes, bats, which are the subject of a research effort to boost their population. Likewise, an effort to increase the barn owl population is accompanied by a study of small mammals to ensure the forest’s wild population can support the growing bird numbers.

Guests may never hear about that (although they can by taking one of many tours and clinics offered by the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy), but that ethos of conservation quietly underscores the entire place. When a fox crosses your path on a bike ride through the pine forest, it’s there because the development around it was planned to leave room for that fox and its food sources, and generations of their offspring.

“It all begins with the land,” says Conservancy director Jay Walea. “It’s raw. It’s not put on. It’s not for show. When you come to Palmetto Bluff, you are totally immersed in nature.”

The author and his family get ready to sail Palmetto Bluff's waterways.

Day 1: Time on the water

Palmetto Bluff has two town centers—Wilson Village to the north and Moreland Village four miles south. They’re connected by salt water, via Cauley’s Creek and the May River, and by the Inland Waterway, a meandering freshwater impoundment that winds throughout the resort and its neighborhoods.

To get the lay of the land, it helps to start out on the water. Wilson Village offers multiple docks with soaring views across the salt marsh, whose green and yellow hues come alive over the water at the golden hour. Cast for trout from the floating dock in Moreland Village, or climb aboard the Grace, a 1913 motor yacht that’s been carefully restored to give guests an intimate view of the river and the scenic waterfront town of Bluffton.

Another option—highly recommended—is a private charter on the Hinckley Picnic Boat, an immaculate wood-and-fiberglass vessel that’s ideal for cruising the creeks. Sip champagne and watch dolphin surface around you while passing Bull Island, where a hard-packed bank of oyster shells constructed by Native Americans dates back thousands of years.

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Locals and guests have access to kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes at the Wilson Village Marina. The well-stocked population of bass in the Inland Waterway makes it a world-class freshwater fishery that’s a joy for experienced anglers and fun for kids.

Guided hikes reveal the natural and historical significance of the region.

Day 2: Time on the land

Palmetto Bluff wasn’t always a place designated for recreation. Staff archaeologist Mary Socci doesn’t sugarcoat the land’s history as a series of plantations, underscoring the atrocities committed during the era of slavery.

“It’s our shared history, and visitors need to understand it and really think about it,” she says. “If you have an understanding of what life was like here, it becomes easier to talk about and address some of the issues and problems we’re facing today.”

Socci leads tours throughout the resort, including walk throughs of the small cemeteries along the bluff overlooking the river. Development can only happen with meticulous excavation, and artifacts and interpretative displays appear throughout the resort, including at the Montage Palmetto Bluff's main inn.

Across its acreage today, Palmetto Bluff’s ecosystems range from stands of ancient live oaks to bottomland cypress forests to acres of towering longleaf pine. Biking and hiking trails crisscross the property, inviting long rides and runs, leisurely family strolls, or a trail ride. Guests can opt to explore on horseback via trail rides departing from Longfield Stables (pony rides are available for kids).

The land’s history as a hunting preserve is especially evident at the Shooting Club, where guests and members take aim along a 13-station sporting clay course that mimics the motions of a hunt. Quail flush at a shooter’s feet before a rabbit runs across the ground or a dove emerges from the field. It’s a challenge that can humble an experienced shooter or foster new passion in an aspiring marksperson.

The author's kids explore much of Palmetto Bluff on two wheels.

Day 3: Time to relax

Enjoying the outdoors at Palmetto Bluff doesn’t require constant activity—it is vacation, after all. At the inn, a heated pool and hot tub overlook the waterway, where you can watch anhingas nest on Bird Island, or see bald eagles and ospreys soar through the air. Fore & Aft, an open-air bar and lunch spot, serves upscale tacos, burritos, and margaritas, so it’s easy to spend a full day within walking distance of your room or cottage.

In Wilson Village, the Canoe Club offers another heated pool, set directly on the bluff overlooking the May River. If you need a brief sweat before a dip, the Lawn and Racquet Club features eight Har-Tru tennis courts, plus dedicated pickleball courts, a croquet lawn, and bocce ball. There’s also the May River Golf Course, a nearly 7,200-yard, walking-encouraged course that winds through the maritime forest and salt marsh.

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In the evenings, dine at Cole’s, where the kid-friendly smokehouse-and-seafood menu is complemented by a four-lane bowling alley and a billiards room. (Vegetarians will enjoy the jackfruit gumbo served over Carolina gold rice perloo.) Or opt for pizza and pasta at the southern Italy–inspired Buffalo’s, named for a bison that swam over from a nearby island and freely grazed the property in the 1980s. Across the lawn at the River House, families gather around firepits for nightly s’mores, enjoyed under the stars with views across the marsh.

Private childcare is available via a concierge, letting parents enjoy a romantic dinner or swim in the heated pool at the Canoe Club.

Private childcare is available via a concierge, letting parents enjoy a romantic dinner at the Canoe Club, where the focus on seafood and local produce highlights the best of seasonal Lowcountry cuisine. During the day, kids ages five to 12 can participate in Paintbox, Montage’s children’s program that introduces the resortcs amenities to the younger set, from a morning of golf instruction to archery lessons. Kids can earn Montage Merit Badges for catching fish and roasting S’mores, and explore treehouses in each village.

“Our goal is help children gain new experiences while they’re here,” says Alex Gregory, Montage Palmetto Bluff's director of sales and marketing. “You never know what interests your kids will have until they’re exposed to them, so we offer the opportunity to try a lot of new things.”

Gregory explains that the “just have fun” attitude behind the kids’ programs is echoed in offerings for adults: “Palmetto Bluff is a place for people to come and relax and enjoy the Lowcountry’s natural spirit of hospitality.”

Montage Palmetto Bluff's cottages feel like a proper (and impeccably decorated) home away from home.

Luxe, laid-back Lowcountry

Palmetto Bluff puts the best of the Lowcountry in a bubble. Climb with your kids at sunset to the top of the five-story tree house along Cauley’s Creek, and it’s easy to forget about next week’s deadlines. By day three of a visit, you’ll stop trying to plan your schedule to squeeze in a morning mountain bike ride before your fly-fishing charter, and you’ll just sit on a dock watching your daughter pull catfish from a lake, smiling all the while. This is a place to enjoy Lowcountry life at a pace it’s meant to be lived.

At every restaurant and in every room during a stay at Palmetto Bluff, the details hint at careful consideration. Lofted ceilings are the norm. Cottage rooms are designed around a roaring (gas) fireplace, ignited with the flick of a wall switch. In Octagon, the fine-dining restaurant inside the inn, a triple layer of 12-inch crown molding frames the dining room. These little things—even those you may never see, like a threatened species of bat—make Palmetto Bluff a truly special place to discover.

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