“Silver Bluff is a very celebrated place,” begins American naturalist William Bartram’s account of his scientific expedition from Charleston to the Cherokee Nation in 1776.
Bartram’s journey of discovery took him by horse and on foot the length of South Carolina and Georgia during an age when much of the world outside of the Lowcountry was still wilderness and in the shadow of the gathering storm of the American Revolution.
Bartram crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina at the landing of Silver Bluff below the frontier town of Augusta and found a sylvan paradise layered with history and legend. He recounted abundant wildlife, a riot of plants and trees and made special note of the high sandy bluff that towered some thirty feet or more above a bend in the river, making it a landmark for travelers and a magnet for civilization.
A frontier fort had been built on the site of an old Indian trading post. Before that, Native American villages dominated and included legends of a visit by Spanish Conquistador Hernando deSoto in 1540 in a vain search for silver that resulted only in Silver Bluff’s colorful name.
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Today, human activity has quieted at Silver Bluff but it is still a “celebrated place” in that its 175 acres of riverfront woodlands and fields form the Audubon South Carolina’s Silver Bluff Sanctuary. The area is open to the public year round to explore trails, programs and an interpretive center.
One of the most unique ways to experience the Silver Bluff Sanctuary and its surroundings is by water. A kayak or canoe trip along the winding Savannah provides stunning views of the landscape and ecosystem along with other features that will make it a memorable journey.
An ideal put in is the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam Park, located just below Augusta, Ga. Easy to access and well-maintained, the landing will put you on the river within sight of the old canal locks and dam south of the city. A short paddle against a decent current will bring you to the bright, moving water below the locks and even allow you to explore the old canal locks for a short distance. This massive structure once allowed commercial shipping and boat traffic from the sea to Augusta and beyond. Only in recent decades has this been discontinued. But not long ago, barges and ships could travel the river’s length.
Now quieter, this stretch is touched mainly by recreational boating and the ever-present wildlife that crowd its miles.
From the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam Park, your trip will take you 16 miles downstream to Jackson Boat Ramp on the South Carolina side. Along the way, you’ll pass through a region that is still heavily forested but bordered at times by lowland agriculture and fields. This is a remote stretch with few houses and no bridges. You will get a sense of what life in the Lowcountry at the edge of the fall line may have been like during Bartram’s time or even deSoto’s.
As you pass beneath birch and other trees just showing the touch of fall color or listen to the chatter of songbirds in the willows, you can appreciate what Native Americans knew long before us: that we indeed inhabit a paradise on earth.
Along each mile and bend, you’ll pass numerous golden sandbars that beckon you to stop and enjoy.
Silver Bluff is just above Jackson Boat Ramp and comes upon you in dramatic fashion as its yellow and white sand reflects the afternoon sun. A pause and a short climb up the shore will bring you to a pine forest and the edge of wildlife management fields. Whether you wish to spend a day on the water experiencing the wild firsthand or a daytrip or tour through the Audubon Silver Bluff Sanctuary, a two hour ride from Bluffton will bring a rewarding day you will not soon forget.
Audubon’s Silver Bluff Sanctuary and nearby Silver Bluff are located just two hours from Bluffton at 4542 Silver Bluff Road near Jackson, S.C.
For a paddling trip, the Savannah Lock and Dam Boat Landing is located a half hour beyond at 2116 Lock and Dam Road in Augusta. The take out on the South Carolina side is the Jackson Boat ramp located at 550 Landing Road in Jackson. All are easily accessible by car with some dirt road travel. The Savannah Lock and Dam Park is paved all the way and located adjacent to the Augusta Airport.
To get to Audubon’s Silver Bluff Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, take S.C. 321 from Bluffton through Hardeeville fifty miles to Estill. At Estill, take S.C. 3 for 30 miles to S.C. 125. A left on S.C. 125 will take you through the Savannah River Nuclear Site to Jackson. Take a left on S.C .5 and then a left onto Bluff Landing Road. At 2.2 miles, take a right onto Silver Bluff Road that leads you to the sanctuary.
Remember, a wildlife sanctuary is a conservation effort and not a park. In addition, a paddling trip on the Savannah should be undertaken with companions or a tour group. Have a float plan, bring plenty of water and food.
For more info, go to sc.audubon.org/visit/silver-bluff or call 803-471-0291 to arrange a private tour.