Charleston, South Carolina is a mecca of sorts for Civil War history buffs. American history fans would argue it’s not just for the Civil War students, but it’s a city rich in history of a young nation engaged in multiple wars over 200 years. Recognizing the value Charleston brings to the American history scene, the National Park Service preserved three significant areas: Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie and Charles Pinckney’s Snee Farm. With three National Parks Sites in Charleston, Junior Ranger badge collectors can earn three badges. That also means there are three locations to secure National Park Passport stamps.
Spending 1 day in Charleston
I’ve been wanting to visit Fort Sumter for years. So when my husband needed to travel to Myrtle Beach for work, I knew this would be a great chance to see this incredible fort in the ocean.
Our schedule was tight. We only had 1 day to make the 2 hour drive south, see what we wanted to see and drive back to the hotel to meet up with my husband that evening.
To make it all work I had to plan every stop, every route and basically every second to get all of it in before all of the attractions closed at 5 p.m.
If you’re in a similar situation of only having 8 hours in the city (I had less, because we couldn’t be in Charleston until 10 a.m.) yet you want to see all of the same sites we saw then check out my itinerary below. I’ll explain why we made the choices we did within each stop.
Before you go:
We packed lunches that we could eat on the road. Normally I would find a restaurant that’s famous or noteworthy in the area but since our schedule had to be regimented we skipped dining out, including no stops for fast food. In the end it saved us time and money.
Start at 9 a.m.: Charles Pinckney National Historic Site – Badge 1
This site is small but worth visiting. Pinckney helped draft the Constitution, became the governor of South Carolina and owned a beautiful plantation in Charleston. He is called the ‘forgotten founder’ but once you visit you’ll learn more about the youngest man to sign the Constitution.
We skipped some of the major hiking around the property. We worked on the Jr. Ranger booklet on the back porch and walked through the small museum. We did check out the grounds around the house including the beautiful camellia bushes and oaks filled with Spanish moss. There are two films to choose from, Pinckney or a Charlie Brown film about the Constitution. We chose the documentary. It’s 18 minutes long. Worth watching and it’s a solid time to multi-task on the booklets and watch the film.
Time allotted: 40 minutes at the park.
No entrance fee and parking is free.
Junior Ranger Booklet tip:
Most of the answers to the booklet can be found in the foyer and the Constitution room.
There is a separate pavilion with water fountains and restrooms. Stop there before entering the home.
Traffic is heavy in Charleston – so despite a 10 mile difference between Pinckney and your next stop Moultrie it took us about 25 minutes to get there. Google maps fluctuated on drive time with traffic. So just allow for traffic in between stops.
Fort Moultrie National Monument – Badge 2
Fort Moultrie is a cool fort with tunnels, platforms and a small museum that is packed with great information. In preparation for our trip to Charleston we watched several videos about the key sites we were going to visit. Fort Moultrie’s visitor’s center video is available on YouTube. It’s 22 minutes long and extremely out of date. But it’s funny and memorable in a strange, informative way. We watched it at home before we left and I’m so thankful that we did because we ran out of time at Moultrie.
The fort is across the street from the museum. There is a self guided tour through the tunnels, sally port, battery, magazines, parade ground and observation decks. You can not climb on certain hills and battery areas.
Junior Ranger Booklet tip:
All of the information for the Jr. Ranger booklet can be found in the museum.
Time allotted: We were rushed through the park. It’s my biggest regret. We did see the fort and museum but it was rushed. We spent 40 minutes here and still barely made it to the dock to board the ship to Fort Sumter.
Adults are $3, children 15 and younger are free.
They do have National Park passes for purchase.
Facilities are outside of the museum to the right of the main entrance.
This lighthouse is managed by the National Park Service, however it isn’t open to the public because of asbestos. It is a working lighthouse and you can still see the flashing light at the top.
Fort Sumter National Monument – Badge 3
Getting to Fort Sumter is not cheap but the excursion is worth it. You’ll need to book a tour through Fort Sumter Tours. It’s the licensed concession boat service to the fort with two departure points, Liberty Square or Patriot’s Point.
We chose Patriot’s Point because the route from the port to Sumter includes an incredible view of the USS Yorktown. Parking is also much easier for bigger rigs or vehicles. Another reason I chose Patriot’s Point, the 1 p.m. departure time. Which would leave us enough time to drive from the port to John’s Island to see the oldest living organism east of the Mississippi River, Angel Oak tree which closes at 5 p.m. (You can still see it after 5 but you’ll have to view it from outside the fence which would be a bummer.)
The boat ride:
We stood in the back of the boat the whole time. As long as you hold on to the rail, they allow you to stand during departure and docking. It takes 30 minutes to and from the fort, you get an hour at the fort to tour the cannons, batteries, museum, gift shop and read the signage. You’ve got to hustle to see it all.
During the boat ride you will see dolphins, pelicans, various other birds, container ships, lighthouses and Castle Pinckney.
Of special note:
Don’t miss the Union flag inside the museum. It’s the actual flag that flew over the fort during the attack.
This was a 2 hour total time investment and I still feel like I wanted more time at the fort. We did see 90 percent of the fort but did miss some signs on one end.
Junior Ranger Booklet tip:
When you arrive at Fort Sumter ask a ranger immediately for the book (which is basically a 2 sided worksheet). They are kept in a lock box at the entrance. You can answer all of the questions using the brochures. You can also get answers from the museum, but it will take you longer and you don’t want to miss touring the grounds.
The badge is great, the design features a cannon ball flying through the air towards the fort.
You can skip a lower part of the worksheet if you don’t visit the Liberty Square museum.
Booking the ticket through Fort Sumter Tours – Adults $22 and children are $14.
Schedule and departure times are found here.
Parking is $5 for Patriot’s Point, pay at the gate.
Use the bathroom before you go, there are working toilets on the ship but not on the island.
The stamp is in the gift shop to the right of the museum.
Other points of interest:
Don’t miss the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridges spanning Charleston harbor. It’s an architectural wonder and makes for great pictures. You can also walk across it.
If you have time after your tops you can always venture down to Rainbow Row, the Pineapple Fountain and eat downtown. We missed all of these things because of our time constraints. All of these attractions are open after 5 p.m.
I mentioned we boarded the boat at Patriot’s Point but it’s more than just a dock. This is home to the USS Yorktown and a great military museum. If you have more than one day in the area go here to check out what this park and museum offers. You can also save on admission by purchasing ticket packages through Groupon.
- I did not receive compensation for this post from any sites. All products, services, fees and incurred expenses were paid in full with my own funds. All opinions, tips and advice are my own.
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