One of the most amazing coastal rivers in South Carolina, the Ashley River runs more than 30 miles from its headwaters in the Great Cypress Swamp, Dorchester County, South Carolina to the Charleston Harbor. Not only is the area a recreational hotspot for paddling, wildlife watching and enjoying the river from its banks, but it is also rich with history including iconic plantations predating the Revolutionary War.

The Ashley River provides an amazing connection between a historically significant river and diverse natural resource in South Carolina in a relatively undisturbed tidal ecosystem. The Ashley River area contains 26 separate sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Middleton Place, and Drayton Hall. In addition, the Ashley also provides habitat for abundant wildlife including endangered sturgeon, striped bass and the rare swallow-tailed kite. Tidally influenced throughout its length, the upper river provides paddlers sanctuary from large, motorized boats which frequent its lower reaches where it adjoins the harbor.

The Ashley River’s historical, cultural, and natural significance to South Carolina cannot be overstated. The river mouth served as the site of the state’s first permanent European settlement in the late 1600s and plantation owners began developing the upstream land along the river a century later. The river remains home to fish and wildlife, scenic landscapes, and opportunities for families to enjoy time together outside. In 1992, the state’s Office of Coastal Resource Management worked with local communities to create the Ashley River Special Area Management Plan with the goal of preserving the river’s natural and historic character. In 1998, a portion of the river was designated as a State Scenic River in an effort to further protect its outstanding qualities. A second portion was added in 1999.

Check out these great resources about recreational, historic and other fun activities you can have on the Ashley River Blue Trail:

Conservation Successes

The Ashley River is located in one of the most rapidly growing regions in the United States. Because of this, it is even more imperative to promote and preserve the Ashley River as an easily accessible recreational oasis for a multitude of activities that do so much to benefit the local community economically, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Toward this end, plans for developing riverfront parkland, access points, special events, and programming that showcase the recreational value of the Ashley River figure prominently into Dorchester County’s current effort to create its first ever park system.

In 2018, the Open Space Initiative, partners on the Ashley River Blue Trail, protected 80 acres of a key brackish tidal marsh along the Ashley River at the former King’s Grant Golf Course in North Charleston. This land will be turned into a marsh park with a walking trail and river access point. The property is among the last undeveloped riverside land stretches along the south bank of the Ashley River in the populated area between North Charleston and Summerville.

A map of the Ashley River Blue Trail is available to help adventurers plan their next trip down the Ashley River [north map | south map]. Learn where to access the river, find historic features and explore this Lowcountry gem. A coalition of public and private entities pulled together to design and fund the Ashley River Blue Trail Map, which encouraged stewardship of this outstanding recreational resource. It is Dorchester County’s hope that the map must be updated frequently as additional blue trail infrastructure comes to fruition!


From Eric Davis, Director of Dorchester County Parks and Rec: As a fairly new resident and employee of Dorchester County, I am learning how extremely fortunate we are to host a portion of the Ashley River within our borders as it snakes from headwaters in Cypress Swamp toward ever-widening salt marshes and onward to Charleston Harbor. My daughter Mariella has taken her first paddle strokes in this waterway.


  • Paddling the Ashley River, Dorchester State Park, SC | Credit: Ashley Chapman, Park Manager at Historic Dorchester