The world-famous Magnolia Plantation has been associated with the Drayton family since it’s founding in 1676. The plantation has survived the centuries and has been part of the history of our nation through the American Revolution, the Civil War and beyond. It’s also the oldest plantation site on the Ashley River.
Experience the history, beauty, enchantment and alluring fragrance of America’s last large-scale romantic-style garden, where nature controls the garden’s design. Today, Magnolia carries on that tradition with 60 acres of gardens that bloom year-round. Renowned internationally, Magnolia’s historic camellia collection blooms in the winter and vibrant azaleas splash color in the spring.
Unlike most of America’s gardens, which are formal and seek to control nature, Magnolia cooperates with nature to create a tranquil landscape like Eden, where humanity and nature are in harmony. Magnolia offers a romanticized, theme-park homage to the way things were for Charleston’s gloriously wealthy families before the Civil War, with some added goodies for the historically disinclined. If the Epcot Center had a Plantation Pavilion, this would be it.
With 60 acres of cypress and tupelo black water swamps and 125 acres of waterfowl refuge, Magnolia Plantation is a bustling wildlife and nature center in the midst of Charleston County. The Plantation is as old as it is embedded in Charleston culture, and exploring the gardens will help you realize why.
The gravel and dirt trails are gorgeous, often under canopies of oaks and vines, that provide a rooftop tunnel of green along the way. The plantation offers easy hikes, that take you around some of the most beautiful trails in the low country. And don’t forget to check out the 60 acres of swamp, where alligators may be there to greet you.
If your legs tire, or you just need a breather, take a seat on one of the many benches around the Plantation and appreciate how magical your surroundings are. Or take a break and slip back in time, as your boat glides through Magnolia’s old flooded rice field along the Ashley River. Don’t forget the camera either, as this is one of the most picturesque places in Charleston.
Alligators still slip silently across canals, as egrets wade along shore, stalking fish and frogs. When you return from your boat ride wander through The Audubon Swamp Garden, a unique world where trees grow from the water, islands float, and everywhere wild creatures go about their secret lives. It boasts a diversity of living things almost unequaled anywhere else in America.
As I walked along one of the trails in the Audubon Swamp, snapping photos as I went, I forgot to pay attention to my immediate surroundings. I was taking a photo of a small alligator floating in the water and completely missed the big alligator lying across the bank directly in front of me. There was a huge shrub (pictured below) growing from the water, which helped camouflage the beast. I must have startled it (It sure as hell startled me!) because I felt the wind from its tail, as it whipped around and disappeared into the water.
I turned and high-tailed it back in the other direction, and by accident stumbled upon something entirely unexpected: a collection of slave cabins built in the 1850s and restored to reflect African-American life on the plantation at different periods between 1850 and 1969.
Magnolia Plantation has appeared on Scariest Places on Earth and Ghost Hunters.
Many ghosts are said to plague the property. Neighbors say they still hear the murdered overseer’s screams and feel his icy presence. Enslaved blacksmiths would incorporate hidden voodoo symbols on Christian crosses used as LeComte grave markers. The slaves often cast evil wishes on their oppressive masters using voodoo. In the main house, there is a room dubbed “The Dying Room”. It is said that many of Magnolia’s residents went to this room to die.
Legend says that Confederate soldiers who died in the slave cabins are said to be buried in shallow graves surrounding the cabins, though no one has ever did a thorough search. It is believed they whisper the names of the living. Sometimes, even attempts to possess them in order to get the revenge they seek.
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION HOUSE The house tour is a 30-minute guided tour, giving history of plantation life and Drayton family ownership, still current through twelve generations since 1676.
NATURE TRAIN The Nature Train is a 45-minute tram tour of the Plantation’s diverse landscapes, lakes, woodlands, marshes, and rivers while guides describe plantation history and wildlife.
NATURE BOAT The Nature Boat is a 45-minute boat ride that explores the Plantation’s 125 acres of rice fields while guides describe plantation rice and river culture. This tour offers excellent wildlife viewing, including up-close looks at alligators.
AUDUBON SWAMP GARDEN The Audubon Swamp is a black water cypress and tupelo swamp, lovely, mysterious, and unique to the area. Once a freshwater reservoir used for rice cultivation, the entire 60 acres is traversed by boardwalks, bridges, and dikes, featuring all varieties of local mammals, birds, and reptiles, including bald eagles, herons and egrets, otters, turtles and yes, alligators. Allow at least 45-minutes for a self-guided walk. (BEWARE OF ALLIGATORS! The staff will tell you that alligators are present and warn people about getting close, but they fail to tell you that some alligators may be right on the path! BE AWARE of your surroundings, especially in the Audubon Swamp.)
The Romantic Gardens are said to be among the last of their kind in the United States, and their magnolias and live oaks laze beside the alligator-infested water as if to tell you they were here before you and they will be here after you. One of the most visited plantations in South Carolina, Magnolia Plantation delivers in beauty and history. It’s a breathtaking plantation in the heart of the low country.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is open from November through February from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm with ticket sales ending at 4:00 pm. Spring hours, beginning in mid-March, when the time changes, through October, are 8 am until 5:30 pm. Magnolia is open 365 days a year, including all major holidays. The Audubon Swamp Garden maintains the same hours as the plantation. Basic garden admission of $15 for adults and $10 for children 6-12 is required to purchase any of the guided tours, including the un-guided Audubon Swamp tour.
3550 Ashley River Rd.
Charleston, SC 29414
Call (843) 571-1266
Summary: Saturated in history and beauty, Magnolia Plantation is worth the steep admission fee.