Lake Waccamaw is an 8,938 acre mystery. Located in Columbus County in the southeast corner North Carolina, the lake is one of the many landforms in this region known collectively as 'Carolina Bays'. Thousands of these 'bays' dot coastal North Carolina, Lake Waccamaw being one of the largest, and no scientist has conclusively determined how or why they exist. Named not for some ancient connection to the ocean, 'bay' refers to the predominant species of plant life found around them, namely the sweet bay, loblolly bay, and red bay. Mnay theories abound about the formation of these depressions...everything from meteorites to sea currents. Though most are now filled in, all were once filled with water. The most widely accepted theory of their formation is that prevailing winds stirred the waters of these ancient ponds which in turn scoured the elliptical depressions we see today. The one feature that sets Lake Waccamaw apart, however, is the low limestone bluff which sets along its north shore, directly in the path of water flowing into the lake. While most Carolina Bay lakes are fairly acidic and relatively devoid of life, Lake Waccamaw's limestone barrier acts as a natural filter for its waters providing a more neutral pH and thus allowing for a higher diversity of life.
Thankfully, the State of North Carolina has long had an interest in preserving this unique body of water, setting it aside as a State Park in 1976. The land area of the park is relatively small, at around 1800 acres, but the park also manages the lake itself giving it a total area in excess of 10,000 acres. Our plan this day was to take in as much of the trail system as we could by making a long loop, starting at the visitor center, around the southern end of the lake providing a look at the parks extensive pine forests as well as its dune and lakeshore environments. The overall length of the hike was around 6-miles but the flat terrain made for easy walking. I love my mountains, but a nice flat walk every so often doesn't go unappreciated. All in all this was a unique first hand look at a part of our home state I don't get to all that often. It was a wonderful reminder of what incredibly varied environments we enjoy in this part of the country. Come on along...
Hike Length: ~6.0 miles Hike Duration: 2:30
Trailhead Temp: 70'F
Min. Elevation: 40' Max. Elevation: 55'
Total Vertical Gain: 30' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 5'