In Autumn, when the wispy tufts of cord grass in the salt marshes of Cape Romain turn golden, there's no better place in America to watch migrating ducks and shore birds from a kayak or canoe. This sprawling tidal estuary is in the middle of the longest undeveloped stretch—45 miles—on America's eastern seaboard, 22 miles of which make up the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. It boasts the world's largest nesting population of American Oyster Catchers, and the largest alligator colony outside of the Everglades. Camp on Caper's Island, harvest oysters for dinner, then pull up on Bull's Island Boneyard Beach where the encroaching sea has turned trees into skeletons. Or start your paddle in the blackwater Santee River, a mosaic of shrouded wetlands that flood bald cypress and water tupelo groves, and follow crumbling canals though rice paddies to the Atlantic.
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This story first appeared in the August 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak.