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Huntington Beach State Park makes website’s top ‘Vanlife’ spots

10 Jul

Huntington Beach State Park makes website’s top ‘Vanlife’ spots

Folks who prefer to see the country from behind the wheel of a custom leisure travel van are being urged to make their way to  Huntington Beach State Park.

That’s advice in a  just-published list from MatatorNetwork.com, a leading lifestyle site for travel and adventure. The website has named Huntington Beach State Park, located at the center of South Carolina’s Hammock Coast, as one of “Nine epic places in the U.S. to visit on your first #vanlife trip.”

Jacqueline Kehoe, a writer for publications such as National Geographic and Backpacker, compiled the list for Matador. She notes that 2020 has taken decked-out vans into the mainstream for people looking to travel on wheels smaller and more wieldy than a traditional RV.

Debbie Stephens of Greenville, SC, relaxed outside the LTV she shares with her husband, Jerry. (Provided photo)

“Van rental companies — the decked-out, traveling kind — are popping up all over,” Kehoe wrote, “appealing to both locals and tourists alike as a second epidemic strikes: cabin fever.”

Indeed, as Americans continue to face travel restrictions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, traveling in a decked-out van readymade for overnight stays and adventure can really hit the spot.

Kehoe noted that Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet has something for everyone – and then some.

Debbie and Jerry Stephens bought their first custom travel van in 2015. (Provided photo)

“A castle on a beach? Yes, you can have that experience — even in the States,” she wrote. “South Carolina’s Huntington Beach State Park is home to the Atalaya Castle (or simply Atalaya), a National Historic Landmark done in Moorish Revival style. The state park also has a three-mile beach on the Atlantic, a freshwater lake, hiking trails, and plenty of opportunities to spot loggerhead turtles and watch for migrating birds. If you tire of your own cooking, the nearby Marsh Walk has plenty of wonderful seafood restaurants and local options right on the water for fresh, al fresco dining.”

Carolina LTV’ers, a Travelers Club for leisure travel van owners, had planned its largest group rally ever at the state park in April, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had to be canceled. Organizers say they hope to visit the park at another time.

Greenville residents Jerry Stephens and his wife, Debbie, are the chapter heads for the Carolina LTV’ers group and have owned their own van since 2015.

Custom travel vans are about 24-feet long and have all the comforts of home. (Photo courtesy of Leisure Travel Vans)

“I haven’t been to Huntington Beach State Park yet, but we had about 20 to 30 vans, so about 60 people, coming this past spring,” Stephens says. “Huntington was chosen because of its great amenities, the great birdwatching opportunities and the beach access, so we certainly are looking forward to coming sometime in the future.”

He explained that leisure travel vans are built on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis and are “from tip to tail, about 24-feet long.”

“They are built on a van chassis and are easier to drive than the larger RVs,” Stephens explains, “and because they are smaller, you can get them into locations that a large RV can’t. An LTV provides the conveniences you have at home, but it does it on a smaller footprint.”

The vans have small kitchens and bathrooms, TVs with satellite or even cable hookup, and various models for sleeping — for example, twin beds or, like the Stephens’ own van, a Murphy bed.

While LTVs are not new to the travel scene, both Kehoe and Stephens note, there seems to be an uptick in their popularity.

“There are a couple of reasons,” Stephens says. “One is the Baby Boomer population is entering retirement. They’ve done the week vacation with the kids in tow, but now they want to go see the country by themselves. The leisure travel van is really made for two people and some pets, and that’s the second reason, really. A lot of LTV owners have pets, be it dogs or cats or even a parakeet. They want to get out, but they don’t want to put their dog in a kennel for two months, you know? This allows them to go see the country and take Fido along with them.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, Stephens says, LTVs also allow “some people an opportunity to see their grandkids but not worry about flying.”

“It’s giving people a safer option for traveling,” he says, adding that LTVs are “glamour camping in a fairly small package.” An LTV, which can cost between $140,000 and $150,000, gets about 16-18 miles per gallon on diesel fuel.

Jerry and Debbie Stephens, who are the chapter heads for Carolina LTV’ers, have traveled all the way down the Atlantic Coast. This shot shows their van in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. (Photo provided)

In addition to Huntington Beach State Park, the eight other locations making Kehoe’s must-do list were Mesa County, Colorado; Mt. Washington Valley, New Hampshire; Tybee Island, Georgia; Stanley and Snake River Valley, Idaho; Bishop, California; Sauk County, Wisconsin; Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon; and Seward, Alaska. To read the Kehoe’s full article, go here.

Huntington Beach State Park is a South Carolina landmark. It has 173 campsites – 107 standard campsites with water and electric, 66 full-hookup sites with water, sewer and electric. There are sixrustic tent sites for tent camping only, and three picnic shelters available for group gatherings. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted within the park’s 2,500 acres.

Park admission is $8 for adults, $5 for South Carolina seniors and $4 for youth age 6-15. Children 5 and younger are admitted for free. There is an additional $2 admission fee for Atalaya Castle for anyone aged 6 and up.

South Carolina’s Hammock Coast consists of six communities in Georgetown County: Murrells Inlet (where the state park is located), southern Garden City, Litchfield Beach, Pawleys Island, Andrews and historic Georgetown.

Since buying their LTV, Stephens and his wife have traveled all along the East Coast — up to Maine and down to Florida. They plan to branch out to the rest of the country soon.

“An LTV gives you a lot of freedom to change plans quickly, if needed,” he says. “You’re in control, but you’re not in control of the airlines. You can plan your own meals that you can fix in your own space. And you can go to some of the best places around the country and get close to nature — at national parks or places like Huntington Beach State Park. LTVs check all the boxes.”

— By Mark A. Stevens, director of tourism development, Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce

Not only do custom vans have all the comforts of home inside, there’s storage for things like bicycles, too. (Photo courtesy of Leisure Travel Vans)

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