Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, extending 22 miles along the South Carolina Coast, is a rich mosaic of barrier islands with forest and ponds, vast salt marshes and intricate waterways. This diverse and dynamic system supports over 293 bird species and a myriad of other wildlife. Over fifty percent of refuge lands are designated a Class I National Wilderness Area.

Visit Us

Catching sea trout in the estuary

At Cape Romain NWR, tides ebb and flow through tidal creeks of the salt marsh salt marsh
Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

Learn more about salt marsh
and, sandy beaches and marsh wetlands meet the maritime forest. The diverse habitats and myriad of wildlife at the refuge present numerous recreation possibilities. Fish, birdwatch, beachcomb, observe nature with the naked eye or through a camera lens, hike, hunt, and go crabbing, clamming and  oystering. From dawn to dusk, the refuge is yours to experience and enjoy.

The islands and estuaries are only accessible by boat. Bring your personal boat and launch at the refuge's Garris Landing ramp. If you don't have a boat, Coastal Expeditions, the contracted concession, provides scheduled trips to Bulls Island and offers other tours on the refuge. You can fish, birdwatch, or just enjoy the view from the pier at Garris Landing.

Visit the refuge's Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center, located at 5821, Highway 17 in Awendaw, There, you can see and learn about endangered Red wolves, hike the Nebo Trail, fish the Nebo ponds, and view exhibits. Currently, the Center is open Thursday through Saturday from 9 am - 5 pm as staff are available. Please call the Sewee Center at (843) 928-3368 the day of your visit to confirm that the facility is open. When the facility is closed, the grounds are open to visitors. You may walk the trail, picnic, and view the wolves at the enclosure adjacent to the trail. If the entrance gate is closed, you can park your vehicle off of the shoulder of Highway 17 and walk inside the gate. 

The refuge headquarters is located close by the Center and open Monday through Friday from 8 am - 4 pm. 

When you visit Cape Romain NWR and the Sewee Center, be sure to dress for the weather and pack bottled water and insect repellent. 

 

Location and Contact Information

      About Us

      Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge stretches 22 miles along the coast of South Carolina. Cape Island to the north, is located offshore from the town of McClellanville and Bulls Island, the southernmost island, is off the mainland from the town of Awendaw. Established in 1932 to conserve habitat for migratory waterfowl and other bird species, its lands and waters include barrier islands with maritime forest and brackish ponds, emergent salt marshes and vast estuaries. Over fifty percent of refuge lands and waters is a designated Class I National Wilderness Area.

      Red knot on Marsh Island

      Cape Romain NWR provides critical habitat and protection for a vast array of wildlife that include many bird species of concern and threatened and endangered species such as the Red knot, Piping plover, and  American Oystercatcher.  Refuge beaches provide the largest nesting density for the northern population of the threatened Loggerhead sea turtle outside of the state of Florida. The refuge supports the endangered Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, with habitation for captive wolves at the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center. 

      Cape Romain's lands and waters are important for people as well as wildlife.The refuge is steeped with a rich maritime and coastal history as evidenced by ancient Native American shell mounds, archeological remains of a 1700's look-out tower, and two 1800's lighthouses both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, people come to see and learn about the cultural history and enjoy the many recreational activities. Local commercial fishermen continue to earn their livlihoods in refuge waters.

       

       

       

      Tours

      Lighthouse Tour

      Cape Romain NWR collaborates with the concession to provide cultural and ecology tours in the refuge. Four times annually, there is a tour to Lighthouse Island where you can view two historic lighthouses built in 1827 and 1857. Both lighthouses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

      Offered once annually in late Fall is the Long-billed curlew expedition, an exciting adventure through the salt marsh salt marsh
      Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

      Learn more about salt marsh
      estuaries to spot the uncommon curlew. The Bulls Island alligator tour, a guided walk over island dikes to sight these ancient reptiles, also occurs in the Fall.

      Throughout the year on Bulls Island, special sunrise photography tours are scheduled, when photograhers and nature lovers arrive on the beach before predawn to witness sunrise breaking over the Atlantic. Other eco-adventure tours to Bulls include the estuary kayak paddle and island hike and, a beach drop on the secluded north end where naturalists share coastal geology and island history.

       

       

       

      What We Do

      Cape Romain NWR was established to conserve and manage habitat for migratory waterfowl and other bird species. Over time, management practices expanded to include protecting endangered and threatened species, preserving maritime forest, conserving the wilderness area wilderness area
      Wilderness areas are places untamed by humans. The Wilderness Act of 1964 allows Congress to designate wilderness areas for protection to ensure that America's pristine wild lands will not disappear. Wilderness areas can be part of national wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests or…

      Learn more about wilderness area
      and, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation compatible with wildlife and habitat management such as hunting and fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental education, and interpretation.

      Conservation management on the refuge includes nest protection for the threatened Loggerhead sea turtle, bird surveys and protection of nesting areas for migratory seabird and shorebirds, care for the endangered Red wolf, and measures to eradicate invasive plant species. Water control structures at impoundments are managed to maintain habitat and maximize food supplies for waterfowl, wading birds and shorebirds.

      An abundance of finfish and shellfish species are found in refuge waters and fishing opportunities, both for recreation and commercial needs, occur throughout the year. All fishing activities are in accordance with the seasons and follow South Carolina state regulations and licenses. The refuge offers two archery hunts for white-tailed deer to maintain a healthy deer population suitable with the conditions and environment of Bulls Island . Federal and state regulations apply and all appropriate state licenses are required for hunting.

      Black skimmer colony survey

      Our Organization

      Cape Romain NWR, managing a landscape that sustains a plethora of wildlife and fish species, works collectively with federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, universities and individuals to support conservation programs in keeping with the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System and this refuge. Programs are undertaken to restore and enhance habitat, wildlife and fish populations, migratory birds, and preserve the historic sites at the refuge. 

      The Migratory Bird Program works with partners to protect, restore and conserve bird populations and their habitats for the benefit of future generations by: ensuring long-term ecological sustainability of all migratory bird populations, increasing socioeconomic benefits derived from birds,...
      The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages an unparalleled network of public lands and waters called the National Wildlife Refuge System. With more than 560 refuges spanning the country, this system protects iconic species and provides some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities on Earth.
      The Coastal Program is one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s most effective resources for restoring and protecting fish and wildlife habitat on public and privately-owned lands. We play an important role in promoting the Service’s mission and priorities, delivering landscape-scale...
      The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conserves more than just flora and fauna at America’s national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries. As mandated under the National Historic Preservation Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service also conserves tens of thousands of archaeological and historic...
      The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency tasked with providing information to the public on the extent and status of the nation’s wetland and deepwater habitats, as well as changes to these habitats over time.
      We administer the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), which encourages the conservation of storm-prone and dynamic coastal barriers by withdrawing the availability of federal funding and financial assistance within a designated set of units known as the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS)....
      We provide national leadership in the recovery and conservation of our nation's imperiled plant and animal species, working with experts in the scientific community to identify species on the verge of extinction and to build the road to recovery to bring them back. We work with a range of public...
      We work with partners to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend, developing and maintaining conservation programs for these species to improve their status to the point that Endangered Species Act protection is no longer necessary for survival. This...
      The realty division of the National Wildlife Refuge System supports the acquisition and management of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands, using Migratory Bird Conservation and Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars.
      Guided by the founding principles of the National Wildlife Refuge System and the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, federal wildlife officers protect wildlife and habitat and make refuges safe places for staff and visitors; conserve America’s natural resources; and seek to exemplify...
      Grants for states and territories, offered through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, fund participation in a wide array of voluntary conservation projects for species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, as well as candidate species and at-risk...
      Invasive species are non-native plants, animals and other living organisms that thrive in areas where they don’t naturally live and cause (or are likely to cause) economic or environmental harm, or harm to human, animal or plant health. Invasive species degrade, change or displace native habitats,...
      This competitive program provides funding for long-term conservation of coastal wetland ecosystems by helping States and Territories to protect, restore and enhance coastal habitats.

      Our Species

      Royal tern colony on Marsh Island

      Cape Romain NWR protects and manages habitat for migratory and resident birds, species of high concern, and threatened and endangered species. The refuge provides abundant foraging, nesting and resting areas for over 293 species of birds that include seabirds and shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, raptors, and neotropical and resident songbirds. In the Spring, many bird species like the Red knot arrive on the beaches of Cape Romain to forage and replenish their energy reserves to make their journeys farther north. Others, such as the Black skimmer, Wilson's plover, Black-necked stilt, and Least and Gull-billed terns arrive on the beaches to nest and raise their young during the summer months. The American oystercatcher nests on the refuge and can be seen year-round. The largest wintering population of American oystercatchers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts is found at Cape Romain. 

      Refuge forest and marsh habitats provide a haven for many mammals and reptiles as well, such as deer, bobcat, black fox squirrel, raccoon, diamondback terrapin and American alligator. Since 1979, the refuge has actively worked with federal and state agencies, universities, local organizations and associations, and volunteers to recover the threatened Loggerhead sea turtle. Instrumental in the recovery efforts of the endangered Red wolf since the Red Wolf Recovery Plan was implemented in the 1970's, Cape Romain continues to actively support the endangered Red Wolf Species Survival Program.

       

       

       

      American Oystercatcher
      Identification Tips: Length: 16 inches Large shorebird Bright orange, long, thick bill Head and breast black Dark gray back and wings White belly Large white patch on inner wing White uppertail coverts and dark tail Pink legs Adult: Yellow eye Orange orbital ring Juvenile: Eye dark and orbital ring...
      FWS Focus
      Least Tern

      Least terns are the smallest member of the gull and tern family. They are approximately 9" in length. Unlike gulls, terns will dive into the water for small fish. The body of least terns is predominately gray and white, with black streaking on the head. Least terns have a forked tail and narrow...

      FWS Focus
      red knot

      Length: 25-28 cm. Adults in spring: Above finely mottled with grays, black and light ochre, running into stripes on crown; throat, breast and sides of head cinnamon-brown; dark gray line through eye; abdomen and undertail coverts white; uppertail coverts white, barred with black. Adults in...

      FWS Focus
      Loggerhead
      Loggerhead Sea Turtle
      Loggerheads were named for their relatively large heads, which support powerful jaws and enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey, such as whelks and conch. The carapace (top shell) is slightly heart-shaped and reddish-brown in adults and sub-adults, while the plastron (bottom shell) is generally a...
      FWS Focus
      Red Wolf

      As their name suggests, red wolves are known for the characteristic reddish color of their fur most apparent behind the ears and along the neck and legs, but are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs. Intermediate in size to gray wolves and coyotes, the average adult...

      FWS Focus

      Our Library

      Our library is a repository of published documents that are relevant to the programs and management activities at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These documents provide information for what is undertaken at Cape Romain and the Service to protect, enhance and maintain our natural and cultural resources.

      Get Involved

      Would you like to learn more about the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and Cape National Wildlife Refuge? Moreover, would you like to help the refuge fulfill its missions of conserving and protecting our treasured natural and historic places? If so, we need You - your talents, time and enthusiasm. 

      From its start in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has owed its very existence to concerned citizens eager to protect America's natural resources. Since Cape Romain NWR was established in 1932, conservaton accomplishments at the refuge would not be possible without the support and dedication of Partners, Friends and Volunteers. Research, surveys, outreach programs, education, resource maintenance and enhancement, and wildlife protection are all programs undertaken to protect wildlife, habitat and our cultural sites on the refuge.

      Join us in our conservation mission. You can contact the refuge headquarters at (843) 928-3264 or email caperomain@fws.gov. If you are interested in a resident volunteer position, please see our opportunities at volunteer.gov. 

       

      Projects and Research

      Resource Intern relocates Loggerhead turtle nest

      Since its establishment, Cape Romain NWR has been a living laboratory of wildlife and habitat research and initiatives for state and federal agencies, universities and conservation organizations. Vegetation studies of maritime forest, recovery initiatives for the Red wolf and Loggerhead sea turtle, climate and sea level rise projects in the marsh estuary, air quality monitoring, and seabird, shorebird and waterfowl surveys have been implemented on the refuge and continue today. Indeed, the first studies of population and behavior patterns of the Loggerhead sea turtle were documented on the refuge in the early 1930’s and, the initial experimental releases of Red wolves to determine whether this critically endangered wolf could be re-established in the wild occurred on Bulls Island in the 1970s.