Beaufort Blueways
Self-guided Paddling Trails
Penn Center Trail
This trail guides the paddler to the Penn Center via natural waterways, along the same creeks that have been used for centuries for transportation and fishing. For a map of trails, including GPS waypoints and other information, click here.

Kayak accessible dock at Penn Center showing dropped ledge for access and kayak storage rack.

Interpretive Information for the Penn Center Trail

Penn Center (

The Penn Center is the site of one of the country's first schools for freed slaves - its mission is to promote and preserve Sea Island History and Culture. Begun in 1862 as Penn School, an experimental program to educate Sea Island slaves freed at the beginning of the Civil War, it is the oldest and most persistent survivor of the Port Royal Experiment. The first principals were Northern missionaries Laura Towne and Ellen Murray. Both spent the next forty years of their lives living among and educating former Sea Island slaves, the Gullah people of the South Carolina Low Country. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

Today, it fosters a vision of shared culture, preserved history and attainable world harmony. Its mission is to preserve the unique history, culture and environment of the Sea Islands through serving as a local, national and international resource center, and by acting as a catalyst for the development of programs for self-sufficiency.

The York W. Bailey Museum was named for a Penn School graduate and the first African American Medical doctor to serve St. Helena and neighboring Islands. The museum is housed in the Historic Cope Industrial Building. The permanent exhibit, Education for Freedom: the Penn School Experiment 1862-, showcases some of the oldest professional photographs of African American people, the original 1863 school bell, and artifacts related to Sea Island and African American history and culture. The museum is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is $5 for adults; $4 for seniors; $2 for youth (up to age 16); and $3 for groups of 10 or more with advance reservations.

Overnight accommodations, meals and classes can be arranged through the Penn Center. Please contact them at:


Penn School National Historic Landmark District
P.O. Box 126, St. Helena Island, South Carolina 29920

Phone: (843) 838-2432
Fax: (843) 838-8545


Oyster Harvesting

Wallace Creek is one of the top oyster-producing areas in SC. While kayaking to the Penn Center, you will pass through both a State Shellfish Ground, open to the public, and a Shellfish Culture Permit area, which is privately maintained by a local oysterman for his use.

The oysters in this area are intertidal, and will probably be underwater when you visit. However, after launching from the landing, you may paddle over to the area of white poles sticking out of the water and see a “planted” site for oyster production. Old shells have been placed at this site by the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to promote the growth of oyster beds. During warm months, mature oysters spawn directly into the water, producing a free-swimming larva. These larvae must than settle on a hard surface and attach themselves, or they perish. These shell piles have been placed here to provide a hard surface upon which these young oysters will grow.

Farther up Wallace Creek you will begin to see signs proclaiming that these oyster beds belong to C-119. This is a private oysterman who leases these beds through a Culture Permit. C-119 pays the state of SC an annual fee of $5 per acre of oyster bed, and is required to “plant” 50 bushels of shell per acre to off-set the shell that he has removed from the site.       

Much of the shell that is used to replenish those which are removed from local waters comes from “Oyster Shell Recycling Sites”. Restaurants and local consumers are encouraged to bring empty oyster shells to these drop-off sites where they will eventually be returned to appropriate sites in our local waterways by SCDNR.

Oyster season is generally early September through May. Be sure to try some of these local delicacies while you’re in the area!   


The Oaks Plantation

As you paddle this trail, most of the land to the west comprises the property of The Oaks Plantation. The house at the Oaks is significant for its association with the establishment of Penn School, the first school for freedmen in the United States. After federal troops occupied St. Helena Island in November 1861, the owners left the island and the plantation was confiscated. Edward L. Pierce, one of the leaders of the Port Royal Experiment, chose the Oaks as his headquarters because it was the first plantation to be reached on St. Helena by boat from Beaufort. The Oaks remained the center for military and agricultural activities on St. Helena Island throughout the war. In 1862, Ellen Murray and Laura M. Towne opened a school for freedmen in a back room of the house. This school was moved to the site of today’s Penn Center in





How To Use This Trail

*Note - the Penn Center dock is unaccessible at low tide! Do not attempt to land at or depart from this dock for two hours before or after low tide. 

A short (3-4 hour) day trip: Leave from Wallace Landing, paddle the last hour of high tide up to the dock at the Penn Center, leave your boat on the dock, visit the museum ($5 fee), have a picnic lunch on the grounds, then paddle along with the falling tide back to Wallace Landing. Click here for Penn Center tides (same as the city of Beaufort). This trip is rated "easy" - it is on protected creeks and is only 3.2 miles round-trip.

A longer (6-10 hour) day trip: Paddle from Port Royal to the Penn Center visit the museum and have a picninc lunch, and paddle back. The total distance is 17.4 miles. This trip is best begun on a rising tide;  To get back to Port Royal you will need a falling tide. Click here for tides. The Port Royal/Penn Center trip is rated  “intermediate”,  and is best for paddlers with experience. Hazards that may be encountered include open water, wind-generated waves, strong tidal currents, large vessels using the Intracoastal Waterway, and summertime heat and thunderstorms.

A two-day trip can be made by paddling to the Penn Center from Port Royal (or even from downtown Beaufort, combining the Beaufort/Port Royal trail with the Port Royal/Penn Center trail) and spending the night at the Penn Center. Contact the Penn Center directly for information on accommodations by clicking here. Any trip from Port Royal to the Penn Center is rated "intermediate".  

Be aware of weather conditions. Up to the minute forecasts should be consulted before beginning this trip. Strong winds should be avoided. Click
here for a weather forecast.

Website Builder