Walk among butterflies and wildlife at this SC botanical garden, ranked one of 10 best in the US

South Carolina is loaded with natural splendor. But did you know you can bask in nature’s beauty, but also view works of art, see exotic animals and learn local history all in one spot in the state?

Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet has delighted and educated visitors for decades. And it recently earned a spot among a new ranking as one of the best botanical gardens in the U.S.

Brookgreen Gardens ranked seventh out of the 10 best botanical gardens in the nation for the 2023 USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards. According to USA Today, the awards “highlight the best of the best in contests covering categories such as destinations, food and drink, hotels, and things to do.”

Located north of Charleston and south of Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens was founded in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. The botanical garden sits on property that spans 9,127 acres that preserves the site’s natural and cultivated landscape.

Highlights of the botanical garden include 250-year-old oak trees that were planted in the early 1700s when the site was four rice plantations. Nearby is a butterfly garden and a sculpture garden, along with a Palmetto garden.

But Brookgreen Gardens has even more than a vast a array of plants and flowers. The site also holds the Lowcountry Zoo, which has been a major part of Brookgreen since its inception.

Animals at the zoo include alligators, bald eagles, grey foxes, owls, river otters, ducks and more. The zoo offers visitors a chance to interact with some of the animals, along with daily tours with an interpreter who provides information about the creatures.

For those more interested in local history, Brookgreen has something to offer in that regard as well.

For instance its creek excursion, which lasts from March through November, lets visitors cruise creeks on a 48-foot pontoon boat. While on it, riders will pass historic rice fields, now home to alligators and waterfowl, as an interpreter explains the distinctive landscape of the rice plantations and the role of enslaved Africans who once worked there.

Brookgreen also offers a tour that includes a plantation cemetery, a Civil War earthen site and a historic mill chimney.