Magnolia Plantation & Gardens: A Winter Tour in Charleston

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Last month, my mom and I visited Charleston, South Carolina. Of course, the beautiful plantation houses were one of several things we wanted to see most. Although Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was only the first one we visited, this winter tour completely captured me so I knew it was going to be hard to beat by others. There are many reasons why I fell in love with Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and they are all right here!

The Entrance

driveway of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens Charleston

Driving down the long driveway to get to Magnolia Plantation made the perfect introductory, not to mention a pretty one!

driveway of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens Charleston

Thankfully, December is a slow month so I could hop out and get shots on the drive in while Mom watched for traffic. I was excited to be able to get these photos because I can think of so many movies where this kind of setting (not necessarily this property) was used. Can’t you see it now? Sigh…

Welcome to Magnolia Gardens sign, Charleston

We ran into this sign and it explained it all for me. Romantic. Opposite of formal and control, cooperating with nature for a tranquil landscape. All things that Type A people (like myself) secretly love, constantly crave, but generally fear to execute!

The House

looking at the front of Magnolia Plantation Charleston

Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, the first thing about the house that grabbed my attention was the double wraparound porch

sideview of Magnolia Plantation's majestic front columns

and its grand columns.

front porch view of Magnolia Plantation Charleston

The view from the front porch features manicured front gardens and a circular drive.

photo collage of house Christmas decorations Magnolia Plantation Charleston

As you can see, it was very nicely decorated for Christmas!

back wrap around porch of Magnolia Gardens Charleston

That wraparound porch literally wrapped all the way around to the back…

view from back porch of Magnolia Plantation Charleston

joining together at the back porch staircase that gives this view.

Since photos of the inside of the house aren’t allowed, I headed to the gardens while my mom toured the house. I couldn’t wait to see more of the grounds! The history of the plantation is really interesting though and you can read about it here.

The Gardens

quiet water setting with house peaking in from right side

Magnolia opened in 1870 making it America’s oldest public gardens. I wish someone had captured the look on my face when I was walking the grounds. I know my mouth was open because I felt like I was in some kind of fairytale!

trees reflecting in perfectly still water with orange leaves floating in foreground Magnolia Gardens Charleston

We got there not too long after it opened. Since it was the offseason, I basically had the gardens to myself as I only saw two other families the entire time. Both of these helped contribute to the serenity and provided great reflection shots-this one is my favorite!

another trees reflecting in perfectly still water with orange leaves floating in foreground

This same shot (zoomed out a bit) was taken right after the above photo but the lighting had changed slightly.

Spanish moss and trees reflecting in perfectly still water in Magnolia Gardens Charleston

Here, let me set the stage for you.

Cue: Silence (except for the very occasional cricket chirp or a bird flying through-you know the kind of silence where you feel like your thoughts are so loud that someone can hear them? Yes, that silence!). No wind, no one around.

It was really peaceful!

The Bridges

distance shot across water of iconic white footbridge in Magnolia Gardens Charleston

There are bridges all through the gardens. The iconic white bridge was the one I was most excited to see. I was even more excited when I saw they had decorated it for Christmas!

sideview of iconic white footbridge decorated for Christmas in Magnolia Gardens Charleston

Peaceful beauty, a reflection and decorated for Christmas? Almost too perfect! Seriously though, it really was photogenic. No surprise it’s a popular spot for wedding photos!

looking back over iconic white footbridge in Magnolia Gardens Charleston

After I crossed the bridge, I looked back and was treated to this!

wide shot of second white footbridge across the water in Magnolia Gardens Charleston

Looks like you can just walk across the water no problem, right?

head-on view crossing a second white footbridge in Magnolia Gardens Charleston

Unlike the water, you can definitely walk across the bridges!

sideview of a second white footbridge in the Magnolia Gardens Charleston

But again with the reflection-not one ripple in the water! Definitely walk around and notice all the different bridges. They all have a lot of personality!

The Surprise

in gardens looking back at Magnolia Plantation Charleston

Okay, so remember how I was setting up “the scene” for you a minute ago? Well, imagine you are standing in this photo looking around, taking it all in. Then imagine an enormous SPLASH that makes you jump (and possibly let out a short, girly scream but nevermind that)! I jumped like something had gotten me!

What in the world??

alligator slowly emerging from water

This guy is what in the world!

He found a snack and came out from the water to get it! Okay, he could have been a she, but I certainly wasn’t going to find out by invading its privacy. I mean we are both southern so I assure you this move was appreciated by both parties. 😉

Thankfully, he was a little ways off to my right and I wasn’t right on the water’s edge. There IS a warning sign for alligators posted, I had seen it and had even looked for bubbles in the water a few minutes earlier, but didn’t see any.

Heads up! They can still be there! He watched me, I watched him. I photographed him (with a zoom). He held still for me to do so. Alright, so the last one is a stretch as they are used to people, but it sounded good! Really though, don’t get too close to the water and watch your kids because you never know where they are.


The Second Surprise

closeup sideview of bald eagle in tree

A bald eagle! Totally unexpected!

bald eagle in the top of a tree

One of the groundskeepers got my attention and said “let me show you something.” He walked me a few feet back from where I was and pointed up. I would never have noticed him otherwise. The eagle lives here and is on “his perch” off and on all the time.

close up of bald eagle at the top of a tree

Gorgeous isn’t he??

bald eagle with one wing slightly extended

This made me laugh. Even majestic, bald eagles have to scratch the itch!! 🙂

The Regulars

squirrel climbing a tree

Some wildlife you expect to see…such as this squirrel who looked like he had definitely stored enough nuts for winter. There was a small surprise involved here too.

When I was telling the groundskeeper that I was surprised by how big the squirrels were, the look on his face told me this statement surprised him! He said most of their squirrels were pretty thin. I told him I found the reason. There is one who hoarded from everyone else for the winter!

butterfly on red/yellow garden plant

And lastly, I saw this beautiful butterfly.

Usually, butterflies flit away before I am able to get photos of them. Keeping in line with everything else in these magical gardens, this butterfly was calm and patient. Or hungry. More than likely hungry!

All of this was only around 1/3 of the grounds. Before I knew it, I had spent an hour and a half enjoying the calmness of the morning in just 1/3 of the gardens! All this in the height of winter with peak camellia season coming in January/February, so think how it will look when everything is in bloom in the spring!


1. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens is open 365 days of the year and is located at 3550 Ashley River Road, Charleston, South Carolina 29414. Hours of operation vary.

2. There is so much to do here for adults and kids! You can buy tickets for basic admission (includes the gardens, petting zoo, and a few other things) or add options to it such as the house or train and boat tours. You can find all of that information here.

3. Go as close to opening as possible. This is when you will get the best chance of seeing those undisturbed reflections and when crowds are at their lowest.

4. Watch (and watch out) for wildlife. Keep your camera ready because you never know when they might make an appearance!


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See why I enjoyed it so much? It was a whimsical winter wonderland with a touch of whisper for me! Definitely, something you don’t want to miss out on when visiting Charleston! Have you been? When did you go and what did you like most?

If you are looking for other fun things to do while you are in Charleston, check out the Wandering Queen’s list-she knows what’s up!

Also, see these fun snow activities if you are looking for other winter destination ideas!

‘Til next time…

Trimm Travels,


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  1. Wow what a great trip! I love how you talk about how peaceful it is and show the beautiful bridges and then suddenly an alligator jumps out from nowhere! Also I would love to see a bald eagle one day.

    1. Hi Anna, yes it was really peaceful! That alligator was something else. He scared the mess out of me! LOL! Bald eagles are beautiful and I wasn’t expecting to see one in South Carolina honestly! They are beautiful, majestic birds! Thanks for reading!

  2. Wow, what a beautiful plantation! You captured the serenity of the place in your photos. It has been a very long time since I’ve been to South Carolina and going in the offseason is perfect.

    1. Hi Laura, thank you! Going in the offseason definitely has its pros and cons. Unless there’s something you just have to see in the peak season, I find offseason is more affordable, usually cooler (as I much prefer cold weather to the heat and humidity of the south) and I can get photos without a million people in them and sometimes without any people in them! It was my first time to South Carolina in the offseason and at Christmas and it was gorgeous. Thanks for reading!

  3. What a treat to be able to visit such a beautiful garden and landscaped area off-season. We love to visit botanical and other city gardens anywhere in the world, and will add this one to our list. It sounds superb! And the wildlife is an added bonus — love seeing alligators. If you really want to experience the beauty of the wild AND alligators along with amazing flowers and reflections, try a canoe trip in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. 😉

    1. Hi Michael, I, too love to visit botanical gardens and wildlife refuges so I will definitely add Okefenokee to my list! That alligator surprised me and I squealed like he had me! LOL! Thanks for reading!

  4. Wow! Magnolia plantation gardens do look like they are straight out of a fairytale! That alligator looks quite menacing! Quite a scare. Glad you were not at the waters edge.

    1. Hi Shruti, yes I was glad I wasn’t at the water’s edge too! The gardens were my absolute favorite. Thanks for reading!

  5. Oh wow to think this garden has been here since 1870! Is the house from that era too, or is it newer?
    And you got some GREAT up close shots of that bald eagle! What a great surprise

    1. Hi Miranda, the plantation as a whole was founded in 1676, but I’m not sure about the house itself. I imagine it or some version of it existed starting then. It’s old!! And I was very excited about the bald eagle! Thanks for reading!

  6. This makes me miss the Spanish moss! The reflections are simply stunning, lovely photos!

    Also, I can’t believe they have a bald eagle living there. I’d love to see one.

    1. Hi Jenia, I know the Spanish moss is gorgeous, isn’t it?? I couldn’t believe they had a bald eagle either! They are very majestic creatures! Thanks for reading!

  7. Japanese engage in forest bathing, but i believe gardens have the same impact. They can be so soothing and you found a particularly pretty one. I would have screamed on seeing that alligator!

    1. Hi Punita, I agree, they are soothing and do have a very calming impact. Oh I did scream with the alligator situation. I just knew he had me! LOL! Thanks for reading!

  8. Firstly, I wish Canada looked like that in December! But it is absolutely beautiful. Charlseton is on our list, and this place looks like a fairytale of bridges and gardens and massive front porches. It is so peaceful, I would definitely plan a stop here.

    1. Hi Amy! Well, yes it definitely looks different than Canada in the winter! But ironically enough, while I was on this trip, my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama was getting 5″ of snow. It actually delayed our trip because we couldn’t get home. Could get to Atlanta but not through Atlanta or west of there to Birmingham. We shut down with snow! LOL! But yes, it’s really nice in the winter there. We started the trip at 70 degrees and ended with snow. Welcome to the South! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  9. The Magnolia Plantations and Gardens look so enchanting. Loved the bridges and the lakes, they lend such an ethereal quality to the premises. I was really impressed by the porch and the Romanesque columns. Could spend hours strolling around the gardens, though would be wary of our friend the Alligator!

    1. Hi Sandy! Yes I could have spent hours in those gardens too! I spent an hour and a half in just 1/3 of the gardens. I want to go back and spend more time. They were beautiful. Thanks for reading!

  10. That wrap around porch is just stunning. I want that in my dream home now! You went on such a beautiful winter day, lucky you!

  11. I love visiting offseason and having the place to ourselves. What a magical trip. My family is from South Carolina and always kept remodeling our house so we looked like landed gentry. We every revision that would add white pillars and expand the wrap around porches. I never thought of it as a thing until I started seeing the plantations of the South. The Magnolia Plantation looks really beautiful.

    1. Hi Jenn-that’s a cool story! Isn’t it weird that we don’t realize things are things until we get out of our surroundings? The Magnolia Plantation is gorgeous, definitely visit if you get the chance! Thanks for reading! 🙂

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