Besides the historic buildings of downtown Charleston, the outdoors of the Lowcountry also offers an enriching natural history lesson and a source of exercise and entertainment. Visitors and residents alike will find one of the oldest living things east of the Mississippi River and countless opportunities to view wildlife. Here are just some of parks that the Lowcountry has to offer. For more, check out our community profiles starting on p. 86.

Angel Oak

At 25 feet wide at the trunk and hundreds of years old, it's the grandest of the many live oak trees on Johns Island. Visitors to this free attraction off Maybank Highway can stroll under its gnarly, sprawling branches or have lunch in the shady areas nearby, but they're warned not to climb.

Azalea

This 16-acre oasis in the heart of Summerville offers an easy escape. Springtime blooms make it the focus of the Flowertown Festival. But any season is a good one to hike its pathways that wind past wetlands, statues and trees. There are tables, an amphitheater and tennis courts to boot.

caw caw

Don't forget a camera at this former rice plantation off Savannah Highway near Ravenel. Wildlife photographers can choose from waterfowl, alligators, kites, eagles and native tea plants. Elementary to college students can learn about the environment and history during educational programs. Hikers can enjoy 6 miles of trails and boardwalks.

Charles Towne

Board the replica sailing ship docked here and be transported to the late 1600s, when English settlers landed at this spot in West Ashley. The Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site offers exhibits about Colonial history and a popular zoo, with bears, bison and birds.

james island

On 643 acres, visitors will find room to play no matter their outdoor activity. The waterpark is a big summertime draw. People also can rent bicycles and kayaks, or test the climbing wall or the disc golf course inside the county park. Those looking to stay can reserve one of 124 campsites and 10 cottages.

Palmetto Islands

Its waterpark is a hot spot for Mount Pleasant children looking to cool off, but this 943-acre tract is fun for everyone. It has paths for hiking and biking, creeks for fishing and a tower for sightseeing. Children might enjoy the playground, and dogs can run freely in designated areas.

riverfront

Residents can avoid beach crowds by soaking up sun on this grassy spot on the Cooper River in North Charleston. With a pavilion, it serves as an event venue for a July Fourth fireworks display. Otherwise, with grand oaks nearby, visitors can simply find peace and watch boats go by.

Waterfront

You'll have to get in line for the swinging benches at one of downtown Charleston's most popular parks. Tourists tend to crowd its 12 acres because its pier and waterside walkway provide vistas of Charleston Harbor, the Ravenel Bridge and Fort Sumter. Children can enjoy dowsing themselves in water fountains.