10 Tips to Visit Congaree National Park

Last updated: May 1st, 2023 | Originally published: April 30, 2023
Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park, like the Congaree River, is named for the Congaree people who once lived in this region. Not much is known about the Congaree as a significant number of their population is thought to have died in the 17th and 18th century, likely due to warfare and disease.

Designated as a national park in 2003, Congaree today encompasses over 26,000 acres of bottomland and upland forest in the Midlands of South Carolina. As a federally designated Wilderness Area, Important Bird Area, and International Biosphere Reserve, Congaree not only plays an important ecological role, but it serves as a reminder of what our nation used to look like prior to the arrival of Europeans explorers and colonists.

We visited Congaree National Park in November 2021. The following are ten tips and bits of information we believe are worth passing along. We hope you enjoy.

1. Old Growth Flood Plain Forest

Congaree National Park protects the forested floodplains along the Congaree and Wateree rivers in central South Carolina, including 11,000 acres of old-growth forest. And just so we’re clear, old-growth flood plain forest is the circumlocutory way to say swampland.

2. The Boardwalk Loop Trail is Wonderful

The can’t-miss thing to do at Congaree National Park is a 2.6 mile elevated boardwalk jaunt that loops through the largest remaining parcel of old-growth hardwood forest in the USA (see above photo). The boardwalk begins at the visitor center. Be sure to grab the self-guided tour brochure and follow along with the checkpoints.

If you would like to extend the hike, when you arrive at the mid-point of the boardwalk, simply take the staircase down onto the trails and wind your way along Weston Lake and beyond. It will be obvious where to exit the boardwalk. The Weston Lake loop trail is 4.7 miles in addition to the 2.6 mile Boardwalk Loop Trail.

Congaree National Park

3. Kayak or Canoe on Cedar Creek

Travelling on Cedar Creek by canoe or kayak is a great way to experience Congaree National Park. This waterway passes some of the tallest trees in eastern North America.

The Cedar Creek Canoe Trail winds approximately 15 miles through the Congaree Wilderness. You can start at Bannister’s Bridge or the Kingsnake Trailhead. Here’s a map showing the layout.

Palmetto Outdoor is one of the local kayak/canoe outfitters in the area.

4. Congaree National Park was a Slave Hideout

For enslaved people seeking freedom, this jungle-like wilderness served as a refuge. Many ran to the woods to find freedom while remaining near family and supplies. Called “maroons,” these men and women made the decision to live a rough life in the wilderness rather than be subject to the cruelty of slavery. To learn more, here’s an interesting link.

5. Visit Congaree National Park in the Fall

One way to make your visit to Congaree National Park extra special is to visit in the fall for the changing of the colors. The best time is from late-October well into November. The deep yellow and orange hues are beautiful against the last green holdouts of summer, and temperatures are mild this time of year.

6. Cotton Farms Nearby

Have you ever seen a cotton farm/plantation? If not, you’re in luck; Congaree National Park is surrounded by them. During harvest season you will find cotton smattered along the side of the road and bundled high in the fields. Before you snatch a clump off the ground like a fruit-of-the-looms freeloader, be ye warned there are spikey things within the white fluff.

Congaree National Park

7. The Hikes are Similar at Congaree National Park

Here’s a link to Alltrails highest-rated hikes. We found the trails redundant and cannot honestly recommend much beyond the boardwalk. Unless you’re a swamp lover — in which case this is your Graceland — a few miles strolling in the park goes a long ways.

8. Columbia is the Nearest Big City

If you’re travelling from Charleston, Congratulations! You’ve found one of the best cities in America! The drive to Congaree National Park is about 100 miles.

Click HERE to learn all you need to know about Charleston.

If you’re arriving from Columbia, lower-case congrats. Depending on where you’re staying in the city, it’s about 20 miles to the park. Sadly, we haven’t found many nice things to say about Columbia. Lock your car and hide your valuables.

9. Observe Frogs, Lizards, Birds and Otters

At Congaree National Park opportunities are plentiful for viewing various types of wildlife, such as river otter, deer, turtles, frogs, birds, and even the occasional alligator.

10. Trees and Knees

Congaree National Park is one of the tallest deciduous forests in the world, and some of the tallest trees are the Cypress. These magnificent specimens have “knees” around their bases — small, stump-like features that protrude from the dirt a few inches to a few feet. It is undetermined what purpose the knees serve, but they may help provide air during flooding, which occurs routinely, or they may provide additional anchoring over the root system.

All throughout the park you will observe the “knees” around the base of the cypress trees. It is a hallmark of the landscape.

An Honest Conclusion for Congaree National Park

We have visited about 25 of the U.S. National Parks and found Congaree National Park less impressive than average. The boardwalk was pretty great, especially with the fall colors, but the kids were bored and resorted to hitting each other with sticks by the halfway point.

If you are in the area, don’t miss the opportunity to see this swamp turned National Park. Check out the visitor center, loop the boardwalk, and call it a morning. If you’re really digging the place, kayaking would be the best next excursion. And be sure to check out Charleston if you haven’t already.

Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!

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