April 12, 2024
Congaree National Park by BlakeLewisPhotography is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0.750

Congaree National Park by BlakeLewisPhotography is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0.750

Plan your trip to Congaree National Park and enjoy all the activities and attractions available. This guide includes information on camping, hiking, boating, photography, and more.

Things to Do at Congaree National Park – Camping, Hiking, Boating, and More

Congaree National Park is a unique and breathtaking destination located in South Carolina, USA. It is known for its diverse landscape, which includes towering old-growth trees, swampy lowlands, and stunning scenic views. The park offers a range of activities for visitors of all ages and interests, including camping, hiking, boating, and more.

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Congaree National Park by BlakeLewisPhotography is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0.
Congaree National Park by BlakeLewisPhotography is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0.

What is Congaree National Park?

Congaree National Park is a 26,692.6-acre national park located in central South Carolina 18 miles southeast of the state capital, Columbia. The park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States, boasting some of the tallest trees in the eastern United States. Congaree is recognized for its outstanding biodiversity and has been designated an Important Bird Area, as well as an Old Growth Forest. The Congaree River flows through the park and is home to an array of wildlife species, from armadillo to turkey.

Congaree National Park is a popular destination for camping, hiking, boating, and more.

The thick, lush forest canopy provides ample opportunities for hiking, camping, and even bird watching. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of recreational activities on the river, such as boating, fishing, and kayaking.

The park also offers ranger-led programs, including hikes, full moon walks, and more. In addition, the area is home to a variety of historic sites and natural wonders, making it a great destination for nature-lovers and history buffs alike.

Things to do at Congaree National Park

1. Hike the Trails

Congaree National Park has 10 trails, ranging in difficulty and length, that offer hikers an array of experiences.

The most popular trail is the Boardwalk Loop Trail, a 2.4-mile boardwalk which is stroller accessible and wheelchair friendly. It winds through different parts of the forest and is full of bright yellow flowers and cypress knees.

2. Camp in the Backcountry

At Congaree National Park, there are two main options for camping in the backcountry: the Longleaf and Bluff campgrounds. Both are located in the upland pine forests of the park and offer a spectacular wooded setting for those looking for a challenge. Both campgrounds are primitive, meaning they have no electrical hookups or access for RVs. Additionally, campfires are only allowed in designated fire rings.

The Longleaf Campground has sites for groups of up to 24 campers, while the Bluff Campground is a one mile hike from the registration station and has no restroom facilities. It is important to note that tent and hammock camping are only allowed and that vehicles are not permitted on the campsites. Water filling stations are available 24 hours a day at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.

To ensure the protection of the park and the safety of its visitors, campers are asked to register for no more than 14 consecutive days and no more than 28 days within a 6-month period. Additionally, campers must take precautions to protect their food from wildlife and to practice Leave No Trace.

Congaree National Park by @bastique is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0.
Congaree National Park by @bastique is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0.

3. Cruise the River in a Vessel

Cruising the Congaree River in a vessel is a great way to experience the beauty and wildlife of the park. There are several opportunities for cruising the Congaree River in a vessel at Congaree National Park.

  1. The 50-mile designated recreational paddle trail extends from the state capital of Columbia down to Congaree National Park, providing a beautiful way to explore the park. The 6.6-mile canoe and kayak trail follows Cedar Creek and takes you through the park’s northwestern sector, with its array of natural wonders, such as silent owls, slithery snakes, and champion trees.
  2. You can explore these waterways on your own, or take part in guided paddles led by the park’s rangers – who come armed with knowledge, stories, and history.
  3. Motorized water vessels are not allowed, so you can bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent equipment from a concessionaire.
  4. Tubing is another popular activity in the park, and you can often spot playful otters along the river. The natural current will take you through the submerged groves, so grab a tube or float and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of Congaree National Park.
  5. Be sure to check with a ranger before heading out on the water, as the water levels can vary greatly throughout the day (up to 10 feet). Have a paddle handy in case you get stuck on driftwood.

So, if you’re looking for a unique way to explore Congaree National Park, why not try cruising the Congaree River in a vessel?

Congaree National Park by jimmywayne is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0.
Congaree National Park by jimmywayne is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0.

4. Explore the Forests and Meadows

Congaree National Park is home to a variety of forest and meadow habitats, each with its own distinct characteristics. The park’s old growth forests consist of bottomland hardwoods, including oak and hickory, with an understory of dogwood, maple, and magnolia trees. These forests are home to a variety of wildlife, including hawks, owls, snakes, and frogs. In the northwestern sector of the park, one can find cypress swamps, with the characteristic cypress knees, as well as open meadows filled with wildflowers.

The park also features a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, bogs, and wet prairie. All of these habitats provide a unique and diverse wilderness experience for visitors.

5. Watch Wildlife

At Congaree National Park, you can see a wide variety of wildlife, from mammals and reptiles to birds and amphibians.

Some of the most notable animals include the crested caracara (Caracara cheriway), a species of falcon that lost one of its lines to extinction at the turn of the 20th century; the synchronous firefly, which puts on a spectacular show of light during the summer; and the Kingsnake, a species of snake found throughout the park.

There are several species of warblers, wading birds, and shorebirds that can be seen in the park, as well as white-tailed deer, turtles, and frogs.

6. Take Photographs

If you’re looking for some great places to take photographs at Congaree National Park, you won’t be disappointed. From the towering old-growth forests of the Congaree Wilderness to the banks of the Congaree River, the park offers plenty of photo opportunities.

Some of the best spots include the Congaree River Overlook, Congaree Bluffs, the Congaree Visitor Center, Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, South Cedar Creek Trail, and the Congaree Boardwalk Trail.

Whether you’re looking for a stunning landscape shot or a close-up of nature’s wonders, you’re sure to find something to capture at Congaree National Park.

Congaree National Park by hdes.copeland is licensed under CC BY NC 2.0.
Congaree National Park by hdes.copeland is licensed under CC BY NC 2.0.

7. Enjoy the Nature Sounds

At Congaree National Park, visitors can hear a variety of nature sounds including the hum of birds, the chirp of insects, the croaking of frogs, and the rustling of dry leaves. Additionally, the river running through the park creates a gentle, calming sound. The sounds of the wildlife in the park create a peaceful atmosphere, perfect for relaxation and exploration.

8. Relax in an Outdoor Hot Tub

A hot tub at Congaree National Park is the perfect way to relax after a long day of exploring the park and its surrounding areas. The hot tub features comfortable seating for up to 6 people, with plenty of room to move around and enjoy the hot bubbling water.

It is situated in a peaceful, private area of the park, with easy access to trails, rivers and lakes. The hot tub is wheelchair accessible and includes safety features such as a secure handrail, a non-slip surface and a childproof lock. It also features a large, cushioned seating area, a built-in beverage holder, adjustable jets and lights for added ambience.

9. Experience the Nightlife

At Congaree National Park, you can experience the wild and wonderful nightlife like no other. With a visit to this magnificent park, you can embark on a rare nighttime hike, escorted by an experienced park ranger, to observe the park’s plethora of owl species. This nocturnal experience, known as the owl prowl, is an incredible adventure that is not to be missed.

You can also explore the depths of Congaree late at night and get a breathtaking glimpse of its wild nightlife scene. For an even more immersive experience, you can stay the night in one of the park’s primitive campgrounds or in the park’s wild backcountry.

No matter what you choose to do in the park, make sure to come prepared with plenty of water, comfortable shoes, snacks and other supplies. Don’t forget bug repellent and a good flashlight if you plan to stay after dark, as well as any fishing or paddling gear you might need. With all these supplies in tow, you can have a great time and make the most out of your Congaree National Park nightlife experience.

Congaree National Park 004 by musical photo man is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0.
Congaree National Park 004 by musical photo man is licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0.

10. Take a Tour of the Harry Hampton Visitor Center

The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is the hub of Congaree National Park and the perfect place to start your visit. Located at the entrance to the park, the Visitor Center has a parking lot for cars, as well as limited parking for RVs and other oversized vehicles. Inside, you’ll find friendly rangers and exhibits that give you all the information you need to get the best out of your Congaree visit.

At the Visitor Center, you’ll be able to use the restroom, refill water bottles, purchase snacks, grab maps, ask for a Junior Ranger book, and even pick up a self-guided boardwalk tour sheet. This last activity is a great way to learn about the park’s flora, fauna, and history in an engaging and memorable way.

FAQ

What types of activities are available in Congaree National Park?

Congaree National Park offers a wide range of activities and experiences, both inside and outside the park. Visitors can explore the park on foot, taking part in guided hikes and trails ranging from easy to moderately strenuous. Paddlers can explore the many miles of waterways in a canoe or kayak, while anglers can cast a line in most areas of the park (with a valid South Carolina fishing license).

Special ranger-led programs, such as the Forest Wellness series, are offered throughout the year, and the Boardwalk Loop Trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible.

What is the best way to explore Congaree National Park?

The best way to explore Congaree National Park is to start with a stroll along the Boardwalk Loop Trail, a 2.4-mile loop that meanders through stands of massive bald cypress trees with their distinctive “knees,” over creeks that move so slowly they resemble a swamp (but, technically, are not) and past turtles, snakes, alligators, deer, woodpeckers, deer, wild pigs, river otters and even bobcats. The boardwalk is wide, handicapped-accessible and sturdy, allowing you to explore the environment without getting dirty, wet or lost.

Those looking for a more immersive experience can also take advantage of the park’s waterways. Kayaking and canoeing are allowed in the park and the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail is a popular paddle route. For the more adventurous, there is the 50-mile Congaree River Blue Trail. You can choose to bring your own equipment or rent from a concessionaire, or you can join a guided canoe tour with a ranger.

Finally, visitors can stay in the park’s primitive campgrounds or in the park’s wild backcountry to really experience Congaree National Park.

Congaree National Park by scpetrel is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0.2.3
Congaree National Park by scpetrel is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0.2.3

Are there any camping facilities in Congaree National Park?

Yes, there are camping facilities in Congaree National Park. All campgrounds in the park are first come, first serve, and must be reserved in advance. Tent and hammock camping are permitted, but RV camping and overnighting in a vehicle are not allowed. There is no electricity, water, or sewer hookups, so campers must bring their own supplies. There are water filling stations available at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. All vehicles must be parked in the parking lot and no vehicles are allowed on the campsites.

The Longleaf Campground has sites for groups between 9 and 24 people. Campers are limited to 14 consecutive days and 28 days within a 6 month period.

Wildlife, such as raccoons, can sometimes be seen in the campgrounds, so campers should store food and dispose of trash properly. Firewood can be collected locally or purchased locally with a pest-free certification.

Are there any hiking trails in Congaree National Park?

Yes, there are hiking trails in Congaree National Park. The park offers 10 different trails for hiking, birding, walking, and more. The trails range from easy, family-friendly walks to more strenuous hikes. The popular Boardwalk Loop Trail is 3.7 km long with an elevation gain of 4 m and takes an average of 40 min to hike. Other trails include the Bluff Trail, Sims Trail, Weston Lake Loop Trail, and Oakridge Trail.

Is there a boardwalk trail in Congaree National Park?

Yes, there is a boardwalk trail in Congaree National Park. This 2.4-mile boardwalk takes visitors through various landscapes and provides an excellent overview of the forest. It is stroller and wheelchair accessible, and provides a great opportunity to observe the wildlife, plants, and scenery. The best place to hike in the park is Boardwalk Loop Trail, which is 3.7 km long with 4 m of elevation gain and takes around 40 minutes to complete.

Congaree National Park by scpetrel is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0.2
Congaree National Park by scpetrel is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0.2

What kind of wildlife can be seen in Congaree National Park?

At Congaree National Park, visitors can expect to see a variety of wildlife, including deer, raccoon, opossum, bobcat, and the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway). The Crested Caracara is a falcon family bird that is slowly beginning to colonize Congaree. The park is also home to many species of plants, including the tallest (169 ft, 51.4m) and largest (42 cubic meters) living loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) as well as several cypress trees that are over 500 years old.

Is there a canoe or kayak trail in Congaree National Park?

Yes, there is a canoe or kayak trail in Congaree National Park. The 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail is a popular spot for paddling. For an even more adventurous experience, there is the 50-mile Congaree River Blue Trail, which starts in Columbia, South Carolina and ends in Congaree National Park. Visitors can rent equipment from a concessionaire or take a guided canoe tour to explore the park by water.

What kind of trees are found in Congaree National Park?

Congaree National Park is home to a variety of trees, including bottomland hardwood trees and several species of champion trees.

The bottomland hardwood trees are some of the tallest trees on the eastern side of the country and create one of the highest canopies of temperate deciduous forest in the world.

The champion trees, which are the tallest specimens of their species, include a 167-foot (51 m) 361-point loblolly pine, a 157-foot (48 m) 384-point sweetgum, a 154-foot (47 m) 465 cherry bark oak, a 135-foot (41 m) 354-point American elm, a 133-foot (41 m) 356-point swamp chestnut oak, a 131-foot (40 m) 371-point over cup oak, and a 127-foot (39 m) 219-point common persimmon.

The park is also home to cypress trees, some of which are over 500 years old.

South Carolina by US Department of State is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
South Carolina by US Department of State is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Are there any special programs or events in Congaree National Park?

Yes, Congaree National Park offers a variety of special programs and events. The Forest Wellness series offers activities such as crafting, yoga, night hikes, and history walks. In celebration of Juneteenth, rangers led a guided hike that explored the lesser known role that Congaree played in helping African Americans escape slavery. Additionally, some segments of the park are protected for their continued use by Native Americans.

Is there a fee to enter Congaree National Park?

No, there is no fee to enter Congaree National Park. Entrance to Congaree National Park is free! However, if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months, you may want to consider purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass, which gives you access to all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites, for a one-time fee of $79.

Final Thoughts

Congaree National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or a first-time hiker, the park offers something for everyone. So pack your bags, grab your gear, and head out to this amazing national park for an unforgettable experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Happy Trails,

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Congaree National Park: What to Expect When You Visit

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Read more…

Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park is a 26,692.6-acre (41.7 sq mi; 108.0 km2) American national park in central South Carolina, 18 miles southeast of the state capital

Congaree River
Santee-Cooper Lakes to within 5 miles (8 km) of the fall line. The Congaree National Park, one of the main recreational attractions of the river, is located

Congaree people
descendants of the Congaree, among others. Namesakes of the tribe include: Congaree River Congaree Creek Congaree National Park South Congaree, South Carolina

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