CONGAREE NATIONAL PARK
Location: South Carolina
Park Tally: 22/59
Orientation: Congaree National Park can be accessed via a 20-mile drive southeast of Columbia and is open year-round. It was previously known as ‘Congaree Swamp National Monument’ prior to becoming a national park, though Congaree is technically a dynamic river floodplain rather than a swamp. Visitors come to the park to escape into nature and witness the meandering rivers and creeks.
Most iconic view: The lush cypress tree and bottomland hardwood forests are undoubtedly the most well-known aspect of Congaree National Park. The park actually boasts the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Various trails in the park offer opportunities to get up close and personal with these beautiful trees, particularly the Boardwalk Loop, River and Oakridge trails.
Accessible activity: The most popular trail in the park is the elevated Boardwalk Loop, which consists of a 2.4-mile wheelchair accessible trail and beautiful forest views. The walk begins at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and a self-guided brochure can be picked up at the trailhead. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for bald cypress trees, loblolly pines, oaks, maples and old-growth bottomland hardwood trees.
For the adventurous: For those wanting to challenge themselves, a canoeing trip down the Cedar Creek is a fantastic way to get out and explore Congaree. The 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail winds through the Congaree Wilderness, starting at Bannister’s Bridge and ending at the Congaree River. Getting out on the water is the perfect opportunity to see river otters, turtles, wading birds, armadillos, snakes, and potentially an alligator!
Congaree National Park offers a limited number of ranger-guided canoe tours each year. These trips are reservation only and provide visitors with an opportunity to get a more in-depth view of the park.
Best photo opportunities: The Boardwalk Loop Trail is particularly photogenic when the light is filtering through the trees (early morning and late afternoon). Be sure to sit down for 5-10 minutes on one of the numerous benches and see what wildlife come out to say hello.
- Congaree Swamp National Monument was established in 1976 and the area was later designated a National Park in 2003.
- The park was named after the native Congaree People, who occupied the land prior to European settlement.
- The Harry Hampton Visitor Center has a Mosquito Meter that ranges from “1 – All Clear” to “6 – War Zone”. Be sure to visit during the winter months for lower ratings.
- Visitors can participate in a night owl prowl during spring and fall, which is an opportunity to listen to the resident barred owls.
- In 2016 the park had 143,843 visitors, which is considered relatively low compared to other national parks in the United States.