Congaree National Park in South Carolina is one of America’s least visited national parks. Tell us the truth – have you really ever heard of this one? Most folks haven’t, even though it is just 30 minutes away from Columbia, South Carolina, the state capitol. Only about 160,000 people visit a year, as compared to 11.4 million visitors at Smoky Mountains National Park less than 3 1/2 hours away.
Maybe this is because it is relatively new – dedicated in November 2003 – although local organizations have been pushing for preservation of the swamp since the mid 60’s. The area was designated as the Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976, and much of it was designated as a Wilderness Area in 1988.
Today Congaree National Park protects 26,276 acres (41 square miles), of which 15,000 acres are wilderness. The name no longer includes the word “swamp”, since it isn’t technically a swamp even though the area gets an average of 45 inches of rain per year.
Home to Champions
Congaree National Park protects old growth bottomland hardwood forest and is home to “champion” trees. We hadn’t really heard this term before, at least outside of Sequoia – but Congaree National Park has many of the tallest of their species. That is what they mean by champions.
The park is home to the tallest (169 feet) and largest (42 cubic meter) loblolly pines, and some of the oldest cypress trees (+500 years). In all, there are 15 kinds of trees that are the champions of their species.
Things to do at Congaree National Park
Everyone can enjoy Congaree National Park. There are really interesting exhibits at the visitor center and a 2.4 mile boardwalk trail that takes you out into the forest, elevated so that you don’t get your feet wet in the swampy areas.
Birdwatching is one of the favored pastimes, and you may also see some of the local wildlife or amphibians.
Hiking and Camping
There are quite a few other hiking trails, ranging from less than a mile up to 11 miles. But be sure to check with the ranger before you go, because they may be flooded. There is primitive camping in the park and designated backcountry camping. There are several other options for camping outside of the national park.
The main attraction of this national park is the 20 mile marked canoe trail on Cedar Creek. Canoeing or kayaking along the slow meandering creek is amazing. You are paddling in among the cypress knees.
But watch out… there are lots of snakes in the trees. The rangers tell of them falling into their boats. We didn’t have that happen, but we did paddle right under one. Yew!
Once again, check with the rangers before you launch. There are times when the creek is impassible due to water level or fallen trees. But if you like to kayak or canoe, this is the place. Congaree is one of the most unique and under-appreciated national parks that we have visited.
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.