Wilderness is the preservation of the world.Henry David Thorough
About the Park
Congaree National Park is the largest intact area of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The park is close to the urban area of Columbia, South Carolina, and offers a place to see bald cypress trees, along with kayaking and exploring some wilderness areas.
Check out the view from the boardwalk through Congaree National Park!
Live it up!
Best Things to do in the Park
- Hike the Boardwalk Loop Trail. This will give you the best overview of the park as you walk along the bald cypress and tupelo trees of this wetland area
- Rent a kayak or canoe and head to Cedar Creek
- Hike to the largest bald cypress tree in the park, the General Greene Tree
We visited Congaree National Park on a day trip from Columbia, South Carolina. The main activity we did was the 2.6-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail. Walking through the bald cypress and tupelo trees was an enjoyable and peaceful afternoon.
Size of Park
Preserves the largest area of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States
Located in central South Carolina, Congaree National Park is spread over 26,000 acres of land and is known for its towering pines and boardwalk. The park preserves the country’s largest region of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest. The watery lands probably protected the area for years from logging, and now the National Park System preserves it for the future.
The park is unique as the water from the Congaree River and Wateree River carries the sediments and nutrients that nourish the ecosystem of national and state champion trees. One of the great things about visiting the park is that you can explore it on foot and water. Unfortunately, the park also experiences significant flooding from the Congaree River; however, much of this ecosystem’s health depends on these periodic seasonal floods.
Congaree National Park also acts as a sanctuary for many endangered animals and plants, including the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. In the Congaree swamp, you will also find wild pigs, bobcats, foxes, deer, opossums, feral hogs, raccoons, river otters, and gators. The park is also an excellent birding site, so pack those binoculars!
The trails in Congaree are both dirt and boardwalk. The park has ten hiking trails, two of which can be accessed through the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.
We loved the meandering trails but encountered many mosquitoes, so plan ahead.
Boardwalk Loop Trail
The most well-known trail in Congaree National Park is the Boardwalk Loop Trail. This 2.4-mile-long trail begins at Harry Hampton Visitor Center and showcases the park’s various trees and wetlands. Along the way, you can enjoy the bald cypress trees and giant tupelos standing in the water.
This is a handicap-accessible trail and also has benches installed along the way. This is a nice, easy walk.
Weston Lake Loop Trail
This 4.5 miles trail can take up to 3 hours to complete and can be accessed from the Boardwalk Loop Trail. The trail begins and ends at opposite corners of the Boardwalk Loop Trail and follows Cedar Creek for almost a mile on an elevated boardwalk.
On Weston Lake Loop Trail, hikers can admire a small portion of the old-growth forest in the park. On the eastern part of this trail, you will see many cypress knees sticking out of the water. Hikers here have also reported seeing wading birds and otters.
Kingsnake Trail is a relatively difficult trail, and being 11.7 miles long, it is also the longest trail in Congaree National Park. After around 6 miles, the trail borders the Western Lake Loop Trail.
The path begins at the Cedar Creek Canoe Launch parking area and is known to be the most peaceful trail in the park. The trail has few trees, and only a few visitors choose to hike this path, which is why Kingsnake Trail is also the prime spot for birding in Congaree.
The River Trail is almost 7 miles long and passes through the old-growth forest. If you start the hike from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, the trail will be about 10 miles. The first few miles of the trail are the best part of the trail. Along the way, you will also pass Wise Lake. Most of the hike is a flat walk through the oak and other hardwood trees.
This 2 miles trail begins at the backside of the visitor center and leads to the Bluff Campground. Bluff Trail makes for a great hike in the park if you are looking for a short and easy walk.
Camping in the Park
Camping inside the park is one of the best ways to admire its dense forest, as sleeping and waking up among these tall trees can be a wonderful experience. Congaree National Park has two campgrounds; LongLeaf Campground and Bluff Campground. These two campgrounds are for tents only, while no RVs or Trailers are allowed inside the park. However, backcountry campers can reach this site by foot or kayak if they have permits.
Longleaf Campground provides a raw camping experience where you can explore the Congaree woods. The campground has 14 sites equipped with toilets and picnic tables. Campfires are allowed on the campground, and you can easily access the beach and forest from here. Campers can also go biking, fishing, boating, and paddling near the campground.
If you want to have a sleepover under a mighty pine tree, Bluff Campground is for you. The campground lets you relish in the beauty of the South Carolina forest. There are six sites on the campground that are for tents only. Each regular tent site has a fire ring and a picnic table and charges $5 per night. Unfortunately, there is no restroom or running water on the campground.
Camping options near the park
If you are looking for campgrounds that accommodate RVs and vehicles, you must look outside the Congaree National Park. One of these popular campgrounds is the Magnolia Campground which is located 25 minutes from the park and offers hookups. Sweetwater Lake Campground is another well-known campground with its sites located along the lake. Guests can also go fishing and do other water activities on the lake. Poinsett State Park Campground is just 45 minutes away from Congaree National park and has partial hookups, onsite restrooms, a fire ring, and picnic tables.
Weston Lake Trail
This peaceful trail offers you a chance to enjoy great views of Cedar Creek as you stroll in the middle of the giant trees of Congaree. Fall is a wonderful time to see the park as the leaves change. You might also see river otters darting about, which can be fun.
The Oakridge trail is the perfect place for more stunning views of the oak trees. People can hike here as well as do bird watching amidst the towering trees. You can also explore the 6-mile-long trail from where you can see the barred owls, Wise Lake, woodpeckers, etc.
Cedar Creek is among the many water bodies in Congaree National Park and is the most popular viewpoint. You will have an excellent opportunity to explore the park by canoe or kayak.
The trail itself is not very much different from other parts of the park; however, something else makes this viewpoint unique. This spot is known for its nightlife, and many visitors flock here at night to observe the various species of owls. As the night approaches, you will be escorted by a park ranger on this famous ‘owl prowl.’
Congaree River Blue Trail
Congaree River Blue Trail consists of a 50-mile water body that flows through the park, which provides another unique perspective to enjoy the park. Moreover, tourists can participate in other water activities, such as kayaking and canoeing. You can also get closer to flora and fauna of the area by floating peacefully through the forest.
Other popular viewpoints
- Wise Lake
- Kingsnake Trail
- The General Greene Tree
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