Congaree National Park is the perfect vacation spot
North America’s largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, the bio-diverse Congaree National Park, spreads out across nearly 26,000 acres. The park is home to prehistoric vegetation and some of the world’s highest canopies. Hotels near the Congaree National Park are located in the bustling South Carolina capital, Columbia. The Congaree National Park cabins in the Fort Jackson area are closest to the park entrance.
Must-Do Hikes in Congaree National Park
The park’s floodplain terrain is marked by 25 miles of trails for hikers of every skill level and is mostly flat with only a few fluctuations in elevation. November through May is often more challenging owing to deep mud, downed trees and high water. The Visitor Center offers hiking maps and all the hikes start at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.
Stretching to 2.4 miles, the boardwalk leads to the hardwood forest, offering the chance to see different tree species like Bald Cypress, Tupelo, Loblolly pines, Maple, Oak and Holly. The hike is wheelchair and stroller friendly with benches en route.
This 4.4 mile trail offers splendid views of the Cedar Creek thriving with wading birds and otters. Cypress knees can be spotted at the cypress-tupelo slough.
Spanning 2.2 miles on a round trip, this trail follows a 1920’s ferry trail, offering a peek into the area’s history through its colonial era ferries.
Since 2017 this 0.6 mile trail has lead visitors to the park’s Fork Swamp area, running past a hurricane created oxbow lake called the Bates Old River.
Best Outdoor Adventures in Congaree National Park
Wildlife spotting is the true highlight of the park and is at its peak in spring when the temperatures are milder, rains are lesser and bugs are fewer. To enjoy the fall colors it is best to visit sometime between late October and early November.
Spring and Autumn are the best times for navigating the waterways of Cedar Creek when the water levels are ideal and wildlife can be spotted from close quarters. You may spot deer, birds, turtles, river otters and alligators. Bring your own paddle boat, kayak or canoe or take a guided tour and explore the 15 miles of the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail. The park also offers overnight water trips
If you have a valid South Carolina fishing license you can fish in all areas of the park barring the Weston Lake overlook and 100 ft around it. Expect to find bass, bream, catfish and crappie in the oxbow lakes and Cedar Creek and striped bass in the Congaree River.
If you are not staying in the nearby Congaree National Park cabins, camping inside the park is an option. For backcountry camping, you can obtain a free permit from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and get your camp registered at the campground kiosk. You can also stay in the Longleaf and Bluff campsites for a small fee.
Best Family Activities in Congaree National Park
The park remains open all year round and offers many family-friendly recreational activities, educational programs and guided tours with scope for nature study. From easy hikes and river trails to camping and birdwatching, the scope for fun with the family is endless.
This part of the park is where visitors gather to collect park information, meet fellow visitors and start hikes or join guided tours and enroll in the junior ranger program while watching a film about the park and enjoying historical exhibits.
Children of all ages can apply for the Congaree National Park Junior Ranger program. They are allotted workbooks depending on their age group. The Junior Ranger workbooks are available at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center or can be downloaded and printed. The workbooks are filled in by the children and reviewed by a park ranger or volunteer. Finally, the owner of the book is sworn in as a Junior Ranger and awarded with a patch and badge.
Thousands of fireflies gather at the same time for a synchronized display of light and darkness to illuminate the forest at night. This rarest of natural phenomenons takes place in the park during the warm nights of late May and early June. The fireflies can be viewed from the designated spots along the firefly trail.
A program dedicated to the various insects, arthropods and spiders that thrive in the park will be sure to delight children as they make way through this special jungle trail.
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