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Here's what you need to know before visiting Congaree National Park.Congaree National Park in South Carolina is known for its astonishing biodiversity — particularly the expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest that is considered to be the largest of its kind in North America. The ...
Here's what you need to know before visiting Congaree National Park.
Congaree National Park in South Carolina is known for its astonishing biodiversity — particularly the expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest that is considered to be the largest of its kind in North America. The ancient trees, often called “champion trees” for their age and size, flourish in Congaree National Park’s watery floodplain, which is fueled by the Congaree and Wateree Rivers. The rivers — which border the eastern and southern sides of the park — feed the myriad creeks that crisscross their way around the park, carrying nutrients and sediments that support the ecosystem.
Although the national park contains well over 26,000 acres of relatively untouched backcountry, it is a surprisingly easy 30-minute drive from Columbia, South Carolina, the state’s capital. And while Congaree National Park is best known for its old-growth forest and waterways, it also has excellent hiking that allows visitors to “get lost” in the Congaree wilderness. Fishing and rare synchronous fireflies round out some of the park’s more famous offerings.
Here’s a rundown of what you should know about Congaree National Park before you visit.
The park’s waterways, which bring nutrients to the old-growth forest, are also a playground for visitors to Congaree National Park. The Cedar Creek Canoe Trail passes below some of the tallest trees in eastern North America on its 15-mile journey through the wilderness. Experienced paddlers often set their sights on the 50-mile Congaree River Blue Trail, which starts in Columbia and travels downstream through Congaree National Park.
Meanwhile, those looking for a low-key day trip can rent a canoe or kayak from an outfitter in Columbia — or book a guided paddling tour through the park.
For a park that is covered in water, Congaree has a surprising number of trails, many of which run along elevated boardwalks. The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is the trailhead for most routes, and since the park sits in a floodplain, the trails are typically flat. Popular routes include the easy Boardwalk Loop Trail and Kingsnake Trail, which is rated "difficult" and is a favorite among birders.
In the spring, the Firefly Trail is an after-dark favorite, as it leads deep into the forest where a rare species of firefly — the synchronous firefly — puts on a stunning light show during their spring mating season.
The best way to truly experience the wonders of Congaree National Park is to stay overnight within the park. There are no lodges, but there are two campgrounds that offer basic overnight amenities and night skies filled with stars (and maybe even a firefly or two).
The Longleaf Campground is right next to the park entrance road, making it a seamless home base for overnight visitors. Longleaf is a walk-up campground, meaning campers will need to park in the parking lot and then carry their gear to one of the 10 individual or four group camping sites. There is no water, but water is available 24 hours a day at the nearby Harry Hampton Visitor Center.
Similarly, campers at Bluff Campground will need to either pack in their own water (or refill at the visitor center) and will have to carry their equipment from the car to the campground’s six individual campsites. All campsites must be reserved in advance through Recreation.gov.
Those looking to experience Congaree’s vast, forested wilderness should consider backcountry camping — which involves either a hike or boat ride in. Backcountry camping requires a permit, which is free, but must be requested at least 72 hours in advance via email (sent to email@example.com).
For a park that is so wild, Congaree National Park is surprisingly easy to get to. The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is just over 30 minutes by car from the heart of Columbia, under two hours from Charleston, South Carolina, and an hour and a half from Augusta, Georgia.
The Harry Hampton Visitor Center acts as the hub for most of the park’s activities and is a great place to start your journey through Congaree National Park.
The park is open year round and thanks to South Carolina’s mild winters, many of the trails and waterways remain open in the middle of winter. That said, it’s hard to beat a visit in the spring and fall when the temperatures are warm, but not hot or cold, and there are fewer insects.
Spring, from March to May, is one of the best times to visit the park, especially if you happen to overlap with the annual synchronous firefly mating season (and manage to snag a pass). The event, which occurs two weeks between mid-May and mid-June each year, is marked by thousands of fireflies that light up in unison. The magical spectacle has become so popular, there is now a lottery to get a pass to view the event.
In the fall, from September to November, the temperatures drop from their summertime highs and fall colors begin to arrive. The foliage tends to peak between the end of October and early November, which also happens to be an ideal time to paddle Cedar Creek.
Whether you're exploring this South Carolina treasure by foot or paddle, don't forget to look up.Ask any national park enthusiast, and they'll tell you the same thing—there's nothing like a hidden gem. While there's no denying the majesty that made Yosemite or Yellowstone household names, there's a unique allure and seclusion that comes with spendi...
Whether you're exploring this South Carolina treasure by foot or paddle, don't forget to look up.
Ask any national park enthusiast, and they'll tell you the same thing—there's nothing like a hidden gem. While there's no denying the majesty that made Yosemite or Yellowstone household names, there's a unique allure and seclusion that comes with spending time in a lesser-known natural wonder. You just might not see any other visitors for miles.
Though incredibly close by—just 18 miles from Columbia, South Carolina—Congaree National Park has managed to stay under the radar since its national park designation in 2003. One step inside the nearly 27,000-acre park and visitors are transported much further back in time. Here, Spanish moss drapes from bald cypresses in the largest expanse of old-growth hardwoods in the United States. The vast floodplain is covered by a towering canopy of ancient pines, elms, oaks, hickories, maples, and cypresses more than 100 feet tall–higher than the Amazon rainforest.
The trees alone inspire a sense of tranquility, but the land's biodiversity keeps things interesting. Woodpeckers swiftly knock on hardwoods while river otters play among the water by day. At night, rangers lead "owl prowls" for visitors hoping to hear barred owls and spot bioluminescent fungi growing on the great cypresses. In fall and spring, avid bird watchers flock to the park for a glimpse at the area's world-renowned migrations. Early summer brings its own magic too: The park is one of the few places in the South where you can witness synchronous fireflies. During the two-week show, the bugs light up the sky simultaneously in patterns that feel downright practiced.
If you're ready to explore, we recommend starting with a hike along the Boardwalk Loop Trail. This easy, 2.4-mile walk winds through some of the oldest trees in the park. Birders and wildlife photographers may want to explore the Kingsnake Trail too. The longest trail in the park, it clocks in at more than 11 miles, but the trail takes you deep into Congaree's pure wilderness.
Shift your vantage point by heading to the water. Try coasting among the tupelo trees, with trunks that stretch wide into the water, through Cedar Creek. This leisurely canoe trail winds through the heart of the park beneath a sky-high canopy, but keep your eyes peeled for fallen limbs and logs. They can create quite the waterway maze. Cruising the Congaree River is also a popular kayaking or canoeing spot for paddling enthusiasts. The river runs all the way from Columbia and offers sandbars for camping.
Serious campers will love Congaree's primitive camping options. Both of the park's campsites are tent-only locations with limited to no amenities. Permits are regularly available for background camping you can access by trail or water too. Those less eager to forego running water may find comfort in Columbia or cabin rentals in the surrounding area.
If you've taken a trip over the Gervais Street bridge or visited the Congaree Riverwalk in the past year you've no doubt noticed the large construction zone.More VideosCOLUMBIA, S.C. — Dominion Energy crews were back to work alongside the Congaree river Wednesday as the second phase of the coal tar clean up project is under way.According to Lucas Berresford, the Program Manager with ...
If you've taken a trip over the Gervais Street bridge or visited the Congaree Riverwalk in the past year you've no doubt noticed the large construction zone.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dominion Energy crews were back to work alongside the Congaree river Wednesday as the second phase of the coal tar clean up project is under way.
According to Lucas Berresford, the Program Manager with DHEC's State Voluntary Cleanup Section, the multi-year project comes after coal tar was discovered from a factory that was depositing harmful material into the river as runoff.
"During that time, lots of waste material was released through a stream and out into the river where it settled down into the bottom of the Congaree."
The first year of the project wrapped up in October, which consisted of building a cofferdam along the impacted section of the river, if you've traveled past the work zone, you've no doubt seen the large area blocked off. Berresford says the next step, which kicked off this week, starts by removing the water from the dam.
"To get down to the sediments, they have to remove all of the water and dry things so then they can pull the sediments back." He expands, "Going into this season, the goal is to complete the removal from the area behind the cofferdam and take down the phase one cofferdam"
He adds the goal is remove that large dam by the end of the year and have a smaller one built further down the river.
"It'll be about a fourth the size of the existing one now, a little further down toward Blossom Street."
The progress has some, like Xinyi Meng who spent the afternoon using the Riverwalk, excited. She says it's nice to see the area being cleaned up, even if it means some large construction
It thought it was like bridge, but then after knowing more about it, thought that was really cool." She adds, "It's doing it's purpose of cleaning the water."
And though this tar-like substance may sound threatening, Berresford assures any who might be worried, the material is not harmful to the water, the animals in the river, or to humans.
"These contaminants aren't ones that bioaccumulate in fish or anything like that so there's no risk. We haven't seen anything in some of the fish samples that have been taken from the Congaree that have shown anything."
Berresford also tells News19 crews will be working to recover any historic artifacts that might be found when digging through the bottom of the river.
More updates on the progress of the project can be found here.
South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has launched a new tool to help residents check the water quality of public recreation areas.COLUMBIA, S.C. — A tool from DHEC might help you and your family make important safety and health decisions before you head out on the lake or river this year.Each year, rivers like the Saluda and ...
South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has launched a new tool to help residents check the water quality of public recreation areas.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A tool from DHEC might help you and your family make important safety and health decisions before you head out on the lake or river this year.
Each year, rivers like the Saluda and parts of the Congaree are sometimes closed for high bacteria levels. But now, some of our health agencies around the Midlands are teaming up to make this data easier to access.
DHEC, the Congaree Riverkeeper, and the Midlands Rivers Coalition have made a tool that people can check for information on bacteria and algae blooms as well as safety advisories in local bodies of water.
DHEC has signs posted around the Congaree and Saluda Rivers to let people know the water is tested weekly from May until October.
DHEC sent WLTX this statement about the testing: “It’s always recommended that individuals evaluate a waterbody before entering in it."
To check on the bacteria test results that DHEC publishes, visit howsmyscriver.org. This website shows the bacteria levels for various bodies of water in the Midlands.
If you see green then you’re good to go, but if you see the orange or yellow warning symbols, then it may not be the best day to visit the water.
DHEC says harmful algae blooms are more likely to occur in late spring to early fall when water temperatures are warmer and there is increased sunlight. Harmful algae blooms can cause skin rashes, gastrointestinal problems, and neurological problems.
You can't tell whether a bloom is harmful just by looking at it. If you see any signs of an algal bloom, such as discolored water, a foul odor, or noticeable algae, it's best to stay away from the area.
DHEC's advice is: "When in doubt, stay out." If you see any signs of an algal bloom, it's best to avoid the area and contact DHEC for more information.
DHEC also has an app for harmful algal blooms. This app provides information on current algal bloom advisories and allows users to report suspected algal blooms.
Are you a fan of spending summers exploring outdoors?A national park in South Carolina has recently been ranked among the top five in the country to visit for families.Some hikes or visits to national parks can be hazardous and not the most child-friendly environment. However ...
Are you a fan of spending summers exploring outdoors?
A national park in South Carolina has recently been ranked among the top five in the country to visit for families.
Some hikes or visits to national parks can be hazardous and not the most child-friendly environment. However KURU Footwear, a pain-relief comfort-focused footwear manufacturer, conducted enough research based on metrics such as the ease of hiking trails, low elevation gain, ability to be considered ‘kid-friendly’, and length of trails to determine the 10 most family-friendly national parks in the nation.
The Palmetto State is home to seven national park destinations and the U.S. acts as a host for 424 national park sites through the National Park System. Yet, only 63 of these sites actually include “national park” as part of their proper name in the system and are recognized as such.
For those looking to visit and explore this summer, the seven national park destinations within the state include:
Of these, only 10 were selected throughout the country and one within the state of South Carolina as being the most family-friendly.
In South Carolina, Congaree National Park in Hopkins was ranked as the fifth best park in the U.S. for families this year.
The National Park Service details that Congaree National Park is home to the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. This is because waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers both carry nutrients and sediments that nourish the surrounding ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.
At Congaree, visitors can hike trails, kayak or canoe, fish, go camping, view local flora and wildlife and spot champion trees. If you’re looking for a more involved experience this summer, kids have the opportunity to become a junior ranger and adults can become a volunteer.
As for being family-friendly, the ranking reported that for those exploring the forest on foot, 75% of the hiking trails are kid-friendly.
Luckily for families looking to spend their days in nature, an entrance pass is not required to access Congaree National Park and admission is free.
However, before making your plans to go and explore, check out the park’s permits and reservation page for more information.
Are you curious about what other national parks made the list?
Here are KURU Footwear’s ranking for the 10 best national parks for families within the country this year.