What Is So Special About Congaree National Park

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view of Congaree National Park swampy water

When considering national parks east of the Mississippi, you probably think of Acadia in Maine or the Everglades in Florida. You likely don’t consider Congaree National Park.

It’s possible you’ve never even heard of this South Carolina park. Today, we’ll share more about this unique landscape and ecosystem and give you three things to do when you visit Congaree National Park in the southeastern U.S. Let’s dive in!

Where Is Congaree National Park?

In central South Carolina, Congaree National Park is one of the few national parks in the Southeast U.S.

It protects almost 42 square miles of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest just 18 miles southeast of Columbia.

The Congaree River flows 53 miles from the state capital and merges with the Wateree River to form the Santee River.

When Did Congaree National Park Become A National Park?

Congaree National Park was first designated a national monument in 1976.

An expansion of this floodplain 12 years later protected approximately 22,200 acres.

In 2001, the monument became an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

Then, in 2003, the site was expanded again and redesignated as Congaree National Park.

What’s So Special About Congaree National Park?

Congaree National Park protects one of the world’s largest concentrations of champion trees and the largest contiguous intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in North America.

Congaree is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Two-thirds of the park is designated wilderness. Preserving the ecosystem here is critical to its biodiversity and sustainability.

If you travel the three and a half hours from the Great Smoky Mountains down I-26 to Congaree National Park, you’ll go from the most visited national park in the country to one of the least visited.

While more than 10 million people visit the Smokies, only about 200,000 people walk the boardwalks of Congaree National Park.

If you’re one of those visitors this year, here are our top three things to do in this South Carolina national park.

1. Paddle the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail

One of the best ways to experience Congaree National Park, its champion trees, and the bottomland forests is to travel Cedar Creek.

You might see river otters, deer, turtles, or wading birds as you take the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail through the Congaree wilderness.

You must bring your own canoe or kayak or rent one from an outfitter near the park.

2. Hike the Boardwalk Loop Trail

For an adventure on land, hit the 2.6-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail. It begins at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and travels into the old-growth bottomland hardwood forest.

The boardwalk is wheelchair and stroller-accessible and has benches along the trail.

The self-guided Boardwalk Tour brochure teaches you about the region’s natural and cultural history.

Pick up the brochure at the visitor center before heading out.

3. Enjoy Recreational Fishing

You must have a South Carolina fishing license to fish in Congaree National Park.

Fishing is permitted everywhere in the park, so there’s ample opportunity to enjoy the solitude of this outdoor activity.

If you choose to fish, use a hook and line, fly rod, casting rod, pole and line, or hand line only, and don’t use minnows, amphibians, or fish eggs as bait.

This protects the ecosystem from invasive species or non-native diseases.

Visit This Hidden Gem In Congaree National Park

Some of the most mysterious creatures in Congaree National Park are owls.

Book a reservation for an “Owl Prowl” with a park ranger for an evening guided walk.

The ranger will answer questions and discuss this bird’s unique adaptations along the 90-minute guided hike.

The walk starts at the visitor center and continues along the Boardwalk and Sims trails.

Keep your eyes peeled for these nocturnal creatures!

Best Place For Camping Near Congaree National Park

No RV camping is permitted in the national park. There are two frontcountry campgrounds for tent campers.

A full hookup campground is about 25 minutes from Congaree. Big Rig Friendly RV Resort is just off I-26 and Highway 321.

Amenities include a laundry room, fitness center, bathhouse, dog park, and playground.

Is Visiting Congaree National Park Worth It?

Congaree National Park is one of the lesser-known national parks in the east.

You don’t need more than a day to explore this unique site, but it’s worth a visit.

You’ll learn about this special old-growth forest and the diverse plant and animal life that call this region home.

You’ll also learn about the dangers of deforestation and why this place is worth preserving.

Congaree National Park may not be on anyone’s bucket list, but it’s a stop worth adding to your Southeast road trip itinerary.

Have you ever visited this South Carolina national park?

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