Where is Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park resides in central South Carolina, and the park protects the largest grove of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. The national park is designated as a protected wilderness area, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, an important bird area, and a national natural landmark. Congaree National Park also contains several hiking trails, a variety of campsites, and a visitor center. Eastover, South Carolina is the closest city to the national park. Congaree US National Park is located 103 miles (two-hour drive) northwest of Charleston, and also 88 miles (hour and a half drive) northeast of Augusta. Congaree National Park is also 18 miles (thirty-minute drive) south of Columbia, South Carolina.
How Large is Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park covers a total area of more than 26,276 acres. The national park’s geography mainly consists of acres of temperate deciduous forest, the Congaree River, and marshlands. Over 15,000 acres of Congaree National Park is designated as a protected wilderness area. This wilderness area provides a home to a variety of wildlife species. In addition to several miles of hiking trails, Congaree National Park also has a 20 miles long canoe trail that travels along Cedar Creek. Other popular trails found throughout the national park include the Boardwalk Loop, the Weston Lake Loop Trail, the Oakridge Trail, and the King Snake Trail.
Congaree National Park Weather
The weather at Congaree National Park changes frequently throughout the year. The park lies within a sub-tropical climate. Hot summers and short mild winters are common throughout locations with this climate. The most enjoyable seasons are spring and fall. Humidity levels are much lower during these seasons than in the summer. The average summer temperatures of Congaree National Park fluctuate between 60- and 90-degrees Fahrenheit. Winter temperatures in the park hover between 40- and 60-degrees Fahrenheit. On rare occasions, temperatures in the park can dip below freezing during the winter months. However, normally the park does not receive any winter precipitation.
When did Congaree Become a National Park
Congaree National Park first became a National Park in 2003. The park was originally designated as a national monument. Congaree Swamp National Monument was passed into legislation in 1976. The monument and today’s national park are geared towards the protection of the Congaree River, the variety of fragile ecosystems found in the area, and the various species of wildlife that call the park home. The national park first was named an important bird area in 2001 and received its designation as a wilderness area in 1988. Along with the park’s change of status from a national monument to a national park came the addition of 4,567 acres. The park is managed and maintained by the National Park Service; a division of the United States Department of the Interior.
Things to do in Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park offers visitors the opportunity to participate in a variety of outdoor activities and experiences. Our National Park Visitors Guide outlines the most intriguing and interesting adventures found in Congaree National Park below:
Explore the Harry Hampton Visitor Center
Visitors looking to quickly become oriented with the layout of Congaree National Park should visit the Harry Hampton Visitor Center upon their arrival at the park. The visitor center is the perfect place for visitors to obtain park maps and other valuable information. The visitor center also contains several educational displays and exhibits that will educate visitors about the park’s ecology, geology, geography, and history. Knowledgeable park staff working in the visitor center can also answer individual questions visitors may have about the park
Learn About the Park Through an Interpretive Program
While at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, visitors looking to learn more about a specific topic may want to join in one or more of the interpretive programs offered by Congaree National Park. These programs vary in topic, but occasionally discuss topics such as global warming and its effect on Congaree National Park, the wildlife of Congaree National Park, and the important of the Congaree River. All interpretive programs offered in Congaree National Park are led by knowledgeable park staff or experienced volunteers.
Hike the Boardwalk Loop
The Boardwalk Loop is one of the more popular trails found at Congaree National Park. The trail meanders through the swamp like environments present via an elevated boardwalk. Along this trail visitors will be introduced to a variety of rare and delicate plants and fungi species native to the park and surrounding area. The Boardwalk Loop at Congaree National Park is an easy 2.4-mile walk under loblolly pines and cypress trees.
Hike the King Snake Trail
Visitors looking to identify footprints left behind by several of the park’s wildlife species should look to hike the King Snake Trail. This trail is one of the longest trails in Congaree National Park as it stretches for 11.1 miles through the park’s unique old growth forest. Wildlife sightings are common along the trail. Visitors should look to identify deer, racoons, opossums, and even bobcat tracks on occasion.
Paddle the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail
The Cedar Creek Canoe Trail offers visitors a chance to see Congaree National Park from a completely different perspective. The only marked canoe trail in the national park, the canoe trail on Cedar Creek continues for 20 miles. Visitors can rent canoes from Congaree National Park or bring their own along with them. Swimming is prohibited in the Congaree River.
Camping in Congaree National Park
The campground at Congaree National Park contains sights suited for recreational vehicles and tent campers. The national park manages two campgrounds. The Longleaf Campground contains 10 individual sites and four group sites. The Bluff Campground is located on the Bluff Trail in the park and requires visitors to walk about one mile from the Longleaf Campground. All campsites in the park require reservations. These reservations can be made online through the park’s website and reservation portal.
Wildlife Viewing in Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park protects a diverse variety of wildlife species. These species vary from amphibians to rare avian species. Mammals commonly spotted in the park include white-tailed deer, squirrels, opossums, racoons, skunks, eastern cottontails, and a few species of mice and bats. The park is also home to the American alligator, several species of snakes, and a few species of turtles. More information about the wildlife found in Congaree National Park can be obtained from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.
When to Visit Congaree National Park
Since Congaree National Park is open throughout the entire year, visitors can plan their trip to the park during every season. Visitation in the park peaks during the summer. During these months, warm temperatures and days full of South Carolina sunshine are expected in the park. Spring and fall in Congaree National Park offer the best temperatures conducive to camping, hiking, and other outdoor recreation activity. Visitors wishing to beat the summer crowds that form in Congaree National Park will want to visit the park during the winter.
Must Have Items to Bring to Congaree National Park
Visitors familiar with planning for a national park trip will know that these trips require a bit of packing. Visitors planning to camp in Congaree National Park will need to bring additional equipment along with them to the park. This equipment and other essential items visitors should bring to the park are listed below.
Water & High Energy Snacks
List of Parks advises that water will always be essential when recreating outdoors. Visitors planning to spend several nights in Congaree National Park will want to bring additional supplies of water along with them on their trip. Snacks that can provide a boost of energy after a long day paddling on Cedar Creek or hiking through the park’s trails are also important. Favorite snacks among outdoor recreators include beef jerky, trail mix, protein bars, and dried fruit.
Lightweight Rain Jacket
Visitors planning to spend several days in Congaree National Park should bring a lightweight rain jacket along with them to the park. The best rain jackets are protective enough to wick away rain and protect from wind gusts but are also light enough that the individual wearing the jacket doesn't get too warm.
Bringing a digital camera to Congaree National Park is a great way to record memories from your trip that you can view for years to come. Visitors planning to camp in the park for an extended period of time should think about bringing additional camera batteries to avoid having their camera battery die while in the park.
Field Guides & Park Maps
Field guides will help visitors identify species of wildlife and vegetation they see during their trip to Congaree National Park. Visitors can obtain a park map for Congaree National Park at the Harry Hampton visitor center and at the park’s entrance station.
Visitors planning to camp in Congaree National Park should create and utilize a camping checklist during their packing routine. This checklist will make sure everything you need for camping is accounted for.
Where to Stay in Congaree National Park
Campsites in the two campgrounds found at Congaree National Park can be reserved online through the park’s website and reservation portal. All campsites in the park require reservations. Visitors looking to stay at a hotel in the vicinity of the park should first look for options in Eastover, South Carolina.
Food Near Congaree National Park
The closest food to Congaree National Park resides in Eastover, South Carolina and its surrounding area. However, Columbia, South Carolina, which is only about a thirty-minute drive away from the park contains a larger selection of restaurants, bars, and grocery stores. Visitors looking to visit another popular city in South Carolina can make the two-hour drive to Charleston along the coast.
Airports Near Congaree National Park
The Charleston International Airport is the closest international airport to Congaree National Park. Visitors looking to fly into Charleston International Airport can then rent a car and make the two-hour drive northwest to Congaree National Park.