Congaree National Park might be a little bit ignored relative to many other parks, but what it lacks in name recognition, it makes up for with beautiful scenery and family-friendly adventure. Visiting Congaree National Park was a fun getaway for us, and we think you’ll love it too.
What’s so special about Congaree?
At first glance, you may wonder why you’ve never heard of Congaree or might be wondering what’s so special about the park. The answer lies in the trees and forest. Congaree National Park protects one of the last forests of old growth bottomland hardwood trees remaining in the southeastern United States.
Some of these special trees are considered “champion trees” similar to the “rock stars” found in some of the parks in the western United States, like General Sherman found in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park or the ancient bristlecone pines found at Bryce Canyon or Great Basin. The trees in Congaree are some of the oldest and largest in South Carolina and are part of the tallest deciduous forest in the United States.
While much of these forests are now gone, Congaree protects over 15,000 acres of huge loblolly pine, bald cypress, old-growth oak, dwarf palmetto, and many other types of plants and animals. In 1983, UNESCO recognized this amazing diversity along the Congaree River as part of the Congaree International Biosphere Reserve. Today there is a mix of managed-use and wilderness areas in the park.
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Things to do in Congaree National Park
Canoeing and Kayaking
While there are many ways to visit Congaree National Park, we think paddling through it is the best. We booked a guided canoe tour of Congaree and spent a half day on the water seeing this park from a unique perspective.
There’s no better way to get up close with the enormous Cypress trees and their mesmerizing ‘knees’ poking up all around, or to spot some of the wildlife in the park. We saw plenty of birds but also a good amount of harmless brown snakes sunbathing on the tree roots and knees as we floated by.
Congaree keeps a list of concessionaires that offer tours through the park and we chose Palmetto Outdoor. They offered an 11:00am tour which was perfect for us since we were driving from Charleston. Canoes, life jackets, and oars are provided. All you need is some drinking water, snacks, and your sense of adventure.
Hiking in Congaree National Park
Although Congaree is bottomland and prone to flooding, there are some hiking trails through the park, in addition to well-maintained boardwalks to help you explore. Trails vary from easy to difficult and cover all kinds of terrain.
The boardwalk loop trail that leaves from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center is a 2.6 mile loop that leads through the cypress, loblolly pine, oak, maple, and tupelo trees. The boardwalk is stroller and wheelchair accessible and also has benches along the path.
Be sure to check the Congaree trail information page here to plan your visit.
Love National Parks? Be sure to read about all of South Carolina's National Parks here.
Congaree National Park Camping
Camping is another popular activity at Congaree, and there are both backcountry camping and campgrounds available. Camp sites must be reserved at Recreation.gov, and there is no RV camping at the park. Every camper requires a permit or reservation,
Read more about camping at Congaree here.
Congaree National Park Fishing
Fishing is allowed in all areas of the park with a valid South Carolina fishing license. During our visit, we saw several anglers casting lines from the shores of the river as we floated by. While I can’t speak to their success, they looked like they were having a good time, so give it a shot if you like to fish!
There are some rules and regulations about fishing in Congaree, so be sure to check them out before you arrive.
Getting to Congaree National Park
Where is Congaree National Park?
Congaree National Park is located about a half hour southeast of Columbia, SC and about 2 hours from both Charleston, SC and Augusta GA.
The National Park Service discourages against using a service like Uber or Lyft to get to the park, so if you aren’t driving your own car, it’s best to rent one for your trip.
Things to do near Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park’s closest major city is Columbia, SC. After our day in the park, we drove to Columbia to enjoy lunch downtown and have some dinner.
Charlotte, NC, Charleston, SC, Myrtle Beach, SC, and Hilton Head, SC are all within a few hours’ drive. We had a great visit to Charleston and made it our home base for visiting Congaree and other places in the area. If you’re looking for things to do in Charleston, be sure to check out our post.
If you’re up for visiting another great National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is only about 3.5 hours away. This is an incredible park and would be a great add-on to visiting Congaree. We wrote an extensive post on visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so be sure have a look there for everything you need to plan a great trip.
Have you visited Congaree National Park? What was your favorite thing to do there?
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