Are you looking for an outdoor adventure that will keep you on your toes? Congaree National Park in South Carolina is a stunningly beautiful old-growth bottomland hardwood forest with plenty of activities to explore.
From canoeing and kayaking to birdwatching and hiking, Congaree National Park has things to do that will satisfy all ages. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend-long escape from the city, a visit to Congaree National Park is sure to provide an unforgettable experience.
So grab your fishing pole, hiking boots, and binoculars, and get ready to embark on an adventure!
Best Congaree National Park Things to Do
Congaree National Park is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and bird watchers alike. The park offers plenty of activities that will keep you entertained during your visit, with abundant hiking to wildlife watching. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful stroll on the Boardwalk Loop Trail or an adrenaline-filled adventure on a wild waterway, you can find these things to do in Congaree National Park.
No matter what kind of experience you’re after, Congaree National Park has something to offer. Even though there is some debate over whether or not it should be a national park, that’s not what is important. These marshlands and forests are now protected for future generations to enjoy, so we should celebrate and enjoy Congaree for what it is.
No matter what kind of experience you’re looking for, Congaree National Park is a fantastic place to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of South Carolina.
1. Begin your Day at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center
When you arrive at Congaree National Park, the first stop should definitely be the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, where you’ll find all the resources you’ll need during your visit. You can find out all about the park and get maps of the trails and other attractions.
The friendly rangers and volunteers are always happy to answer any questions you have and provide helpful advice on what to see and do. Let them know what you’ve seen and done already and what types of activities you are interested in, and they’ll direct you on to the next great spot.
You can also use the Visitor Center as a place to take a break and recharge your batteries since there is a nice-sized parking lot for cars. There is limited parking for RVs and other oversized vehicles at the visitor center, so those may have a difficult time finding parking on busy days.
At the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, you’ll find restrooms, water fountains, snacks, souvenirs, and reading materials for purchase. You’ll find the “Mosquito Meter,” water levels, and trail conditions reports in the covered entryway.
This is also where you can get your National Park Passport stamp! So make your first pit stop at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center before heading out into Congaree National Park – it’s definitely worth your time!
2. Explore the Boardwalk Trail Loop with the Paper Guide
The most popular trail in Congaree is by far the Boardwalk Loop Trail. Measuring in at just over two and a half miles long, this boardwalk trail takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Congaree.
The trail winds its way through old-growth forests of tupelo, bald cypress, and loblolly pines while providing plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife along the way.
One fun way to explore this Boardwalk Trail Loop is with the paper guide, which provides an interactive experience that combines nature exploration with 20 numbered spots along the trail.
Simply follow along on your paper brochure as it leads you through different areas of Congaree National Park, and at each numbered spot, learn about the area’s history, plants, trees, and preservation. It’s a great way to learn about the park’s incredible biodiversity in an engaging and immersive way!
3. Paddle Cedar Creek
Kayaking or canoeing on Cedar Creek is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Congaree National Park.
Drifting along in a kayak or canoe offers visitors a unique perspective on what makes this park incredible, and there are plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife along the way.
Whether you choose to rent a canoe or kayak from an outfitter between Columbia and Congaree, bring your own boat, or join an organized tour, you’ll have an unforgettable experience paddling through Congaree National Park.
The most convenient way to access Cedar Creek is via the South Cedar Creek Landing. From there, you can decide whether you want to take a leisurely trip downstream in your boat or venture further upstream first. This is a great spot for those who only have one vehicle, as you won’t have to paddle against significant currents when traveling upstream.
Whichever route you choose, don’t forget your waterproof camera – this is one experience that will make for some incredible photos! Attach a waterproof flotation wriststrap, just in case you’re camera slips from your hand!
4. See the Synchronous Fireflies
Every year for a short time in early summer, Congaree National Park plays host to one of the most dazzling displays of nature’s beauty – the synchronous fireflies. For two weeks, sometime between mid-May and mid-June, these amazing insects take over the park and light up the night with their flashing synchronized displays.
It truly is a sight to see! There are only 3 species of fireflies in North America that are capable of synchronizing their light.
The best time to witness this incredible show is right after dark, usually between 9 pm and 10 pm, when the fireflies are at their most active. The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is one of the best viewing spots in the park – here, you can watch as thousands of fireflies fill the night sky with their twinkling lights. Make sure to bring your camera and snap some photos!
In 2021, due to its popularity, Congaree National Park established a lottery system for visitors who want to see the synchronous fireflies in action. To participate, enter the lottery on Recreation.gov, which opens in early April. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity if you get the chance – it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
5. Explore the Weston Lake Trail
Hiking the Weston Lake Trail at Congaree National Park is an absolute must-do for any nature enthusiast. This 4.5-mile loop trail will take you through some of the most breathtaking old-growth forests in the entire park, with plenty of tupelo and bald cypress trees to admire along the way.
It’s also completely flat, like most of the trails in this park, making it perfect for a leisurely stroll or a more challenging jog. Keep an eye out for tree roots and obstacles along the trail!
No matter how you choose to tackle this trail, you’re sure to be rewarded with some spectacular views and potential wildlife sightings. Keep your eyes peeled for some of Congaree’s iconic species, such as barred owls, otters, and fox squirrels!
Make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks to refuel because it can get very hot and humid quickly!
6. See Wise Lake
Wise Lake is one of the most beautiful spots in Congaree National Park, and if you’re looking for a peaceful place to relax and take in nature, this is the spot for you.
Located near the junction of the Weston Lake Loop Trail and River Trail, Wise Lake is surrounded by towering old-growth trees, making it an ideal spot for bird-watching or just stopping for a break to enjoy the view while hiking.
Take your time exploring the area around Wise Lake. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some of Congaree’s most interesting wildlife species, like river otters playing in the water.
7. Take Part in Ranger-Led Activities
If you want to learn more about Congaree National Park, there’s no better way than by taking part in one of the park’s ranger-led activities. These activities range from educational talks and hikes to nighttime campfire programs.
Ranger-led hikes are an ideal way to explore the park, as rangers can provide valuable insight into the unique flora and fauna that make up Congaree National Park. You’ll be able to appreciate the beauty of ancient trees like bald cypresses and tupelo groves, as well as spot some of the park’s wildlife.
The ranger-led programs also offer a great opportunity for visitors to learn more about Congaree’s rich history. From learning about Native American culture and artifacts to discovering how engineers constructed the boardwalks that traverse through the park, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for all that Congaree has to offer.
So if you’re looking for an interactive experience that will enhance your visit to Congaree National Park, make sure you take part in one of their ranger-led activities.
8. Go Fishing
Fishing is one of the greatest activities that Congaree National Park has to offer because there is so much water throughout the park! Whether you’re an experienced angler or a complete novice, anyone can fish with a little preparation.
Congaree has a variety of fish species living in its rivers and streams, including bass, panfish, catfish, and more. The best thing about fishing here is that you can enjoy it year-round – no matter the season, there’s always something biting!
You’ll need a South Carolina fishing license. Also, avoid using minnows and fish eggs as bait.
Then, grab your rod and reel and head out to one of the many excellent fishing spots throughout Congaree National Park.
Catch and release practices are always suggested to protect the park’s natural resources.
9. Hike the Bates Ferry Trail, Detouring to the General Greene Tree
Exploring the Bates Ferry Trail is one of the most unique and interesting things to do in Congaree National Park. Leading to the Congaree River, this 1.1-mile (one-way) trail takes you on a wide grassy path to a gorgeous view of the river.
Take a slight detour off the trail to the right (follow this allTrails map) to see the General Greene Tree. This colossal tree is thought to be centuries old and has a circumference of over 30 feet! It’s the largest Bald Cyprus tree in Congaree, and it’s an awe-inspiring sight that’s definitely worth seeing up close.
And if you’re lucky, you may even spot some wildlife while you explore the area. Congaree is home to all sorts of animals.
If you’re looking for an easy yet exciting hike, then check out the Bates Ferry Trail in Congaree National Park! The views are amazing and these towering trees will have you feeling tiny!
10. Enjoy Excellent Bird Watching
Bird-watching is one of the most popular activities in Congaree National Park. With nearly 200 species of birds, it’s a great way to experience nature and explore the park’s unique ecosystem. From colorful warblers to majestic endangered bald eagles, there are so many different species to discover.
If you’re an experienced birder, you can challenge yourself by trying to spot as many species as possible. Or if you’re just starting out, take your time and enjoy the sights and sounds of the bird life around you.
The best part about bird watching in Congaree is that there are plenty of opportunities to spot various birds throughout the year. The swampy marshlands provide plenty of food and protection from the elements year-round.
No matter your level of experience, bird watching in Congaree National Park is sure to be a delightful experience. Don’t forget your binoculars on your next visit to the park.
11. Escape to the Kingsnake Trail
The Kingsnake Trail is one of the best trails in Congaree National Park, offering a unique experience for hikers and nature lovers alike. This 12-mile out-and-back trail takes you through some of the park’s most scenic areas, including sloughs of tupelo and cypress trees as well as along the winding Cedar Creek.
The trail is rated easy to moderate in difficulty with plenty of opportunities to take in spectacular views of the forest. As you make your way along the trail, you’ll cross many small wooden bridges over the marshlands.
Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled by the abundance of birdlife and other animals that can be spotted along the way.
The Kingsnake Trail offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk Trail. It can be overgrown and difficult to navigate in places, so just plan to go as far as you feel comfortable. Whether you hike 2 miles or all 12, the Kingsnake Trail is a cool adventure around Cedar Creek.
Just make sure you use your insect repellant before setting out on this one! We were glad we had plenty for our adventure here. Wearing pants would also be a good idea if you plan to hike the length of the trail, as some parts are more grassy and overgrown than others.
12. Hike to Views of the Congaree River via the River Trail
The River Trail is a great way to explore the area around Congaree National Park. This is a long one at just over 11 miles in a loop trail that takes you from the park’s entrance all the way to the Congaree River, offering hikers plenty of opportunities to take in stunning views of the surrounding forest.
Along the way, you’ll pass through some of the park’s most densely wooded areas, including a stretch along the Congaree River.
Hikers should be aware that this trail can be somewhat challenging at times due to its remote nature and dense vegetation. Sometimes, blown-down trees obstruct the trail, making it more difficult to navigate.
But don’t let that stop you from exploring this amazing area! The rewards are well worth it — especially when you get to experience beautiful vistas of the Congaree River and the sandbar (when the water levels are lower) before heading back to your starting point.
13. The Owl Prowl
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, then keep an eye out for this special event in Congaree! Join a ranger on an Owl Prowl to learn more about these creatures that call South Carolina home.
During this guided 1.5-hour tour, rangers will take you through the park after dark to look for owls and other nocturnal creatures. You’ll have the chance to observe the behavior of owls in their natural habitat, as well as get a glimpse of other nighttime wildlife like bats, raccoons, and foxes.
The Owl Prowl is suitable for all ages, so bring your whole family along! Bring along your own flashlight or lantern to help light your way as you explore the park in search of these amazing creatures. If it doesn’t have a red light mode, you’ll be given red cellophane to cover the light. The red light is less disruptive to the nocturnal wildlife’s night vision.
While you’re not guaranteed to see an owl or any other wildlife for that matter, you’ll leave the ranger-led event with more knowledge about these creatures and Congaree National Park. This activity is a favorite among park visitors who are lucky enough to partake in it!
14. Backcountry Camping
Backcountry camping at Congaree National Park is a great way to immerse yourself totally in this South Carolina forest. There are sites you can hike to, and sites that you can paddle to inside the park.
Backcountry camping in Congaree requires some preparation and planning. Be sure to bring all necessary supplies, including food and water, adequate clothing and shelter, insect repellent, and a map or GPS device.
A free permit for backcountry camping is required, and this must be requested at least 3 days prior to the start of your trip. If you’d rather stay a little closer to your vehicle, you can find hike-in sites at both the Bluff Campground and Longleaf Campground.
The Longleaf campsites are not far from a parking area, where there are also 2 vault toilets. If you need running water, you’ll have to go to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.
Congaree National Park offers unparalleled opportunities for adventurers seeking a unique experience. Whether you plan to spend just one night under the stars or several days exploring South Carolina’s wild side, camping at Congaree can be a great experience.
15. Explore a Trail with Your Pup
Bring your furry friend to Congaree National Park and explore the trails together! Congaree is a great place for you and your pup to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of nature. All of the trails in this national park are open to leashed pups, each offering different views and experiences.
The Boardwalk Loop Trail is one of the most popular trails in Congaree and is great for beginners. This trail is perfect for all kinds of hikers, including those with dogs! Just be sure to keep your pup leashed at all times and clean up after it, as it helps protect wildlife and park features, your pup, and other visitors.
Keep an eye out for snakes along the trail, especially during summer. Even though most are not venomous, if your dog finds one, it could be an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.
For longer hikes, check out the Weston Lake Loop Trail or the River Trail. Remember to bring plenty of water and snacks for your pup, as well as any necessary waste bags or disposal items.
That way, you can both enjoy an enjoyable hike while preserving the natural beauty of Congaree National Park. After you finish your hikes, be sure to check yourself and your dog for ticks. They are definitely present in this park.
16. Learn about the Champion Trees of Congaree
Congaree National Park is home to some of the most majestic trees in the world! The park has over 80 different species of trees, including some of the oldest and largest specimens in the state of South Carolina and the entire United States. These incredible trees are known as Champion Trees.
In Congaree National Park, you can find six national- and 23 state-champion trees according to American Forests. These giants are everywhere!
Some of these trees are much easier to see than others. A couple can be found along the boardwalk trail, while most visitors will never see some others. One loblolly pine is 167 feet tall; that’s a 17-story building!
You’ll get an up-close look at many amazing specimens, such as a bald cypress that is thought to be at least 1,000 years old (the General Greene tree)! This area of South Carolina is so rich with these giants that if one is blown over by the wind, there is another nearby waiting to join the champion ranks.
You’ll also have the chance to learn about these trees’ significance in the local ecosystem and how they contribute to our planet’s overall health.
17. Try Not to Get Eaten Alive by Mosquitos
If you plan on visiting Congaree National Park, make sure you come prepared for mosquito season! From April to October, the park is home to swarms of mosquitoes that are hungry and ready to snack on unsuspecting visitors. The worst months are definitely the summer months!
Check the park’s “Mosquito Meter” at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center when you arrive. This will give you a little idea of what you’re in for during your visit, from “all clear” to “war zone.”
To keep them away, you can certainly wear long sleeves, long pants, and plenty of insect repellent.
Pretreat the clothing you plan to wear with permethrin. You can also spray your gear, like your footwear, tent, and backpack, to help repel these pests.
If you’re camping in the park, plan to sleep in a tent, and keep the doors closed at all times, to keep these pesky creatures out.
Fortunately, Congaree’s pesky mosquitos have a silver lining: they help support a diverse food hierarchy and ecosystem. Mosquitoes are an important part of the park’s ecology – they feed fish, amphibians, birds, and bats.
So while it may be annoying dealing with the constant buzzing (and bites!) during your visit, remember that these creatures play an essential role in keeping Congaree National Park healthy and thriving.
Things You’ll Need When Visiting Congaree National Park
When visiting Congaree National Park, it’s important to come prepared for your outdoor adventure. Here are some of the things you’ll need for a successful visit.
First and foremost, pack comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes that can handle the swampy terrain. You’ll also want to bring plenty of water and snacks – there isn’t much in the way of restaurants or stores in the area surrounding the park, so make sure you come prepared with food and drinks! Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, a flashlight, and a first aid kit as well.
If you’re planning on camping overnight, make sure to bring everything you need for a safe and enjoyable experience including a tent, sleeping bags or blankets, cooking supplies, toiletries, and additional layers of clothing. It can get chilly in the evenings and overnight! You’ll need a camera to capture the scenery and wildlife that you find, and good pair of binoculars is also essential if you want to get a closer look at birds or other wildlife from afar.
Congaree National Park is an incredible place filled with natural beauty – just make sure you come prepared so that your visit is both fun and safe!
Congaree National Park Essentials Packing List:
- Insect Repellant
- Lightweight Clothing (pretreated with Permethrin)
- Refillable Water Bottle
Congaree National Park: Frequently Asked Questions
Congaree National Park is an amazing place full of natural beauty and adventure. If you’re thinking about visiting, here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions:
Is Congaree National Park Worth Visiting?
Congaree National Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true. You just might have to dig a little deeper to find its beauty tucked away in the marshlands!
With its lush greenery, winding rivers and creeks, and diverse wildlife, this park provides a beautiful backdrop for hiking and wildlife viewing.
Whether you’re looking to explore the depths of the swamp by kayak, go fishing in one of the park’s many ponds, or take a leisurely stroll through its towering hardwood forests, Congaree National Park has relaxing activities to enjoy.
Not only will you get to experience the natural habitat of many creatures, but you’ll also have the opportunity to learn about local history and culture.
All in all, if you’re looking for a great way to escape from it all and really immerse yourself in nature, then Congaree National Park is definitely worth visiting!
When is the Best Time to Visit Congaree?
This outdoor paradise can be a great destination year-round, but there are certain times that are better than others to visit Congaree.
For starters, springtime brings lush greenery and blooming wildflowers, making it a perfect time of year to explore the park’s many trails and waterways for plant lovers.
Summertime offers hot days and plenty of sunshine for those looking to get some sun or take part in water activities. Just come prepared for all the mosquitos and other pesky insects.
Fall brings cooler temperatures and an abundance of fall foliage late in the season, creating an idyllic setting for watching wildlife or taking scenic photographs.
Finally, winter brings its own unique beauty to Congaree with frosty mornings providing an ideal backdrop for hikes or quiet moments spent enjoying nature in solitude.
No matter when you decide to visit Congaree National Park, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience if you plan a little ahead of time.
How Many Days Do You Need in Congaree National Park?
Congaree National Park can be a great destination for outdoor lovers of all ages, with its flat, easy hiking trails and abundant wildlife. But how many days do you need to explore and experience what the park has to offer?
The answer is: it depends on what activities you want to enjoy!
If you only have a half day, then the Boardwalk Loop Trail is an excellent way to take in the sights and sounds of Congaree.
If you have one full day, then consider adding on the Weston Lake Trail with its detour to Wise Lake. This will give you plenty of time to soak up the beauty and tranquility of this special place by getting a little further off the main path.
For those looking for a more comprehensive experience, two or three days in Congaree National Park will give you ample opportunity to explore its trails and waterways by canoe or kayak and discover its hidden gems.
No matter how long your stay, there are plenty of special things to discover while in Congaree National Park!
There are so many things to do and see at Congaree National Park, from hiking to canoeing to stargazing. Whether you’re a nature lover or just looking for a unique national park adventure, Congaree is a destination that should not be overlooked.
Don’t forget to take the time to relax and soak in the natural beauty of the park. And if you’re feeling adventurous, consider planning a camping trip to truly immerse yourself in nature.
Congaree National Park is a hidden gem that offers a unique experience for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. From hiking through the lush forests to canoeing down the winding Congaree River, there is no shortage of things to do and see in this breathtaking park. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to explore all that Congaree has to offer!