As Hurricane Joaquin is drenching the east coast with epic amounts of rain, I just heard on the news that central South Carolina is currently under a flash flood watch. Residents are being advised to stay at home and motorists have been stranded on flooded roadways. We will be praying for all affected by the storm. While visitors and residents need to be especially careful during the heavy rain, periodic floods are an essential component of the biological diversity in Congaree National Park and are not uncommon in the park. The rise and fall of the water cause nutrient rich deposits which create the ecosystem. In fact, areas of the park were flooded during our visit a while back, which added to the beauty of the scenery. If you would like to read about the flood cycle and the importance of it in making the amazing ecosystem in Congaree National Park, click here. The park is also home to a diversity of wildlife including a myriad of snakes, turtles and birds. It is a beautiful wilderness area.
Congaree National Park is located about 25 miles from Columbia, South Carolina and we had the best night’s stay at the Embassy Suites in town. With an evening reception, delicious complimentary breakfast (with made to order omelettes and pancakes!), and clean spacious rooms, the Embassy Suites was perfect for us. And since we had booked through Hotwire, we scored a great deal too!
Congaree National Park
After our restful night at the Embassy Suites, we filled up on the wonderful breakfast and headed out bright and early into Congaree National Park. Starting at the Visitor’s Center, we watched the orientation video, and chatted with the park rangers to get advice on how best to visit. When visiting a National Park, make sure you talk to the Park Rangers. They have helped us have the very best visits at parks throughout the country- Park Rangers are truly an amazing resource. They gave us Junior Ranger packets for the kids to work on and told us about the flooded areas on the popular boardwalk trails, and we were off to explore.
We started off down the 2.4 mile Boardwalk Trail. Elevated above the water, the boardwalk is extensive and allows visitors to walk deep into the water logged forest without getting their feet wet. Large sections of the trail were flooded, but we could still walk most of the boardwalk, and the scenery was spectacular. Beautiful, large trees covered in moss were everywhere and their trunks were buried deep in the swamp water. Since the weather was cool, we weren’t bothered at all by mosquitoes. Because Congaree National Park is much like a swamp, you should be prepared with mosquito repellent and netting just in case, but we luckily avoided them during our visit. This would be an amazing place to canoe or kayak, but the high water prevented a paddle trip during our visit. Click here for information about free Ranger led canoe tours. We spent several hours meandering on the boardwalks.
We also enjoyed a beautiful walk through the woods on the 1.7 mile Bluff Trail. (For more information about Hiking Trails in Congaree National Park, click here.) Winding through a tall pine forest, this part of the park, although different, was just as beautiful as the boardwalk section. The trail passes through Bluff Campground which I would love to stay at on a future visit! Surrounded by tall pines, these sites were wonderfully picturesque. We enjoyed a picnic at the deserted campground. There are miles of beautiful trails in the park, but make sure to check with park rangers before heading off. Flooding can make some trails too muddy, and even dangerous, to hike.
If you go to Congaree National Park:
Congaree National Park is a fee free park and there is no charge to enter.
There is also no charge for camping in either of the two campgrounds in Congaree National Park, but campers must register at the campground kiosk. Click here for more information. Fee free backcountry camping is also permitted. Click here for more information.
Ranger led programs are offered on a regular basis. There is no fee to participate, but reservations are required. Click here for more information.
Pack a picnic to eat during your visit. There are no food service options in the park. The closest town with food available is Gadsden, but Columbia, a little farther away, has many more options, and is only about 25 minutes away. We picnicked at the Bluff Campground which was a beautiful place to sit for a while.
If visiting during the warmer months, make sure to pack mosquito repellent and netting. The Park Rangers told me that at times the mosquitoes can be relentless!
If visiting with kids, a fun resource to use on a visit to Congaree National Park is Kids in Parks. You can download adventure brochures with fun activities for kids to do in the park.
There is a small gift shop in the Visitor’s Center, but the selections of souvenirs is fairly limited. An excellent (and beautiful) book about Congaree National Park available is The Natural History of Congaree Swamp.
Although short, we loved our visit to Congaree National Park. Even in a short time, we felt like we had seen a lot of the park. That being said, we can’t wait until we can return- next time I’m planning on bringing a canoe.
We will continue to keep all those affected by the storm in our thoughts and prayers.