Congaree National Park has been on our list to visit for a long time. We were trying to visit before the summer heat spiked up in the city of Columbia, South Carolina, which Congaree National Park is nearby in the town of Hopkins. The leaves were already back on the trees, and it made for scenic sight walking the boardwalk through the woods. Many people might travel to Congaree knowing it's a national park, but they may not have expectations of what to do or look for once they arrive, so we've made a list of exciting things to see and do while visiting.
1. Walk the boardwalk trail
There are a few trails in the park including one that leads to the Congaree river, which is the park's namesake. The habitat in the park depends on the Congaree river as a floodplain. Unlike swamps, which is what a floodplain might be confused for, a floodplain is flooded a few times a year by an adjacent river. The floods create an unique environment that seems like a world made for water and land.
The boardwalk trail is perhaps the trail I would recommend to first time visitors because it provides a full scope of the environment of Congaree National Park. The elevated part of the boardwalk trail was closed when we visited, but we could see they were making the repairs. The boardwalk is an easy 2.4 mile loop.
Congaree National Park protects the largest old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The trees growing at Congaree National park are some of the tallest in the east of the U.S., and they make the largest deciduous forest canopies left in the world. The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is a great stop before hiking because it goes further into the campaign beginning in 1969 to protect the forest from deforestation.
The trail has two parts. One part is the low part of the boardwalk, which nearly puts you on the floodplain floor, and the elevated part puts you a lot higher for an overlook. It's definitely worth a trip back when the elevated part is open.
2. Watch for wildlife
We saw a lot of wildlife walking the boardwalk trail, but there is actually even more that we didn't see. Otters, boars, bobcats, snakes, and even alligators live at the park. The alligators seem to be a rarer sight, but one not too long after we visited was spotted and a few photos have surfaces of him swimming at the park.
One of the exciting sights we enjoyed viewing were the barred owls. There were three in the trees right near the boardwalk. All we had to was look up. They were watchful of us. We also saw a group of deer through the trees.
A salamander had made a home right near the trail. Walking back on the boardwalk we saw him twice peeping from under the boardwalk.
3. Take a photo beside a tree
Trust me, if you go you will want a photo beside a tree. The trees have the funkiest bottoms and they are tall and huge.
The trees next to the boardwalk are huge. We each had to take a photo next to them just to show how huge they were in comparison.
We don't have kayaks or canoes yet, but it is a popular activity to do in the park. Cedar Creek is a popular destination for the activity too. Visiting places like this only make me more excited to travel up the water here.
5. Visit Weston Lake
Weston Lake is currently where it seems the alligator has been spotted. On the boardwalk trail the lake is marked where it begins. Weston Lake is an oxbow lake, which is a u-shaped standing body of water forming as a river begins to find a different course to flow. We didn't have the time this time, but there is the Weston Lake Loop Trail that wanders off the boardwalk to take you around the lake.
There is off course plenty more to do at Congaree National Park, and the unique sights are never ending.
Congaree National Park is free to visit, but donations can be made at the visitor center. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. daily. Camping and fishing are also available. Also, remember to take mosquito repellent before visiting the park.
Have you visited Congaree National Park?
What's your favorite activity to do there?