On our trip down to Charleston and Savannah we were tantalizingly close to a National Park, so we decided to amp up the crazy and stay in three separate locations during our seven day journey. No sweat, the road’s my middle name. Our final destination was the capital of South Carolina, Columbia – which was in perfect proximity to Congaree National Park [100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC 29061].
Congaree is a newer park, established in 2003 and free to visit. The environment isn’t technically a swamp as some may say, but a floodplain. The forest is a bit above and adjacent to the Congaree River, and when that river overflows it will stay flooded for up to a few months. Otherwise, it is dry. Floodplain forests have wet and dry cycles. Congaree isn’t as wild and in your face with views and sights as some of the other parks I’ve been to. The pleasure here was in the subtle details enjoying the flora such as the unique bald cypress and the tall national champion loblolly pine.
We ate breakfast at home, packed a lunch in, and planned to have dinner back in Columbia – no real food options in the park so plan ahead! First stop is always the visitor’s center to get a map and heads up on any updates in the park. It was early spring and had rained earlier that week so some of the boardwalk was at water level, and even a bit flooded! A park ranger told us the boardwalk was impassible the day before, we were lucky. Check the mosquito meter, bring repellent! Another lucky win, very few bugs on our visit.
Pick your trails depending on time or distance you are up for, there is a great resource outside to plan out your hike. Most trails are pretty shaded, but I always like to have lot’s of water, sunscreen, and a hat anyway. Our route included the Boardwalk loop, Weston Lake loop, and the River trail until it became impassible due to flooding. So we began on the boardwalk in the woods and continued on to find the water.
Our first wildlife sighting was a most striking spider.
Continuing on and paying close attention to our map, we sought out the spot where the park ranger told us to veer off the trail and find one of the park’s tallest champion trees, the tallest of which is 167 feet high and just about 15 feet in circumference.
Magnificent. Over our time spent at the park we came across a numerous rainbow of reptiles,
Life and signs of life were everywhere.
Another great way to explore Congaree would be through kayaking, maybe you’ll have better luck on the water than we did on land trying to track down an otter. Venturing through Congaree was an adventure where we learned to revel in the little things and gain greater knowledge of a rare environment.
It was well worth the time and effort to make it out to this distinctive little park paired with a tour of the state’s capital!