There aren't that many national parks in the eastern half of the United States - unlike the western half or in Alaska. In the east, there are few famous national parks except for ones like Acadia National Park in Maine and the Great Smokey Mountains in North Carolina. Congaree National Park is the only national park in the southern US between the Smokey Mountains and the Everglades of Florida.

The park preserves the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the nation. These trees are some of the tallest in the eastern US and form one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.

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About South Carolina's Congaree National Park

Despite being in the east of the US (where most of the population lives) and despite there not being many other national parks in this region, it is the 10th least visited national park. This is strange as the park boasts an astonishing amount of biodiversity and is a great place to see how the region used to be.

  • Size: 41 Square Miles or 106 Square Kilometers
  • Annual Visitors: 160,000 (Contrast With 12.5 Million Visitors For The Great Smokey Mountains)
  • Loblolly Pine: Has The Tallest (169 Feet) and Largest 42 Cubic Meters) of these Trees

The park is on a floodplain that carries nutrients and sediments that nourish the ecosystem and help support the lush forests that rise mightily into the canopy. It is a tranquil wilderness setting, ideal for walking and relaxing. It is perfect for hiking, fishing, boating, and camping.

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The forest has sheltered many Americans in its history including escaped slaves and War Of Independence militia.

Visiting The Park

The park is always open - it's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

  • Cost: $0.00 Admission is Free
  • Internet: The Is Public WiFi At The Harry Hampton Visitor Center and Breezeway

The park enjoys a humid subtropical climate. The winters are mild while the summers are very warm and wet. The park is open year-round but the best time to visit is spring and fall. This is when temperatures and the most pleasant, and bugs are not the problem they are in the summer.

  • Best Time To Visit: Spring And Fall

Remember this is a floodplain and it doesn't need to rain at Congaree for it to flood. There just needs to be rainfall upstate in the Appalachians.

Related: This North Carolina Wilderness Isn't Called 'Yosemite Of The East' For No Reason

Hiking

The park has a number of primitive campsites and is great for exploring by kayak. It is also a popular place to watch firefly displays on summer evenings. As one explores the national park, keep one's eyes peeled for opossums, river otters, turtles, deer, and even alligators. For those wanting to see alligators, walking the Anhinga Trail in the Everglades virtually guarantees seeing gators. There are a number of hiking trails including:

  • King Snake Trail: 11.1 Miles
  • Weston Lake Loop Trail: 4.6 Miles
  • Oakridge Trail: 7.5 Miles
  • Bluff Trail: 0.7 Miles
  • Boardwalk Loop: 2.4 Miles - Elevated Walkway Through The Swampy Environment

Kayaking And Canoeing In The Park

One of the main ways to explore this national park is by kayaking. The park boasts a 15 or 20-mile marked canoe trail along Cedar Creek. This is one of the must-dos of those really wanting to explore the park. The waterways pass through much of the primeval old-growth forest with the tallest trees on this side of the country. Visit the visitor center to get tips and guidance on exploring the waterway.

  • Equipment Rental: There Are No Equipment Rentals In The Park, Brings One's Own Or Rent From The Nearby City of Columbia
  • Canoe Tours: There Are A Limited Number Of Free Guided Canoe Tours (Start March 1st)
  • Cedar Creek Canoe Trail: Length 15 to 20 Miles

Some of the nearby outfitters are:

Related: The Great Dismal Swamp, Explained: Why You Should Visit This Unique Natural Landmark

Accommodation

There are no lodging facilities actually within the park, but the state capital of Columbia is only 18 miles away. There is a full range of accommodation there.

If one wants to stay overnight in the park, then camping is the way to go. There are both front-country campgrounds and backcountry campgrounds - one needs a reservation to stay at the front-country campgrounds or have a valid permit for the backcountry. There are two front-country campgrounds:

  • Longleaf Campground: $10.00 Per Night For A Regular Tent Site, Reservation Only
  • Bluff Campground: $5.00 Per Nights For A Regular Tent Site, Reservation Only
  • Backcountry Camping: Free

According to the National Park Service, RVs and Trailers are not permitted in the campgrounds in the national park - only tents and apparently hammocks. If one has an RV there are a number of South Carolina State Parks that accommodate RVs in the nearby region (plus a number of private campgrounds outside of the national park.

Next: The Fall Foliage Map Tells Us That Autumn Is The Best Time To Visit The Smoky Mountains

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