Calling all outdoor enthusiasts: Since 2003, you can tour the Congaree National Park’s 26,000-acre water wilderness and admire giant old-growth canopies with the tallest champion trees on the east coast.
With miles of charming water trails, an elevated boardwalk to hike, and Congaree tent campgrounds. You will want to be a part of the charm. The Congaree is in the boons outside of the unique southern hospitality capital of South Carolina.
But, unlike the euphoric beauty that you find up in the alps of the Pacific Northwest. Or the nineteen desert national parks scattered around the United States; the beauty of the Congaree is swampy: wet, rich with otherworldly habitats, and beautifully eerie.
Are you ready to experience a new side of the South that you won’t find anywhere else? Grab your Mucks and paddles. Congaree National Park awaits.
Why You Should Visit Congaree National Park
South Carolina is known for three things: the Carolina Reaper, ‘fish-n-huntin,’ and the Congaree River. But mainly the Congaree National Park for its fruitful yet least visited charm.
The Congaree is just 17 miles outside Columbia, South Carolina’s historically delicious shrimp, grits, and Maxcy Monument.
The Congaree, also known as Redwoods East, is the oldest and last bottomland forest standing on American soil that breeds abundant wildlife with skyscraping cities of champion trees.
The weather is subtropical, but the breeze chills the blooming cypress, oak, and pine tree canopies underneath the forest. And the azaleas flourish in respect to the cool draft that sings through the forest.
Remember when we mentioned that South Carolina was best known for fishing and hunting? Well, those hunters and conservationists are the heroes of the Redwoods East story.
This chunk of land wasn’t always a national park. Instead, it was Beidler’s logging farm that yielded a decent salary, despite the strenuous export obstacles that the floodplain proposes.
However, the logging performance was not sustainable and eventually tarnished against pressure from ordinary locals that fell deeply in love with the Congaree.
Passionate outdoorsman Harry Hampton and Mr. Clemy (biologist and volunteer in residence) teamed to share the writing column “Woods and Waters” with the Garden Club of South Carolina that transformed the once-logged land into the Congaree floodplain National Park and monument.
As a result of good samaritan acts, visitors and locals can enjoy the hiking and water trails scattered throughout the park year-round.
Overall Best Time to Visit Congaree National Park
The best part about the Congaree is the springtime when the fireflies court. If you’re not used to floodplain time, let’s help you out — the best time to visit the Congaree is in Spring.
During the Spring, the temperatures are mild enough to tame swarms of hungry mosquitoes and still feel comfortable in shorts and a raincoat. However, spring rain and thunderstorms tend to surprise out-of-state visitors.
Before you put your kayak on Cedar Creek, you should remember that the Congaree is a wetland. That means a live ecosystem that ebbs and flows with the floodplain’s natural rhythm fluctuating the water levels year-round.
The Congaree in the Spring is the best time to troll the park hiking trails before you venture off into the creeks. The Boardwalk Loop Trail is a 2.6-mile loop that takes you through the bottomland’s mystical forest of loblolly pine and bald cypress trees without getting into the water.
The trail’s elevated boardwalk is easy to access by foot, wheelchair, or stroller. The Weston Lake Loop Trail flows 4.5 miles through Cedar Creek scenery with a hallmark viewpoint of Weston Lake.
A quarter-of-a-mile of the trailhead will take you to Wise Lake — follow the signs at the Weston Lake Loop and River Trail junction. It will take you right up to the sensational view.
Other trails that are short, sweet, and worth trekking through are:
- Bates Ferry Trail
- Fork Swamp Trail
- Kingsnake Trail
- River Trail
In addition, the Sims, Bluff, and Oakridge trails are easily accessible and easy to walk. But please check the weather forecast before hiking since the park’s ecosystem is a highly respected floodplain.
The water levels are not consistent and fluctuate daily. However, visitors that want a magical experience can tour flights of fireflies towards the end of May and the beginning of June.
Cheapest Time to Visit Congaree National Park
The second best part about the Congaree is that it has free admission, a rarity in the sea of entrance fees that every U.S. National Park Service employs.
And you only need two days to explore the entire park, which makes any time the cheapest time to visit the Congaree National Park year-round. However, Spring and fall offer a low dose of insect and mosquito bite swarms that are less likely to bother you.
Moreover, for many locals, the Congaree fall season is the most beautiful for its ever-changing fall colors at the beginning of November. The temperature is temperate, and the skies are bright and sunny. And unpredictable floods tend to remain tame.
Least Busy Time to Visit Congaree National Park
The third best part about visiting the Congaree National park is that most people hate it. The park rates as the worst national park in the U.S. That means the visitors you’ll likely bond with touring the floodplain are local tourists.
In addition, the park is reasonably small in comparison to America’s favorite Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. The world’s famous U.S. National Parks are known for their size and wow-factor beauty. While other ones, like the Congaree, are rustic and soul-grabbing.
Especially during May when the rangers open the park’s door to their carefully curated Fireflies Trail for the beloved synchronous firefly show where locals and visitors can experience the glittering seas of blinking fireflies searching for the perfect mate.
Or year-round, when anglers can find largemouth bass in December, catfish in March, and bluegill in may.
And if you’re fishing from out-of-state, please remember to buy a valid South Carolina fishing license to help preserve the park’s biodiversity; and follow the park’s fishing regulations.
Worst Time to Visit Congaree National Park
If you can avoid hiking through the Congaree National Park in the peak of summer, then you should. In the Congaree, summer lasts three months, starting in June.
All of the terror that you’ve probably heard rumored about the park’s mosquito meter is true. The air can appear all clear at sunrise and turn into a buzzing war zone in the evening.
Nor do the hot temperatures stop snakes from leaving their hot dens or flesh-eating insects from hunting for you. In addition, wildlife is extraordinarily active and tends to hide underneath Poison Ivy, log jams, and downed trees.
Wildlife that is common in a Congaree summer are:
- Water Moccasin, Copperhead, and Canebrake Rattlesnakes.
- Wood Stork, Black Vultures, and hummingbirds.
- Bobcats, deer, wild pigs, and river otters.
- Mosquitoes, ticks, and deer fly.
But, when you want to experience the best side of the Redwoods East, double-check the weather forecasts to ensure the possibility of getting swept through a storm is unlikely.
Be mindful of weather alerts and advisories such as record heavy rainfall, flooding, fog, and wind quality. Summer is known for random weather patterns. However, winter is also the worst time to visit Congress water trails.
Winter stretches from the onset of November to the end of February and into early march. In addition, the water level for canoe travel has unpredictable flood stage conditions that can overtop banks, making it hard to navigate and follow the trail markers.
In addition, if exploring the water trails is the highlight of your itinerary, keep watching the weather forecast and chilly weather in upstate areas of South Carolina that converge with the Congaree.
Things to Consider
Word of advice: no matter the season, always bring bug spray. The summer is ruthless with muggy temperatures that warm the floodplain into a heavy wet blanket temperature of 100 degrees.
But the hot humidity won’t repeal thunderstorms and heavy rainfalls from sweeping through the park. And, again, check the weather forecast.
You can think of the weather forecast as your guardian angel carrying you through the Congaree, especially when the warm weather stirs up tropical storms and hurricanes on South Carolina’s eastern coast.
Storm surges, strong winds, tornadoes, and inland flooding are most active in August, September, and October. Which also tend to be the best times to visit the Congaree.
Frequently Asked Questions
If visiting the Congaree National Park is calling, check out these frequently asked questions to help you choose the right time to visit the Congaree:
Do you need reservations for Congaree National Park?
No, you do not need reservations for the Congaree National Park. The park has no entrance fee giving you unlimited access to hiking, kayaking, fishing, and ranger-led programs.
However, overnight campers that want access to the parks, the front country campgrounds, Longleaf, and Bluff must book a reservation at least three days in advance. Backcountry campers must obtain a permit to set up camp.
Can you stay in Congaree National Park?
Yes, you can stay in the Congaree National Park at the designated front country and backcountry campgrounds with tents and hammocks for up to 14 days.
The Longleaf Campground has 14 campsites equipped with a fire ring and picnic table. The Bluff campground has six campsites and no vehicle, restroom, or running water access. However, you cannot stay overnight in your vehicle.
Campers must remain at their reserved campground or permit stays. In addition, the park does not have R.V. and trailer hookups. R.V.s, trailers, and van campers can find accommodations at local campgrounds.
What city is closest to Congaree National Park?
Columbia city is the closest urban city to the Congaree National park – just 18 miles and 30 minutes away. Columbia city is the capital of South Carolina, rich with history that dates back to 1823.
Aside from the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia Museum of Art, and Robert Mills garden house, Columbia is a culinary museum for the United States’ best BBQ, and southern comfort eats.
Other popular cities nearby the Congaree include Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Asheville, North Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia– making it easy to tour your favorite parts of the South in less than four days.
So, When Is the Best Time to Visit Congaree National Park?
Although the Congaree National Park may have a bad reputation for meat-eating insects and a lack of alien-like natural monuments, the park is in a class of its own. Redwoods East is an ancient forest bed that emits a different kind of beauty, even when no one is around.
This forest hums so quietly that you must be quiet enough to hear the stories of how, when, and where these champion trees grew to become champions. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today!