Located in South Carolina, Congaree is a unique and underrated National Park. If you’re looking for a change from the typical mountain trail that is packed with people, check out the elevated pathways of the Congaree floodplain.
Congaree National Park is the largest intact expanse of old growth (meaning, relatively untouched) bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. The nutrients that come in with the flood waters create a rich environment in which the gum, oak, and cypress trees thrive. If you watch the video in the visitors center (highly recommended, about 20 minutes), they show a shocking time-lapse map of this unique landscape disappearing. Cypress logging almost destroyed the whole area! Thanks to an incredible grassroots campaign that was started in 1969, Congaree received it’s National Park designation in 2003. It makes you really appreciate what you see.
While the appeal and uniqueness of the park come from its regular flooding, it was actually VERY flooded when we went. At first, we were disappointed that we would get to see much of the park, but we made the best of it! The rangers at the visitor center told us we actually came at a good time because it was their first dry day in a week. Usually, a good way to view the park is by canoe. The park does not rent canoes or kayaks (you must bring your own), but if you want to canoe and don’t own one, you can check out the limited number of guided ranger tours. However, because of the extreme flooding, we had to stick to the raised boardwalk.
We took a more relaxed approach to our explorations – it was refreshing. We walked the one elevated trail that was open to us, paused for photos, read all the informational plaques, sat on benches, and ate snacks. Our walking time combined with the time at the visitor center was probably about 2.5-3 hours.
Another perk to the flooding, besides it forcing us to slow down, was that there were not many people at the park. Like, none. We enjoyed the incredible silence the water created. Your voice echoed when you spoke. Sometimes, National Parks can be extremely busy, which takes away from the ‘being in nature’ of it all. We were lucky enough to have this one small trail all to ourselves.
Congaree is a pretty accessible park as well. It’s one of the only (THE only?) National Parks that allows dogs on their trails! You could also pretty easily explore the raised pathways if you had a wheelchair or some other walking accommodation.
So if you’re a National Parks junkie looking for a change from the usual 10 mile, 10 hour, 10,000 other hikers day – Congaree is your place. Take the time to walk slower, quieter, and in nature with more space and solitude.