It’s shocking Google’s most asked question about the Congaree National Park is whether it’s worth visiting. Seriously?!? In my opinion, every National Park is worth seeing. These are our few protected lands, each one unique, beautiful and important. This is especially true for the Congaree, North America’s largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest.
Rather than list the same reasons every national park is worth visiting; hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing, etc. I want to show you why the Congaree National Park is special.
There’s an understated beauty to natural wetlands few people take the time to appreciate. But, you have to slow down to take it all in.
1) An Accessible View
The key to any good wetlands, is a good boardwalk. Starting at the visitor center, the park’s main trail is a 2.4-mile looped boardwalk. It’s accessible for strollers, and wheelchairs.
In addition to the boardwalk, there are nine other hiking trails throughout the Congaree National Park.
The boardwalk trail consists of elevated and a low-lying sections. When the Congaree River floods, the water spreads across the floodplain. Sometimes this floods about a half-mile section of the low-lying boardwalk, like it did on our visit.
You can check the park’s conditions on the Congaree National Park website, but don’t let flooding scare you off.
As other visitors rushed past us on the trail, I felt they were missing out. Not only did they not see the three-legged hog, hundreds of birds, and an array of interesting fungi, they never noticed the stillness of the water. Like mirrored glass, it reflected the moss-covered world in perfect symmetry.
3) Hidden Details
It’s the hidden details that make the Congaree National Park worth visiting.
A great way to slow down is by grabbing a self-guided boardwalk tour at the visitor center. The guide points out notable features on the trail and provides insight on the history of the land.
Alternatively, join one of the ranger walks, or nature discovery walks to get an expert view of the park.
4) Unique Calendar Of Events
In addition to the ranger walks, the Congaree National Park holds ranger led canoe trips down the Congaree River. Usually, these take place in spring and fall. They are great for beginners or anyone unfamiliar with the area.
Plus, the park offers lots of ways to get your zen on. Check their calendar for free concerts among the trees and free yoga in the forest.
5) Synchronous Fireflies
The most popular activity at the park is the Firefly Festival. This two-week event happens around mid-May to early June.
This is when a rare species called Synchronous Fireflies, one of only three found in the US, preforms its unique synchronized mating dance.
Male fireflies hover around 2-4 feet above the ground, about 1 foot apart, as they flash in unison to attract a mate.
In 2019, over 12 thousand people came for the festival. However, attendance for 2021 will be significantly limited.
6) A Delicate Ecosystem
Before leaving the park, we noticed the Bluff Trail across from the parking lot. With rising smoke in the distance, we curiously followed the path through a recently control-burned forest. So recently, that some of the trees were still smoldering.
Prescribed burns are common and critically necessary in the Congaree National Forest. These smaller controlled burns manage the accumulation of flammable material on the forest floor. In fact, forest management monitors, but continues to let downed trees burn for several days until all the built-up fuel burns off.
7) Survival of the Fittest
The Congree is a harsh place to survive. I realized this while watching two squirrels maneuver through a labyrinth of vines and branches looking for food. The land below them completely flooded, with no solid ground in sight.
Wetlands Get a Bad Rap
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you the Congaree is worth visiting. Though, I need to address the elephant in the room, or rather, the mosquito in the forest.
Mosquitos are prevalent here, as noted by the Skeeter Meter in the visitor center. My advice is to time your visit for a cooler season. Spring is amazing at the park or go in fall when things cool down a bit.
If you do go in mosquito season, wear the proper clothing. Though it’s hot, cute sundresses and open-toed shoes have no place here. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants work best, but you’re also going to need bug spray.
I also love the ExOfficio BugAway clothing line on Amazon. I have two of their mesh hoodies. They work so well I only use the bug spray on my ankles.
Where to Stay for the Congaree National Park
- There are two campgrounds within the Congaree National Park: Bluff and Longleaf. They both require reservations through the park. You can also do back-country camping for free with a permit.
- If you prefer the luxury of a hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Columbia Cayce is one of the nicer hotels close to the park and is usually well priced.