Congaree National Park

Description

With only a 20-foot drop in elevation over more than 13 miles, the Congaree River takes its time, slowly meandering through dense hardwood forests until it reaches its confluence with the Wateree River. Known as the Congaree Swamp, this floodplain forest contains over 90 species of trees. It's the largest intact tract of old-growth floodplain forest in the United States, boasting some of the tallest trees east of the Mississippi (some taller than those found along the banks of the Amazon). Flood waters cover about 80 percent of Congaree National Park land an average of ten times a year. These floods may present problems for visitors, but they are vital to the trees and other plants, which depend on the nutrients borne by the new sediments. The varied plant life supports a wide range of animal life, from 49 species of fish lurking beneath the placid surface to over 170 species of birds occupying the vast green canopy. Designated a national monument in 1976, this rich resource was also named an International Biosphere Reserve in 1983. Hiking and canoeing are the best ways to see the Congaree National Park swamp. At the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, see exhibits and check in for ranger-guided walks, canoe tours, or "owl prowls." You must reserve canoe trips and owl prowls two weeks in advance; canoe trips are especially popular and likely to book up, so the farther in advance you reserve them, the better. Two primitive campsites are reserved for groups; you can also camp in the backcountry well off the beaten track. You'll find handicapped-accessible boardwalks, from which 25 miles of trails lead into the heart of the swamp. Note that pets are not allowed on boardwalks. As you walk six feet above the forest floor, listen for woodpeckers among the loblollies. A detailed pamphlet transforms this three-mile walk into a self-guided tour of lush vegetation welcoming, among other creatures, eight species of woodpeckers. You may even glimpse the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. At Weston Lake, the endpoint of the elevated walk, you'll take the low boardwalk. Keep on the lookout for the enormous bald cypress with its "knees" (root protrusions sometimes standing over seven feet tall). You can meander through the woods by canoe on the marked canoe trail; rentals are available in nearby Columbia. At a launch at the northwestern tip of the area, put in on Cedar Creek. As you slip beneath the canopy, you'll have a chance of seeing river otters, turtles or deer. Look up into the trees for the barred owl looking down at you. The Cedar Creek trail has several length options; check with a ranger for current water levels and trail conditions. You may also canoe the Congaree River, but it isn't marked and is best suited for an overnight trip. If you do overnight, ask a ranger about the best places and get your free permit. Always call ahead to see whether there are flood conditions, which may alter your plans. Except for Weston Lake, you can fish in all areas of the park with a valid South Carolina fishing license. Be sure to bring insect repellent because insects like the warm, moist habitat as much as the trees do. Because summers can be oppressively hot and humid, you're best off visiting Congaree National Park during spring and fall. Spring visitors won't want to miss the wildflowers in bloom.

Address

100 National Park Rd.
Hopkins, SC 29061

Lat/Long

33.83984300, -80.81850500
Visit Website
(803) 776-4396

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