Congaree National park is ~27,000 acres of gorgeous old growth bottomland hardwood forest, and is the largest one left of it’s kind in southeastern America. This area is so unique due to the forest type, the expansive canopy height, and the river floodplain ecosystem. It is a gift that it still exists, thanks to the protection for the park created in 1976.
One of the trees that can be easily identified in this park is the bald cypress tree with the massive trunk and their “knees” that pop up through the floodplain. These knees look like knobs poking through the water, and they are small new trees growing that are believed to help support the larger trees.
You can see most of what Congaree is known for as a day trip, or by spending one night here.
If you do choose to camp in this park there are two main campgrounds, Longleaf and Bluff, and you must reserve the site online or through the park’s reservation phone number.
You may also camp in the backcountry and therefore turn your visit into a backpacking trip, or even an overnight kayak/canoe trip. It is free to camp in the backcountry, but you must obtain your permit from the ranger station during business hours. This park does not have designated campgrounds in the backcountry so there is more freedom in picking your site, but be sure to follow the rules and regulations listed on the NPS site and at the ranger station.
This national park is definitely friendlier to those who are looking for shorter, easier, or less intimidating hikes. This park has little to no elevation change, which makes any hike a nice flat walk and the boardwalk provides a great, lengthy, and gorgeous wheelchair accessible trail. Notice that most trails leave from the visitor center so you can see a lot from this one area.
Also, Congaree is dog friendly and open all year round, unlike many other national parks. I do suggest avoiding the park in the summer, as the humidity and mosquitos can be a lot to handle. Fall is recommended as one of the best times to visit as the leaves change from mid October to early November, and this was also when I explored this beautiful park.
Boardwalk Loop Trail – 2.4 miles (RT), easy, wheelchair accessible
This boardwalk provides a really interesting view of the park as you are above the floodplains and able to see many varying species of trees and plants. This walk emphasizes the bald cypress and the Tupelo trees, and also gives amazing views of the “knees” sticking through the floodplains. There is a self-guided tour in the visitor center, which follows numbers along the boardwalk trail and will highlight different natural and cultural history about this unique park.
Sims Trail – 3.2 miles (RT), easy
This trail is an old gravel road that used to lead to the hunt club lodge, which no longer exists. You can also take this route to connect to longer hikes in the park, such as Weston Lake Loop, Oakridge Trail, and River Trail. Sims trail is additionally used to avoid mud that may be found on the beginning of Weston Lake trail. Since it is gravel and therefore less susceptible to collect water it is a great substitute.
Weston Lake Loop Trail – 4.4 miles (RT), easy
The Weston Lake Loop Trail is a great route if you are looking for a slightly longer mileage trip and the opportunity to see more wildlife. Since this trail follows the Cedar Creek you are likely to see many birds, otters, fish, or any other creatures living here. This trail has many bridges that you get to cross and is full of picturesque scenery.
Oakridge Trail – 7 miles (RT), easy but longer
This trail has many various Oak trees along the main ridge line that it follows. This is also a great option for a long, but easy day hike and it gives the opportunity to see more of the wilderness without having to camp in the backcountry.
There are a few more trails in this park, but these were the ones I felt were best for a day trip.
A route I recommend is that you begin at the visitor center and head out on the Boardwalk Trail. Follow this trail south until it ends and continue onto the Weston Lake Trail. Follow that down and continue south onto the Oak Ridge Trail, looping around until it reconnects with the Weston Lake Trail on the east side. Follow the Weston Lake Trail on the east side heading north, until you hit the boardwalk again, or venture further west and take the Sims Trail back up towards the visitor center. This gives you a variety of trails and scenery on a nice and flat day hike.
Map was taken from NPS site.