15 Best Things to Do in Congaree National Park, SC

Congaree National Park, SC
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Congaree National Park in South Carolina is the perfect place to explore if you're curious about floodplains.

The area features one of the nation's most significant sections of old-growth forest and the tallest trees in the eastern United States.

It is spectacular to stand beneath the towering giants, which include some of the tallest chestnut oaks and loblolly pines in the county.

The floodplain environment gains new life each year through the spring rains, which flood the park.

You might want to take quick trips to Congaree National Park.

Explore the forest on foot along the boardwalk, or you can kayak or canoe down Cedar Creek.

You can also join ranger-led programs, which are a great way to learn more about the park and its ecology.

While planning your visit, check the park's website for closures and alerts.

Floodwaters can suddenly cause changes in the boardwalk and block off certain areas.

Here are the best things to do in Congaree National Park, SC:

Kayak or Canoe Down Cedar Creek

The calm waters of Cedar Creek
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Cedar Creek is the main waterway that runs through Congaree National Park, and it's a great place to explore by kayak or canoe.

Beginning at Bannister's Bridge and continuing to the Congaree River, the marked Cedar Creek Canoe Trail meanders through the Congaree Wilderness for about 15 miles.

Traveling on Cedar Creek by canoe or kayak is a fantastic way to enjoy Congaree National Park.

Organize a quick day trip or an overnight journey into the wilderness.

Trees reflecting on Cedar Creek
Jonathan A. Mauer / Shutterstock.com

There are several launch sites within the park, and you can take them out at any public boat ramps.

If you don't have your kayak or canoe, you can rent them from Congaree River Blue Trail Outfitters, located just outside the park.

Cedar Creek also presents many opportunities to see different wildlife, including river otters, wading birds, and even the rare alligator.

Explore the Charming Weston Lake Loop Trail

The Weston Lake Loop Trail begins at the Sims Trail's end.

Travel for a distance of two miles to reach the Elevated Boardwalk Loop Trail.

Exploring the Western Lake Loop Trail takes about 4.5 kilometers from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.

Notable sections of the loop are Cedar Creek, Weston Lake Slough, and Weston Lake.

You can enjoy the old-growth qualities of this trail, which inspired supporters to protect Congaree Swamp from the 1950s to the 1970s.

The 11,000 acres of old-growth forest at Congaree National Park is one of the world's tallest temperate forests.

However, it's only a piece of what you will experience on the Weston Lake Loop Trail.

Take a Stroll Down the Bluff Trail

The Bluff Trail is an easy, two-mile loop that is great for those who want to enjoy a short hike with incredible views.

This trail is near the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and takes you through some of the most beautiful areas in Congaree National Park.

The Longleaf Trail, the Bluff Trail, the Firefly Trail, and the Bluff Trail are all part of one trail system.

You can find most of the trail system just after the entrance road and provides access to Longleaf and Bluff campgrounds.

The pathways also offer visitors a taste of the ideal longleaf pine savannah habitat the park seeks to build through controlled burns.

This method provides the trail with a distinctive beauty and cultural history.

You'll see the majestic old-growth forest from high up on the bluffs, and you might even spot some wildlife along the way.

The Bluff Trail is an excellent option for those who want to experience Congaree National Park without venturing too far into the wilderness.

Marvel at the Synchronous Fireflies at the Fireflies Trail

Congaree National Park hosts the annual synchronous firefly display for about two weeks in May.

See these beautiful insects light up the night sky in unison.

Visitors can witness a breathtaking show of synchronous flashing during this time as the fireflies look for a mate.

The best place to view the synchronous fireflies is from the Bluff Trail, which offers an unobstructed view of the forest.

Fireflies typically emerge just after dusk.

You should try to arrive at the trailhead early to get a good spot.

The Fireflies Trail does not allow pets, strollers, wagons, headlamps, or smartphones as flashlights.

You cannot take fireflies inside Congaree National Park, no matter how much the synchronous fireflies fascinate you.

Additionally, don't make noise and stick to the specified Fireflies Trail.

Any deviation could negatively affect the firefly habitat.

Walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail

Daytime view of Boardwalk Loop Trail
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The 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail is one of the most popular things to do in Congaree National Park.

The elevated walkway takes you through some of the tallest trees in the eastern United States, and it's a unique way to experience the park's floodplain forest.

The park's Boardwalk Loop Trail makes a fantastic first impression, and it's a terrific way to get an overview of the different habitats in the park.

The easily accessible Boardwalk Loop Trail offers a relaxing way to explore the Congaree National Park environment.

In the breezeway of the visitor center, pick up a self-guided walk brochure that will help you walk the numbered path.

Learn more about the natural and cultural treasures of Congaree National Park.

Many side trails branch off from the main Boardwalk Loop Trail, so you can explore further into the forest if you like.

Commune with Nature at the Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve

The Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve is a great place to enjoy the beauty of nature and learn about the area's history.

You can find this preserve on the east side of Congaree National Park and offers visitors a chance to see some of the rare plants and animals in the area.

Get a bird's eye view of Congaree National Park from the 201-acre Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve, with cliffs flanking the Congaree River.

The preserve in Calhoun County contains large sections of American beech, oak-hickory, and bottomland hardwood forest.

While there are other locations on private property close by, the preserve stands out among them.

From the base of the slope to the summit of the bluffs, the Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve is home to hundred types of trees, shrubs, and woody vines.

Go Paddling at the Kingsnake Trail

The Kingsnake Trail is a solitary 3.6-mile trail that connects the park's primary trail network.

Nearly all visitors to this park area come to paddleboard.

The parking lot and trailhead also serve as the park's central canoe/kayak access point to Cedar Creek.

The first 1.2 miles of the trail, which almost immediately leads south into the floodplain, form a delightful out-and-back stroll even if it is not a loop.

The trail follows a 1970s-era logging route as it passes through a series of beautiful hardwood forests, eventually reaching the edge of the floodplain.

The last 0.4 miles is an optional extension that takes you out to the levee on Cedar Creek.

Heavy rains might make this part of the Kingsnake Trail utterly muddy, so use caution if you choose to venture out this far.

Fall in Love with the Great Outdoors at the Oakridge Trail

The Oakridge Trail is the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of nature and get some exercise.

This 6.6-mile trail offers stunning views of the Congaree River and is a great place to see some of the park's wildlife.

The Oakridge Trail is also an excellent option for bird watching, as more than 200 species of birds live in the park.

The crimson forest path winds through a striking swath of towering trees, some of which are as tall as a 16-story skyscraper.

The botanical species are ancient loblolly pines, water tupelo, cherry bark oak, and hickory.

The trail offers an invigorating, challenging hike through the park's varied terrain.

Hikers can enjoy views of the Congaree River from several overlooks along the trail.

Visit the Harry Hampton Visitor Center

Building sign of Harry Hampton Visitor Center
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The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is the Congaree National Park's primary visitor center, and it's a great place to start your visit.

Harry Hampton Visitor Center gets its name from Harry Hampton, a local newspaper editor, and environmentalist.

He was also instrumental in creating Congaree National Park.

The visitor center has exhibit galleries with interactive displays that tell the story of the park and its ecosystem.

You can find the Harry Hampton Visitor Center inside the park's South Entrance.

At the Visitor Center, you can pick up maps and brochures and talk to park rangers.

You can learn about the different ecosystems in the park, pick up a map, and check out the exhibits.

Likewise, you can buy souvenirs and pick up backcountry permits at the visitor center.

The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is open from morning to afternoon, except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

Paddle through the Congaree River Blue Trail

The Congaree River Blue Trail is a great place to enjoy the beauty of nature and get some exercise.

The Congaree River Blue Trail is a recognized 50-mile paddling path that runs from Congaree National Park downstream from Columbia.

Enjoy easy access to the Three Rivers Greenway hiking trails and the opportunity to learn about the historical significance of the capital city.

You will also learn about prehistoric Native American sites on the river's tributaries.

Start your river journey with an urban adventure.

The Congaree River Blue Trail offers a variety of scenery, from the serene waters of Lake Marion to the congested cityscape of Columbia.

Along the way, you'll pass the Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve, where you can launch your boat and hike to an overview.

Paddlers can expect to see plenty of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, and birds.

The Congaree River Blue Trail also passes through sandbars, which are great places to take a break and enjoy the scenery.

Explore the Bates Ferry Trail

If you want to trek a quieter trail, marvel at the Congaree River, and look for one of the longest surviving trees in the park, you must explore the Bates Ferry Trail.

The Bates Ferry Trail is a 2.2-mile route that passes through an old-growth forest and the remains of a plantation.

The Bates Ferry Trail is a moderate hike with some elevation changes.

You can find the trailhead for the Bates Ferry Trail near the park's visitor center.

However, you might want to take a detour to the General Greene Tree before continuing on the Bates Ferry Trail.

The General Greene Tree is the largest bald cypress tree with a 30-fo0t circumference in all of Congaree National Park.

Park authorities named the tree after General Nathanael Greene, a hero of the Revolutionary War.

Go Camping at the Longleaf Campground

Camping is one of the most incredible ways to experience Congaree National Park, especially if you love the outdoors.

Find the Longleaf Campground near the park's visitor center, which is open year-round.

The campground has a total of 14 sites, which open on a first-come, first-served basis.

Camping at Congaree National Park is a great way to interact with the park's wildlife.

For instance, you can see and hear many animals at night.

Some animals you might see or hear include owls, coyotes, and deer.

The Longleaf Campground also has a playground, picnic tables, and grills for visitors.

Let the Charms of Wise Lake Enchant You

The waters of Wise Lake
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This place is popular as a hiking rest stop in Congaree National Park.

Wise Lake is a small, 0.4-mile loop that passes by an old-growth forest and the remains of a beaver dam.

The lake is near the intersection of the Bluff Trail and the Kingsnake Trail.

Wise Lake got its name from Samuel Wise, who owned the land before it became part of Congaree National Park.

Samuel Wise, a captain in the Third Regiment of South Carolina, saw action in the Revolutionary War.

Wise Lake is a great place to take a break from hiking and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

The beaver dam is exciting, and the old-growth forest provides a glimpse into the past.

Wise Lake is also a popular spot for bird watching, as more than 200 species of birds live in the park.

The Wise Lake loop is an easy hike and a great place to see some of the park's wildlife, like wading birds and alligators.

Hikers can also enjoy views of the Congaree River from several overlooks along the trail.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Go Camping at Poinsett State Park

A creek at Poinsett State Park
mogollon_1, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can find Poinsett State Park in the High Hills of Santee, where the South Carolina Sandhills of the Midlands region and the coastal plain region converge.

This diverse ecosystem produces a high level of biodiversity and some of the rarest natural views in the park system.

People know this place as the "mountains of the midlands," particularly along the Palmetto route that goes through the Manchester State Forest.

You can also see Spanish moss-draped mountain laurels in Poinsett State Park.

The "weird and beautiful" park gets its name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, a South Carolina native, and amateur botanist.

He was the first American ambassador to Mexico and popularized poinsettia.

Poinsett State Park is home to various plant and animal life, including red-cockaded woodpeckers, deer, wild turkeys, and bald eagles.

There are hiking trails, like the 5.5-mile Palmetto Trail, which winds through the forest.

The Poinsett Park is in Wedgefield, South Carolina, 48 minutes from Congaree National Park.

Step Back in Time at the Milford Plantation Historic Site

You can find the Millford Plantation Historic Site on a former rice plantation that dates back to the early 1800s.

Because of its remote setting in the state's High Hills of Santee region and its intricate decorations, it went by the occasional moniker Manning's Folly.

It is one of the best examples of Greek Revival residential architecture in the U. S.

Likewise, it has become an official National Historic Landmark.

The plantation was once one of the country's largest and most successful rice plantations.

However, the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves led to the decline of the plantation.

Today, the Milford Plantation Historic Site is open for tours.

Visitors can explore the plantation house, outbuildings, and grounds, which include a formal garden, cemetery, and rice fields.

You can find this place in Pinewood, South Carolina, 50 minutes from Congaree National Park.

Final Thoughts

Congaree National Park in South Carolina is truly a hidden gem.

It is a great place to go for a hike, camp, or explore.

You can see many things in the park and nearby areas.

If you are looking for a great place to get away from it all, Congaree National Park is the perfect place for you.

Book your trip today!

You might find more things to do in Congaree National Park when you arrive.