15 Best Things to Do in Congaree National Park, SC

Congaree National Park, SC

This article aims to guide you through the best things to do in CongareeNational Park, South Carolina.

In this comprehensive guide, we've melded insights from locals and travelers to present you with a mosaic of experiences that define this remarkable place. While we've highlighted some must-visit spots, it's imperative to understand that these recommendations are shaped by personal opinions and experiences.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Charles Schmitz, Benjamin Davis, Stephanie Smith, Audra Mebane, Kerry Lee, Frank Hartzog and Mariah Dotson.

Spend the Day at Wise Lake

View of the Wise Lake
Jesse Weber / Shutterstock.com

A hidden gem is nestled in South Carolina, where tranquility and natural beauty reign supreme, and it's called Wise Lake.

I never tire of waking up to the serene views of the lake surrounded by lush greenery.

Each sunrise paints a unique masterpiece in the sky, reflecting vibrant hues on the lake's calm waters, an experience that is nothing short of magical.

Rumor has it that the lake got its name from a wise old hermit who used to reside in the area.

Whether that's true or not, one thing is for sure - a visit to Wise Lake always leaves you feeling a little wiser, a little more connected to nature, and a little more peaceful.

Whether fishing in the fresh waters, picnicking by the lake or simply meandering through the walking trails, there's something to please everyone.

The area is teeming with diverse wildlife, and if you are lucky, you might spot a graceful deer or a playful otter, making the experience even more delightful.

I often have friends and family over, and Wise Lake always leaves them amazed.

It’s my sanctuary, my slice of heaven on earth.

If you ever find yourself in South Carolina, visit Wise Lake.

I can assure you that the reality is even more marvelous than the pictures!

Check Out My Stomping Grounds: The Harry Hampton Visitor Center

Signage of the Harry Hampton Visitor Center
Cavan-Images / Shutterstock.com

I've got to tell you about my frequent trips to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center in the heart of the Congaree National Park.

This place has become my go-to spot for peace, adventure, and a bit of education.

The center and the park are an excellent escape from daily life, with plenty of hiking trails for those who love staying active.

Take the self-guided tour along the raised boardwalk, which, interestingly enough, keeps you literally above the water during those occasional inundations!

Ensure you're up-to-date with the current park conditions—better safe than sorry!

You might be thinking, "Well, what about the bugs?"

Well, it's all part of the charm of being so close to nature.

The visitor center is clean and loaded with information, not to mention several amenities.

It's the perfect place to gear up and learn about what you'll experience in Congaree National Park.

And the wildlife sightings are incredible.

On my visits, I've seen deer, turtles, squirrels, and more.

Every walk through the park feels like a brand-new adventure.

Whenever I get the chance, I can't wait to return and spend a few nights under the stars.

Discover the South Carolina State House

One of the gems of my neighborhood is the South Carolina State House.

It's a grand edifice that houses the state's House, Senate, and Governor's office.

There's something distinctly peaceful about spending a lazy afternoon strolling by the leafy grounds, admiring the beautiful landscaping, and watching kids merrily running up and down the steps.

The various monuments around the building add to its beauty and tell a story of the state's rich past.

Each visit feels like a mini history lesson, taking me back in time.

The real treat, however, lies inside this three-story marvel.

It's open to the public, and you can simply walk in from the left side after a quick security check.

Whether you prefer a guided tour or explore at your own pace with a pamphlet, you're in for a treat.

The interior is a work of art that awakens both kids and adults.

The thrill of taking pictures inside this magnificent structure never gets old.

What sets the South Carolina State House apart is its celebration of African American history, a must-visit destination for locals and tourists alike.

When Christmas comes around, the State House transforms into a fairytale setting.

The brilliant lighting adds a festive charm that’s simply spellbinding.

It’s also open till 5 pm, Monday to Saturday, making it a convenient spot for an enriching trip.

Living in the vicinity of the South Carolina State House, I have the privilege of enjoying this place regularly.

Each visit offers a unique experience, making it a place of ceaseless wonder and discovery.

Check Out Cedar Creek Canoe Launch / Kingsnake Trailhead

A woman hiking along the Kingsnake Trailhead
Congaree National Park from Hopkins, SC, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There's nothing like waking up early on a Saturday, loading my kayak, and heading down to Cedar Creek Canoe Launch at Congaree National Park.

The journey is simple from the start, with a short, shaded walk leading you straight to the water's edge.

One of the best parts of this place is that the water is so slow-moving that you can launch and land your canoe or kayak at the same spot.

It's a gentle trip, perfect for a leisurely paddle, and a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the calmness of nature.

If you're lucky, you might spot gar, cypress, tupelo, or even some sunning snakes along the way.

Of course, it's not just about the water.

Congaree National Park is a favorite amongst visitors, its floodplain forest forever changing and offering new areas to explore.

If you're up for a guided adventure, I highly recommend booking a canoe tour with Andy from Palmetto Outdoors.

If the river levels allow, ask your guide to take you to the "Tupelo Basin."

It's like entering a secret cavern of trees, a truly magical experience that’s not to be missed.

And if you're up for a bit of a paddle, the 1.4-mile downstream river will offer you beautiful tranquility, rare encounters, and a world of cypress trees.

Spending the day on the water at Cedar Creek Canoe Launch, you'll feel like you've stepped back in time.

Check out the Congaree National Park Map to plan your visit and get directions.

The beauty of this place is that every visit offers something new, and I can't wait to see what I'll discover next time.

Enjoy the Day at Millford Historic Site

Let me tell you about my visit to the Millford Historic Site, a gem hidden a little off the beaten path.

The first thing that strikes you about this place is its beauty; the house and grounds are simply stunning.

Nestled in the heart of South Carolina, it's like stepping into another era.

My day started with a tour of the house.

Each room we visited was filled with history and grandeur that left us in awe.

Moreover, the beautiful and well-maintained lawns and gardens were a joy to walk around.

I plan on visiting again, hoping to explore more of the house and, perhaps, get a few good clicks of the exteriors without the scaffolding.

The Millford Historic Site, with all its charm and history, is worth a visit.

Other Things To Do Nearby

Discover the Wonders of the Boardwalk Loop Trail

View of the Boardwalk Loop Trail
EWY Media / Shutterstock.com

Every weekend, I find myself drawn to the natural serenity of the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

This gem hidden in the heart of Congaree National Park is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts and those who crave a peaceful retreat from bustling city life.

You can start your journey from behind the visitor center, embarking on a 2.6-mile round trip that typically takes about an hour to complete.

The whole route is a boardwalk, making it a pretty easy walk.

But don't be fooled by its ease. The trail is filled with wonders waiting to be explored.

Each numbered site along the trail provides intriguing insights into the landscape and history of the park.

This interactive experience adds a touch of education to your stroll.

View of the Boardwalk Loop Trail
EWY Media / Shutterstock.com

If you plan to visit, don't forget to bring bug spray and a water bottle, essential items to ensure your comfort throughout the hike.

The trail can get a bit slick due to the pollen, so wearing proper footwear is crucial.

One of my favorite sights on the trail is the unique "knees" of the trees - a natural spectacle that adds to the charm of the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

The trail is also a popular spot for family outings.

You'll often see families with strollers, young children, and pets enjoying the trail.

It's also wheelchair-accessible, allowing everyone to experience its beauty, although it may vary based on the width of your chair.

However, if you plan on bringing your pets, I would advise only taking one dog at a time due to the narrowness of the boardwalk.

But don't worry. The trail is long enough to tire out even the most energetic pups.

The Boardwalk Loop Trail, with its beautiful landscape, rich history, and family friendly atmosphere, is a testament to the beauty of Congaree National Park.

It's where memories are created, and I can't wait to make more of my own.

View of the Boardwalk Loop Trail
EWY Media / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy the Day Out at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

I took advantage of the beautiful weather recently and headed to the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden for leisure exploration and adventure.

I was particularly thrilled to learn that the parking was only $5 - a fair trade for its convenience, especially if the botanical gardens or splash pad were on your agenda.

My heart leaped with joy as I strolled through the vast zoo, home to an impressive array of animals worldwide.

You can feed giraffes, walk through a kangaroo exhibit, and stand next to sea lions.

There's something for everyone, from monkeys, gorillas, and lions, to snakes, birds of all kinds, and even alpacas.

I must say, the sight of the koalas and sloths melted my heart.

While the animals were undeniably charming, what caught my adventurous spirit was the ropes course nestled within the zoo.

Priced at $7 for non-members, this course added a thrill to the zoo experience.

Although challenging for younger kids due to the height and harness system, it's a fun add-on if you're up for some adventure.

After all the excitement, I wandered into the botanical gardens, which were nothing short of gorgeous.

Nestled next to the parking and the tram, the gardens were an oasis of tranquility, a perfect retreat from the bustling crowd.

I couldn't help but revel in the beauty of nature as I sat on a bench, admiring the vibrant blossoms and lush greenery.

My visit to the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden was a delightful one.

It indeed was a day well-spent amidst nature and wildlife.

I can't wait to return for another adventure soon!

Explore the Serenity of Poinsett State Park

It's always a delight to spend a weekend at Poinsett State Park.

This picturesque hideaway, nestled in the heart of South Carolina, is my go-to place for a well-needed retreat from the city's hustle and bustle.

For instance, the moment I step into the park, I'm welcomed by multi-use trails that cut through the dense foliage, offering an excellent opportunity for hiking and biking.

I have often found myself meandering through these trails, exploring the grist mill ruins, and marveling at the natural beauty in every corner.

What I love the most is the camping experience.

I have camped countless times, and I had enough space around my site each time to enjoy my privacy.

The bathhouse is always clean, and it's conveniently located.

Meanwhile, the small lake, spread across 10 acres, is a focal point of the park and a haven for fishing enthusiasts.

I've often seen families with their children and dogs splashing around and enjoying the water.

And yes, they have a paddle and boats, too.

Just a gentle reminder: the camp store is well-stocked but does not carry ice, so pack everything you need.

The park also offers rental cabins, providing another comfortable option for an overnight stay.

Likewise, the campground is quiet and peaceful.

One special mention is the playground and clean bathrooms for visitors, which, not surprisingly, are well-maintained.

Even on busy weekends, the place doesn't feel crowded.

It's indeed a slice of tranquillity amidst the bustling world.

So, whether planning a quick pit stop or a weekend getaway, Poinsett State Park never disappoints.

It's my little piece of paradise right here in South Carolina.

Enjoy a Typical Saturday at Soda City Market

Every Saturday, Columbia, South Carolina, transforms into a bustling hub of creativity, cuisine, and local talent with the Soda City Market.

A food lover's paradise, the market boasts a selection of trendy food trucks, each with an eclectic menu that can satisfy any palate.

You can find everything here - from Turkish coffee to Thai street food.

I once even tried a unique combination of bubble waffles with fried duck from the Bubblicious food truck, a popular choice in the market.

Despite being a bit dry and heavily flavored with cinnamon, the waffle was an exciting experience nonetheless.

But Soda City Market is not just about food.

It's a treasure trove for locally made wares and artisan crafts.

You can find it here if you're looking for pottery, jewelry, or curated vintage clothing.

The stalls are filled with candles, handmade creations, and other artistic products from local artists - perfect if you’re seeking unique souvenirs or thoughtful gifts for loved ones.

Somewhere between the food trucks and artisan stalls, you'll find entertainment ranging from children's performances to adult bands.

Soda City Market is a vibrant district that showcases the best of Columbia.

It's where you can relish delicious food, shop for unique items, enjoy live music, and soak in the local vibe - all in one place!

I've been there many times and can't wait to return next Saturday.

After all, it's a must-see for anyone residing in or visiting Columbia.

Explore Sesquicentennial State Park

In the heart of Columbia, SC, there's a haven that'll whisk you away from the city's hustle and bustle - the Sesquicentennial State Park.

This forested park, which locals call "Sesqui," is a hidden gem where you can unwind.

While the $6 entry fee might be a bit of a turn-off for some, it's a small price for the park's peace and tranquility.

Don't forget to bring a water bottle, though, as the only drinking water available are from the park's spigots.

However, they sell drinks and have soda machines, so you're not entirely out of options.

Walking the trails here is like stepping into a fairy tale.

The park's few trails are well-maintained, heavily shaded, and perfect for a stroll.

For the more adventurous, the park also offers kayak and canoe rentals.

Or you could just relax by the lake, your fishing line bobbing peacefully on the water's surface.

Camping at Sesqui is a unique experience.

The sites are shaded and pretty flat, offering some level of comfort.

And while not all facilities have full hookups, a dump station is easy to access on your way out of the campground.

The park is also perfect for family outings, boasting sprawling picnic areas, a playground, restrooms, and a few small pavilions.

There are also plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained.

Sesquicentennial State Park offers a refreshing escape from city life.

Whether it's a peaceful walk, an adventurous outing on a kayak, or a relaxing camping trip, there's something for everyone here.

It's a spot where residents like me find solace amidst nature.

So why not give it a try? I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Enjoy the Day at Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park

Every morning, like clockwork, I lace up my hiking boots, strap on my helmet, and head down to my favorite local gem - the Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park.

This park is an absolute haven for outdoor lovers like myself.

The moment I set foot on the well-maintained trails, the hustle and bustle of daily life fade, replaced by nature's calming and serene beauty.

For instance, the scattered old pump houses are a testament to the canal's rich history, offering an intriguing peek into its workings amid the rustic charm.

The walking trail is easily navigable, with some sections even being handicap accessible.

Of course, getting close to the canal to see the turtles can be a little challenging, but that's part of the adventure.

The views here are indeed something to behold, primarily through the telescope midway through the canal walk - it never fails to take my breath away.

Early mornings are the best time to visit, right before the summer heat sets in.

Nothing beats a peaceful five-mile round trip walk as the morning sun paints the sky with warm hues.

And if you're lucky, you might even spot a wandering gator or a turtle basking in the sun.

For fitness enthusiasts, the park also offers a fantastic running route.

It's mostly flat with just a tiny hill, making it suitable for all fitness levels.

Benches and picnic tables are conveniently placed along the trail for rest breaks.

There's a small catch - restrooms are only available at the start of the trail, but hey, a little planning never hurt anyone.

One thing to note, though: after dark, the park may not be the safest place due to the many ditches, trees, and debris along the path.

But during the day, it's a bustling hub of activity.

You'll see families, runners, bikers, and people just soaking in the tranquility.

The Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park is an escape, a time capsule, and a testament to the city's history.

You won't regret spending your day here.

Take a Stroll through Time at Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens

Stepping foot into the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens is like taking a stroll through time.

Nestled in the city's heart, this historic mansion and its surrounding lush gardens have been a part of my daily walks for years.

The mansion's grandeur never fails to impress me.

It stands as a testament to our beloved city's rich history and architectural beauty.

While the interior tours of the house are a sight to behold, the gardens are my oasis in the bustling city.

They're beautifully maintained and provide a serene and shaded space, perfect for afternoon walks with my dog.

One of the highlights of living so close to this historic gem is the convenience of attending the guided tours.

Historic Columbia offers informative and engaging tours that take you through the mansion, its history, and its intriguing stories.

Additionally, they offer tours of other historic buildings in the area, such as the Robert Mills House and Woodrow family house.

While the tour prices might seem steep at $10 per location, they're worth every penny for the rich history and knowledge you gain.

The mansion and gardens, with their well-preserved architecture and the stories they hold, are a must-visit.

I feel lucky to have such an impressive piece of history in my backyard.

Discover History at Robert Mills House and Gardens

I've come to adore the Robert Mills House and Gardens.

This architectural masterpiece from the 1820s stands tall and proud, showcasing the brilliance of architect Robert Mills in all its neoclassical glory.

It has this unique blend of period decor and parklike grounds that is hard to find anywhere else.

Exploring the house, you'll find yourself transported back in time.

Each room, from the grand front hall to the downstairs kitchen, tells a fascinating story.

And it's a piece of art with beautiful symmetry and curves, the signature of Mills' work.

You'd be surprised no single family ever lived there!

It has been used for various purposes over the years, adding a new layer to its rich history.

Moreover, Robert Mills is the same genius who designed the Washington Monument, making this house a must-see!

The guided tours are the best way to appreciate this history fully; at $10 a pop, they're an absolute steal.

Plus, the more you tour, the more you save.

It's a fantastic deal that only gets better over time.

And then there're the gardens – oh, such a peaceful place!

They're perfectly maintained and are a delight to stroll through.

There's even a maze behind the house that always intrigues me.

Yes, there's a radio tower nearby, but don't let that distract you from the beauty of these grounds.

Last but not least, they host monthly garden tours.

These tours are a treasure trove of information, and I always learn something new every time I join one.

So, if you're looking for a way to immerse yourself in local history while enjoying the great outdoors, the Robert Mills House and Gardens is the perfect destination.

Come once, and I promise you, you'll return for more.

Visit the Woodrow Wilson Family Home

Something about the echoing halls of Woodrow Wilson's boyhood home makes you feel like you've stepped back in time.

I've spent countless afternoons roaming the verdant gardens, following the same trails the former US President once tread.

My most recent visit was particularly memorable.

As luck would have it, the tour turned out to be private.

The solitude only added to the experience, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the stories and artifacts of the Reconstruction Era.

It was a humbling reminder of our country's journey from the shadows of slavery toward the dawn of a new age.

The Museum of Reconstruction Era at Woodrow Wilson Family Home is not just a monument to a past president but a tribute to an era of transformation.

Each room is a treasure trove with enlightening facts and historical narratives.

Whenever my family visits from out of state, this museum is always on our itinerary.

They marvel at the beautifully preserved building and its long, illustrious history.

It's an excellent way for them to learn about American history in our backyard.

So, whether you're a history buff or just looking for a unique way to spend an afternoon, I strongly recommend visiting the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.

It's a step back into a pivotal period of our nation's history.

Spend the Day Out at Frankie's Fun Park

Today was just another Saturday in my town, but it was anything but ordinary for my family and me.

We decided to turn our routine day into a fun-filled excursion to Frankie's Fun Park, and oh boy, did it turn out to be a great idea!

Right from the moment we set foot in the park, we were welcomed by the friendly staff who exemplified cleanliness and professionalism.

It was pretty clear they took pride in their work as every corner of the park, including the bathrooms, was spick and span.

I couldn't help but notice them constantly wiping down the rides and making sure the park was trash-free.

It reminded me of the importance of maintaining cleanliness, even in outdoor spaces.

The park was bustling with activity, even on a Monday afternoon.

While the pictures might make the park seem empty, it buzzed with laughter and cheers.

The adrenaline rush from the sprawling go-kart tracks, the delight of the arcades, and the joy of the water bumper boats had everyone on their toes.

The kids, in particular, were thrilled with the interactive games that awarded points that could be exchanged for small toys.

While it was a fantastic day out, I did feel a pinch when I looked at the receipts.

Frankie's Fun Park isn't what you'd call economical, but the smiles on my kids' faces and the memories we made are priceless.

Not to mention, the food was a hit too!

So, despite the cost, we can't wait to head back for another round of fun and games.

And who knows, maybe we'll see you there next time!

Final Thoughts

Living near Congaree National Park has allowed me to experience the best of what South Carolina has to offer.

If you're looking for an unforgettable experience brimming with nature, history, and culture, this is the place to be!

What are you waiting for? Visit Congaree National Park today!

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