Congaree National Park is located near Columbia central South Carolina. What makes Congaree special is that the park protects the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.
Congaree National Park
- Congaree National Park
- About Congaree National Park
- Is Congaree National Park worth Visiting?
- History of Congaree National Park
- Things to know before your visit to Congaree National Park
- Details about Congaree National Park
- Congaree National Park Map
- Where is Congaree National Park?
- Getting to Congaree National Park
- Best time to visit Congaree National Park
- Congaree National Park Weather and Seasons
- Congaree NP Flooding
- Best Things to do in Congaree National Park
- Hiking at Congaree National Park
- Congaree River Blue Trail
- Synchronous Fireflies
- Congaree Picnic Shelter Reservations
- Where to stay when visiting Congaree National Park
- Congaree National Park Camping
- National Parks near Congaree National Park
Not only does Congaree National Park protect the largest area of old-growth bottomland hardwood temperate forest, it also protects several other animal and plant species found in alluvial floodplains. It has some of the most beautiful and tallest trees in the Eastern part of the country.
Congaree is not a swamp per se, it is known as being as one of the most important International Biosphere Reserve and National Natural Landmarks.
About Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park is designated an old-growth forest and has one of the largest and majestic concentrations of champion trees.
Champion trees are trees that are found on the list of the National Register of Big Trees and refer to some of the largest trees of each variety recorded. There are 25 Champion Trees within the park that can boast being the largest for their species.
There are champion trees here from 15 different species some of them include a 157-foot sweetgum, a 133-foot swamp chestnut oak, a 127-foot common persimmon, a 167-foot loblolly pine, a 154-foot cherry bark oak, a 135-foot American elm, and a 131-foot overcup oak.
There are bald cypress trees with 25+feet circumferences.
Is Congaree National Park worth Visiting?
YES! While Congaree may not be the largest or most visited National Park in the United States the area was protected for a reason.
Visiting the park provides the opportunity to see some of the largest trees in the southeast along with one of the most biodiverse forests in the nation.
The park offers the opportunity to walk the Boardwalk Trail through a bottomland hardwood forest.
Since the park is pretty small you only really need about a half day to visit the park and see the main highlights. If you plan to do extensive hiking you will want to plan for a longer visit.
History of Congaree National Park
More than 52 million acres of floodplain forests were present in the Southeast United States in the late 1800s.
The trees began disappearing as they were harvested for lumber. In less than 50 years most of the bottomland forests were decimated by post Civil War loggers.
In 1969, The Sierra Club launched a campaign to save this area from exploitation by the private owners due to the high prices of wood. Due to this campaign, Congress declared the Congaree Swamp a National Monument on October 18, 1976.
Six years later the national monument became a Biosphere Reserve on June 30, 1983, and almost two-thirds were declared a protected wild area on October 24, 1988, in addition to being designated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) by the American Bird Conservancy on July 26, 2001.
On November 10, 2003, Congress changed the designation of the monument site to Congaree National Park and expanded its boundaries by about 4,500 acres.
In addition to being a designated Wild Area, a Biosphere Reserve, an Important Bird Area and a National Natural Monument, Congaree National Park has camping sites and offers hiking, canoeing, primitive camping, interpretive walks, and canoe tours, kayaking and bird watching, and environmental education programs.
Nearly two-thirds of the park is designated as a wilderness area.
Things to know before your visit to Congaree National Park
There is no entrance fee for visiting the park.
Learn more about National Parks Passes!
EST- Eastern Standard Time
Congaree National Park is a very dog-friendly park. Pets are allowed on all trails, including the boardwalk, as well as in the campgrounds.
Just remember that all pets must be on a leash (6 feet long maximum) and under your control at all times and you have water available for them.
Cell service can be hit and miss within the park. Make sure to stop by the visitor center and picked up a current trail map and park guide.
The park is open 24 hours a day year-round.
Public WiFi is available in the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and breezeway 24-hours a day.
Insect repellent is important at Congaree National Park. The mosquitoes can be downright unbearable for those unprepared.
Ticks are common here too and it is important to check yourself after spending time outdoors to ensure that you do not have any on you or your pets, especially after a hike.
The park also has its fair share of spiders.
Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you. We did not see any water available in the park store.
The main parking area at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center has limited parking for larger vehicles (approximately half the parking stalls in the third parking lot are designated for oversized vehicles).
Vehicles towing cars on "tow dollies" may find it necessary to unhook the towed vehicles in order to turn around in the parking lot on busy days.
RVs, trailers and other oversized vehicles are not able to access the parking lots at Bates Ferry Trail and Fork Swamp Trail.
There are no food services within the park. The closest town with food options is Gadsden, South Carolina approximately 10 minutes from the park.
There is a wide variety of restaurants available in Columbia, South Carolina.
Make sure to bring snacks and water with you while visiting the park.
National Park Passport Stamps
National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center. Make sure to bring your National Park Passport Book with you.
Details about Congaree National Park
Size -Congaree National Park has 26,276-acres total and about 15,000 acres are designated as a wilderness area. This includes the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.
Congaree is currently ranked at #58 out of 63 National Parks by Size. The only National Parks that are smaller than Congaree are Indiana Dunes, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Hot Springs, and Gateway Arch NP.
On November 10, 2003, Congress changed the designation of the monument site to Congaree National Park.
In 2020, Congaree NP had 119,306 park visitors.
In 2019, Congaree NP had 159,445 park visitors.
Congaree is one of the least visited national parks when compared to some of the bigger parks.
Congaree National Park Address
100 National Park Road, Hopkins, SC 29061
Congaree National Park Map
Where is Congaree National Park?
Congaree National Park is located in central South Carolina on the East Coast of the United States of America.
Estimated distance from major cities nearby
Columbia, South Carolina - 17 miles, 25 minutes
Augusta, Georgia - 91 minutes, 1 hour 34 minutes
Charleston, South Carolina - 104 miles, 1 hour 48 minutes
Charlotte, North Carolina - 108 miles, 1 hour 40 minutes
Savannah, Georgia - 147 miles, 2 hours 24 minutes
Atlanta, Georgia - 230 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
Jacksonville, Florida - 278 miles, 4 hours 10 minutes
Williamsburg, Virginia - 416 miles, 6 hours 5 minutes
Nashville, Tennessee - 462 miles, 7 hours
Washington DC - 483 miles, 7 hours, 15 minutes
Louisville, Kentucky - 528 miles, 8 hours
Where is the Congaree National Park Visitor Center?
The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is located on National Park Road (the main road through the park). The road ends at the park visitor center and parking lot for the boardwalk trail.
Getting to Congaree National Park
Columbia Metropolitan Airport, located in Columbia, South Carolina. It is approximately 30 minutes and 24 miles to the park. The airport code is CAE.
Charlotte Douglass International Airport, located in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is approximately one hour and forty-eight minutes and 111 miles to the park. The airport code is CLT.
Charleston International Airport in Charleston, South Carolina. It is approximately one hour and forty-eight minutes and 102 miles to the park. The airport code is CHS.
Charleston, South Carolina
Take Interstate 26, Exit 145B. Take U.S. Highway 601 North to SC 48 (Bluff Road). Follow SC 48 (Bluff Road) West. Turn left on South Cedar Creek Road then right on Old Bluff Road to the park entrance.
Charleston SC to Congaree National Park is 103 miles, about 1 hour and 55 minutes
Charlotte, North Carolina
Take Interstate 77 South towards Columbia for approximately 95 miles to Exit 5, Bluff Road. Follow directions below from Interstate 77, Exit 5. (Approximate travel time: 2 hours)
From Interstate 77, Exit 5
At Exit 5 turn onto SC Hwy 48 East/Bluff Road. Drive approximately 8 miles and then take a slight right onto Old Bluff Road. Follow Old Bluff Road for 4.5 miles to the park entrance sign, which will be on the right.
Proceed one mile to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. Parking lots will be on the right.
Best time to visit Congaree National Park
The best time of year to visit Congaree is Fall and Spring.
The temperature is normally pretty comfortable during fall and spring, the mosquitoes are manageable, and most of the park is accessible.
Congaree National Park Weather and Seasons
The park has a humid subtropical climate which includes mild winters and wet humid warm summers.
Spring is the perfect time to visit the park. The weather is generally warm with highs in the mid to upper 70s.
Rainfall averages around 3 inches per month in the spring. Mosquitoes are not normally an issue.
June through August is the hottest time of the year in the park. The weather can reach the upper 90s and may go over 100 degrees.
Humidity is HIGH and makes the ambient temperature feel a lot hotter than it may say on the weather apps.
Thunderstorms are common during the summer along with the park receiving the highest amount of monthly rainfall. Summer rainfall averages around 4.5 inches a month.
September through November the weather cools down to low 70s with low humidity. Fall colors normally peak between the end of October and early November.
Average rainfall is around 3 inches a month. The water levels on Cedar Creek are ideal for a paddling trip in the Fall.
November through February the temperature in the park is mild averaging around the mid 50s. Temperatures at night can drop to below freezing.
Winter is when flooding is most frequently experienced.
Congaree NP Flooding
The park does not have to receive rain for flooding to take place during your visit.
If there is significant rain in upstate South Carolina this can cause water levels to rise to flood levels.
If you decide to visit the Congaree NP please be sure to check out the Harry Hampton visitor center where National Park Service rangers have up-to-date information on the state of the roads.
Here you will also find presentations on the park's natural history and efforts made so far to protect the swamp.
The junior ranger program includes information that can be found in the visitor center and by walking the boardwalks. You will want to give yourself an hour or two depending on the age of the participant.
Hiking at Congaree National Park
If you love hiking and nature walks then the Weston Lake Loop Trail (4.6 mi), Bluff Trail (0.7 mi), King Snake Trail (11.1 mi) and Oakridge Trail (7.5 mi) is exactly what you need!
Most visitors choose to walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail, a 2.4-mile elevated walkway that goes through the swampy environment.
You can spot raccoons, deer, and even bobcats along the way. The park waters have interesting creatures such as amphibians, turtles, snakes, alligators and many species of fish.
The park is filled with amazing plant and animal species.
Boardwalk Loop Trail
Distance - 2.6 miles, easy
ADA Accessible - The trail is Wheelchair accessible.
Download the Digital Boardwalk Tour Guide
This is the most popular trail within the park. It is easily accessible from the park visitor center.
There are benches along the trail which we highly suggest enjoying. We were in awe of the birds and nature sounds we enjoyed along the trail.
Distance - 1.8 miles, easy
The Bluff Trail loops north of the visitor center and connects to the elevated boardwalk for a short distance.
Distance - 3.2 miles, easy
The Sims Trail follows an old gravel road and runs from the Bluff Trail to Cedar Creek.
Weston Lake Trail
Distance - 4.5 miles, moderate
The Weston Lake Trail offers great views of Cedar Creek. Make sure to look for otters and wading birds.
Distance - 7.1 miles, difficult
This trail is great for wildlife viewing but is considered difficult to follow in areas.
Distance - 11.1 miles, difficult
This trail leads to the Congaree River. It can be difficult to follow in some areas.
Distance - 5 miles from South Cedar Creek Canoe Landing, Moderate
The Kingsnake Trail is really popular with bird watchers. The trail includes diverse vegetation and is close to Cedar Creek.
Bates Ferry Trail
Distance - 2.2 miles, easy
The Bates Ferry Trail starts from Route 601 in the eastern portion of the park. The trail follows a 1920s ferry road south to the Congaree River.
Distance - 1.3 miles (one way), Easy
This trail connects the Longleaf campground to the visitor center and boardwalk trails.
Fork Swamp Trail
Distance - .6 miles, Moderate
This trail runs alongside the southern channel of Bates Old River.
Distance - 1.8 miles
In late spring visitors can see a magical light show produced by synchronous fireflies along this trail.
Congaree River Blue Trail
In addition to hiking trails, the park has a marked canoe and kayak trail of 20-mile, on Cedar Creek.
The slow moving Cedar Creek flows through the floodplain offering the opportunity to see the park from the water.
You can bring your own canoe/kayak or contact these outfitters directly for schedules, prices and other information:
Every year Congaree NP hosts a Firefly Festival which has grown a lot in recent years. Congaree National Park hosts synchronous fireflies for approximately two weeks between mid-May and mid-June.
During these two weeks visitors can experience the awe-inspiring display of synchronous flashing while the fireflies search for a mate.
The park established the Fireflies Trail in 2018 to protect firefly habitat and offer visitors an unobstructed view of the synchronous fireflies.
In 2019 the Firefly Festival had more than 12,000 visitors over the 18 day Fireflies Festival. Visitors came from around the world to see the fireflies. The park established a shuttle program with COMET to shuttle visitors from the State Fair Grounds in Columbia, SC.
Starting in 2021 a lottery system was put into place to help protect critical firefly habitat and provide a safe experience for visitors.
Congaree Picnic Shelter Reservations
The picnic shelter next to Parking Lot #1 at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center is available for reservations at Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
If the picnic shelter has not been reserved, it is available for free use to visitors on a first-come, first-serve basis. The picnic shelter can be reserved at 9:00 am- 1:00 pm and 1:00 pm- 5:00 pm.
A half-day reservation (4 Hours) is $25. and a full day reservation (8 Hours) is $50.
Where to stay when visiting Congaree National Park
There are no National Park Lodges within Congaree NP.
The closest lodging can be found in Columbia, SC which is approximately 20 minutes from the park.
Congaree National Park Camping
Camping at Congaree is tent only. RV and/or car camping is not permitted within the park.
All visitors planning to camp at Longleaf or Bluff Campgrounds are required to make reservations via Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
Longleaf Campground: $10 per night for a regular tent site; $20 per night for a group site
Bluff Campground: $5 per night for a regular tent site (Senior and Access Pass holders receive a 50% discount on the above fees)
Backcountry Camping: FREE
National Parks near Congaree National Park
Ninety-Six National Historic Site - 93 miles
Kings Mountain National Military Park - 114 miles
Reconstruction Era National Historical Park - 123 miles
Cowpens National Battlefield - 135 miles
Fort Pulaski National Monument - 161 miles
Ocmulgee National Monument - 215 miles
Andersonville National Historic Site - 280 miles
Jimmy Carter National Historic Site - 306 miles