Congaree National Park protects 30,000+ acres of bottomland forest in South Carolina. Even though it’s not in the “top tier” National Parks with Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, and Yellowstone, it’s much bigger than other public lands (State Parks, etc) and it protects a no extremely rare ecoregion in one of the most developed areas of the country.
I was able to visit for an overnight camping trip in October 2018. We did a bit of hiking, explored the visitor center, stayed at the Bluff Campground area – and decided that we’ll definitely be back in the future with a canoe and a better understanding of the landscape.
Hiking The Park
The main hike is a boardwalk loop through the bottomland forest through huge loblolly pines, oaks, maples and holly. It’s an easy hike and the only section of Congaree that is not Congressionally designated Wilderness (so there’s man-made amenities like permanent overlooks, signs, benches, etc).
The rest of the trail system spurs off the Boardwalk trail into various loops. All go directly into Wilderness, so there’s no man-made amenities past the initial sign. Most all are flooded in the Spring and overwhelmed by insects in the Spring. Fall and Winter is really the only time you can hike through the Park.
The trees really are huge and bigger than any I’d seen on the East Coast.
The entire Park is nowhere near as “grand” or epic like the top tier Parks, but I definitely think it has a well-deserved place in the National Park System.
The Bluff Campground
The Park has only two Frontcountry camping options – Longleaf (traditional car camping) and Bluff (walk-in) campground.
Both are very reasonably priced with reservations available on Recreation.gov.
The Bluff campground is basically a clearing in a pine forest. It’s quite a walk from the visitor center. It’s quiet and nice, though there’s not a whole lot of privacy.
The upside is that it is fairly small, so if your campmates are all cool (which they were when we went), it should be a good experience.
Final Thoughts & Plans to Visit Again
I definitely plan on visiting again, especially since it’s only 3 hours from Atlanta. Like every NPS unit, it’s very well-run and visitor friendly.
To do a significant multi-day trip, a canoe is necessary. Without a canoe, the Park is really only a one-night or day hike visit. But with a canoe, you can really explore. That said, a canoe trip would require quite a bit of preparation due to both flora & fauna and unpredictable navigation.
For first-time visitors, I think it’s worth looping in Congaree on a road trip with the Smokies or visiting it on your way to Charleston or Savannah.