Congaree National Park is Whatever

Congaree National Park was the 39th US National Park that I’ve visited. While it wasn’t my least favorite; that award goes to Hot Spring in Arkansas followed by Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio; it was down on the list for sure. Congaree National Park is whatever. It was basically a big swamp. If you’re really into old-growth bottomland hardwood forest and insects, you’ll love it! However, as usual there are some highlights and I am glad I visited regardless.

Congaree National Park is Whatever, Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park main entrance

Congaree National Park is located about 25-30 minutes outside of Columbia, South Carolina-where I stayed last night at the old fashioned Sheraton Hotel. I had actually been to Columbia before for an SEC Football game a few years ago but wasn’t able to get to Congaree National Park on that trip. Columbia is a pleasant enough little city with a big state school.

The State House in Columbia, South Carolina

The State House in Columbia, South Carolina

Downtown is cute for a walk around and a meal or coffee but I wouldn’t linger long. The State House is best known for the Confederate Flag scandal a few years ago where they still flew it over the Capitol. I did have a great burger at a place called Pawley’s out toward the University of South Carolina. I would certainly recommend that.

Pawleys, The absurd burger at Pawley's in Columbia, South Carolina

The absurd burger at Pawley’s in Columbia, South Carolina

As you drive out to Congaree National Park it gets very rural and then you lose phone service like many National Parks. It’s free to enter Congaree National Park and the Visitor Center will be your first stop assuming you’re not camping. I can’t imagine why you would camp in a swamp but to each their own!

The Mosquito Meter at the Visitor Center in Congaree National Park

The Mosquito Meter at the Visitor Center in Congaree National Park

The highlights of the Visitors Center are the mosquito meter to tell you how bad they are on the day you’re there and the fact that they sell mosquito repellant. I do recommend you bring some cash. Their credit card machine runs on dial-up; I had to wait for 20 minutes to charge $8 for repellant and a water. It was rather annoying.

Scenery along the Boardwalk in Congaree National Park

Scenery along the Boardwalk in Congaree National Park

I also recommend doing the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop. This is really the best way to get the essence of the park and see the highlights. Depending how fast you walk and how often you stop it’ll take about an hour to walk it.

The Boardwalk in Congaree National Park

The Boardwalk in Congaree National Park

As the name implies, it’s all a boardwalk so you won’t get dirty and it’s very flat so anyone can do it. It’s going to be hot and muggy on the loop with a lot of mosquitoes so be prepared.

Reflections in the swamps of Congaree National Park

Reflections in the swamps of Congaree National Park

Grab a self-guided Boardwalk Tour pamphlet at the Visitors Center, which highlights sites by number and tells you about them. It’s a lot of nature talk and honestly specifics like types of plants, trees and other things of that nature. As I mentioned, that’s not really my thing so I didn’t linger long.

Lake reflections in Congaree National Park

Lake reflections in Congaree National Park

It’s a very pleasant walk and some good exercise with occasional really pretty views. The best was Weston Lake for great reflection views and the surrounding swamps with cool tree reflections.

Interesting swamp scenery within Congaree National Park

Interesting swamp scenery within Congaree National Park

Honestly, that’s about it for me from Congaree National Park. It won’t challenge Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon or many of the other great parks out west but if you’re in the Columbia, South Carolina area-give it a look.

Comments

  1. Ryan T. says:

    HAHA. Funny you mention Cuyahoga NP. I was driving in loops around that park looking for an official entrance, and come to find out, I was already in the park… Such was the excitement of the place. Basically a walking trail that leads to a small waterfall. Should have been a state park at best.

    Good job and getting your NP rank up. The one in northern MN looks great. Hopefully you get there soon.

  2. I live nearby in Columbia and totally agree Congaree is nothing more than a swamp. It was a big political coup for them to get that designation. They had been trying for decades. I’m sure there was some backroom dealing.

    • It’s funny, I actually think I read something about that when I was planning this excursion a few weeks ago. So many of these national monuments, parks, grasslands etc are political because they all involve receiving federal money and protection. Not sure what happened in Congaree but nothing would surprise me.

  3. All the good national parks are out west.

    • I mostly agree with you. Dry Tortugas which I visited last week was phenomenal. I also like the Everglades although it’s not beautiful like the western parks for sure. I go to Acadia this weekend and I hear that’s nice so hoping for the best!

  4. I was actually mad I took the time to go. I sweated, got bit by bugs, my kids complained and there are no bathrooms along the boardwalk. I was not a fan.

  5. Nice post you have shared with us thanks!!!

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