Visit Congaree National Park!

My husband and I visited South Carolina’s only national park last fall – Congaree National Park. The trip had two purposes. On Thursday night we went to Charlotte to watch the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Panthers during the early part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl season. We spent the night in

Rock Hill and then visited Congaree on our way home. Our visit to Congaree was our first joint visit to a national park and we planned it as an exploratory trip for the nine-month RV cross-country tour that was just beginning to take hold in our minds.

There are several things we learned from the trip to Congaree that will help us on our cross country national park adventure, planned to begin in mid-August, and which will help you enjoy your visit to Congaree and other parks around the state and country.

1. Use a road atlas, not just your GPS, to get there. Congaree is located just a few short miles off of I-77S (which we were traveling on home from the game in Charlotte) near Columbia. Yes, we did learn the park location, but we also learned that we should have looked on a map as our GPS took us on an extremely long and circuitous route – we actually circled the entire park by car for about an hour when it should have taken about 15 minutes or less from exit 6. If you come from Daniel Island, it’s only an hour and 45-minute drive. Take an atlas in addition to your GPS.

2. The highlight of this park is the trees. The park’s website notes that it features the “largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.” You can view the trees and the general diversity of this ecosystem on the well-marked trails. If you pick up a map at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, you will see a variety of hiking options detailed by length, ranging from very short trails (.3 miles) to trails over 11 miles. None of the trails are extremely challenging as the entire park is relatively flat throughout. The map also provides a numbered system that informs you about the various trees and ecosystems you are encountering. We chose a longer hike and were rewarded with sights of interesting vegetation and a near heart-stopping encounter with two water moccasins. I spotted the first one downstream from a small footbridge we crossed. We watched it from a safe distance as it swam away from us. It was when I leaned over the bridge that a second snake appeared right beneath me. Yikes! Thankfully, I was far enough away to avoid a strike and I think I startled it as much as it startled me.

3. Research the camping facility in advance of your visit. We opted to make it a day trip but we did explore the camping facilities, which are relatively primitive, but do include vault toilets without running water. Camping is tent only, no RV or car camping. The park also allows backcountry camping.

4. Bring your pet to Congaree, but not all national parks allow them. Congaree allows pets on leashes on the trails and at the camping areas. We didn’t have our dog with us on this trip, but we did encounter other visitors with dogs. We do plan to take her on our long trip, and already discovered that dogs are not allowed on most of the trails at the Smokey Mountain National Park in Tennessee.

5. Check out what other adventures the park has to offer. Congaree offers hiking, fishing, backpacking and backcountry camping, canoeing, and kayaking. Additionally, the 50-mile Congaree River Blue Trail, perfect for kayaking and canoeing, starts in Columbia and passes through the park.

6. Read up about special events. We planned our trip at the last minute. You may want to plan a trip next year during late May and early June as that is typically when you can see the Synchronic Firefly spectacular. The park updates its website yearly on when the fireflies arrive and on special viewing evenings. I wish we had seen this – the site explains the phenomena: “Synchronous flashing is defined as concurrent rhythmic group flashing. Although the males appear to be continuously synchronic, they are actually intermittently synchronous. Flashing of the group is continuous, but individual fireflies flash synchronously for several cycles and then pause for several cycles.” How cool is that?

The website,, is very informative. And if you are a real planner, you can download trail maps, as well as information on the various plant and animal life you are likely to see, in advance of your visit.

We proudly got our first stamp on our National Park Passport and are looking forward to getting many more!

National parks, forests and other designations

The United States has 60 national parks located in 28 states and two U.S territories. Congaree National Park is the only national park in South Carolina, but the state has numerous other National Park Service (NPS) designations, such as monuments, trails and historic sites. To make it even more confusing, there are national forests, like the Francis Marion National Forest, which are not part of the NPS. Rather, national forests are managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) under the Department of Agriculture. The national parks and the various designated parks (a total of 417) within the park system are administered by the NPS under the Department of Interior. Here is a break out of the NPS designations described on the NPS Website, edited and expanded upon:
• National Park - These are generally large natural places having a wide variety of attributes, at times including significant historic assets. Hunting, mining and consumptive activities are not authorized. Some of the most recognizable national parks are Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Acadia.
• National Monument – These are landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government. Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor is a national monument.
• National Preserve - National preserves are areas having characteristics associated with national parks, but in which Congress has permitted continued public hunting, trapping, oil/gas exploration and extraction. Many existing national preserves, without sport hunting, would qualify for national park designation.
• National Historic Site - Usually, a national historic site contains a single historical feature that was directly associated with its subject. Locally, you can visit the National Historic Site of Charles Pinkney on Long Point Road in Mt. Pleasant.
• National Historical Park - This designation generally applies to historic parks that extend beyond single properties or buildings.
• National Memorial - A national memorial is commemorative of a historic person or episode; it need not occupy a site historically connected with its subject.
• National Battlefield - This general title includes national battlefield, national battlefield park, national battlefield site, and national military park. Cowpens is a national battlefield located in Chesnee, S.C. and Kings Mountain in Blackburg is a national military park.
• National Cemetery - There are presently 14 national cemeteries in the National Park System, all of which are administered in conjunction with an associated unit and are not accounted for separately.
• National Recreation Area - Twelve NRAs in the system are centered on large reservoirs and emphasize water-based recreation. Five other NRAs are located near major population centers. Such urban parks combine scarce open spaces with the preservation of significant historic resources
and important natural areas in location that can provide outdoor recreation for large numbers of people.
• National Seashore - Ten national seashores have been established on the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts; some are developed and some relatively primitive. Hunting is allowed at many of these sites.
• National Lakeshore - National lakeshores, all on the Great Lakes, closely parallel the seashores in character and use.
• National River - There are several variations to this category: national river and recreation area, national scenic river, wild river, etc.
• National Parkway - The title parkway refers to a roadway and the parkland paralleling the roadway. All were intended for scenic motoring along a protected corridor and often connect cultural sites.
• National Trail - National scenic trails and national historic trails are the titles given to these linear parklands (over 3,600 miles). Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail stretches 330 miles through four states (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina).
• Other Designations - Some units of the National Park System bear unique titles or combinations of titles, like the White House and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which is located within South Carolina and spans the coast from North Carolina to Florida.


Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
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