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Congaree National Park ...

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Wood Duck
Wood Duck, Congaree National Park - Dead River area

Congaree National Park - South Carolina

Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 02-27-2012

Bald Cypress, Congaree National Park - Joe Kegley

Bald Cypress, Congaree National Park - Joe Kegley


The Congaree National Park (formally the Congaree Swamp National Monument) is an old growth flood plain forest located near Columbia, South Carolina. Dispersed throughout the park are some enormous trees, including some national champions for their respective species. These trees make up one of the highest forest canopies in the world. The national champion Loblolly pine located within the forest, stands at 167 feet high.

The park has over 30 miles of marked hiking trails, including the popular 2.4 mile boardwalk near the visitor center. In addition to the marked trails, there are some un-maintained logging roads, some of which are very hard to distinguish from the surrounding forest. Canoeing Cedar Creek is another method one can use to experience the park (BYOC - bring your own canoe, they are not furnished).

Nature Perspective

The trees are the main reason Congaree National Park is a park. The Congaree contains some extremely large specimens of sweetgum, oak, loblolly pine, and bald cypress, to name a few. Periodic flooding of the 26,500-acre park disperses silt and nutrient rich water to the soil enabling the trees to achieve such massive sizes. While many of these large trees are off the marked trails, one can experience a sampling of huge cherrybark oaks, swamp chestnut oaks, and loblolly pines by walking the 7.5 mile Oakridge trail.

John Cely tour examining a Bald Cypress, Congaree National Park - Joe Kegley

John Cely tour examining a Bald Cypress, Congaree - Joe Kegley

Cypress Knee

7ft Bald Cypress knee at Harry Hampton Cypress, Congaree
- Joe Kegley

Birding is a popular activity within the Congaree National Park, especially during spring and fall migrations. Barred Owls, Wood Ducks, and various species of woodpeckers, are commonly seen and heard throughout all seasons.

Feral pigs and white-tailed deer are commonly seen mammals. Occasionally river otters may be encountered canoeing Cedar Creek or in some of the small lakes and sloughs within the park. Signs of beaver activity can also be noted around Cedar Creek.

Brown water snakes are commonly seen when paddling Cedar Creek. On sunny days, during spring through fall, look for them in limbs and bushes overhanging the creek. Cottonmouth's are occasionally seen in or near the creek. Red-bellied water snakes are also frequently encountered in the Congaree National Park. Lifting a log will often yield a marbled salamander.

Wilderness Experience Perspective


Otter, Congaree National Park
- Joe Kegley

It's hard to believe you can have a wilderness experience 20 minutes from Columbia South Carolina, but you can. Backcountry camping is allowed in the Congaree National Park with a permit obtained at the visitor center. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from. Take note that the park floods, on average about 10 times a year. Dry land can be extremely sparse during these times. Keep a watch on the weather and call the visitor center the day before your excursion to obtain information on camping conditions.

For day hiking, one can usually find solitude walking the Kingsnake trail or the River trail, with only the occasional military aircraft fly over to remind you of civilization. Even better, try hiking some of the old un-maintained logging roads (if you can find them) for guaranteed solitude.

For canoeing I suggest the launch at South Cedar Creek Road. This is also the trail head for the Kingsnake trail which many of the un-maintained logging roads branch off of. Canoeing and kayaking Cedar Creek has become more popular in recent years so you will probably meet others on the water weekends and holidays. To have some solitude on weekends, I suggest launching at dawn and/or canoe camping. Note there are sometimes downed trees across the creek that the park service has not cleared. Depending on the water level, you may be required to portage your canoe or kayak around them. I personally prefer going east on Cedar Creek after launching from the South Cedar Creek canoe launch.


Mushrooms, Congaree National Park
- Robert Kemmerlin

Photography Perspective

While the Congaree National Park has lots to offer the naturalist, it can be a tough place for photography. The forest canopy creates high contrast areas, bright highlights where the sun shines and dark shadows in the shady sections. Pick your photography shots wisely.

The animals in the Congaree National Park are wild and not acclimated to humans. Deer, pigs, and waterfowl are hunted outside the park boundaries. I take a small portable blind when photographing wood ducks at the Dead River lake area. Occasionally one can stealthily approach feral pigs, but only when you are downwind. If they look in your direction simply freeze and after a few moments they will usually put their noses back to the ground and continue rutting around.

The open water areas inside the park are going to be your best bet for wildlife photography. Cedar Creek, Dead River, Cook's Lake, Horseshoe Lake, and Bates Old River would be good choices. Note that some of the land surrounding Cook's Lake and Bates Old River is private property. Canoeing Cedar Creek may get you to some interesting scenic locations with relections and bald cypresses.

Gear/equipment Suggestions

Feral Pig

Feral Pig, Congaree National Park
- Joe Kegley

  • John Cely's Map - This a map made by John Cely when the park was the Congaree Swamp National Monument. The map contains the old logging roads I mentioned above, lake and slough locations, and various historical points of interest. In addition, John notes the locations of some of the larger trees within the park. It is a fun map. I have two, one marked up and used for hiking, another I keep nice for display. You can purchase this map at the Congaree National Park visitor center. I strongly suggest this item.

  • Neoprene hunting boots - Very handy for crossing shallow water filled guts and sloughs. Note, these will not give you good foot support. My feet get very tired in these after 5 or 6 miles.

  • Insect Repellent - Sometimes the mosquitos are bad, sometimes not. During a dry spell, even in summer, the mosquitos don't merit insect repellent. But a few days after a good rain ... watch out.

  • Camouflage and/or a portable blind - If you really want to get serious with wildlife photography at this park, I suggest camouflage clothing and a portable blind. The animals aren't going to walk (or fly) up to you here.

  • Canoe/Kayak - Canoeing and kayaking is the best means of travel for exploring Cedar Creek.

Location and Points of Interest

Congaree National Park Map (Google interactive map)

left double click to zoom in
right double click to zoom out
click and drag to move
hover over markers to see descriptions

Google Maps appears to be a little outdated. The park boundary has expanded farther than shown in 'Map' view. In addition, the park is now called "Congaree National Park' not "Congaree Swamp National Monument". To better see the lake outlines, I suggest you use the 'Satellite' view and zoom in.

Additional Information

http://www.nps.gov/cosw/ - Congaree National Park from the National Park Service web site.

http://www.friendsofcongaree.org/ - Friends of the Congaree Swamp, a non-profit advocate of the park. This organization supports the park through volunteer work and fundraising. If you want to be exposed to some of the park that others rarely see, then become a member and go on some of the guided group hikes with John Cely or Dr. John Grego.

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