Congaree National Park: A Visitor’s Guide

Congaree National Park

congaree national park
Simon/Flickr/CC by 2.0

The Congaree National Park was authorized as Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976 and designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1983. It was designated a national park in 2003. Located in central South Carolina, the park encompasses 26,000 acres containing the last significant tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The park is mostly managed as a wilderness area and is home to more than 90 tree species.

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 803/776-4396

arrow-icon  Park Hours:  Opens daily Dawn to Dusk.

arrow-icon  When to Go: Busiest: July-August. Least crowded: January-February.

arrow-icon  Helpful Links:

arrow-icon  What to Do: Bird-watching, camping, canoeing, fishing, hiking, kayaking, picnicking

arrow-icon  Facilities: Visitor center, Nature Center, Historical Museum, Hiking Trails, Picnic Tables with fire grills, Gift Shop, and restrooms.

arrow-icon  Programs/Events: Self-guided walks, ranger-guided walks, and canoe trips. Owl prowls, Swamp Fest (1st Sat. in October), Campfire Chronicles (early November), living history event.

arrow-icon  Address: Harry Hampton Visitor Center, Bluff Rd, Hopkins, South Carolina

arrow-icon  Directions: Choose Starting Point   national parks

arrow-icon  Number of Visitors/Year:
145,929 (Year 2018) 

arrow-icon  Fees and Permits:  There is no entrance fee for Congaree National Park.

  Accessibility: Most of the park is unimproved but the area around the Harry Hampton Visitor Center is wheelchair accessible. The 2.4-mile boardwalk trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible.

arrow-icon  Pets: Pets are welcome but must be restrained on a leash, never left unattended, and owners are responsible for removing pet waste.

photos-national parks  See Photos.

Major Attractions

The major attraction in Congaree National Park is walking through an old-growth portion of the Middle Atlantic Coastal Forest Ecoregion. This old-growth forest features many champion trees, which are some of the tallest and oldest trees in the eastern United States. Some of the champion trees include 167-foot loblolly pine, 157-foot sweetgum, a 154-foot cherry bark oak, a 135-foot American elm, a 133-foot swamp chestnut oak, a 131-foot overcup oak, and a 127-foot common persimmon.

The Boardwalk Trail is the most popular trail and features a 167-foot tall loblolly pine. This trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible and takes about 2.5 hours to cover.

The Weston Lake, Oak Ridge, Weston Lake Loop, and King-snake Trails are equally fascinating but do not have a wheelchair and stroller access.

Canoeing is also a popular activity at Congaree National Park. Rent a canoe and embark on the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail. Alternatively, you can join one of the guided canoe trips that occur once a month. You would have to find out when the next guided trip will take place.

Tips: Plan to stay at least two to four hours. Longer trails can take eight hours to explore. Canoe trips can vary in duration.

Congaree National Park’s Summary Reviews

The following are summaries of actual reviews made by visitors to Congaree National Park.

What is good:

Great place to take the family! We loved the boardwalk trail, just make sure you get there early if you want to hike it before seeing the fireflies if you go in May.

The visitor center is well-kept and the staff is very helpful. The synchronized fireflies are well worth the trip to see.

The 2.7-mile boardwalk is perfect for a stroller or a wheelchair. It was on a wooden walkway the entirety of the “hike.”

An amazing national park that is not talked about. It is free. It is so unique because of its miles of boardwalk.

If you can bring your kayak, I believe it is a whole new experience.

This was a lot of fun for the dog. We did see some baby wild hogs though which means the mama hog was close by. This park is very pet-friendly. We will definitely be back, beautiful park!

Kids love it. We have seen Gators, snakes, deer, owls, skinks, and much much more. The trees are amazing and most of the trails are easy to get through.

Lots of wildlife to see, especially if you look close enough!

There was a lot to learn about the trees and the visitor’s center had a video to watch beforehand that was very helpful and informative. I really recommend visiting this park!

Since this park is not well-known it is not overcrowded like a lot of them can be.

When my husband and I visited the park we walked the entire length of the boardwalk may be running into three families at most. A nice quiet place to enjoy nature.

A gem in Columbia SC. It has an easy boardwalk trail that is stroller and wheelchair accessible and also trails up to 9 miles that takes you deep in the swamp.

Beautiful park. You really need good walking shoes because there is so much to see and explore. Took the grandkids and they enjoyed it so much.

The staff is very friendly, the movie in The visitor center is really good.
We would like to come back to see the lightning bugs.

Return to the days before our old-growth forests were logged away. Kayaking through the swamps was an opportunity to see tall Cypress trees and observe wildlife.

What is not so good:

Avoid the River trail. Not well maintained. We got lost several times. Lots of fallen trees and not well marked. Very buggy trail.

It’s a great family-friendly location, perfect for catching malaria and contracting Zika, was only there 10 minutes and got at least 7 mosquito bites.

I would recommend if you enjoy spending an hour in the car and getting a brisk walk in before being swarmed.

Get there early to get decent parking though because it gets really crowded really fast.

A park ranger I experienced here completely ruined my experience. Rude, callous, unhelpful, and a poor park representative. Really a shame we are militarizing our park rangers. Would never go back.

The whole park submerges underwater during the wintertime and it lush and lively during summer.

I hate to be negative, but I’m not sure how this park managed to get a National Park designation. Maybe as a state park or something, it is OK, but it doesn’t remotely compare to the 15 other NP’s I’ve seen and I haven’t even taken the big western state swing yet.

Unless you just happen to be in the area, it isn’t worth the stop.

Probably one of the worst parks we’ve been to as far as rules and regulations go. We were on a road trip and looking for a nice park to sleep in our car before it got too dark. Found out you couldn’t camp without reserving a spot on the phone or online and pay with a card in advance and you are not allowed to sleep in your car.

Not quite what we expected. Could see this as more of a state park or nature preserve than a national park.

Parking is very limited during long weekends and holidays.

Beautiful place though. Definitely use bug spray before going on a walk to keep the mosquitos (that I swear can bite through clothing) and chiggers off.

It was a really nice walk. Granted it didn’t have the “WOW” factor as other national parks.

Read more about other national parks: