Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park: Canoeing Through The Floodplain Forest

March 17, 2010, 6:21 am

Located just 20 miles from Columbia, South Carolina's state's capital and largest city, Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent.  The lush trees growing in this floodplain forest are some of the tallest in the Eastern U.S. and form one of the highest natural canopies in the world. 15,000 acres or about 70 percent of the park is designated wilderness area.

In 1969, relatively high timber prices prompted private landowners to consider resuming logging operations in the area. As a result, a grassroots campaign to save the forest was started by the Sierra Club and local residents. Congress established Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo destroyed several trees listed on the National Register of Big Trees, which allowed sunlight to come through the canopy, and in turn, helped promote new growth beneath. In July of 2001 the park was designated a Globally Important Bird Area, and on November 10, 2003 it was designated as the nation's 57th National Park.

Activities at Congaree National Park include hiking, primitive camping, bird watching, picnicking, canoeing & kayaking, ranger-guided interpretive walks and canoe tours, nature study, and environmental education programs. The fallen trees from Hurricane Hugo have provided shelter for many species of organisms including fungi, insects, reptiles, birds, and bats.

Traveling by canoe or kayak is the best way to enjoy the Congaree wilderness. Passing some of the tallest trees in North America, you can see deer, river otters, turtles, snakes, raccoons, wild pigs and more.

The park offers guided canoe tours on Cedar Creek most Saturdays and Sundays and canoes are provided for the tour participants. In order to enjoy the individual canoeing at Congaree, you must bring your own canoe or rent one from outfitters in Columbia. There is a marked canoe trail on Cedar Creek, the largest channel that flows through the floodplain. The Congaree River can also be paddled, but there is no vehicle access to the river within the park boundaries.

Another great way to enjoy Congaree National Park is to hike the two main boardwalks that wind through the park. Raised nearly six feet above the forest floor, the Elevated Boardwalk winds through a diverse old-growth forest and ends at Weston Lake, an old channel of the Congaree River. The Low Boardwalk passes through a primeval bald cypress and water tupelo forest. Cypress "knees" protrude from the forest floor creating a mystical aura. The knees, part of the tree's root system, are thought to help aerate the roots and to help anchor the cypress in the area's wet soil.
Congaree National Park offers a truly unique experience for the visitor and free to visit 365 days out of the year! Grab your suitcase and head on down to South Carolina.