Home Blogs Congaree National Park
Say the word “swamp,” and the first image that probably comes to mind
is of a wet, sticky, mosquito-infested mire that few people would want
to visit. Such an image certainly might have kept some visitors away
from Congaree Swamp National Monument, a 22,000-acre forest in South
Yet, after the monument gained national park status in November
2003—and dropped the unappealing “s” word from its name—the number of
visitors each month increased significantly.
Technically speaking, Congaree is not a swamp, because it does not
contain standing water throughout most of the year. One of the newest
national parks is actually a floodplain forest that floods about ten
times a year. Spreading northeast from the meandering Congaree River,
the land is the largest contiguous tract of old-growth bottomland
hardwoods in the United States.
Push back the ghostly Spanish moss that drips from the bald
cypresses, and you enter a lush backcountry inhabited by bobcats, deer,
and playful river otters. Yellowbellied sapsuckers drill holes into
trees one day and return the next to feast on the sap that has filled
the holes. The rapid-fire series of knocks you hear is from one of the
many woodpeckers found in the park, also hard at work boring holes into
At night in the fall and spring, rangers lead visitors on an “owl
prowl,” so they can hear the eerie calls of barred owls and see the
glowing fungi that grow on the cypresses. According to local legends,
the cypress tree’s trademark “knees”—small, knobby wood growths that
rise around the trunk’s base—are really wood elves who come to life at
night to dance through the forest.
Congaree was named for the Native American tribe that lived here
centuries ago. They were decimated in the 18th century, victims of a
smallpox epidemic that came over with European settlers.
Toward the end of the next century, the country’s burgeoning lumber
industry moved south, with an eye on Congaree’s giant hardwood trees.
However, because of the remoteness of the area and the lack of navigable
waterways many of the old giants were saved from the ax.
Conservationists worked hard to save the rest. In 1976, Congress
rewarded their efforts by setting Congaree aside as a national monument.
Since its establishment, the park has been designated as a national
natural landmark, a globally important bird area, and an international
How to Get There
Twenty miles southeast of Columbia, via I-77 and Bluff Road or S.C.
48. Follow the Congaree National Park direction signs to the park.
When to Go
Year-round. Spring and fall are the most pleasant seasons. Boaters
find easier paddling after a rain in late winter and early spring.
How to Visit
Allow a full or half day. From the visitor center, take the Low and
High Boardwalk Trails (2.4 miles total). Then do the Weston Lake Loop
Trail (4.4 miles) around the oxbow lake. Birders like the 11.7-mile
Kingsnake Trail in a remote part of the park.