South Carolina: Paddling Cedar Creek in Congaree National Park

Cedar creek 1

It’s mid-April, we’ve broken free from work for a full week and the only two things on our minds are canoeing and camping. After work on Friday night we loaded up the VW and headed towards Congaree National Park, just outside Columbia, South Carolina. After an overnight drive we arrived at the park for three nights of camping and what we hoped would be some great paddling.

Serious storms hit South Carolina the week before we visited so there was concern of paddling restrictions. I kept an eye on Congaree’s social media and it looked like there was flooding on the hiking trails, but they weren’t telling paddlers to avoid the water.

We camped right in the park. You can read all about the camping experience in our Camping at Congaree National Park post.

Launching your canoe/kayak

On day two we decided to paddle. The weather was out of this world. Humidity was low, temps were at about 80 degrees F, and the sun was shining with just a few clouds. There are multiple options for paddling in Congaree. If you have two cars you can put in at Bannister’s Bridge (turn left when you exit the park) and paddle down Cedar Creek to the Cedar Creek launch. This is a 6.2 mile paddle. There’s also the Congaree River. This will take you outside the park limits and could require multiple days, depending on how far you want to go.

Cedar creek 3

We had the one car so we opted for putting in at the Cedar Creek Canoe Landing, paddling downstream, spinning around and paddling back. The rangers in the Visitor Center told us that a fallen tree may block us in either direction, at some point along the canoe trail. We got in our car and went for it anyway. The rangers estimated we’d get about an hour downstream before we had to turn around. The flooding would probably be too severe to portage.

Paddling among the tupelo

Paddling down Cedar Creek is magical. Picture yourself enveloped in tall trees with new spring leaves that painted the canopy above bright green. Congaree National Park is an old growth forest. Tupelo trees grew up through the water with their unique trunks; a sight I’ve never seen before. A carpet of yellow Butterweed flowers covered the water surface along some of the edges, adding  a splash of excitement to the scenery.

Cedar creek 4

We took the gentle current as an opportunity to primarily drift. Tony put his paddle down and lay back in the stern of the boat. Grabbing a tan as we passed under openings in the trees.

If we were looking to put in some serious paddling and go a long distance, this wouldn’t have been the right spot. Since relaxing and taking in the sounds and sights were what we wanted, this was the perfect spot. We passed by a number of kayakers on our way out and our way back in. Like us, they were enjoying the quiet, the warm weather and the miles of tree trunks growing out the water.

Cedar creek 2

Keep an eye out for danger

Even with the flooding it’s pretty easy to understand where the paddling trail went. Staying on the trail is important. The last thing you want is to get caught up in the trees, waiting for rangers to help you out.

Certain areas of Congaree National Park are designated wilderness. This means they do not clean up fallen trees or tamper with the environment. Paddling in areas like this can be dangerous. Stay on the lookout for fallen trees, branches and also trees that are just out of sight and below the waterline. Another major danger are strainers (obstructions that let water through, but not you or your boat…super dangerous for paddlers!). With a slow current there was plenty of time to maneuver and navigate through some of the mazes that the trees created.

Rigby high five

We hoped to spot a river otter and had our fingers crossed that we wouldn’t bump into an alligator. The rangers advised against letting Rigby into the water for that very reason, but wildlife kept their distance from us. You could hear the birds in the background, but nothing showed its face.

We spent about four hours paddling down and back and we’d do it all over again. This ranks up there with the top paddles of Canoe 52.

Next stop:

Assateague Island, Maryland. Paddling with the wild ponies!

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