Our spring break adventure kicked off in Congaree National Park, just outside of Columbia, South Carolina. Imagine over 2,000 acres of forest and swamp land about a 20 minute drive from the heart of the State Capitol. It’s hard to even begin describing the incredibleness of our stay at this park. We 100% enjoyed our stay here. Congaree National Park is a magical place.
Enjoying nature in front or backcountry campsites
We camped out for two nights in the walk-in, tent-only campsite called Longleaf, just inside the park entrance. All of the sites, including group sites, are available by reservation only through recreation.gov. There are also a handful of backcountry campsites and another designated site called Bluff Campground that require more of a hike.
The park, was designated as a National Park in 2003. It has “the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.” The trees are incredible. It’s also home to some amazing wildlife. The sounds of the owls at night added a great touch to our campfire conversations. It’s also free to enter the park so there was no additional charge on top of the $10 per night camping fee.
There is no formal check-in process for the campsites, but reservations are required. The Longleaf and group campsites share a bathroom (one men’s stall and one women’s stall). Backcountry camping and Bluff Campground do not have toilets. None of the campsites have running water, although potable water is available behind the Visitor Center. It was hot during our visit so this was very useful.
Camping in Congaree was our first camping experience with Rigby. Even as she inches closer to her first birthday, she is absolutely a puppy. We had no idea how she was going to act so we opted to stay closer to our car at the walk-in sites instead of the backcountry. We definitely picked up some do’s and don’t’s for camping with a pup. The campground was busy and the majority of campers were families. You can expect that when you visit during the second week in April, which is a major Spring Break week for schools.
Settling into camp in an old growth forest
We arrived at the park around 11am after driving through the night from Connecticut . Yup, we put in a full work week, a full day at work, then hopped in the car and drove for about 16 hours. The intention of the overnight drive is to avoid loading into the campsite at night and making the most out of the first day of vacation. Even after the little to no sleep we each received we were ready for a hike, followed by an early dinner and time by the fire.
We stayed in Camp Site 4. The site is set back from the main walking path, up against the massive forest. A few sites are right along the main walking path so we were happy to be deeper in the forest, although it wasn’t too deep. The spacing between sites is nice. You’re definitely not on top of each other and have enough privacy.
While Tony set up the campsite I ran to the closest grocery store to pick up all of our perishable foods. The nearest spot was a Food Lion an easy 16 minute drive from the park. With a full vegetarian menu, there was a lot of fresh produce to buy…and adult beverages too.
Things to do within Congaree National Park
Once we were settled in it was time to explore. Not only were we there to take an incredible canoe trip on Cedar Creek, within the park limits, but we also wanted to explore as much of the park as we could. Congaree’s incredible boardwalk winds through a portion of the park. The elevated portion looks out over vegetation and is a great spot for wildlife watching, but there’s also a ground level section. The week leading up to our visit was a week full of rain and severe storms in South Carolina so the park was experiencing serious flooding. If you visit, bring waterproof boots so you can walk through some of the flooded sections. We did! Seeing the park flooded made the experience all the better. You saw the real impact the nature has on this area.
We hiked the boardwalk twice, once in the evening and once in the morning. On our second walk, the flooding (and construction) convinced us to get off of the boardwalk and hike one of the trails back towards the Visitor Center. The self-guided walking tour of the boardwalk gives you more background on the landscape you’re taking in. Pick up a brochure just outside the Visitor Center doors to learn a lot about the surrounding area.
As historians and educators, you know we had to do this! Tony walked Rigby and I read the walking tour aloud as we came to each marker. To keep the knowledge flowing between the markers, I read portions of the Congaree park brochure as well.
Rigby and other pups are welcome!
Rigby had a ball exploring. Congaree National Park is super dog-friendly. They allow dogs in all outdoor areas, including hiking trails, all campgrounds (front and backcountry), and on the boardwalk.
If you can make your way to South Carolina, go to Congaree National Park. If you’re not the camping type, there are accommodations close by in Columbia. We most definitely found our park here.