What You Need To Know About Congaree National Park

I would love to say that we are a super outdoorsy family, but I would be lying. The truth is- although we LOVE being outside- it’s not usually in a nature type setting. Sure, we enjoy sporting events, walking/biking a greenway, cookouts, theme parks and the pool. But, camping and hiking aren’t exactly our thing. However, in our effort to show our kids the world- we’re trying to explore the great outdoors a bit more!

One of our travel New Year’s Resolutions (here) was to put 3 new stamps in our National Parks Passport Book. Without a specific plan for visiting the parks I did a quick check to see which ones (if any) were within day-trip distance from our house. One that jumped out was Congaree National Park. I tucked the information in my back pocket (figuratively) and moved on to other travel priorities.

Canceling our National Parks Passport.

Earlier this month we had a relatively empty weekend schedule so I got it in my head that we should cross off 1 National Park passport stamp. With nothing more than the address in our GPS we set out for Congaree one morning. There are a few things I wish I’d known:

  1. Location: By map it’s not all that far from Columbia, SC. And not a terrible distance from Charlotte, NC. But for all intents and purposes, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Like, you’ll drive down a country road for a while! Good to know when planning your meals. Don’t arrive hungry and/or without your own food.
  2. Synchronized Fire Flies: Congaree National Park is one of a handful of places in the WORLD where you can see synchronized fire flies. It only occurs for a couple weeks once a year. Guests witness the awe-inspiring phenomenon of fireflies blinking in unison just after dusk. (And, if you’re wondering why I wish I’d known…we were there earlier in the day. But see my first point. We were NOT prepared to spend 10+ hours waiting on the bugs.)
  3. Bugs: Speaking of bugs, there’s a lot of them. I honestly didn’t realize we were going into a swamp. And, again, we arrived unprepared. Probably not a bad idea to bring some bug repellent (or essential oils- whatever you prefer)- but you need something!
Yep, we’re in the danger zone!

Despite our lack of preparation, our time at Congaree National Park was incredible. It’s truly one of my favorite parks that we’ve visited. We all remarked that if we lived closer we would come often. The raised boardwalk over the swamp makes a really great observation deck so you don’t have to get too close to nature. We were even able to see a couple snakes. (Honestly, for me- even seeing them was too close. But, admittedly, my kids LOVED it so that’s what matters!)

Tallest trees east of the Mississippi!

Here are a couple more tips to help you make the most out of your visit:

  1. Information: The visitors center is full of great brochures and displays about Congaree. The history to the park is really interesting and you’ll want to take some time to learn about it. I love being able to educate my children in a hands on environment. They were even able to pick up some scavenger hunt and information sheets to take with them on into the park. The visitor center is also were you can get your National Parks Passport cancellation.

    So fun for kids to have their own guides!
  2. Awareness: As I mentioned, the park is a swamp. We gave our kids a little pep talk about staying on the path and being careful prior to our walk. There are lots of creepy crawlies to see/hear which is part of what makes Congaree so cool. But you definitely want to keep your family safe!
Beautiful boardwalk throughout most of the park makes “staying on the path” easy!

 My kids are already asking when we can return- Congaree National Park is an awesome destination!

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