Minutes away from Columbia, thus minutes away from my house, Congaree National Park is a great getaway with plenty of hiking and photography opportunities and more. Once known as Congaree Swamp National Monument, it got an upgrade to park in 2003. Is it a swamp? Technically no. It’s a floodplain forest which floods several times a year. A swamp has water in it year around.
Upon the change of its designation – Monument to Park, the dropping of ‘swamp’, the number of visitors increased great a bit. Maybe people equated ‘swamp’ with mosquitoes or maybe people would rather go to a National Park than a Monument. I don’t know. I tend to call them all national parks because it easier than saying ‘one of the parks in the naional park system’ because I can’t always remember if it’s a park, monument, or site.
The park’s 25,000 plus acres spreads along the Congaree River in Richland county and contains the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwoods in the United States, a landscape that includes a variety of animals, birds, fish, and trees and more. The park is named after a Native American tribe, the Congaree who became victims of the many smallpox epidemics that wiped out so many people in the 1700’s. The giant trees here were saved from logging due to is inaccessibility. In 1976, conservationists managed to have the area declared a national monument.
The park offers many trails. You can walk them alone or join one of the many ranger lead hikes. I’ve gone on an ‘owl prowl’ and had the opportunity to join professional photographers. One of the popular trails is the boardwalk, 2.4 mile walk through the swamp. I always think the cypress knees look like little people and there’s always something new to find whether it’s an insect, fungi, or animal.
Check the website below to see what’s happening before you go.
Follow the National Park signs and take Exit 5 from I77 around Columbia onto SC48 / East Bluff Road. After about eight miles, take a right onto Old Bluff Road. This will take to the park entrance, on the right hand side.
What’s Close By:
Harbison State Forest
Columbia – Capital complex, museums, historical districts, zoo, parks, University complex.