It’s about slowing down, hiking or paddling, listening, pondering and evaluating priorities. Congaree National Park invites you to do all that. It’s an interactive park that was voted #1 national park by readers of USAToday for kayaking and canoeing (Cedar Creek). Of it’s 28,000 acres, all but a few are designated wilderness, the realm of researchers and biologists. It one of only a few national parks on the Eastern Seaboard with a huge wilderness area. It’s not one that you can tour in an automobile. It’s not about long distance landscapes and even the Harry Hampton Visitors Center is limited in size. It’s about getting out onto the boardwalk and beyond on the trails. It’s about getting up close and personal with the cypress, the water tupelo, the snags, the woodpeckers, the fungi, the owls, and at certain times of the year- the mosquitoes – although in January the little blood suckers were not an issue. At Congaree the National Park Service protects a vast expanse of bottomland hardwoods. The biodiversity in this floodplain is astounding. The cultural history is fascinating too. This is an area that was utilized by Native Americans, ancestors of the Congaree and Catawba tribes although no permanent settlements existed within what is now the park. Perhaps they were associated with the Cofitachqui Moundbuilders chiefdom nearby. Spanish explorers came in 1541 bringing diseases that ravaged the natives. There’s a fascinating story of the capture of Fort Motte during the American Revolution. In the 18th and 19th Centuries escaped slaves established maroon communities in the Congaree Swamp. Then by the 20th Century logging companies were exploiting these rich hardwood forests throughout the South but Francis Biedler retrained this tract untouched. By the 1950’s Harry Hampton was advocating to set this land aside to protect it. By the late ’60’s and into the 70’s there was a groundswell of environmental activism that led to the establishment of Congaree Swamp National Monument and in 2003 Congaree became a national park! On our visit we watched the video (see the link at the top of this post), and got an orientation at the visitors center, talked with rangers, and took our time walking the boardwalk trail pausing at each numbered stop to read from the trail brochure. We paused often to listen nature, to watch little movements, to notice little things. And we had the opportunity to return just before dusk and to join the Owl Prowl ranger talk. Congaree is home to Screech Owls, the Great Horned Owl, and especially Barred Owls (the park mascot). On this beautiful full moon evening the Barred Owls were quite vocal. Many in our group got to see one in flight. All of us learned so much about owl calls, anatomy, and behavior that we’ve been dubbed Barred Owl experts. A Shout Out to Park Volunteers Stuart and Ray for greatly enhancing our first (but not last) visit to Congaree. We encourage you to put this place on your list, it’s a treasure.

A beautiful day at Congaree after a lot of rain. Some flooded trails but still a lot of options.
In January we weren’t bothered by mosquitoes but at other times of the year, bring repellent!
The visitors center is named for newspaperman, outdoorsman, and activist for Congaree, Harry Hampton.
The visitors center interprets the natural and cultural history of the area including the activism that led to the protection of this great swamp.
The gift shop offers opportunity to learn more about so much of the park and to adopt a stuffed version of the park mascot, the Barred Owl who calls out, “Who, who, who cooks for you.”
We hiked the Boardwalk Trail and a little of the Firefly Trail
There’s more to explore beyond the Boardwalk.
The Cypress are giants and scientists suspect the knees help the root system stabilize these great trees.
The Loblolly Pines tower over the tall trees in this forest. This place has some of the tallest trees and trees of largest biomass east of the Mississippi River. Many in this forest qualify as Champion Trees.
Moss on Water Tupelos indicate the height of past floods.
And it’s not just about the big trees but about the vast array of organisms that feed on the dead trees to decompose them into nutrients for new life.
Remnants of a still from the era of Prohibition.
Did we say this is a swamp? It’s beautiful!
A grand Beech estimated to be at least a hundred years old.
The Owl Prowl started with Stuart and Ray offering an orientation at the visitors center.
This is in the category of “Don’t Do This”. NPS always has excellent reasons for their cautions and restrictions. Pay attention and heed their advice to protect the environment and in other cases, protect yourself.
Our home for two nights near Columbia, South Carolina was Poinsett State Park.
As we were leaving the park we had a delightful conversation with another couple traveling with a tiny teardrop very similar to the Silver Shadow camper we traveled with 2009-2013.

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3 Comments

  1. Jim Collins

    You are in love with the Congaree, as I fell in love with Okeefenokee Swamp many years ago. Floating in its interior is akin to embarking on another planet for the first time. Happy Trails!

    Reply
  2. Jackie Mallory

    To Steve and family,
    Thanks for sharing the Congree Swamp tour. It was enlightening and beautiful in it’s own way. but oh those misquotes! You and Karen sure are the adventurous ones.
    I’m pretty sedentary since my bout with Covid! Oh well, aging is not for sissy’s.
    In friendship,
    Jackie Mallory

    Reply
  3. Ray Davis

    Hi Steve and Karen,
    What a delight to have you spend the day with us at Congaree National Park! I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations and the stories of your decades of travel across America. You’re amazing and have inspired me to explore similar travel. Thanks for joining us on the Owl Prowl! Stuart and I appreciated your participation and your fascinating website postings. I look forward to following your travels. Please come see us again and do some paddling on Cedar Creek! Safe travels and may each day be a “hoot!”
    Ray Davis
    Volunteer, Congaree National Park

    Reply

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