Congaree National Park is the largest old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the entire United States, and the beauty of the space is limitless. With no entrance fee, there is really no excuse not to go explore this swath of land for all it is worth. Travel through flooded plains of cypress trees on an elevated boardwalk, or walk through forests of loblolly pines that leave you enamored with the southern landscape. All kinds of wildlife, from alligators to otters, thrive in the Congaree National Park, and the experience is yours for the taking.
What Makes it Great
Although there are more than a few trails to choose from in this park, the best backpacking option is probably the Kingsnake Trail. This is an out and back trail with a total of 11.1 miles, with the option to extend your hike by hopping on any of the other trails the park has to offer. From the visitors center, you’re going to want to hop on the Boardwalk Trail. From here, you will find the trailhead to the Weston Lake Loop Trail (trail marker #3), which you will need to take in order to reach the Kingsnake Trail (trail marker #6). Once on the Kingsnake Trail, the campsites will be in an open area after you cross the bridge over Cedar Creek. Remember, this is an out and back hike, so to go back, just retrace your steps back to the visitors center. The trail should be well marked, although a compass and a map are highly recommended.
Who is Going to Love It<
Every kind of backpacker can love this adventure. With light traffic, this excursion is a great way to get out in the wilds of the lowlands and experience a true old growth forest. However, beware, as the trails are known to be often flooded and impassable. Always check with the rangers station before you head out to determine the state of the trails. Make sure you bring heavy bug repellant and plenty of water, especially in the warmer months, as the temperatures are known to climb in the South. The Kingsnake trail is less than 100 feet in elevation gain, so the going is easy to moderate, depending on what terrain you are used to hiking on. And lastly, watch out for those wily wild boars. They are usually out in numbers on the trail, so beware of bringing Fido. Those tusks can do some damage.
Directions, Parking and Fees
Lucky for you, it is very simple getting to Congaree National Forest. And even better: There is no entrance fee. However, you will need to pick a permit for camping at the rangers station. They are required. To get there from Charleston, hop on Interstate 26 towards Spartanburg. Take exit 116 to Interstate 77 N towards Charlotte. From I-77, continue 5 miles and take Exit 5 Hwy 78 East/Bluff Road. From here, you will travel down Hwy 78/Bluff Road for about 12 miles. At the brown and white sign, take the right fork onto Old Bluff Road. From here, you will want to turn right into the park at the large park sign. Travel down this road for approximately one mile until you reach the Harry Hampton Visitors center. Parking is on the right hand side. The park is open everyday, all day.