The 6 Best Hikes in Congaree National Park

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Congaree National Park is one of the smallest National Parks in the park system. However even though it is a small park it is home to the oldest and largest intact bottomland hardwood forests in the United States. 

When it comes to exploring this bottomland forest the best ways are either to hike or take the waterways. I recommend doing both. But in this article, we are going to cover the 6 best hikes in Congaree National Park. 

Congaree National Park Highlights  

Best Time to Go: The best time to visit Congaree National Park is Spring from March through May or Early Fall around late August – Early October. The summer is alright, you’ll just have more mosquitoes and crowds. The winter is not the best due to flooding but on the upside, there are no mosquitoes and few crowds. 

How to Get to Congaree National Park: The closest airport is the Columbia Metropolitan Airport which is about 30 minutes from the park. Charleston International Airport is about 2 hours away from Congaree National Park. 

How to Get Around: Congaree is a fairly small park and only requires transportation for getting to the park. Best way to get to Congaree is by using your own vehicle or renting. 

Camping In Congaree National Park: Finding a place to stay around Congaree is fairly easy if camping is not your thing Columbia has many options. If you like to camp, there are two campgrounds available LongLeaf and Bluff Campground both fairly primitive. 

National Park Pass: Congaree National Park is one of the free National Parks. However, if you plan on visiting other National Parks, The America the Beautiful Park pass is a huge money saver. It will give you access to over 400+ park systems and all National Parks for $80 good for the whole year!

Don’t Forget Leave No Trace: Before heading on your outdoor journey, make sure to review the Leave No Trace principles to help protect and leave these National Parks better than you found them. 

Overview of Best Hikes in Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park as I mentioned earlier, is home to the largest intact old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the US. It features a unique ecosystem with abundance of bald cypress and loblolly pine trees, some possibly over 500 years old.

The park has various wildlife 200 species of birds, flying squirrels, reptiles, alligators, wild boars, and synchronous fireflies. The best way to explore the diverse wildlife and interesting forest is through hiking on one of the many trails. 

The 6 Best Hikes in Congaree National Park 

Roaming the Boardwalk Loop

Boardwalk Loop Trail 

  • Length: 2.3 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 13ft 
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Dogs Allowed: yes, must be kept on a leash.

The Boardwalk loop was one of the best hikes in Congaree National Park. If we had to choose only one trail to do this would be in the number one stop. This trail starts off at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and makes a loop through the heart of Congaree National Park. It’s one of the best trails as it takes you up from ground level, so even when it floods a good portion of this trail will still be accessible.

One of the best parts about this trail is that it is accessible for everyone and super family friendly for kids and individuals with disabilities. If you have kids with you, then try and opt for the self-guided tour that goes with the Boardwalk Trail. This is a pretty neat thing as it explains natural sites like Weston Lake, different types of trees, and also historical sites. 

Weston Lake Trail is full of Cypress Trees

Weston Lake Loop Trail 

  • Length: 4.7 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 16ft
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Dogs Allowed: yes, must be kept on a leash.

Another great hike in Congaree. The Weston Loop is a trail that branches off of the Boardwalk Loop and takes you further into the bottomland forest. Follow the signs for Weston Lake and then you’ll start to head into some of the older cypress growth.

The trail continues to wind through bald cypress and Tupelo trees and begins to parallel Cedar Creek eventually taking you back to the Boardwalk trail. I would encourage you to take the Wise Lake extension which is right off the Weston Lake Loop Trail. There you will see probably the best lake view in the park.

Oakridge Trail 

  • Length: 6.3  miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 19ft 
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Dogs Allowed: yes, must be kept on a leash. 

A fairly easy hiking route that branches off the Boardwalk and Bluff trails, this trail makes a larger loop towards the southern portion of the park past the Weston trail. It is a little quieter as it takes you deeper into the forest. Making it a more popular trail for wildlife watching. This trail is best completed during the summer when water levels are lower. 

Bluff Trail is a great trail by the campgrounds

Bluff Trail 

  • Length: 2.1 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 19 ft 
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Dogs Allowed: yes, must be kept on a leash.

A short, nice trail that is nicely shaded by a canopy of loblolly pines. This trail is a good choice especially if you plan on camping in Congaree as it passes by both of the campgrounds in the park. Also, it makes a great alternative hike during times of high-water flow due to this hike being on a slightly higher elevation. 

Kingsnake Trail takes you deep in Congaree National Park

Kingsnake Trail 

  • Length: 7.8 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 22 ft 
  • Route Type: out and back
  • Dogs Allowed: yes, must be kept on a leash.

Rated as a difficult hike by the park this trail is also the longest going for 12 miles round trip, out and back trail. The trail is somewhat narrow, but it goes a little deeper in the forest leading to some of the most remote parts of the park. It’s a great trail for birdwatching and intersects with the Weston Lake or the Oakridge giving options to add on.

Make sure to check in with the visitor center to see if this trail has been closed. Doing the full out and back frankly can make this trail a little boring. If you have other people with you I recommend leaving a car at the other end or taking a shuttle back so you can just go one way for 6 miles.

General Greene Tree is Congaree’s largest Cypress tree

Bates Ferry Trail to General Greene Tree 

  • Length: 2.3 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 6 ft 
  • Route Type: Out & Back 
  • Dogs Allowed: yes, must be kept on a leash.

The Bates Ferry trail is located in the eastern and older section of the park. You’ll take a 19th century colonial road that was once the route to a ferry across the river. This hike can be a little wet but overall, pretty manageable. I would talk to one of the rangers at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center for conditions and bring water resistant boots or shoes.

If you do this hike in the summer, it should be drier. When doing this trail, I recommend making a pit stop to the General Green Tree to make it worth your while. The General Greene Tree is the largest bald cypress tree with a whopping 30ft circumference. It is said to possibly be hundreds of years old! 

Tips for Hiking in Congaree National Park 

Leave No Trace: Don’t forget to follow the principles of leaving no trace. Remember to pack out what you pack in this way so we can keep these places beautiful for the next generations. 

Plan Ahead: Always check the national park website and weather forecast. This helps you prepare for any weather changes or trail closures. That way there aren’t any surprises along the way.

Hike at Off Times: Thankfully for the most part crowds are not too big of an issue at Congaree. Though the Spring and Summer definitely pick up. I recommend hiking at those slightly off times to avoid too much traffic and when temperatures are a little cooler. 

Brush up on Basic First Aid: Be sure to re-stock any supplies you have used in your first aid kit. Also, be sure to revisit things in your first aid kit that you may need and also items that you haven’t used and don’t think you’ll need. The best first aid kit is one that is tailored to your needs. 

Know Trail Etiquette: Don’t forget to brush up on hiking etiquette. In general, always try to give hikers going uphill the right of way, stay on the trail, and just be a decent person to others. You’d be surprised by how many people fail to do this. It is probably one of the most important things as it makes everyone’s experiences better. 

Bring a Map: With the rise of many hiking phone apps, it can be highly tempting to forego a paper map. Do not do it though! Always bring a paper map. Although, for the most part technology is pretty reliable, there are times when batteries fail, or just plain bad luck happens. It is always better to have a backpack plan when these things happen. Also, be sure you know how to read a topographic map!

Cell service: The service is pretty spotty. The best service is by the visitor center and near the beginning and end of the Boardwalk loop. I highly recommend downloading the trail details prior to arriving and bringing a physical park map. I use All Trails Pro to download all of my hiking maps so I can navigate without cell service. 

Pets: Yes, pets are actually allowed in Congaree National Park as longs as they are kept on a leash. Be sure to bring poop bags with you and make sure to pack out what you pack in. Too many people take the time to put their pets waste in a bag but, then leave it on the ground.

Bring Water: Always bring plenty of water. It can get a bit humid in Congaree National Park especially during the Summertime. I recommend bringing at least a 1-3L hydration bladder with you in a light pack or daypack depending on how much hiking you are planning on doing.

Sun Hat and Sunscreen: Congaree is pretty shady, and you may not need any sunscreen depending on if you are someone who burns easily. A sun hat still isn’t a bad idea to provide some coverage around your face and neck.

Bug net or Bug spray: Depending on when you go you might absolutely want some bug spray. Congaree National Park can have a good number of mosquitoes in the summertime due to the amount of water in and around the park. If you happen to forget the park store sells bug spray as well. 

Be sure to pack the essentials on your next hike

Gear You Need for Hiking in Congaree National Park 

What you pack will depend on the season you go to. But in general, I would start with the following: 

Hiking Daypack: I recommend bringing a hiking backpack with you for many reasons. A hiking backpack will allow you to bring enough water. It will allow you to use your hands for photos and carry supplies. 

10 Essentials: I generally start with the 10 essentials and build from there. These essentials cover the basics for first aid, sunscreen, Headlamps and more. It’s a system created in case of emergencies.

Hiking Layers: When getting ready to dress for Congaree the one thing I highly recommend is to wear layers this way if you get hot or cold you can take a layer off or put one on. 

Base Layer: Depending on when you go. You will either need a long sleeve, or t-shirt base layer. If going on the summer start with moisture-wicking underwear and a synthetic or wool t-shirt or long sleeve shirt. Start with a long sleeve if you are going during colder months. 

Middle Layer: For a middle layer if you’re going in the summer, I recommend a loose bug shirt or button down made with nylon or polyester for additional protection against bugs. If you’re going in the cooler months a fleece or puffy coat will work well. For bottoms a light breathable pair of hiking pants or shorts should keep you comfortable all day.

Outer layers: Bring rain gear if the forecast looks wet or at least have a poncho which you can get at the park store. Be sure to check the forecast to plan ahead and make sure. 

Socks for hiking: Opt for a breathable pair of socks. I recommend a merino wool blend because they last long and keep your feet from becoming a “swamp”. There are a lot of awesome socks for hikers out there. 

Hiking boots, shoes, or hiking sandals: To complete the best hikes in Congaree National Park you want to make sure you have good footwear. Most of the trails in the park are fairly soft with a mix of boardwalk. You could really wear either hiking boots, shoes, or sandals. They all should be fine. During our visit to Congaree National Park, we wore boots because we wanted more foot protection from the elements. 

For hiking boots, my favorites are these Columbia Newtons or Salomon. Hiking or trail shoes are a great alternative. For hiking sandals, we really like our Chacos Z/1, they are a bit sturdier compared to other hiking sandals.

The green entrance to Congaree

Best Time to Visit Congaree National Park

There are different advantages and disadvantages to the time you go to Congaree. To experience the best hikes in Congaree National Park you will probably want to go late spring or early fall. This is because those are the times when water levels are lower, less bugs are around, and crowds are usually fewer.  

Spring: This is one of the best times to go to Congaree. The temperatures are mild, bugs are not too bad yet, and the water levels are down trending. 

Summer: This time of the year isn’t really the best. There are more crowds, hotter temperatures, and a lot more mosquitoes. The one bonus is that the water levels are usually very low compared to winter and most of the trails should be cleared.

Fall: Similar to Spring, temperatures are fair, and the water levels are still down. Though towards late fall water levels are up trending. The bugs in crowds are not as bad. 

Winter: Probably the worst time to go to Congaree due to flooding. During the winter there are less bugs and people. But the trails tend not to be very accessible and limited to pending floods. 

Transportation for Congaree National Park 

Overall, transportation is fairly easy to get to Congaree National Park. The closest biggest city to the park is Columbia which makes it easier to set up vehicles and other accommodations. Such as lodging and dining. 

How to Get There

The closest airport is the Columbia Metropolitan Airport which is about 30 minutes from the park. Charleston International Airport is about 2 hours away from Congaree National Park. The closest airport is the Columbia Metropolitan Airport which is about 30 minutes from the park. Charleston International Airport is about 2 hours away from Congaree National Park. 

How to Get Around

The best way to get around is by vehicle using either your own or a rental. There are plenty of great online sources for rental cars and if you’re wanting to rent a RV or camper van check out Outdoorsy for a good selection. 

Camping In Congaree National Park 

If camping is not your thing. Then you are still in luck as Columbia is only about 30 minutes away. Columbia is the capital of South Carolina and offers quite a bit to do when it comes to hotels, other lodging, and restaurants.

However, for people wanting to camp in Congaree you have two main options near the park entrance. Longleaf and Bluff campground, both of these campgrounds are primitive tent sites. There is also backcountry camping available in the park with a wilderness permit you will have to apply for on the NPS site. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best trail at Congaree National Park? The best trail we performed in Congaree is the Boardwalk Loop Trail. It is in the heart of the trail and provides multiple options as it connects to many other trails in the park. It is the most accessible trail in the park.

What not to miss in Congaree National Park? We highly recommend completing the Boardwalk Loop and Weston loop trails. Stopping to see Wise Lake and the General Greene Tree on the Bates Ferry trail. 

Is Congaree National Park worth visiting? Congaree is worth visiting and experiencing its unique beauty. To experience the highlights of the park you do not need more than a day.

Are there alligators at Congaree National Park? Yes, alligators can be found in Congaree National Park. But they tend to be a little more uncommon compared to many other reptiles in the park. 

Quick Summary of Best Hikes in Congaree National Park 

  1. Boardwalk Loop Trail 
  2. Weston Loop Trail 
  3. Oakridge Trail 
  4. Bluff Trail
  5. Kingsnake Trail
  6. Bates Ferry Trail to General Greene Tree

Final Thoughts

If you’re thinking about checking out Congaree, use this list to check out the best hikes in Congaree National Park. If you do one thing, be sure to check out the Boardwalk loop during your visit and many other hikes on this list. Feel free to leave a comment or question down below. If you think someone might like this, be sure to share it!

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