Hiking Congaree National Park

young woman looks at swamp

As you may remember, Natalie has been on a mission to visit every US National Park. It seems to be a goal for a number of young people, mostly Instagram and TikTok sorts who are setting out to document their park treks. Natalie may share a picture or two, but largely wants to visit just for the sake of the visit.

Boardwalk Trail through the trees and swamp at Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
During good weather, the Boardwalk Trail is accessible to hikers of most abilities. It’s wide and level.

I am happy that the national parks are getting so much love from our young people. I follow some of the pictures and they are breathtaking. These parks are a tremendous national treasure, and because she is young, she will have plenty of time to explore them all.

Congaree National Park

On a recent trip through South Carolina, we were passing close enough to Congaree National Park to have a hike and cross another park off Natalie’s list. We were leaving for a cruise out of the Charleston Port and Congaree is just two hours away.

Young woman standing alongside a wooden sign that reads Congaree National Park
Natalie likes to get her picture in front of the sign at every national park she visits.

In 1976, in effort to protect the area’s national resources, Congress established the area as Congaree Swamp National Monument. The land is significant in that it is the largest, old-growth bottomland hardwood forest tract in North America. It is also important both culturally and historically, having played an important role in native American traditions, southern African American culture and during Revolutionary war history. In 2003 it was renamed Congaree National Park.

Congaree National Park: Mosquito Meter

First, let me say that Congaree is well known for its mosquitoes. And mosquitoes, to Natalie, well that’s her kryptonite. For some reason she has always attracted them. When she was growing up the joke was that you didn’t need to wear bug spray if Natalie was outside with you, they’d all gravitate to her.

A wooden sign that marks the mosquito activity at Congaree National Park.
Did you think I was kidding about the mosquito meter? This one is located in the visitor center. Bring your bug spray!

The mosquitoes are so prevalent that the visitor center features a “mosquito meter” that ranges from “all clear” to “war zone.” Thankfully, for our early spring visit, the meter was at a level 2 “mild” for our hike. Natalie got a few bites but I didn’t notice any at all.

Congaree’s Boardwalk Trail

When we arrived we had under two hours to sunset. Not knowing much about the park, we didn’t want to venture out too far and get lost as darkness fell. So we settled on the Boardwalk Trail.

A portion of boardwalk with railing cuts through the trees at Congaree National Park
Most of the Boardwalk Trail is elevated above the forest floor.

The Boardwalk Trail is a 2.6 mile easy loop trail. The boardwalk is wide and mostly level, making it the perfect path for people of all different hiking abilities.

The trail begins and ends elevated above the forest floor. Toward the middle of the hike, you’ll find yourself just inches above the water. There is no railing on this portion of the trail, so keep a close eye on children.

The scenery is other-worldly and nothing like you would see in Ohio. Cypress tree knees jut out of the water, which seems to go on forever. Since it was early spring, the trees were just beginning to bud and in places there were patches of yellow wildflowers.

On the left a boardwalk winds through the trees. On the right, yellow wildflowers.
The trees were just beginning to bud, being early March, and yellow wildflowers were starting to pop up.

Congaree is a multi-use park. In addition to hiking, you can participate in paddle sports like canoeing or hiking. You can also try your hand at fishing if you have a South Carolina fishing license. And lastly, campers are welcome and there is no fee for back-country camping permits. If you choose to camp, I’d advise you to stock up on bug spray!

Synchronous Fireflies

Congaree is notable for its annual synchronous fireflies viewing event. Synchronous fireflies exist in few parts of the world and provide a magical viewing experience. The lighting is part of the mating ritual and the fireflies (or lightening bugs if you’re from Ohio), emit five to eight flashes of light ever few seconds.

The Visitor Center at Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
You can learn a lot about the park by visiting the Visitor Center. Your children or grandchildren can participate in the Jr Ranger Program.

At Congaree the synchronous fireflies are viewable during a two-week period, usually between mid-May and mid-June. In order to protect the firefly habitat, they do have a lottery for the limited number of viewing spots. This phenomenon also occurs at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To learn more about the synchronous fireflies and to see a video, click through to firefly, an educational and research site.

Know Before You Go

If you’ll be in the area, you’ll definitely want to plan a visit to Congaree National Park. The area is beautiful and it’s just a few hours outside of Charleston. Because there is a lot of water, be sure to keep a good eye on little ones. And plan ahead by packing both sunscreen and bug spray. As always, you’ll want to pay special attention to any ranger notifications. Particularly in this park, you’ll want to watch for any notice of flooded trails.

Green tropical plants populate a forest floor.
Plant life is certainly different in South Carolina. I don’t think we’re in Ohio anymore!


Because Charleston is the closest metropolitan area to the park, I will give a quick recommendation for dinner. We eat local when we can and we were hungry for barbeque. Home Team BBQ is a chain restaurant with all but one of it’s restaurants in the Charleston area.

The outside and patio area of Home Team BBQ in South Carolina
We ate delicious barbecue at Home Team BBQ in the Charleston area.

They brought us generous portions of pulled pork, brisket and ribs. We all choose different sides from mac-and-cheese, to coleslaw and cucumber-tomato salad. All were delicious. Each platter was served with a roll, house pickles, pickled onions and a pork rind. It was filling and delicious, just the right thing after working up an appetite. Amanda was surprised that they offered Gatorade in cans, something she’d never seen.

Pulled pork, a roll, coleslaw and macaroni and cheese served on a rectangular tin tray.
I love barbecue so Home Team really hit the spot! Those pickled onions were delicious!


Thanks for joining us at FindingOhio. While we’re all about touring the Buckeye State, we are happy to bring you some of our wider travels as well. If you’re looking for an Ohio trip, check out the day trips section. And if you’re looking for more far-flung adventures, click through to travels.

A low lying portion of the Boardwalk Trail at Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
We were told this low boardwalk through the swamp does flood occasionally. Apparently, hikers are still able to walk on the boardwalk through the water.

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