Congaree National Park
Just a half-hour outside of the state’s capital, Congaree National Park is the only national park in South Carolina. Some of the tallest trees on the east coast are located inside Congaree, which was named after the Native American tribe that used to reside there. Unlike many hardwood forests, Congaree was largely spared by the lumber industry in the late 1800s and was eventually designated as a national monument and then a national park thanks to the work of preservationists. The terrain includes the forest, the Congaree River, and the swampy floodplain.
The weather in this part of South Carolina can be hot and humid throughout the year. With average highs in the 70s, springtime is one of the park’s most popular times for visitors. In the summertime, temperatures can reach up into the 90s with regular thunderstorms and an average monthly rainfall of 4.5 inches. The rain continues into the fall season, but temperatures typically dip back down into the 70s with noticeably less humidity. Winters tend to be mild, with daily highs in the 50s, although snow does occasionally fall in the park. Winter is also the season that Congaree is most likely to flood, which makes it the slowest season for visitors.
The largest city closest to the park is Columbia, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, museums, and other attractions. Congaree is also close to charming suburbs like St. Matthews and old ghost towns like Kingville and Lone Star, which make for a great day trip or afternoon visit.
If you’re looking for events inside the park, National Park Service rangers coordinate a number of educational hikes and tours throughout the year. Learn more about owls and other nocturnal animals at the Owl Prowl, or take a wilderness canoe tour through the forest to learn more about the park’s flora and fauna. The Audubon Society also leads a birdwatching tour on the second Sunday of every month.
Where To Stay
Congaree National Park has two campgrounds, although both are meant for tent camping only. Tent campers can also get a permit for backcountry camping, where you can choose a campsite of your liking nearly anywhere in the park.
If you’ll be camping in an RV, there are a few nearby state parks that have hookups for campers and trailers. Or you may opt to stay at one of the area’s many private RV campgrounds, which tend to have more amenities like laundry facilities and pools.
RV Rentals Near Congaree National Park
Nearby RV Rentals
Hit the Trails
With trails that are generally flat, hiking at Congaree National Park is great for visitors of all skill levels. Each of the park’s 10 trails start at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and range in length from 0.3 miles all the way to 11.7 miles. Here’s a list to help you choose a few must-do hikes:
Distance: 0.3 miles one way
Terrain: A short trail that leads to the Longleaf Campground
Distance: 0.6 miles
Terrain: This trail runs beside Bates Old River and into the Fork Swamp section of the park
Distance: 1.7 miles round trip
Terrain: This hike through a pine forest leads north of the visitor center
Distance: 2.2 miles round trip
Terrain: Follow an old ferry road to the river banks
Distance: 2.4 miles round trip
Terrain: This wheelchair-accessible boardwalk trail includes views of multiple tree species
Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Terrain: This old gravel road crosses the boardwalk and comes across an old hunting club
Weston Lake Loop
Distance: 4.4 miles round trip
Terrain: A hike along Cedar Creek is great for spotting otters and birds
Distance: 7 miles round trip
Terrain: This trail through the forest provides glimpses at local wildlife, such as deer and wild turkeys
Distance: 10.4 miles round trip
Terrain: A hike leading to the Congaree River
Distance: 11.7 miles round trip
Terrain: This trail near Cedar Creek is a favorite of birdwatchers
What to Do
Now that you’ve hit the trails and explored everything Congaree National Park has to offer, what’s there to do outside of the park? This charming part of South Carolina is only 30 minutes from the state’s capital city of Columbia, giving you plenty of access to great restaurants, shopping, museums, and other sightseeing opportunities. Looking for some suggestions? Here are a few of our favorite things to do around Congaree National Park.
Columbia and the surrounding area has thousands of restaurants to choose from. Whether you prefer Southern-style cooking, Carolina barbeque, or organic vegan fare, there’s an option for everyone, so bring your appetite!
Type: Low Country
Type: Seafood and Steak
Type: Pizza and Italian
Checking out the local shops is a great way to get to know the area. With options for book lovers, fashionistas, and music fans, Columbia has plenty of interesting stores to choose from.
This family-owned outdoor store stocks all the brands you love, from Patagonia to The North Face to Chaco.
Channel your inner surfer with men’s or women’s gear from this Columbia board shop.
This affordably priced boutique has clothing, handbags, and jewelry in all of the latest trends.
South Carolinians love to support this locally owned, family-run bookstore, which has been around since 1975.
This home boutique is great for finding unique gifts, accessories, jewelry, and home furnishings.
For bike repairs, gear, or accessories, check out this cycle shop at the Market Place Shopping Center.
For more than three decades, Papa Jazz has been the go-to spot for local vinyl junkies.
Since rainfall is a normal part of life in South Carolina from spring to fall, it never hurts to keep a few museums in mind for a rainy day. Luckily, Columbia has some of the southeast’s best museums for art and history, plus a great children’s museum to boot.
Kids rave about this interactive museum with exhibits on aerospace, animals, and the human body.
This dynamic art museum includes traveling pieces by many famous artists, including Claude Monet, Dale Chihuly, and Jackson Pollack.
This huge museum along the Congaree River has four floors of exhibits on art, science, and history. There’s also a 4D theater that screens movies such as Ice Age throughout the week.
Brush up on your military history and trivia at this museum honoring the state’s soldiers and the National Guard.
This historic home, owned by one of Columbia’s most prominent African-American families, traces African-American history from the mid-1800s into the civil rights era.
Congaree National Park isn’t all that South Carolina has to offer in terms of nature and wildlife. The greater Columbia area is also home to state parks, national forests, and even its own zoo.
Come see more than 2,000 animals and a lush botanical garden at this 170-acre site.
It may be hard to spell, but Sesquicentennial State Park is a favorite place for locals to camp, fish, and kayak.
If you love to be out on the water, check out this state park offering swimming, boating, fishing, and scuba diving.
How to Get There
With its convenient location just outside of Columbia, Congaree National Park is fairly easy to access. Most travelers coming to the park choose to arrive by car, RV, or plane.
If you plan on arriving by car, the National Park Service advises against using GPS apps or devices, which have a tendency to send drivers in the wrong direction. From the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, you’ll want to get on I-26 East and then take exit 116 to get on I-77 heading toward Charlotte. Finally, you’ll get off at exit 5 to merge onto SC-48 East for 8 miles before taking a slight right onto Old Bluff Road. After 4.5 more miles, you’ll reach the park entrance sign.
For more detailed instructions on how to drive to the park from Charleston, Charlotte, Spartanburg, or Augusta, Georgia, check out the National Park Service’s website.
If you’ll be flying in, the Columbia Metropolitan Airport is the fastest, easiest way to get to Congaree. The midsized airport is serviced by American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines and has several car rental companies where you can pick up a vehicle for your trip. From the airport, Congaree National Park is just 30 minutes away. Another major airport is, of course, the Charlotte Douglass International Airport, which is serviced by Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Lufthansa, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and ViaAir. As the sixth busiest airport in the world, Charlotte offers more than 700 flights per day. From CLT, the drive to Congaree National Park takes roughly two hours.
You may also decide to travel to Congaree by RV. Renting an RV allows you to skip the hotel reservations and bring along all the comforts of home while still experiencing the natural beauty of the outdoors. Whether you plan on renting an RV near Columbia or finding an RV close to home and then driving it to South Carolina, there are plenty of RV rentals available across the country for less than $100 per day. Depending on your needs and the size of your travel group, you can look at large motorhomes, smaller campers, or even a tiny pop-up trailer to tow behind your vehicle.
As a reminder, there are no RV hookups at the campgrounds at Congaree National Park, but you can always camp out at one of the nearby state campgrounds or a private RV park in the area.View RV Rentals
Entering the Park
Unlike many other national parks, getting into Congaree National Park is completely free. That’s right -- there’s no charge to enter the park or participate in ranger-led programs. Simply show up and you’ll be welcomed in.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to Congaree National Park and we wish you a great trip! Here at RVshare, we love working with people like you who are passionate about travel, nature, and the outdoors. Whether you visit South Carolina in an RVshare rental or simply want to share your national park experience with other travelers, email us your vacation photos at [email protected] or tag us on social media for a chance to be featured on our blog or social media channels.