Meet this week’s most underrated public land: Congaree National Park.
Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite are like the rock stars and supermodels of the dating world—sexy, sure, but too much drama and competition! Where are all the kind librarians, sensible accountants or strong, silent outdoorsmen and women of the National Parks world?
Until someone creates Tinder for travelers, I’ll be showcasing the sexiest National Parks you’ve never heard of. Read their profile to see if these under-the-radar spots might be your National Park soulmate.
Love canoeing, kayaking and hiking? Here’s why you should swipe right on Congaree National Park.
Age: Declared a National Park in 2003, I’m a relative newbie. However, my designation has been a long time coming. Conservationists launched a grassroots campaign in 1969.
Location: About a 30-minute drive from Columbia, South Carolina.
Size: Over 26,000 acres of federally designated wilderness.
Height: Elevation-wise, I’m not impressive. The Congaree river floodplain is pretty darn close to sea level. That said, I’m home to the national champion loblolly pine tree—towering from 167 feet overhead.
Claim to fame: Within my borders, you’ll find the largest hardwood forests left in the United States. It features some of the tallest trees in the Eastern United States. The overhead canopy is incredible if I do say so myself.
History: Known as one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare, Francis Marion (aka the Swamp Fox—best nickname ever!) used my landscape to ambush the British forces. As you can see, there’s still plenty of places to hide, but these days, I like to keep it less guerrilla-y.
Hobbies: Anything on the water. Kayaking, canoeing and fishing—if it’s on the river or creek, I am in!
Not to be presumptuous, but if you were to spend the night…: Pitch a tent. There are two excellent campgrounds. Sorry, no RV camping (I didn’t make the rules, I just enforce ‘em). If you’re really wild, you could try a little backcountry camping for absolutely free.
How I like to spend the weekend: Paddling. Whether you’re a day tripper or want to overnight in the backcountry, exploring Cedar Creek by canoe or kayak is a great way to experience the park. (see potential trips here). This waterway passes through a primeval forest which contains some of the tallest trees in eastern North America. You may even catch a glimpse of an otter, deer, turtles, and even the occasional alligator!
This is a BYOC or BYOK situation. If you don’t have one, rent one in the nearby city of Columbia. Be sure to check the water levels, weather and what to bring prior to launch. You don’t want to find yourself without a paddle—both literally and figuratively.
Favorite Season: It’s a toss-up between spring and fall. With spring comes warm (but not HOT) temps and less intense insects. During the fall, temps hit in the 70’s with low humidity. Fall colors peak between the end of October and early November, and water levels are ideal for taking a paddling trip on Cedar Creek.
Favorite quote: “As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.” — Katharine Hepburn
Best place for a Selfie: Okay, so I actually have my own version of the selfie. It’s called the footie and it’s when you snap a pic of your feet outstretched in your canoe or kayak with a water-filled vista as a backdrop. You can take these at any point on your canoeing trip, and trust me, you won’t be able to stop yourself.
Weird fact about me: Have a once-in-a-lifetime experience with me this summer! On the afternoon of Monday, August 21, visitors will experience a total solar. From August 19-21, the park will offer a series of special programs focused on the eclipse. Here’s the most up-to-date info.
Since you’re in the neighborhood… Why not spend a little time in South Carolina’s capital city, Columbia? Visit the State House, Riverbanks Zoo, and the University of South Carolina. There’s even a monument dedicated to Hootie and the Blowfish. Yep, not even kidding.
Have you been to Congaree National Park? Any not-to-miss park highlights?
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