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Congaree National Park Itinerary: Best Hikes + Where to Stay

Congaree National Park Itinerary | Alpacka My Bags

In the heart of South Carolina is the last remaining bottomland hardwood forest in the USA. Moss sways from above, alligators slumber in their watery home, deer frolic through the woods. Welcome to the underrated Congaree National Park. 


South Carolina might not be the first state to come to mind when thinking of scenic hiking locations, but Congaree National Park boasts some of the best natural beauty along the east coast.


Plan your visit to this underrated US national park, explore the trails, camp in the woods, or kayak in Cedar Creek with this Congaree National Park itinerary. This is a natural beauty in South Carolina you don’t want to miss. 


In this article...



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About Congaree National Park


Congaree is located 30 minutes outside of Columbia and about 2 hours outside of Charleston, South Carolina. You will need a car to visit this park. There are no shuttles, and you’ll have the ability to see more of South Carolina if you have a car. 


The closest international airports to Congaree National Park are Charleston International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport, both about a 2 hour drive away.


Location: Central South Carolina

Entrance Fee: Free

Size: 26,000+ acres

Biome: Bottomland hardwood forest

Wildlife: River otters, wild pigs, deer, foxes, alligators + more

Dog-Friendly: Yes



Sun rays through the trees - Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park Weather


Summer | June through August


  • Temperatures reach the 90s and can go over 100°F

  • Rainiest season in Congaree


Fall | September through November


  • Temperatures are mostly in the high 70s, but can reach over 80°F

  • Best season to visit


Winter | December through February


  • Temperatures vary between the high 50s to 30°F


Spring | March through May


  • Temperatures are generally between the 50s and 70s (°F)

  • Great alternative season to visit


Where to Stay When Visiting Congaree National Park


Park visitors can camp in one of the two front country campgrounds (established sites) or in the backcountry (not established sites). All campsites are tent or hammock only and are hike-in.


Longleaf Campground has a parking lot, but you still must walk to your campsite. Bluff Campground guests must park by either the Harry Hampton Visitor Center or Longleaf Campground and hike about 1 mile to the campground. 


You must make reservations in advance for any camping in Congaree National Park.


Rooftop Tent - Congaree National Park Camping

There are no RV or trailer campsites available in Congaree National Park, however, there are several nearby state parks that offer RV sites. I can recommend Santee State Park; I camped in my rooftop tent here while visiting Congaree. Read more about camping in South Carolina


Congaree visitors can also stay in a nearby hotel. Columbia is about a 30 minute drive from the park and offers hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. It’s a great base if you don’t wish to camp. Below are the best hotels near Congaree National Park. 


1 | Graduate Hotel Columbia, SC



Unique Hotel in Columbia

33 Minute Drive to Congaree

Highly Rated Restaurant on site

Price Range: $161 nightly average

Pets Allowed



2 | Courtyard by Marriott Columbia Cayce



Breakfast Included or Available

24 Minute Drive to Congaree

Bar & Restaurant on site

Price Range: $349 nightly average

Pets Allowed



3 | Quality Inn West Columbia - Cayce



Great Budget Hotel Option

26 Minute Drive to Congaree

Breakfast Included (fuel for hiking!)

Price Range: $93 nightly average

Pets Not Allowed



Congaree National Park Itinerary


Hike in the Morning + Evening


Ferns - Best Hikes Congaree National Park

Hiking is one of the best ways to explore Congaree National Park. There are several trails spread around the park. I recommend starting your hikes early in the morning if possible.


Head to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center first to hit the Boardwalk Loop Trail, a must-see in Congaree. This trail is accessible and offers visitors some of the best views in the park.


If you only have time for one hike while visiting the national park, make sure you check out the Boardwalk Loop Trail. 


Some of the trails are quite short, so if you want to fit in a kayaking tour in the middle of the day, you’ll still have time to check off another trail in the evening as well.


Read more about the best hikes Congaree National Park has to offer below.



Congaree National Park Kayaking


Park visitors can also admire the park from the water; rent a kayak or canoe in Congaree National Park and head to the river. 


You can bring your own equipment if you’re already a pro kayaker, or you can rent equipment from local outfitters. 


If you’re visiting for the first time or you’re new to kayaking, I recommend booking a fully guided kayak tour of Cedar Creek (which runs through Congaree National Park) with Palmetto Outdoor . 


Palmetto Outdoor is a Columbia company that offers guided tours in Congaree. They meet you at the park and bring all required equipment so you don’t have to worry!


Just dress for the possibility of getting wet, hop in your kayak, and experience Congaree from the water with a knowledgeable guide.


Currently, the tours are offered 7 days a week and begin at 11 am. Reservations are required



Columbia for Dinner


If you’re staying in the area overnight, I recommend grabbing dinner in Columbia, South Carolina. It’s only a 30 minute drive from the park and there are plenty of dining options.


Columbia is a good base if you wish to stay in a hotel while visiting Congaree National Park. You can find nice hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, and more while not exploring the park. 



Columbia Restaurant Recommendations:



Best Hikes: Congaree National Park


Congaree is small, but it’s still a gorgeous park to explore. Start by hitting the trails! Remember plenty of water and hiking boots. Enjoy the best hikes Congaree National Park has to offer. 


1 | Boardwalk Loop Trail


Length: 2.3 miles / 3.7 km

Type: Loop

Difficulty: Easy and Accessible

Avg. Time: 40 minutes


Boardwalk Loop Trail - Best Hikes Congaree National Park

You can’t visit Congaree National Park without hiking the Boardwalk Loop Trail. Stroll along the accessible boardwalk and keep an eye out for wildlife. You can often see wild pigs, deer, and a plethora of birds.


This is a great accessible option for everyone; bring the stroller so your kids stay comfortable or admire the natural beauty of Congaree from a wheelchair. 


2 | Weston Lake Loop Trail


Length: 4.7 miles / 7.6 km

Type: Loop

Difficulty: Easy

Avg. Time: 1 hour 20 minutes


Weston Lake Loop Trail - Best Hikes Congaree National Park

The Weston Lake Loop Trail is great for those who want to hike more. You start on the Boardwalk Loop Trail and continue off the boardwalk when you get to the T about 1 mile in. 


You will still see the beautiful scenery offered on the Boardwalk trail, but also get to walk along Weston Lake. You will likely see lots of wildlife on this trail as well. Once you pass the boardwalk section, it becomes much more rugged (but not too difficult).


3 | Bluff Trail


Length: 2.1 miles / 3.4 km

Type: Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Avg. Time: 40 minutes


Bluff Trail - Best Hikes Congaree National Park

Bluff Trail is a great trail to tack onto the Boardwalk Loop Trail or Weston Lake Loop Trail. Hikers can start at Longleaf campground (a bonus if you’re camping here). Follow the Longleaf Trail until you reach Bluff Trail.


You can also start at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. Once you go through the visitor center area, get on the Firefly Trail. You can go left or right, either is fine. The Firefly Trail leads right into Bluff Trail. 


You can also access Bluff Trail from Bluff Campground. If you’re hiking from the visitor center or Bluff Campground, you can skip the short walk to Longleaf Campground (it’s not part of the loop unless you start there).



Congaree National Park Itinerary FAQ


Is Congaree National Park worth visiting?

Congaree National Park is worth visiting if you’re already planning a trip to South Carolina and plan to see more of the state.


While the park is very scenic and offers hiking and kayaking, it is small and you only need one to two days to explore it. It’s worth visiting if you’re going on a South Carolina road trip, but not if you plan on only visiting the national park.


How much time should you spend at Congaree National Park?

Plan to spend one to two days exploring Congaree National Park. It is one of the smallest national parks in the US so you can hike the best trails in a day easily. 


If you want to camp here, plan on arriving in the morning on your first day, checking out some of the trails, camping the night, and possibly going on a kayaking tour the next day before heading out. 


What not to miss in Congaree National Park?

Don’t miss the Boardwalk Loop Trail when visiting Congaree National Park. It does get busier as it’s the most popular trail, but with good reason. 


This trail offers the best views in the park and the chance to admire local wildlife. Keep an eye out for river otters and wild pigs! And remember to keep your distance, they’re called wild animals for a reason.


What is the best time of year to visit Congaree National Park?

The best time to visit Congaree National Park is fall, September through October. The weather is cool enough to hike all day, but it’s not as rainy as spring.


I do recommend bringing a rain jacket no matter what season you visit as South Carolina can be pretty rainy. 




Congaree National Park Itinerary


Now you know how to plan your trip to this underrated South Carolina nature gem! Explore the hiking trails and admire the natural beauty of the park. Or book a guided kayaking tour and enjoy the park from the water!


Remember to leave no trace and keep your distance from any wildlife you see. If you hike early in the morning, you’ll likely see some animals like wild pigs, deer, or otters. 


Pack for varying weather conditions, remember to bring plenty of water, and hit the trails. Enjoy the best hikes Congaree National Park has to offer, kayaking in Cedar Creek, and the urban amenities of Columbia, South Carolina.


I highly recommend visiting Charleston as well if you have a car and the time to do so! There’s lots to see in this historic city, and it’s only about two hours from Congaree National Park.


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aboutME

Hi, I'm Georgina, adventure enthusiast and creator of Alpacka My Bags. I'm here for all of your travel and adventure planning needs! 

 

I've been exploring this beautiful planet since I was a child, so I decided it was time to share my travel tips with others to enjoy. After college, I knew the "traditional career path" was not for me.

 

I needed to travel and explore what this world has to offer. It sounds cliché but you do only live once. So I made going on adventures a priority, and soon realized that I wanted to share them with others so you can enjoy them too! 

My passion is spreading the travel bug and showing others that travel is attainable and so worth it. From itineraries to camping tips to packing lists, Alpacka My Bags has you covered!

Join me, and often my partner and my dog, as we find exciting adventures and travel recommendations for you! If you've been bit by the travel bug just as I have, I hope you find my tips useful for all of your future travels.

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