Our first overnight adventure in South Carolina was just about as spontaneous as they get. On a Friday night before a 3 day weekend (MLK weekend, to be exact!), we were discussing what we could do, and the idea was brought up that we could do an overnight in Columbia and visit a couple state parks and SC’s token National Park. Since the more mountainous regions of the state were either under snow or too cold by my standards, we decided this would be the best bet, booked a cheap hotel, and left the next morning. Hooray for the ability to go on spontaneous adventures! Life is good. 🙂
The first park on our little getaway was Congaree National Park. Is anyone else like us and a little surprised that there’s a national park placed in the very center of SC? Well, this place became a National Park in 2003, after being known as Congaree Swamp National Monument since 1976. I can only imagine that the popularity went up quite a bit when the word “swamp” was removed from the title. 😉 So yes, this park was very different than the other parks we’ve visited, hiked, and loved, but the National Park Service is doing what they do best here: protecting a unique wilderness area in our beautiful country, and providing the public with multiple forms of accessibility so that we can visit, enjoy, and learn all about the area. So, if you plan to stop and visit Congaree National Park, the first thing you should do is stop comparing it to other parks like the Grand Canyon, and enjoy this place for what it is. We tried this method and ended up really enjoying our little walk through the swamp! 🙂
So, the biggest reason we thought it’d be a good idea to visit this place in January was to avoid the heat and humidity that we’ve heard gets pretty intense…but mostly, to avoid the mosquitoes. Right as you walk through the visitor’s center, they have a big old “Mosquito Meter” on display to warn you about what the buggy situation will be like. On this beautiful, sunny day in the 50’s, the meter was a 1 on a scale of 1-6, 1 being the lowest. We walked away unscathed. I’m pretty sure something like 3 out of 4 people will contract West Nile Virus in the parking lot during the summer. Just a fair warning. Also, the alligators were currently hibernating. *sigh of relief* We really chose the ideal day to visit, which made it most enjoyable – sometimes timing is everything. Take these things into account when you plan your visit!
Top – because of a 2 inch elevation change, the grass grows in this area. Bottom – the “knees” of the Cypress tree.
Like many National Parks, this one is HUGE and takes way more time than we allotted to explore and get the most out of it. If you’re like us and you just want to go check it out and get an idea of what the park is like, they have about 2 miles of boardwalk that loops around from the visitor’s center and takes you through different scenery of the swamp. I was surprised how much the landscape changed throughout that one stroll. Along the way, there are numbers on the boardwalk that correspond to a pamphlet found at the visitor’s center, and they help to inform about the plants, trees, or other natural landmarks you come across. My personal favorite point was when the swamp very abruptly went from just water and trees to water, trees, and tall grass all around – we learned from the pamphlet that the grass was here and not there because of a 2 inch elevation change. Yes, 2 inch. (That pretty much sums up hiking in the “low country” for you – 2 inch elevation changes. Ha.) Another favorite is the Cypress “Knees” – these stump-looking things that are like roots to the cypress trees and they grow straight up into the air – but people aren’t sure why. Some guess that it’s for stability.
There are many other trails here besides the boardwalk, but we did not venture on those because they were all flooded. I do have limits on what I’m willing to hike through: I refuse to walk through the standing water of a swamp. The areas that are flooded here have been flooded since all the rain and flooding that went on down here last fall (early October 2015). That’s pretty intense – so much rain that there’s still standing water 4 months later…also hard to fathom when you’re coming from the desert! But we heard that this isn’t rare – some friends of ours have visited multiple times and told us that they’ve only been able to walk the entire boardwalk loop once. There has been flooding there every other time. Another thing we learned from the pamphlet is that the moss line on the trees shows how high the flooding gets – and the line was as high as Curtis. (6’3″, on top of standing on the boardwalk!)
We decided that if we take another trip back to Congaree, we would love to bring a kayak and enjoy the area by water. That’s been the consensus at many places we’ve visited: we feel like the best way to enjoy the low country is by water, so we’re looking into obtaining our own kayak (double-seater, like the one we paddled around Green Bay on!) We didn’t get a chance to ask about kayaking or other boating rules in the area, but we know that there’s plenty of water to do that with. Of course, we would also need to find a day with weather as pleasant as the day of our first visit! 😉
One last wonderful thing about this park is that they are DOG FRIENDLY!! Charlotte loves visiting national parks as much as we do, so we were thrilled when we learned that she could join us on our walk on the boardwalk. I’m not sure she’ll be invited if we decide to kayak here on a later date, but she thoroughly enjoyed her time walking and sniffing through the park.
And that sums up our time in Congaree National Park – the place that gave me a new understanding and appreciation for swamps. Come back later to read about part 2 of our spontaneous adventure – visiting 2 South Carolinian state parks! 🙂
To view more pictures from this adventure, visit savingtimeinabottleimages.tumblr.com!