Congaree National Park photos (Columbia free outdoor fun for the whole family)

Visit the Congaree National Park, world renown natural wonder, rich in history and biodiversity the entire family can enjoy year around for FREE! Half an hour drive from Columbia, the swamp park is the world’s tallest deciduous forest and the country’s largest and few remaining old-growth floodplain forests. It features splendid cathedral like canopies, an amazing wildlife and miles of hiking, canoeing, camping and fishing along the mysterious Congaree river.

Well that’s a family friendly travel destination worth shouting about!

Read more about it on my previous Congaree National Park family visit post.

Happy outdoor family vacationing in beautiful South Carolina!


Congaree National Park: a natural wonder near Columbia (free things to do with kids)

Congaree National Park is the largest and few remaining bottom land hardwood forest in North America. A short drive from Columbia the swamp park (more exactly a floodplain forest) stretches over 11,000 acres along the Congaree and Santee rivers. Congaree National Park

With its serene cathedral like canopy it is the world’s tallest deciduous forest, with trees reaching up to 170 feet (as high as a 17 stories sky-Congaree National Park grand Loblolly pine treescraper!); it is taller than famous forests in Japan, Himalaya and Europe.

This natural wonder still looks as it did more than 500 hundreds years ago when early Europeans – like Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto – came to South Carolina looking for gold, silver, precious stones and natural resources.

Congaree National Park cypress kneesThe Congaree Indians camped, fished and hunted along the Congaree river more than 13,000 years ago. They believed the swamp was “filled with ghosts”. Congaree means “dragged the bottom of the boats”, an accurate description of the swamp’s appearance most of the year.
During the Revolutionary War, the Congaree swamp gave refuge to Francis Marion and his patriots companions (hence his nickname: The Swamp Fox), as they repeatedly harassed and sabotaged the British troops.

For its incredible biodiversity and historic importance the Congaree National Park has been designated a Natural National Landmark, an International Biosphere Reserve and Globally Important Bird area. Scientists and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world come year around to visit and study this natural wonder.

Tips to know before you go
At the Congaree park you can enjoy all the usual outdoor activities: camping, fishing, canoeing, biking, walking and bird watching.
Congaree National Park boardwalk trailBe mindful of the perennial bugs and mesquitoes so wear long sleeves shirts and plenty of repellant. If you plan to walk the 2.4 miles self-guided boardwalk that loops around the Visitor center make sure to carry some water; there is no drinking water along the trail (you can fill up at the Visitor center). The boardwalk is suitable for strollers, bring these along to avoid some drama later on. Congaree National Park Weston Lake stop

There are about 20 stops along the trail and many have benches you can rest on. Those more adventurous canoeing along the river bring food and supplies to last 2-3 extra hours beyond your originally planned time travel. Note that Congaree National Park offers FREE ranger guided canoe tours every other Sunday.

Attractions along the boardwalk trail

Congaree National Park Dorovan Muck mudThe famous Dorovan Muck, the Congaree swamp’s dark mud is essential for breaking down pollutants into harmless ingredients.
Congaree National Park hollow tree with bats
Hollow trees that house thousands of evening bats, which can consume up to 600 mesquitoes an hour. The swamp is home to 6 different bats varieties.

Eerie looking Congaree swampA remnant of lucrative bootlegging enterprise…national champions the grand Loblolly pine trees…frightnening lightning marks on many trees…eerie and alien looking (as one might expect in this ancient forest) swamp…Paw-Paw and cabbage dwarf palmetto trees…and plenty of wildlife, in particular birds. See some great photos I took last weekend in this Congaree family fun slideshow.

If you like spending time in the swamp you will definitely enjoy visiting the “Black Water Swamp” at Cypress Gardens north of Charleston (exit 199 on I-26). It is mosquitoes free!

Congaree National Park is located about 20 miles from downtown Columbia, South Carolina in the Hopkins / Gadsden community. It’s open year around except on Christmas Day and is FREE.

From Interstate 77, take Exit 5, turn off onto SC Hwy 48 East (Bluff Rd.) and follow the brown directional signs. Travel southeast fourteen miles on Bluff Rd, turn right onto Mt. View Rd. and follow it 0.8 miles. Turn right onto Old Bluff Rd. and travel 0.6 miles. At the large park entrance sign, turn left onto and proceed one mile to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. Detailed driving directions and map:

Happy family travel in beautiful South Carolina!

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Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park: unwind in the outdoors, admire wildlife, experience Columbia history and have family fun for FREE!

The Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park is the city’s secret jewel. At the confluence of 3 Rivers (Congaree, Broad and Saluda) and minutes from downtown, EdVenture and the State Museum, Riverfront Park is an oasis of outdoor relaxation, amazing history and abundant wildlife, the entire family can enjoy every day for free!

Paved walking trail along the Riverfront canalPart of the Capitol City Passage, connecting Fort Jackson to Congaree Riverfront, the park is open daily untill 9:00 PM.

With emergency call stations spread thrChildren biking by the river in Columbiaoughout the 3 miles lighted and paved trail and regularly pattrolled by park rangers, the park is very safe.

All day there are people walking, bicycling, jogging, fishing or just having a romantic picnic by the outdoor amphitheater. Romantic Picnic at Columbia Riverfront Park

Travel Tips: Bring your water or juice bottle along; there is a water fountain at the restroom near the park entrance, so you can refill there. Once you go over the bridge there is no drinking water on the trail.

Little kids can also enjoy a very nice playground across from the parking lot. There is no shade, so in the hot summer days make sure you keep them hydrated.

Historic sites you can admire along the river trail

1. The Columbia Canal, built between 1819 and 1824 was a major transportation route before the Columbia Water plant Riverfront Park entrancerailroad boom and the Civil War; home to the world’s first hydro-electrically powered textile mill (later destroyed in the war) and current municipal water plant (originally built in 1906).
Broad River bridge sight of Civil War battle in Columbia
2. The 1865 Civil War battle over Broad River bridge where Sherman’s troups prevailed and the Columbia’s mayor had to surrender the city.

3. The ruins of the state’s first prison, built in 1868 and operating until 1993. Always overcrowded some say it is still haunted by its formers “guests”.

4. The one room Little Red School House open 1867 through 1913

Little Red School House at Riverfront Park in Columbia5. The archeological site of where Native Americans used to live more than 10,000 years ago.

6. The large rounded granite boulders spread all over Congaree river; these geological wonders

Gray Blue Heron on granite boulders by geological Fall Lineare the result of North American and African tectonic plates collision and remnants of the Appalachian Mountains.

Amazing wildlife and flora

Water Snake by the canal at Riverfront Park

Over 350 birds species use the river for nesting or migrating. Among these you can spot the red-tailed hawk, the the crested cormoran, the great blue heron, and the bald eagle.Soft shelled Turtles by the River Walk in Columbia.

There are plenty of reptiles like water snakes, alligators and soft-shell turtles.
Riverfront Park also features the rare Spider Lily, unusually growing in the boulders crevaces that border the Congaree river.

Spider Lily at Riverfront Park Where:

312 Laurel StreetColumbia, SC 29201 – (803)-733-8613
Take I-126 into Columbia then exit onto Huger Street. Go south on Huger Street two blocks, then turn right onto Laurel Street. Follow Laurel Street to the main parking lot. The park entrance is right by the AT&T building.

See more breathtaking Canal and Riverfront Park photos in my slide show.