I have always been a fan of visiting the National Parks with the goal of trying to see as many as I can in my travels. Did you know there are 59 National Parks in the United States? The two states with the most parks are California and Alaska with eight each. Although I would like to see every one, I doubt I will make it to all, especially the parks in Alaska! Some of them are quite remote and hard to get to. I have now seen about half of the parks and will do my best to see the majority of them in the years to come.
Until last year, I had never heard of Congaree National Park in South Carolina. I was following the videos of a young couple traveling full time and they posted one of their visit to Congaree. I made a mental note to check it out when we started full time traveling and reached South Carolina. National Parks are not as plentiful out east as they are in the west, so it was a bit of a thrill to find one in the southeast. Congaree protects the largest remnant of old growth floodplain hardwood forest in the United States.
There used to be a lot of this old growth forest in the southeast stretching from the Carolinas to Texas, but now 99% is gone, lost to logging, farming and development. Thanks to the preservation efforts of a journalist, Harry Hampton in the 1950’s as well as other environmentalists, legislation was passed to preserve this floodplain forest. In 1976 Congaree became a National Monument and then upgraded to National Park status in 2003.
Unlike most National Parks and Monuments, there is no charge to visit Congaree. The park has a nice visitor center with exhibits and a film that we watched. We then headed out to do some exploring. The park has a variety of trails with the most popular the beautiful 2.5 mile boardwalk loop which we really enjoyed walking. Some parts of it are elevated but most of the boardwalk is closer to ground level. The Congaree and Wateree Rivers cause flooding in this forest certain times of the year bringing in fresh nutrients important for the growth and health of the forest. During those times, the boardwalk is often covered with water making walking difficult or impossible. We were fortunate to have no flooding when we visited.
The park is known for having what they consider “champion trees” – the largest of their kind in the state or even in the U.S. Some of these champions include the Loblolly Pine (the tallest tree in South Carolina), Pawpaw and Sweetgum. Other trees that can be found here are Cypress, Tupelo and Beech. Many of the trees still had that bare winter look when we visited on March 26 and were just starting to leaf out. I have seen pictures of Congaree when the leaves are all out and the trees on the boardwalk trail looked so full and green. The film that we watched in the visitor center showed an aerial view of Congaree looking like a lush, green jungle. In the picture above, a tall Loblolly Pine next to the boardwalk reaches for the sky.
I never tire of seeing the Bald Cypress in their swampy habitat – one of my favorite trees. In our travels through the south, we have seen a lot of Cypress and their “knees” which are the small nobby looking protrusions that rise up from the roots of the tree. This forest though had the most knees we have seen. It is believed the knees provide the tree with extra structural support during floods and high winds. Bald Cypress can live to be over 1,000 years old and are rot and water resistant so were logged extensively in the late 1800’s. There are few old growth Cypress trees left today. Above is a picture showing many knees. Below a picture of a black water Cypress and Tupelo swamp.
After our walk I noticed the mosquito meter sign outside of the visitor center and found it amusing. The meter shows an “all clear” the day that we visited but mosquitoes can be a big problem here during the warmer months. We were fortunate to see not even one, but I would hate to be here when the meter reads “ruthless” or “war zone.” Congaree does have a bug display that is greatly welcomed each year. Around the middle of May synchronized fireflies appear in the park for a few weeks. This becomes the most visited event at Congaree with lots of people viewing the fireflies at night lighting up all at once. I would love to see this spectacle. I have yet to see any fireflies in action, but hopefully some time during our trip.
We had a delightful visit at Congaree hanging out with the many trees – a National Park I am glad to add to my list. What about you all, do you have any favorite National Parks or ones you are most hoping to see in the near future? It is great to hear from you!
Thanks for checking in and Happy Easter! In the next blog I plan to go back a few months to our trip to Pensacola, Florida.