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Congaree National Park (via canoe)



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Congaree National Park Canoe Voyage:

This weekend I decided to take my family to Congaree National Park, which is about 25 miles outside of Columbia, SC, where we live. Despite its relatively close proximity to our home, we have only been there one other time, and pretty much nobody we know have every been there. It’s kind of like people living in Orlando who never go to Disneyworld I suppose?

At any rate, it’s a great place to check out if you’re ever in the area, one of those little gems that nobody really pays much attention to. For that matter, it’s the only National Park in the country that has absolutely no entry fee, so there’s no reason not to visit. If you like epic swamps with towering Bald Cypress trees and tons of gnarly wildlife, this place is for you. If you don’t like mosquitoes, don’t go in the summer months though. They actually have a mosquito meter when you enter the visitor center and the highest reading is a 6, which is entitled “war zone”. Enough said.

So, get a load of this: We had planned on hiking this 2.8 mile boardwalk trail which is basically a way for old ladies and twinky pirates to experience backcountry swamp hiking without blowing a gasket or needing a medical evac. Well, as it turns out, I just casually inquired about any cancellations to the ranger led (free) canoe tour of one of the best canoe trail routes in the park. This tour is usually booked out for 6 months, but as it turned out they had just gotten a cancellation not 5 minutes before I walked up, and so it was mine! If I had been 2 minutes later, someone else would have gotten it. On top of that, the rangers said that this was the 100% best weekend of the year because the leaves were peaking, and it had frosted the night before which zapped all the bugs. Freaking awesome! So, we followed the ranger in a car convoy down to the put in area where they outfitted us with a 3 seat canoe and all the gear. The weather was perfect and soon we were on Cedar Creek for about a 6 mile up and back trip through the heart of the beautiful swamplands of the Congaree. We got briefed on water moccasin’s and alligators (which incidentally prefer the banks of the Congaree river over the comparatively shady inner swamp that we were on), and shoved off. There were about 17 or so people in our group, of varying skill levels ranging from absolutely clueless to decently able to handle themselves in a boat. The creek itself was running pretty low, but still totally navigable. You just had to be able to navigate around stumps and various submerged obstacles.

If you’re into bird watching and plant, uh, studying, then Congaree is the place for you. All kinds of warblers, and woodpeckers, and ferns, and all kinds of other crap like that. If you’re looking for rapids, action, adventure, and the like; you will likely be disappointed (especially if you do the ranger tour). I did see one guy with his family who looked like they were more my speed. They were all 4 packed in one canoe with dry bags and everything, and they were doing a multi-night camping canoe trek through the park which would totally rock and is a must do. Must do I say! Seriously, the beauty of this place is breathtaking, especially with the fall foliage. Best of all, nobody is there! So we paddled up a few miles and got out of our boats and stretched, pee’d and went back. But alas, there was some excitement! There was this middle aged couple who fit the description of the aforementioned “twinky pirates”. Well, we had barely got underway for the return trip when all of a sudden I heard this huge “splash”. I turned around to see them both absolutely panic stricken trying to right themselves in the water and clutching for the sides of their upside down canoe which promptly floated away. The guy found a log which he was clutching for dear life in freezing cold mud and his wife was rolling around like a gator was rolling her before taking her down for lunch. I hastened over there to help because it was clear that the ranger (who was a young lady), and the volunteer weren’t going to be able to get these two to shore. After about a 30 minute process, we finally managed to get them both in and get their canoe dumped out and get them mounted back up. They were so embarrassed, but they really were able to laugh about it after they realized that they weren’t going to die. I tried to comfort them by telling them that I’ve had the same thing happen to me, and that it’s not “if” but “when” if you’re a paddler. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that most people do it in a rapid, not in completely calm water. Thankfully, nobody had any fun with them by yelling “gator” while they were languishing in the swamp water for nearly 20 minutes. The remainder of the trip was uneventful, but my 5 year old daughter had the awesome experience of being able to paddle with us and just seeing her have such a blast made the whole trip worthwhile. She was totally bushed when we got back to pull the canoes out, and I just had to include the picture I took of her where she had fallen asleep (standing up) leaning on a tree. Priceless.

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Congaree National Park (via canoe)
Congaree National Park (via canoe)
Congaree National Park (via canoe)


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Editor reviews

Congaree National Park (via canoe) 2011-11-16 16:44:25 Craig Patton
Overall rating 
Fun Factor 
Safety Rating 
Big Nuts Tilt 
Reviewed by Craig Patton    November 16, 2011
Last updated: February 18, 2012
Top 10 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews

Congaree National Park

Gotta try it at least once!


Good Points
Great Scenery in an unusual place
Bad Points
Sometimes it can have others there on your guided trip if you're not into that
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