The soaring trees of Congaree National Park are some of the tallest in the eastern part of the country; together they make up one of the highest forest canopies in the whole world. Types of trees run the gamut from cedar to cypress to pine; there are 75 species in all. The most commonly encountered trees and shrubs are tupelo, laurel oak, ironwood, American holly, loblolly pine, cherrybark oak, paw paw, water oak and bald cypress.
Among the forest, there are four national champion trees (largest of their species), including the impressive loblolly pine at a soaring 167 feet. These aren't the only tall trees in the park; many are over 140 feet and have 3 to 4 foot trunk diameters. Sadly, some of the largest trees were felled by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
The park draws recreational visitors in the form of boaters, hikers, anglers, and campers. While the park has several well-developed trails, the canoe is the vehicle of choice for those who want to see Congaree's pristine heart; administration has marked several canoe trails that vary in length and difficulty. Cedar Creek is the body of water of choice here, as there is no vehicle access to Congaree River.
Beyond the numerous recreational opportunities, many visitors come to the park to try to catch a fleeting glimpse of Congaree's abundant wildlife, highlighted by about 175 bird species. On that long list are eight woodpecker species perfectly adapted to this dense forest, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
The park's mammal checklist includes such creatures as river otters, mule deer, opossums, bobcats, flying squirrel, and wild boar. There are 19 snake varieties, including the cottonmouth, copperhead, canebrake rattlesnake, and coral snake, which are poisonous. Visitors may encounter any of 10 kinds of salamander, 19 frog and toad species, 8 turtle varieties, and 5 types of lizard.
Whether travelers are hiking, canoeing, or following a ranger-led owl prowl or tree trek, they should take a moment to check the Mosquito Meter before they head out. Ratings range from All Clear up to War Zone, and visitors will want to apply their bug spray accordingly.
Congaree National Park Photo Opportunities
The floodplains of Congaree National Park are inhabited by a profusion of wildlife that plant and animal lovers alike can spend hours viewing. Here are some suggestions for capturing the park's highlights on film:
- Low Boardwalk: Follow the Low Boardwalk for a fascinating journey through a primeval bald cypress and water tupelo forest. Mysterious cypress knees abound, and their unusual gnarled formations provide fodder for the imagination -- as well as interesting photos. Although no one is certain what purpose the knees serve, there is speculation that they help aerate the roots of the cypress trees.
- Oakridge Trail: This four-hour moderate trail traverses a rich stretch of old-growth forest, including an abundance of large oak trees. Hikers will encounter several small creeks, called "guts," that carry floodwaters in and out of the park.
- King Snake Trail: A wildlife enthusiast's path, the King Snake Trail passes through a remote section of Congaree. Giant cherrybark oaks grow on the second half of the 11-mile trail, and animal tracks are on display where deer and raccoon have passed by. Bird watchers should keep their binoculars out, too, in case a Swainson's warbler flits overhead.
The floodplains of the Congaree National Park region once stretched from the East Coast all the way to the eastern border of Texas. On the next page, we'll examine the events that transformed the terrain, eradicating most of the bottomland forest outside of Congaree National Park.