top of page

Best Time to Visit Congaree National Park and What to Do

Welcome to Congaree National Park, a hidden gem nestled in the heart of South Carolina. As one of the smallest and least visited national parks in North America, Congaree offers a unique opportunity to explore an old-growth bottomland hardwood forest rich with biodiversity and natural beauty. In this travel guide, we will explore the best time of year to visit this enchanting park and discover the must-see attractions and activities it has to offer.

When to Visit


A close-up view of a field of yellow flowers with a clear blue sky in the background.

In Early Spring (March and April), the park bursts into full bloom, offering a captivating display of nature's renewal. It is an excellent time for kayaking or canoeing on Cedar Creek and embarking on serene hikes along trails like the Kingsnake Trail, where the forest comes alive with the sights and sounds of spring.

During spring, expect warmer temperatures and more consistent humidity, though still milder compared to the sweltering summer months. March and early April boast beautiful daytime temperatures (highs of 70's and lows of 40's), ideal for outdoor exploration, before gradually becoming warmer and uncomfortable by late May (with highs in the 80's).

One of the highlights of late spring is the annual synchronous firefly mating season, occurring for a week or two between mid-May and mid-June. Thousands of fireflies illuminate the pine forest in a mesmerizing display of synchronized light, creating a magical spectacle that draws visitors from near and far. Due to its popularity, there is now a lottery system in place to secure passes for the Firefly trail.


A close-up of a red maple leaf hanging on a tree branch in autumn.

Fall in Congaree National Park beckons with its tranquil beauty and mild temperatures, offering a perfect retreat for nature enthusiasts. As September arrives, temperatures range from 64 to 85°F, providing an excellent opportunity for spotting migratory birds and embarking on scenic hikes along trails like the Congaree River Trail. October brings cooler temperatures, ranging from 52 to 76°F, inviting visitors to explore the changing floodplain forest and soak in the park's serene ambiance.

For those captivated by autumn's charm, early November promises a spectacular display of fall colors at their brightest. With temperatures in the 60s and 70s during the day, late fall is an ideal time for hiking and basking in the golden hues of the park's foliage. As an added bonus, crowds begin to thin out during this time, allowing for a more intimate experience amidst the park's natural wonders.

As fall unfolds, lower humidity and the driest season of the year create optimal conditions for outdoor activities. With average monthly precipitation around three inches, water levels become ideal for paddling or kayaking on Cedar Creek and exploring the park's water-based trails, offering a unique perspective of Congaree's breathtaking landscape.

Winter Months

A frozen soap bubble sits on a cold winter ground.

Winter in Congaree National Park offers a tranquil escape, with mild temperatures hovering around the 50s during the day, providing a welcome respite from harsher climates in the North and Midwest.

The park's elevated boardwalk trails remain accessible year-round, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the breathtaking beauty of the old-growth forest without the concern of snow or ice. It is an ideal time for a peaceful hike or a leisurely stroll away from the crowds during the rest of the year.

However, it is crucial to be aware of the challenges presented by winter flooding. Although navigating the park's waterways is typically straightforward in other seasons, winter introduces unpredictable flood stage conditions that may submerge trails and make navigation more challenging, particularly in late winter.

Even some lower-level boardwalks may be affected, requiring caution and careful planning for those venturing into the park during the winter months, which stretch from late November to early March. Despite these challenges, with proper preparation and awareness, winter can still be a rewarding time to explore the natural wonders of Congaree National Park!

Summer Months

A field of tall grass swaying in the golden light of a sunset, with a line of trees silhouetted against the colorful sky.

Summer in Congaree National Park offers plenty of outdoor activities and experiences for adventurous visitors. Despite the hot and humid conditions, it is an excellent time to explore the park's shaded trails and cool off by paddling along the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail or the Congaree River. 

Additionally, visitors can enjoy nighttime hikes, attend nature programs, and explore the park's backcountry, immersing themselves in the lush green canopy and rich ecosystem.

However, it is essential to be prepared for the challenges that come with summer in Congaree. With temperatures soaring to highs of 90°F and a heat index of 100°F due to the high humidity, staying hydrated and taking precautions against the heat is crucial. Summer marks the park's busiest season, with frequent pop-up thunderstorms and an average rainfall of 4.5 inches per month. 

Bugs, ticks, and mosquitoes are prevalent, necessitating the use of bug repellent. While the shade of the old-growth forest provides some relief, it is best to visit the park early in the morning to avoid crowds and the hottest temperatures, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Summary of When to Visit

A curved asphalt road winds through a dense green forest. A white speed limit sign with the number 25 is on the right side of the road.

In summary, the optimal times to visit Congaree National Park are during the Fall and Spring seasons. Fall offers tranquil beauty and mild temperatures, perfect for hiking and enjoying the changing colors of the forest. Spring bursts with new life, providing opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, and exploring the park's vibrant ecosystem. 

On the other hand, winter offers a serene escape with mild temperatures and fewer crowds, but visitors should remain cautious of winter flooding. Meanwhile, summer, despite its hot and humid conditions, presents various outdoor activities, although visitors should prepare for high temperatures, frequent thunderstorms, and insect activity.

Ultimately, the best time to visit depends on personal preferences, whether it is enjoying fall foliage, witnessing spring blooms, exploring winter solitude, or embracing summer adventures.

What to Do

Hiking Trails

A lady hiking in the woods with a backpack

Congaree National Park boasts an array of hiking trails suitable for all abilities, showcasing the park's diverse landscapes and rich biodiversity. Among the must-see trails is the Boardwalk Loop Trail, a 2.6-mile loop through the old-growth forest, where visitors can admire the towering loblolly pines, bald cypress trees, and champion trees some of the tallest trees on the East Coast.

Additionally, the Weston Lake Loop Trail meanders 4.5 miles along Cedar Creek, offering picturesque views of Weston Lake and Wise Lake. For a shorter hike with stunning viewpoints, explore the Bluff Trail's 2.0-mile loop, accessible from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center parking lot.

Lastly, the 1.1-mile-long Sims Trail provides an alternative route to longer hikes and can even shorten the Boardwalk Loop Trail for those seeking a shorter adventure.

Canoe Trail

A green Mad River Explorer 16" canoe rests on a calm lake, next to a gray rock in the middle of the lake. There are trees in the distance. Text on the side of the canoe reads "Mad River Explorer 16".

Embark on a self-guided canoe tour along the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, which winds approximately 15 miles through the heart of Congaree's wilderness, leading adventurers to the Congaree River. As you paddle through the park's pristine waterways, surrounded by towering bald cypress and tupelo trees, be on the lookout for native wildlife such as feral pigs, deer, turtles, river otters, and various bird species. 

Park your vehicle at the visitor center and set off on foot or by boat to fully experience the beauty and biodiversity of this unique ecosystem - most of its floodplain terrain is inaccessible by car.

Visitors Center

Begin your exploration of Congaree National Park at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, your gateway to discovering the park's rich history, ecology, and conservation initiatives. Browse through informative exhibits and engage with knowledgeable park rangers who can offer invaluable advice and suggestions for your adventure. 

Do not forget to pick up brochures and maps detailing trail information to plan your route. As the trailhead for most routes, the visitor center serves as the perfect starting point for your journey into the heart of this remarkable park.

Ranger-led Programs

A U.S. Park Ranger vehicle with the text "LAW ENFORCEMENT" and "U.S. PARK RANGER" on the side is parked in a parking lot next to a forest.

Congaree National Park offers an array of ranger-led programs to enhance visitors' understanding of the park's diverse ecosystems and cultural heritage. Explore the unique upland pine forest on a guided hike with a ranger, delving into the intricacies of pine ecosystems and the role of fire as a natural phenomenon. 

Additionally, experience the therapeutic benefits of yoga amidst the towering loblolly pine trees during the Forest Wellness - Yoga in the Park program, led by a certified instructor and volunteers. Join volunteer park naturalists for a Nature Discovery Walk along the boardwalk trail, uncovering the fascinating flora and fauna that inhabit Congaree National Park. 

For a deeper connection with nature, participate in the Spring Forest Wellness Journaling program led by Cassie Premo Steele, featuring a meditative walk and journaling workshop to cultivate mindfulness and appreciation for this special ecosystem. Ensure to explore one of the ranger-led programs at Congaree National Park to enrich your visit - these are only offered on select dates.

Be A Junior Ranger

A forest of tall cypress trees with knobby knees sticking out of the murky water in a swamp.

Encourage your kids to become Congaree National Park Junior Rangers! Pick up an activity book and delve into discovering what makes this place extraordinary. Junior Ranger booklets are available during visitor center hours or can be downloaded for printing at home.

Once completed, mail the booklet to Congaree National Park Interpretation Staff, 100 National Park Road, Hopkins, SC 29061, to receive the official Congaree Junior Ranger badge. Join in protecting and cherishing this special park for generations to come!

Campgrounds and Backcountry Camping

A blue pop-up tent and a green hammock with straps secured around a tree trunk rest in a grassy field.

Experience the tranquility of the wilderness at Congaree National Park by camping at one of its designated campgrounds or venturing into the backcountry. Longleaf Campground, located near the park entrance road, offers ten individual and four group camping sites, each equipped with fire rings and picnic tables. 

Alternatively, explore the remote beauty of Bluff Campground, situated along the Bluff Trail about a mile from Longleaf Campground. Accessible only by foot, Bluff Campground provides six individual campsites nestled amidst nature. 

For those seeking a more adventurous experience, backcountry camping offers a chance to immerse yourself in the park's wilderness. Obtain a free permit by emailing at least 72 hours before your trip.

While there are no designated campsites in the backcountry, campers can choose a suitable place, as long as they remain 100 feet away from Cedar Creek, Tom's Creek, Bates Old River, and Wise Lake.

Tips for Visitors

A guy sitting on a boardwalk posing for a picture with a backpack to the side at the Congaree National Park

- Check the water levels before your visit, especially if you plan to hike or canoe along the river trails.

- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing suitable for outdoor activities, and do not forget to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

- Consider visiting during off-peak hours or on weekdays to avoid crowds and enjoy a more peaceful experience.

- Support the park by paying the entrance fee, which helps fund conservation efforts and maintain park facilities.

- Respect wildlife and stay on designated trails to minimize impact on the fragile ecosystem.

- Observe the Leave No Trace principles and ensure that you carry out all trash, equipment, and personal belongings upon concluding your visit.

- The closest airport is the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in Columbia, SC, about 30 minutes away. However, there are two other major airports about 2 hours away: Charleston International Airport in Charleston, South Carolina, and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Happy Exploring!

Trees in Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park is one of the best national parks worth visiting in the Southeastern United States. Offering a diverse range of experiences year-round, from the vibrant blooms of spring to the tranquil beauty of fall, the serene escape of winter, and the adventurous spirit of summer, Congaree promises unforgettable adventures for visitors of all ages.

With its rich biodiversity, captivating landscapes, and an array of activities, including hiking, paddling, ranger-led programs, and camping, the park invites exploration and discovery. So pack your bags, embark on an unforgettable journey, and immerse yourself in the wonders of Congaree National Park.

Have you visited Congaree National Park in South Carolina? Let me know in the comments below! Share this article with the person or people you want to go on your next adventure with! Also, be sure to SUBSCRIBE below to learn about other places you should add to your "To Visit" List! Ready? Okay, vamos. Time to have fun!

Related Articles:

A few of the homes in Rainbow Row

11 Best Weekend Getaways from Charleston, South Carolina - Looking for a weekend getaway near Charleston, South Carolina? Well, you are in the right place! Check this blog for the 11 best places!

Peaks of the Grand Canyon in Arizona from the South Rim with the Colorado River in the back center

Visiting the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park - Thinking of visiting the Grand Canyon in Arizona? Check out this blog post for all the necessary information to prepare you for your visit!

Red convertible Mustang driving through Bryce Canyon City, UT, USA

Las Vegas and Grand Canyon to Zion National Park - The ultimate itinerary from Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, NV to Zion National Park in Utah while visiting the Grand Canyon!

Did you enjoy and find this blog post helpful?

If yes, subscribe at the end of this page to "Join the Fun 🥳" and receive our weekly newsletter so you do not miss out on a blog post!

You can also show your support and rep Dale, Let's Travel! by purchasing our 3x3 inch glossy sticker for $5! Free shipping within the United States. Are you interested in purchasing a sticker or two? Email us at with the subject line "DLT! Sticker" or "Blog Sticker," we can finalize your payment method and grab your mailing address there! Thank you for supporting my small business! 😊

Illustration of the Dale, Let's Travel! Sticker
Illustration of the Dale, Let's Travel! Sticker

*This article is not sponsored by Congaree National Park, the National Park Service, or their affiliates.*

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page