Sunday Hikes: Boardwalk Loop & Weston Lake Loop

The most popular trail in Congaree National Park is the Boardwalk Loop Trail. It is 2.4 miles and is completely on boardwalks above the park’s floodplains. It features a self guided tour with twenty-something stops along the way pointing out the park’s many unique nature and history. Connected to the Boardwalk Loop is the Weston Lake Loop, a 4.4 mile loop that takes you off the boardwalk and through the forests.

The Boardwalk trail starts at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. The first number for the self guided tour comes up quickly on the right and talks about the 100 year old American Beech tree growing close to the boardwalk.

Here the boardwalk is elevated 5ish feet above the floodplain floor but soon drops down to maybe a foot high.

There are benches along the way to sit on and enjoy the forest around you in case you need a break.

After passing the second marker of the tour (that discusses muck) it will take a minute before you reach number three. Along the way you start to see small roots poking straight up from the mud, they grow larger some reaching four feet tall and then you will reach number three.

These roots jutting up from the ground are “knees”. Growing from the Bald Cypress Tree that fills this part of the forest the knees fill the forest floor. It isn’t known what the knees are for but is believed to be for extra structural support for the trees.

The boardwalk reaches a fork maybe a quarter mile from the knees with the boardwalk continuing left and the Weston Lake Loop to the right. We went on the Weston Lake Loop which takes you as far as the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail and goes along a small creek before cutting back and finally reaching Weston Lake before meeting back up with the Boardwalk Loop.

Weston Lake is very small and the best view is actually from the boardwalk. The main draws for the Weston Lake Loops are that nobody typically leaves the boardwalk so you will have solitude along the trail as well as some of the parks largest trees can be found here.

If you choose to do the Weston Lake Loop you will skip a good chunk of the boardwalks markers and will pick back up around 18 I think. I recommend doing the entirety of the Boardwalk Loop because it is very interesting and educational! On the Weston Lake Loop, we passed some very interesting markers including an old silo from prohibition days as well as a bit of forest ripped up by a hurricane. The boardwalk finishes back up at the visitor center where you can look through the small museum or watch the video about the park!

I really enjoy the Boardwalk trail and have done it a couple times now. the Weston Lake Loop was a nice addition and I got to see more of the park! Congaree is a very easy day trip for many southeast cities and has a lot more than just hiking if you have a canoe or kayak!


Camping: Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park near Columbia, South Carolina is one of the newest of the 59 US National Parks (The only newer ones are Pinnacles and Great Sand Dunes). The park has two campgrounds with only 20 campsites (including group camping) between the two. The first campground, Longleaf Campground, is located maybe half a mile past the park entrance. Here you can park in a gravel parking lot and have a short walk between 10-50 feet to your site depending on which one you choose. This campground does not have running water (But you can get water from the nearby visitor center 24/7), and vault toilets. Each site also has a picnic table and a fire ring. There are plenty of fallen tree limbs in the area to make a nice fire too! This campground rarely fills up but the sites are so few and close together that even if half the campground is full you will no doubt have close by neighbors. The Longleaf Campground will run you $10.

Our fire at the Longleaf Campground

The second campground, the Bluff Campground, is located in the park’s wilderness and can only be reached by a 1 mile hike from the Longleaf Campground or the Visitors Center. Here there are six campsites spread out on the edges of a large grassy circle in the forest.

Each site has a fire ring and a picnic table but once again no running water and this time not even a vault toilet! There is a trail that circles the campground and if you walk along that picking up all the sticks you see then you will have more than enough fuel for your fire!

Despite sacrificing the convenience of a toilet and a nearby vehicle here you only have to pay $5 for your stay and will most likely be alone. Of the two I prefer the Bluff Campground due to its remoteness compared to the Longleaf. Both are very nice though and either one you choose I am sure you will be happy with it. Just be sure to bring bug spray if you are visiting in the summertime.

Our tent at the Bluff Campground

Pictures from the hike to the Bluff Campground

Thanks! – Josh

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park is one of the newest US National Parks, established in South Carolina in 2003. It protects one of the largest tracts old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. The park also contains one of the largest concentrations of champion trees (big, old, native trees) in the country. I visited the park in late September on my way home from a road trip to Canada and New York. The main feature in the park is a self-guided boardwalk tour that takes you through the park and allows you to learn about the environment and it’s history all without getting muddy. You can also canoe and kayak and there is decent amount of backcountry to explore. Camping is very inexpensive at $10 for the Longleaf campground or $5 for the Bluff campground that you have to hike to a little bit. The campgrounds are nice having been built fairly recently. Also being one of the least visited national parks you will have the park mostly to yourself if you go in the off season. I think Congaree is a great place to take the family and relax in a unique part of nature. Also don’t forget to bring bugspray, where some places have a fire danger meter, Congaree has a mosquito density meter. Thanks for reading! – Josh



The Best Bargain in Travel

The best bargain in travel is the United States National Park Pass.   The cost is negligible really.   We purchased an annual family Interagency National Park Pass last June for $80.   If you are a senior, it is only $10 for a lifetime pass and the US Military get in free always.


Having the National Park Pass gets you into all National Parks, Monuments, and Federal Recreation sites at no additional cost with no limitations on visits.   Before I had the National Park Pass I had been to 6 National Parks in 43 years.   Since June, I have been to 9 National Parks with 7 of them new.   In addition, my adult children have used the pass to visit 3 other National Parks and between all of us have scheduled trips this winter and spring to at least 7 more.   The National Parks are spread all over the country so while some of our trips have been based around the Parks, others have been because we have been in the area.   Work trip to New Hampshire, then drive up to Acadia in Maine.   Weekend getaway to Seattle, lets squeeze in Mt Ranier etc.

The United States National Park system represents all that is great about America.   To quote writer and historian, Wallace Stegner, national parks are “the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”   The National Park system preserves the most beautiful, special, and culturally important places in our country.   To visit them widens your view of the world and fills you with awe to the beauty created by God.


Parks visited so far this year by our family include Acadia NP, Congaree NP, Cuyahoga NP, Zion NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Capitol Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Canyon NP, Saguaro NP, Mt Ranier NP, Olympic NP, Shenandoah NP, and the Great Smoky Mountains NP.    Scheduled trips over the next six months include Joshua Tree NP, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NP, Badlands NP, Big Bend NP, Guadalupe NP, and Carlsbad Caverns NP.   I’m sure we will sneak in a few more as well!