Picture of the Day: Congaree National Park

I stopped in Congaree National Park in South Carolina yesterday to see the effects of the government shutdown. Other than the visitor center and bathrooms being closed, everything else seemed normal. The recent rains had flooded it out, covering the boardwalk in places and overflowing Weston Lake. rk

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



Ten for Tuesday – Charleston, SC

Charleston, South Carolina is a beautiful and romantic city.  To me, it is the most European city in the United States.   It is known for culture, history and southern charm.   It’s is known as a foodie destination as well.   For today’s Ten for Tuesday I am giving you ten things you have to know and do when planning a visit to Charleston SC.

  1. Where to stay – The historic district of Charleston is known for being very pricey. It’s for good reason.   Charleston is a walking city.   To get the full experience, you need to stay where the action is.   One of my favorites is Kings Courtyard Inn on King Street.   I’ve  stayed at probably 20 different places downtown over the years though and always had a good experience. Other great places include the Harborview Inn, Charleston Place, and the Mills House.   If you are a points guy, the Hilton Doubletree and Marriott Renaissance are cool spots in great locations. If you are on a budget and can’t afford the easy $200+ nightly rates downtown, then stay at one of the chain hotels in Mount Pleasant near the bridge. It is a doable walk into town and an inexpensive Uber trip back at the end of the day. Plus the view from the walkway on the bridge is amazing.  http://www.kingscourtyardinn.com/.
  2. Where to eat — You would need to stay about a month to make a dent in all the great places to eat.   May I suggest a few favorites:   Caviar and Bananas for a quick breakfast to fuel you up, a blue plate of lowcountry favorites from Jestines Kitchen for lunch, local seafood in a cool building at The Ordinary for dinner. Get some Black Tap for coffee and longtime city favorite Kaminsky’s for dessert.   Of course, there are dozens more great places like standby Hymans, Hanks Seafood, Husk………
  3. Tours – I’m not normally a big fan of taking tours.   I usually prefer to just wander around and look for mischief to get into.   Having said that, as a first time visitor you do need to do the carriage tours that leaves from the Market.   I haven’t tried it, but I’ve also heard the ghost tours are pretty cool as well.
  4. Shopping – I just mentioned the Market. As the largest open air market in the United States, it is a must see.   Don’t forget to look through all the antique shops on King Street. These aren’t the typical antique shops full of junk.   Most everything is from England and very old and expensive.
  5. Angel Oak – This isn’t downtown, it’s a massive 400+ year old oak tree over on Johns Island.   www.angeloaktree.com (I mean a tree with a website—wow!).   This pairs really well with….
  6. Wadmalaw Island – I like to make a day trip over to eat BBQ at Bessingers on Hwy 17S, see Angel Oak and then tour the winery/distillery and tea plantations on Wadmalaw Island. All very cool.   www.charlestonteaplantation.com.   www.deepwatervineyard.com.
  7. Plantations – The plantations are another great day trip.   There are several of them and they all have gorgeous gardens and huge mansions.   I like the history and my wife likes the plants.   Win! Win!   http://www.charlestoncvb.com/plan-your-trip/tours-attractions~204/plantations-gardens~1149/
  8. Bar Hopping – Charleston has a bunch of great bars.   When watching the big game I always end up at the Kickin Chicken.   Buffalo Chicken Dip, friendly bartenders, lots of TV’s.   I enjoy the view from rooftop Pavilion Bar as well.   There are literally hundreds of bars here and more opening every day.   I would recommend scouting out during your daily adventures and then bar hopping at night.
  9. Charleston Art Walk – This is one of those things that is hard to find on the internet.   I literally stumbled into it a few times. It’s usually on the 3rd Thursday of the month.   Basically art galleries all over town open up and have mini cocktail parties that you can just cruise through, check out the art, grab a glass of wine, some cheese and off to the next one.   It is amazing how many participate and how many art galleries there are that you just don’t notice during the day. Best of all, it is all free (except for the art of course).
  10. Architecture – Charleston was founded in 1670 and the architecture is as varied here as anywhere in the United States.   I love the single houses, old churches, rod iron gates, and majestic mansions.   And fountains, did I mention hundreds of fountains!Be sure to spend an afternoon just wandering around exploring the cobblestone streets and old neighborhoods.   The Provost Dungeon is at the end of Broad Street just down from the Four Corners of the Law.   Check out the history and architecture here for sure.

Now, I know I’ve left off a bunch of things that many folks consider “must do’s.  Going to the Battery, Fort Sumter, Patriots Point, the Aquarium etc……..   I know, I know!   I self limited myself to ten and if you are a Charleston fanatic, don’t worry.   As you know, once you visit Charleston you are sure to come back to see (and eat) more.