This weekend, I organized a trip to Congaree National Park, outside of Columbia, South Carolina. Our group consisted of 25 Carolina Mountain Club members from North and South Carolina.
It seems that everything at Congaree is a scramble. You can’t reserve campsites so several of us went down very early on Friday to grab three sites which would hold eight people each. We were lucky and got sites in the After Hours campground, where the parking area was only maybe a hundred feet away. With the other campground, you have to walk in almost a mile. They were primitive sites, with no water and only two outhouses for potentially 64 people.
Friday, we hiked on the boardwalk and down to the Oakridge Trail. Congaree is a floodplain forest and the signature trees are the bald cypress with its characteristic knees – small, rounded pieces of the tree that is though to stabilize the tree and give air to submerged roots. The hike was flat and we made really good time, almost 2.7 miles an hour, even though we stopped for everything. It was all new to us mountain hikers.
That evening, the group went on an owl prowl with Ranger Fran, a 29-year veteran who was very entertaining. We didn’t see owls but learned about the ecosystem as we toured on the boardwalk.
Saturday, some of us went canoeing while others walked on the River Trail loop. The trail took us down to the Congaree River. On this hike, we wildlife was amazing – snakes including the rough green snake, shown to the left, two barred owls and even three feral baby hogs. I have hiked in the Smokies for years without evey seeing a hog and here they ran right in front of my eyes.
The group had a pot luck dinner on Friday evening at the picnic shelter – another facility we couldn’t reserve. We heard from Dr. Bob Janiskee, a retired USC professor who worked on turning the Monument into a national park.
By Saturday evening, we were ready to go out. Cooking without running water is not fun.
Congaree is not close to any town. The closest restaurant was off of I-77, about 30 minutes from the park. We wen to Lizard’s Thicket, a cheap meat and three vegetable place. For less than seven dollars, we had a good meal.
Sunday, Lenny and I and others finally got to go canoeing on Cedar Creek. The park offers canoes and a guided trip to 18 lucky guests – lucky if they win the telephone scramble two weeks before. The park opens up reservations at 8:30 A.M. and 15 minutes later, the spots are gone. But I was able to grab three – Lenny, me and Sawako, a CMC member who sat in the middle. Sawako took the picture of Cedar Creek, above because by that time, my camera battery had died.
The poison ivy in the park is as lush as the rest of the vegetation. We came home and washed and scrubbed everything. I expect to break out in the next couple of days. A great place, even if you have to scramble for every facility.