Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Best trails to see Congaree NP’s wonders

Lower Boardwalk, part of the Boardwalk Loop. Photo courtesy of
Congaree NPS.
Among the best ways to see Congaree National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just four short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – old growth forests, the world’s largest loblolly tree, rare birds, and swamp-loving wildlife.

Old growth forests
Congaree marks the United States’ largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest and because of that is home to six national- and 23 state-champion trees. You can enjoy some of those trees on the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop, which heads beneath the high canopy of a primeval bald cypress and a water tupelo forest in “Redwood East.”

World’s tallest loblolly pine
The park boasts the tallest (169 feet or about 17 stories) and largest (42 cubic meters) loblolly pine alive today. That pine can be seen just off the Weston Lake Loop Trail, which runs 4.6-miles roundtrip from the visitor center.

Rare birds
Designated an internationally Globally Important Bird Area, Congaree is home to such rare birds as the prothonotary warbler and the swallow-tailed kite, and offers one of the nation’s most diverse (eight species) and densest concentrations of woodpeckers. A number of the birds can be spotted by taking a short segment of the 11.1-mile King Snake Trail.

Swamp wildlife
A variety of animals – including alligators, armadillos, bobcats, coyotes, deer, feral pigs, river otters, snakes, turkeys and turtles – can be found in Congaree. The safer mammal species usually can be spotted on the 0.7-mile Bluff Trail, which crosses small rise at a floodplain’s edge.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.