You can paddle the Congaree River with a canoe – or hike along it. The 10,700 hectare national park is an area shaped by flooding and fire. You can experience both here: the unique old hardwood floodplain forests that are home to numerous champion trees and one of the most species-rich forests in the nation as well as highland pine tree forests where fire plays a key role in their health and survival.
Wetlands, oxbow lakes, ponds, marshes and slow-flowing creeks cover the region, providing a home to fish, amphibians, other water animals, swamp cypresses and water tupelo trees. In many areas, gentle inclines create a number of different eco-systems that sustain all sorts of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds and insects as well as huge ancient oak trees and massive loblolly pines. We head off to the south on the boardwalk and soon enter a magnificent wetland landscape filled with real swamp cypresses that rise more than 42 metres into the air, have a circumference of 10.5 metres and are more than 1,000 years old.
The Weston Lake Loop leads us to the pond of the same name where turtles, copperhead snakes and alligators make their homes. We then head off on the southeastern section of the Oak Ridge Trail. It leads us to the River Trail and ultimately to the Congaree River itself. If you decide to take the long routes in the Congaree, you can expect to run into flooded areas, toppled trees and windthrow. On the way back, we pass by black vultures in green swamps illuminated by soft rays of evening sunlight. Twenty-one kilometres later, we are back at the starting point of the biosphere reserve, one of South Carolina’s true gems.