The United States Congress designated the Congaree National Park Wilderness (map
) in 1988 and it now has a total of 21,700 acres
All of this wilderness is located in South Carolina
and is managed by the National Park Service.
The Congaree National Park Wilderness, which makes up the majority of Congaree National Park, protects an unsurpassed old-growth bottomland hardwood forest that escaped the saws and axes of the post-Civil War South. The Congaree River, Wateree River, and several tributaries periodically flood the area, bringing rich silt that encourages tree growth. And do the trees of Congaree ever grow! Approximately 90 species attain heights and girths found nowhere else in the state. You'll find bald cypress with circumferences of 27.5 feet and extensive root systems that rise above the water in "knees" that can reach as high as 7.5 feet. Loblolly pines, rarely associated with hardwood floodplains, have stood here for about 300 years, soaring to record-breaking altitudes of 169 feet.
Sweet gums are the most ubiquitous trees, along with swamp chestnut oaks, laurel oaks, green ash, hickories, elms, sugarberries, and sycamores. Poison ivy and wild grapevines climb the tree trunks to disappear into the high forest canopy. Most of these floodplain trees have shallow roots, and their great cathedral heights often cause them to topple, sometimes leaving a hole in the canopy up to a half acre wide. In these deadfall openings, brambles quickly grow, and forest succession begins again. Standing dead trees in the floodplain offer homes to seven species of Southeastern woodpeckers, three species of owls, and nine species of bats, and countless invertebrates.
Through this floodplain forest flows slow-moving Cedar Creek, a blackwater creek that drops only 20 feet in 16 linear miles. The Wilderness is relatively flat with elevations only ranging from about 100 to 200 feet above sea level. A marked 20-mile canoe trail on the Outstanding National Resource Waters of Cedar Creek provides a unique way to experience and enjoy Congaree National Park. The Congaree River forms the southern boundary of the Wilderness. Over 25 miles of this lazy, looping river provide another canoe route, now part of the Congaree River Blue Trail, a 50-mile designated recreational paddling trail extending from the state capital of Columbia downstream to Congaree National Park. More than 20 miles of hiking trails provide access to the northwestern portion of the floodplain forests within Congaree National Park, including a 2.4 mile boardwalk. All trails originate near the park Visitor Center. Due to the dynamic floodplain landscape, it is a good idea to check current trail conditions at the Visitor Center before setting out. Temperatures average between 71 degrees F to 91 degrees F in July and 36 degrees F to 58 degrees F in January.