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Looking to get away from “life in the big city”?  Looking for something TOTALLY different?  Looking to commune with Nature?  Well, Congaree National Park fits the bill.   Located an easy 2 hour drive from Charlotte, NC in Hopkins, SC, this National Park is truly a step back in time and a National Treasure.  The formation of Congaree National Park preserved one of the last stretches of untouched (read, never logged) flood plain forest in the US!  The fact that it wasn’t readily accessible helped all but a small part of the Park nearest the Congaree River to escape the logging boom of the early 20th century that decimated so many  Carolina woodlands.   Come see why Congaree National Park made Travel + Leisure Magazine’s “America’s Most Underrated National Parks” list in 2010!  

McGrady on the Low Boardwalk
McGrady on the Low Boardwalk

The Park Rangers and volunteers host a wide variety of activities to showcase all that the Park has to offer.  I had had the pleasure of traveling to Congaree National Park several times with friends (but without a dog) before I saw the announcement of a “Bark on the Boardwalk” event.  I then realized that the Park had recently started allowing leashed, well-mannered dogs on the Boardwalk that runs from the Visitor Center for several miles (previously dogs were allowed only on footpaths)!   The Park Rangers even award a “Bark Ranger” bandana to the best-behaved dog during the “Bark on the Boardwalk” events. 

The “Nature Discovery” Group walking along the Sims Trail

 In addition to the “Bark on the Boardwalk” events, there are also Nature Discovery and other Walks, Lectures  and Canoe Tours. Click here for the most current Schedule of Events at the Park.    McGrady and I recently had the great fortune of joining Naturalist Rudy Mancke’s “Nature Discovery Walk” in late March 2014.  While walking with this engaging expert, we saw things like Resurrection Ferns, various fungi and other plants that we would have never noticed had it not been pointed out.  



The flora is not the only extraordinary thing about Congaree National Park, the fauna is amazing as well!  Depending on the season, you may see fluorescent beetles, various snakes, turtles, woodpeckers, warblers and even the occasional alligator!  

 What has always caught my eye at Congaree are the Cypress trees with their vast root systems and “knees” (root systems raised above the ground) which give the Park nearly a “pre-historic” or “other worldly” feel.  These trees are decades, even centuries, old!  From a Park Volunteer who lead us on another tour out to the largest Loblolly Pine in the Park, we learned about the changing flora of the Park.  Hurricane Hugo knocked down a substantial amount of Loblolly Pines, which require a good deal of sun to thrive.  The cypress trees, with their broad-based root systems, faired much, much better.  The Loblolly saplings started to grow but at a rate slower than other types of competing trees.  Quickly finding themselves shaded by their taller, faster-growing competitors, the Loblolly saplings did not fair well.  As the full-sized Loblolly Pines start to die off in coming years, they will be replaced by another type of tree. 

McGrady in front of the largest Loblolly Pine in the Park.  We were lucky to have a Park Volunteer lead us to this site.
McGrady in front of the largest Loblolly Pine in the Park. This tree is SEVEN stories tall and the branches up top are bigger than some tree trunks.


 Navigating the Park is pretty easy.  There are several different trails.  We have explored only about 50% of them and have found those to be well-marked (However, recently the Park noted on their website that some trail markers were down due to February ice storm damage).  The Boardwalk is the starting point for most hikes.  This is a 2.4 mile roundtrip from the Visitor’s Center with 1.3 miles being elevated and 1.1 being the “low boardwalk”.  As of late March 2014, the elevated boardwalk was blocked off due to substantial ice storm damage and will most likely be “under construction” for the most part of the Spring/Summer 2014.  However, there are still several other trails to chose from:  Bluff Trail (1.7 miles), Weston Lake Loop Trail (4.4 miles), Oakridge Trail (6.6 miles), River Trail (10.0 miles), and the Kingsnake Trail (11.7 miles).  Click here for a downloadable Trail Guide as well as excellent downloadable guides to the plants and animals found in the National Park. Free brochures and maps are also available  at the Visitor Center. 

As you walk along the water in the Park, you will notice that it has a distinctly brown or tea color to it.  This is due to tannins from all the leaves of the trees, not dirt.  The Park is home to many rare species of plants so please be careful to stay on the trail itself so as not to disturb any of the fragile plant life.   There are venomous snakes in the Park as well so it is important to stick with the well-traveled trails and keep a close eye on your pup to avoid those as well. 

Plan to visit Congaree National Park during different seasons as there are spectacular things to see during each one.  Spring brings the migration of several interesting birds, including the gorgeous Prothonotary Warbler.   Fall brings the dropping of leaves into the Park waters, adding a dazzling splash of colors!   Although our “Follow Our Leash” series focuses on places to which you can travel WITH your dog(s) in the Carolinas, I must mention that I am told the Canoe Tours guided by Park Rangers are a fantastic way to see a part of the Park that one would never otherwise see.  However, dogs are not allowed on the Canoe Tours. 



-In late Winter and Spring, check the Park’s website and/or Facebook page for advisories regarding storm damage or flooding that could keep you from enjoying the trails.

-Be sure you have good hiking boots or shoes.  The trails are often wet in areas and can be very slick even if they are flat. 

-Plan to arrive EARLY so as to avoid the afternoon heat and humidity during Spring/Summer months.

-Print off a Park Trail Map (see text above) or plan to get one at the Visitor Center


The "Mosquito Meter" located outside the Visitor Center
The “Mosquito Meter” located outside the Visitor Center

-PLENTY of water for yourself and your pooch.  Pack some like snacks as well.   (It gets quite humid and hot during late Spring/Summer here)

-Bug/Mosquito Repellant (This “mosquito meter” sits outside the Visitor Center entrance….need I say more).  Also, please be sure that your dog has been kept up-to-date on heartworm prevention as mosquitoes transmit heartworms.  If your dog has missed any doses, please see your Vet for testing & guidance before restarting it as restarting heartworm medications after a lengthy time of missing it can be fatal for your pup. 

-Sunscreen.  Despite the thick tree canopy, the sun can get through and cause sunburn if you’re out long enough.

-Compass just in case you DO get lost.  Cell reception here is VERY spotty

-Camera, you WILL want to take pictures, I assure you!

-Six Foot Leash for your pup.  Dogs MUST be leashed at all times in the Park. 

-Poop Bags.  Please DO pick up after your pup.  No matter where you’re hiking, it’s important to practice the “Leave No Trace” Philosophy and take with you any bottles, cans, food wrappers, etc, that you bring into the Park.


 Disclaimer:  The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only.  Neither the author nor Fabulous McGrady and Friends Foundation are responsible for any problems that occur should the reader chose to travel to any of the destinations covered in this blog.  It is up to the reader to do their own research and prepare themselves/their pet(s) appropriately for a safe, enjoyable travel experience.  Every effort has been made to insure the above information is as up-to-date as possible but things may change in the future so it is strongly recommended that the reader do their research before travel.  Reader should also check to insure that dogs are still allowed at a venue before travel. 

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