The best way to explore a forest, one might think, would be on foot. But at Congaree National Park
, hundreds of visitors each year take to canoes and kayaks to experience the beauty and serenity of this ancient floodplain wilderness.
Free park ranger-guided canoe trips are offered on weekends throughout the year. To participate in this popular program, you’ll need to make your reservation weeks in advance. There are no more spots available for the rest of this year, but reservations for the first quarter of 2012 will begin Dec. 15.
I booked my trip for the end of November back in September. As soon as the clock struck 9 a.m. on the first day of fall registration, I began calling the park’s canoe trip reservation line. It was almost lunchtime before I got through. At that point, most of the spots for the quarter were taken.
There were 10 of us signed up for the 1 p.m. trip the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We met at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and were led by car to the launch site on Cedar Creek, the largest channel that flows through the 27,000-acre floodplain. After picking up our paddles life preservers, we hauled the canoes and kayaks from the parking area a short distance down to the water.
Park Ranger Corinne Fenner helped us get into the boats and launch from the put in located about six miles downstream from the Congaree River. We paddled with the current for about 15 minutes, stopping to marvel at a huge bald cypress on the bank of the creek.
From there, Fenner led us up the waterway, pointing out interesting natural features along the way: a large yellow-bellied slider sunning on a log, the rooting marks left by wild pigs, a deciduous holly filled with red berries, a tree chewed around the base by a beaver.
We continued up the channel past the bridge next to Cedar Creek Landing before turning back to enjoy an easy float trip to our launch site.
To reserve a canoe for an upcoming tour, call the Visitor Center at (803) 776-4396. You’ll need to speak with a park ranger. Reservations cannot be made by leaving a voice message. Each caller may reserve up to two canoes for up to six seats per tour.
Trips will be cancelled if the air temperature is 45 degrees or below, the water level on Cedar Creek is 10 feet or above, the wind speed exceeds 30 miles per hour or if the heat index exceeds 103.
for the quarterly reservation dates for 2012 or to learn more about the Congaree National Park’s guided canoe trips.