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 Fridays and Saturdays in the spring and fall on a slow-moving blackwater tributary that flows through the forest. To participate in this popular program, you'll need to make your reservation weeks in advance. Each month's tours open for reservations online the first of the prior month. At least one person in each boat must have paddling experience and participating children must be ages 6 or older.
The program begins at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, where you'll meet your guide. From there, you'll be led by car to the launch site on Cedar Creek, the largest channel flowing through the 27,000-acre floodplain.
After carrying boats and gear to the water's edge, the park ranger will help you launch from the put-in located about six miles downstream from the Congaree River. Paddling at a leisurely pace, you'll have the opportunity to marvel at the huge bald cypress trees and towering loblolly pines that make these majestic woods such a treasure.
As you wind your way up the channel, your guide will point out interesting natural features, from the rooting marks left by wild pigs to a tree chewed around the base by a beaver. You'll learn how the last remaining expanse of old-growth bottomland forest in the US was spared from logging and about the extraordinary diversity of plant and animals species that reside in this unique ecosystem.
Not far past the bridge next to Cedar Creek Landing, you'll turn back and enjoy an easy float trip to the launch site.
For the dates of upcoming trips, check the park's calendar of events. Tours are limited to 12 participants. A maximum of six seats can be reserved by each individual.
Trips will be canceled if the air temperature is 45 degrees or below, the heat index is above 103 degrees or wind speed exceeds 30 miles per hour.
For more information on the Wilderness Canoe Tours, click here.