Congaree National Park has trees, of course. Enormous trees. But there's so much more to see in the place they call the "Redwoods of the East." National Park Service programs help curious families discover all this hidden gem has to offer.
Below are some of the most popular offerings:
On Friday and Saturday mornings in the spring and summer, rangers offer canoe trips through the virgin floodplain forest. For three hours, visitors glide through the black water of Cedar Creek and up flooded guts, deep into the untouched lowland ecosystem. If there is any way to really, truly experience the majesty of Congaree, this is it. The tours are free, but reservations are required. One of the most popular park programs, the tours book up almost immediately, so sign up early. Reservations open on the first day of the previous month. To make a reservation, click here or call 877.444.6777.
All those beautiful trees in Congaree's 26,000 acres serve as home to an incredible array of birds. And some of the most amazing birds in the park are its owls. In the winter, visitors can search for owls with a ranger on an Owl Prowl. How do you find owls? By sound, of course! Rangers identify and teach guests the distinctive calls different species of owls make. If you're lucky, you may even spy some in the towering treetops.
Nature Discovery Walks
Meet one of the park's volunteer naturalists Saturday mornings on the boardwalk behind the Harry Hampton Visitor Center for a Nature Discovery Walk. During the two-hour treks, you'll venture into the forest in search of the many remarkable trees, plants, animals, insects and mud (yes, mud!) found along the boardwalk trail.
Big Tree Hike
On the second Saturday of each month, visitors have the chance to get an up-close view of the trees that make Congaree so famous. The national champion trees are the largest of the species found anywhere in the United States. Because they are scattered in a forest of towering trees, they can be tricky to find. Join one of the park's founders on a five-mile, off-trail hike to some of the biggest trees in the park.
Spring brings one of the most spectacular light shows in nature to Congaree National Park. Starting around the middle of May, the synchronous fireflies make their annual appearance in the forest, lighting up the night with their amazing, have-to-see-it-to-believe-it synchronized flashing. The mating ritual occurs for just two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is open for extended hours during the firefly phenomenon with lots of activities for families.