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Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.

Wild Wonders: Synchronous Fireflies

Outdoor Adventure / Midlands / 3 Days

The nostalgic glow of fireflies at sunset is a cherished memory for many, but the chance to witness these captivating insects emerge en masse at dusk is becoming increasingly rare.

Located near Columbia, Congaree National Park is a haven for various firefly species, including the synchronous Photuris frontalis. During a fleeting two-week period between mid-May and mid-June, these remarkable fireflies orchestrate a symphony of synchronized flashes in their quest for a mate.

To protect the fireflies and their habitat, Congaree has implemented a lottery system to purchase a limited number of available tickets for designated specific dates each year.

If you’d like to try your luck for this year’s lottery, register here or call (803) 776-4396 for more information.


When it comes to accommodations, you have plenty of nearby options to consider.

For an immersive nature experience, consider camping within Congaree National Park itself.

Nestled amid the wilderness adjacent to the park entrance road, Longleaf Campground offers a rustic camping experience. With 10 individual and four group camping sites, it provides an intimate setting for nature enthusiasts. Each site comes equipped with a fire ring and picnic table, ensuring a cozy outdoor experience. While there's no running water on-site, guests can access water 24/7 at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.

If RV camping is more your style, consider staying at Sesquicentennial State Park. Located in Columbia,

Sesqui offers camping facilities with both RV and tent sites. With hiking trails, a lake for fishing and boating, and ample picnic areas, Sesqui has a diverse range of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy.

The Capital City offers various lodging options to suit any budget or preference. Renowned for its 20s-era Art Deco style and personalized service, Hotel Trundle has 41 unique rooms, each featuring designs and furnishings from local artists and craftspeople.

Situated within walking distance of The Vista entertainment district, Aloft Columbia Downtown features spacious rooms, a rooftop bar offering panoramic views, and an indoor pool for relaxation after a day of adventure in Congaree National Park.

family walking in Congaree National Park
Enjoy a leisurely walk along Congaree’s 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail through the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent.

Explore Columbia's Rich Heritage and Rooftop Escapes

After you’ve settled in, it’s time to head out and explore the vibrant city of Columbia.

South Carolina’s Capital City is home to fascinating historic sites, thrilling outdoor adventures and a diverse food scene that has earned it a reputation as one of the state’s premier culinary destinations.

One of the best ways to get a sense of the city’s rich history is on a guided tour. Historic Columbia offers a variety of tours, including walking tours of historic neighborhoods, house tours of historic homes and even online tours that can be viewed on your device.

Renowned for its diverse array of art galleries, boutiques and culinary delights housed in renovated warehouses, The Vista entertainment district is a hub of activity. The Vista is also home to a variety of restaurants offering cuisines ranging from Southern comfort food to international fare, making it the perfect place to enjoy dinner.

End your night at one of Columbia’s rooftop bars, where you can sip craft cocktails or locally brewed craft beers and enjoy the stunning skyline views. The rooftop bar at Hendrix is the perfect spot to unwind and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of downtown Columbia or check out the views of the city skyline from across the river at Black Rooster. If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly gathering place, head to Savage Craft Ale Works in West Columbia, where you can sit by the fire and enjoy live music or play a round of cornhole.

Perched high above the bustling streets below, the Rooftop at the Sheraton offers panoramic views that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Travel Tip
Travel Tip:

If you're visiting Columbia on a Saturday, don't miss the Soda City Market. This bustling farmers market features local artisans, farmers   and food vendors selling everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts.

South Carolina State House, aerial view of Columbia, South Carolina, a bartender pours a craft cocktail
From historic sites like the State House to world-class dining and outdoor adventures, Columbia is the perfect destination to experience the best of South Carolina.

A Day of Discovery and Wonder at Congaree

Get ready for a day of exploring Congaree National Park with a hearty breakfast. Start your day at The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli, known for its delicious homemade cinnamon rolls and a variety of breakfast sandwiches, wraps and pastries.

Alternatively, head to Cafe Strudel, a popular breakfast spot in West Columbia. Cafe Strudel offers creative dishes like "Hangover Hashbrowns," as well as traditional breakfast favorites and house-made strudels.

As there are limited food options near Congaree, you should consider grabbing something to bring with you for lunch. Rosewood Market & Deli offers healthy and organic options for sandwiches, salads and snacks perfect for a picnic lunch. Or try Lizard’s Thicket, a local chain of diners known for its Southern comfort food. They offer takeout options, including fried chicken, sandwiches and sides ideal for a picnic.

When you’re ready, it’s time to head to Congaree National Park. A designated Wilderness Area, International Biosphere Reserve, Globally Important Bird Area and National Natural Landmark, Congaree is home to the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland forest remaining in the southeastern United States and encompasses over 20,000 acres.

Get an in-depth look at the park on a ranger-guided walk that will take you past the stunning bald cypress trees, some with circumferences as big as 26-plus feet. You can also explore the park by kayak or canoe.

Congaree's hardwood wetlands, upland forests and absence of light pollution provide the perfect habitat required for the fireflies to synchronize their dazzling displays, making Congaree one of the few places where visitors can witness this extraordinary natural wonder.

To protect the critical firefly habitat, certain areas of the park close to visitors daily at 4:30 p.m. during the week of the viewing event, including:

  • The Harry Hampton Visitor Center, boardwalk and front-country hiking trails
  • Bannister Bridge Canoe Launch
  • Cedar Creek between Bannister Bridge and South Cedar Creek Canoe Launch
  • Longleaf and Bluff Campgrounds

The best time to see the fireflies is just after dark, usually between 9 and 10 p.m. Remember to bring water with you and to only use the provided red lights. If you want to use bug spray, please apply it near your car and far away from the Firefly Trail.

Travel Tip
Travel Tip:

It’s common for thunderstorms to occur during this time, so be prepared for the weather. Rain can slow down or stop firefly activity for the evening.

family walking in Congaree National Park, fireflies emerging at night, little boy holding red lantern to see the fireflies
Congaree's hardwood wetlands, upland forests and absence of light pollution provide the perfect habitat for the synchronous fireflies, making it one of the few places where visitors can witness this extraordinary natural wonder.

Explore the Heart of South Carolina

Begin your day with a flavorful breakfast at Vista Union in the bustling Vista district. Offering a modern take on classic breakfast dishes, Vista Union caters to every taste, from avocado toast to Belgian waffles.

For a unique brunch experience, try Main Street's Good Life Cafe, known for its all-vegan menu that even meat lovers will appreciate. Indulge in organic and vegan pancakes, hearty breakfast plates with tempeh sausage, or lighter options like tofu scrambles and acai bowls.

After breakfast, explore the renowned Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, home to over 2,000 animals and stunning botanical displays, providing an educational and enjoyable experience for visitors of all ages.

If you haven't already, take some time to discover Sesqui State Park. The park’s scenic trails wind through pine and hardwood forests, around Lake Sesquicentennial and through wetland areas. The trails vary in length and difficulty, making them suitable for both beginners and experienced hikers.

Refuel after your adventures with classic Southern cuisine at The War Mouth in the NOMA District, known for its vibrant cocktails and quirky decor.

For souvenirs or gifts, head to Five Points, Columbia's original village neighborhood. Known for its charm and eclectic shops, you’re sure to find some unique gifts.

Treat yourself to a memorable dinner at one of Columbia's acclaimed restaurants. Whether you choose farm-to-table cuisine at Motor Supply Co. Bistro, fresh seafood at Pearlz Oyster Bar, or upscale Southern flavors at Cola's Restaurant, you'll end your trip on a delicious note.

Travel Tip
Travel Tip:

Looking for more? From sporting events and museums to live music and public art there’s no shortage of things to do in Columbia.  

food from the Good Life Cafe, flamingos at Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
Whether you’re tasting your way through Columbia’s exciting food scene or embarking on a wild adventure at the Riverbanks Zoo, there’s more to do, see and try in Columbia than can be fit into one trip.

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