The Best Time to Visit Congaree National Park

cypress forest and swamp of Congaree National Park
cypress forest and swamp of Congaree National Park. digidreamgrafix / Getty Images

Located 30 minutes from downtown Columbia, South Carolina, the 26,276-acre Congaree National Park is a scenic, year-round destination for hikers, paddlers, anglers, and campers seeking adventures in its dense woodlands and flowing rivers. The park is home to the world's largest concentrations of champion trees, including a 167-foot loblolly pine and 500-year-old cypress trees, plus 25 miles of hiking trails, 2.4 miles of boardwalk, and several species of mammals, reptiles, birds, turtles, deer, and barreled owls. It's also one of the country's most dog-friendly parks.

While you can wander through the park's miles of old-growth hardwood forest and lush wetlands in all seasons, the best time of year to visit Congaree National Park is in the fall, when the brilliant colored leaves peak, rain is less common, water levels are ideal for paddling and fishing, and summer humidity and pests subside. With blooming wildflowers, mild temperatures, and a break from winter flooding, spring is also a great season to visit. Summer is the most popular time of year for visitors, but brings temperatures that soar into the upper 90s F, and the mosquitos and humidity can be oppressive. While the park is less crowded in winter, many trails can be submerged due to frequent and unpredictable flooding. Whichever season you plan to kayak along marshlands, fish for striped bass in the river, or hike through old growth forest, use this guide to plan your trip.

Weather

With a subtropical climate, Congaree has mild winters and hot, wet summers. 80 percent of the park lies within the Congaree River's floodplain and as a result, several trails and other parts of the park can flood suddenly and become inaccessible to visitors, particularly in the winter months. Check trail and park conditions via the park website before and during your stay to avoid becoming stranded and wear appropriate wet-weather footwear and clothing. Bugs are frequent during the warmer months, so wear insect repellant and re-apply generously. Be prepared for hot and humid conditions in the summer, especially in July and August, when temperatures soar into the upper 90s F and the heat index is often above 100 F.

Crowds

The park's busiest tourist season is in summer, when the temperatures are the hottest and humidity is thick. If visiting this time of year, plan to arrive early to secure parking and beat the crowds and the oppressive heat.

Spring

With warm but mild temperatures and blooming flowers and trees like camellias, Carolina jessamine, and dogwoods, March through May can be one of the best times to visit the park. Daily highs often reach the mid to upper 70s F, but it is less humid than in the summer months: and fewer bugs! The average rainfall during spring is three inches per month, and thunderstorms are common, so plan accordingly with proper footwear and clothing. Always check the park's website to ensure trails are not flooded and layer up if setting out early in the morning or later in the evening.

For the best spring views, try the 4.5-mile Weston Lake Loop Trail, which incorporates two scenic boardwalks and passes Cedar Creek and Weston Lake, as well as grasslands and the park's famed tree canopy, formed from more than 75 native trees. Route highlights include the nearly 170-foot-tall national champion loblolly pine (the state's tallest tree) at Big Tupelo Gut and wildlife sightings like beavers at Weston Lake Slough, otters and wading birds at Cedar Creek, and wood ducks, feral hogs, red-bellied woodpeckers, and red-shouldered hawks at other points along the route. Another spring must-visit trail is the Firefly Trail, a 1.8-mile treat lit up with the creatures at dawn and dusk.

Summer

The park's busiest season, June to August is also the hottest time of year at Congaree. Daily temperatures are commonly in the upper 90s F and can get as high as 100 F. Combined with high humidity, the heat index can approach 110 F. At an average of 4.5 inches per month, rainfall is highest this time of year, and pop-up thunderstorms are frequent. Bugs, ticks, and mosquitos are prevalent, and bug repellant is a necessity. The shade of the old growth forest does provide some relief, but it's best to visit the park early in the morning to avoid crowds and the hottest temperatures. Be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen as well.

Fall

Autumn is the best time to visit Congaree. While September can be warm, daily temperatures in October and November average in the 70s F, with lower humidity than in the summer months. For those wanting to experience brilliant seasonal leaves, fall colors peak between the end of October and early November, making it an excellent time to hike the 6.3-mile loop Oakridge Trail or the stroller and wheelchair-friendly 2.6-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail with its old-growth oak, tupelo, maple, and bald cypress trees. With average monthly precipitation around three inches, water levels are ideal for paddling or kayaking on Cedar Creek and exploring other water-based trails. It's also a great time to stay overnight at the Longleaf Campground, but be sure to make advanced reservations via Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. The park also offers backcountry campsites, and permits area available at the park visitor center.

Winter 

The winter months of December through February are mild, with daytime temperatures in the mid 50s F. Temperatures at night can dip below freezing, so be prepared if camping overnight. Snowfall is rare, but flooding is common this time of year, often submerging trails without warning. Hikers and overnight backpackers should ensure they have proper footwear and gear and check trail and campsite conditions before setting out. Note that cell service is limited inside the park, so carry a map or pre-load directions onto your phone for navigation.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is the best time to visit Congaree National Park?

    The best time of year to visit Congaree National Park is in the fall, when fall foliage peaks and temperatures are mild for exploring miles of trails.

  • What is peak season at Congaree National Park?

    Summer is peak season at Congaree National Park.

  • What is the climate of Congaree National Park?

    With a subtropical climate, Congaree has mild winters and hot, wet summers.