Standing on a boardwalk above a shallow stream, I watched as a water moccasin undulates toward me. Ballet-like and graceful, it swam silently through the water toward a second snake sunning itself directly below me.
At this moment I completely lost my fear of snakes. I was drawn into the magic that is Congaree National Park, a sprawling 26,546-acre park of primitive forest and flood plain a short 20-minute drive east of Columbia, South Carolina.
The park is fascinatingly beautiful and you will find yourself drawn into the primitiveness of it with the song of unseen birds, giant spiders with their webs draped between trees and turtles swimming in murky water.
Before you begin your exploration though, stop at the visitor’s center where helpful Park Rangers and volunteers will help you outline the best trails to fit your time frame and physical ability, and alert you of any specific animal sightings. The center also serves as a museum incorporating the area’s history and natural attributes.
The most popular trail is the 2.4 mile boardwalk that begins and ends at the center. At different points along this trail, other trails branch off.
The park is known for its state and national champion trees — largest of their species — and to get to them, you will have to leave the boardwalk. However, there is plenty to see along this walkway including cypress swamps, great stands of trees and all the creatures of the forest.
Congress established Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. On June 30, 1983 Congaree Swamp National Monument was designated an International Biosphere Reserve. In July of 2001 it was designated a Globally Important Bird Area, and on November 10, 2003 it was designated as the nation's 57th National Park.
When you return from your hike, make sure and stop back at the visitor’s center if you have any questions about what you saw on your hike. Park Rangers have a wealth of knowledge and photographs to help you identify what snake, lizard, spider or other creature you might have seen as you explored the park.
Remember the bug repellent, stay on the boardwalk and trails, and be mindful of the dangers that can lurk here. Observe this wilderness with respect, caution and safety in mind.