Planning a trip to Congaree National Park in South Carolina? If you are thinking about making Congaree your destination, you are probably wondering about the best time to visit this national park. There really is no right answer, as there are benefits and drawbacks to each season. We will take a look at the reasons here. The best time is usually April or May, but that did not work out for us.
When we visited Congaree National Park, we did so on an airline voucher through Frontier. It was acquired at the end of June, for travel to be booked by September. The flights from our hometown to Charleston were affordably priced and April worked on our calendars, so we booked it. Mid-April seemed promising. An article in National Parks Traveler from 2010 called mid-April the “perfect time to enjoy Congaree”.
The weather in April has an average high of 80 and an average low of 53. There is an average of six days of rain in the month – the least of the year. And we knew that the mosquito situation was likely to be substantially better in the spring that the summer.
The problem for our trip, as it turned out, was that there was a substantial amount of rainfall in reality that month. A series of storms rolled through the area regularly two weeks before our trip, putting the river over or near the flood stages every day. The week before we arrived, there were just enough thunderstorms moving through the area to keep the water up. We carefully monitored the water level gauges for the river height the whole time, but we did not catch a break there.
The first day of our visit, it was not possible to get around the entire boardwalk loop trail due to the flooding. This was the south end of the loop by Weston Lake as we traveled west:
The water was over portions of the boardwalk, as you can see from the below photo. On the morning of our second day, we managed to get through despite the minor flooding of the boardwalk in this area. It would not have been possible to do so in the afternoon though as another thunderstorm came through the area.
When we are planning our national park adventures, we usually aim for a time when we can expect decent weather. We have had to rearrange side trips because of weather before (we skipped our second attempt at Biscayne for Merritt Island and Canaveral National Seashore due to thunderstorms in Miami), but this was the first time that a trip had to be almost completely rearranged.
We would love to tell you that there is a better time to visit Congaree National Park than the spring. The summer brings heat and mosquitoes. The fall can be a good time too but that is Hurricane season. Winter brings lower temperatures but is the most common for flooding. So it may be fair to say that there is no best time to visit Congaree National Park.
Congaree doesn’t experience the same fluctuations in visitor attendance as some other parks. People come to the park throughout the year, with just a slight preference for the spring with the highest attendance in March, April and May. October and November are the next most popular months to go there.
So here is our our view of the best months to visit Congaree National Park:
Spring – April and May can be a great time to visit the park. The temperatures are warmer but not nearly as hot and humid as they are in the summer. The level of mosquitoes is usually lower as well. May is the month for synchronized fireflies. However, as we found out, there are no guarantees when it comes to the weather – and you may still have to rearrange plans due to flooding.
Fall – The lower temperatures here are balanced by the fact that it is still Hurricane season. This is a decent time to plan to go to the park, and should overall present a better experience for those looking to avoid the summer heat or winter floods.
Summer – Visitor attendance is slightly higher in the summer than the winter. We anticipate this is probably because of summer vacations and road trips. June, July and August all see average high temperatures between 92 and 95. Prepare yourself for the mosquito “war zone” too. Below is a picture of the sign from our April visit:
Winter – This is unfortunately the most common time for flooding in the park. The note on the National Park website concerning the trails says to “[b]e prepared for downed trees, deep mud and high water on the park trails, especially during the months of November through May ….”
This is a photo of the start of the Kingsnake Trail from the Cedar Creek Canoe Launch during our April visit. We were able to make it around the boardwalk loop trail from the visitor center but it would not have been possible for us to easily get through this mud.
As you can see, there is limited hiking available when the park is flooded.
Sorry that there isn’t a better answer as to the right time to go! After reading all of this, you may decide to conclude that the best time to visit this park is anytime that you can manage to go. At this point, we would not disagree with you.
Congaree National Park Hotels
Congaree Canoe Trail
Congaree Boardwalk Loop
Congaree Champion Trees
Highway 601 Bridge Landing
South Cedar Creek Canoe Launch
Bannister Bridge Canoe Launch
Why is Congaree a National Park?
Best Time to Visit
Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve