America's National Parks are our nation's most valuable resources. From the U.S. Virgin Islands to the coast of Maine and from Alaska to the South Pacific and so many amazing places in between, the National Park System protects our most treasured natural and cultural areas. There are many different designations within the system, from National Battlefields and Historic Sites to National Monuments and Heritage Areas, but none is more revered than the National Parks. Of the 420 or so sites withing the system, only about 60 have the designation of National Park. Over the course of many years, I've had the distinct pleasure of seeing almost all of them. They are all incredible places and I can't imagine my life without being able to visit these areas again and again. While sometimes the topic will come up in the news about "government owned land", we must remember that this is actually public land - our land. And it's there for us to enjoy and will be forever as long as we don't let our guard down.
Congaree National Park in central South Carolina is one of our newest National Parks, having received that designation in 2003. It protects the largest tract of old growth, bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. With the Congaree River flowing through the park, it is a massive floodplain. Congaree National Park also protects some of the tallest trees in the eastern part of the country, including a 157 foot loblolly pine (incidentally also one of my favorite tree names). Congaree is really only about a half-hour from downtown Columbia and with a picnic lunch, is an excellent day-trip idea.
It's been many years since I was last in Congaree National Park here, so I wanted to be sure that I had plenty of time to get out and enjoy it. I got there early and had the whole day to hike the excellent network of trails. I hiked the boardwalk trail, the Weston Lake trail and the oakridge trail, all of which were well marked and easy to follow. In the end, I think I hiked about 10 miles with a lot of photo stops along the way. The deeper into the park I got, the greener everything became. The flowers were blooming, especially the bright yellow butterweed, bringing amazing bursts of color to the earthy cypress swamp. It was a wonderful day. I could talk about our National Parks all day, or about Congaree specifically and how much fun I had hiking around, but I'd rather just show you what I found out there. It's a tough place to photograph, I'll be the first to admit that, but I really like how many of these came out. I hope you enjoy these photos of beautiful Congaree National Park. Just click on them to make them bigger.