Many of Congaree National Park’s 200,000 annual visitors overlook how dangerous the area can be. Those of you with plans to visit this park will want to avoid making this mistake.
You may not know it, but some creatures can cause serious harm here. Trust us, a trip to the emergency room isn’t how you want to spend your trip.
Today, we’re closely examining Congaree National Park to uncover some of its hidden hazards.
About Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park is 26,000 acres of swamp-like land in South Carolina. However, don’t make the mistake of calling it a swamp. Swamps are permanently covered with water, which isn’t true for this bottomland forest. It’s typically the result of floodwaters from the area.
Congress didn’t help when they designated it Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. Luckily, they dropped “swamp” from its name in November 2003 when it became a national park.
While the wetlands may first get your attention, remember to look up. The park is home to some of the tallest trees in the United States. Some are over 500 years old and can reach upwards of 167 feet tall, approximately the height of a 17-story building. They’re an incredible sight and one of the many reasons visitors explore Congaree.
One of the best ways to experience Congaree National Park is by walking the Boardwalk Loop Trail. This is a 2.6-mile looping trail that is both wheelchair and stroller accessible. Guests can stroll along an elevated boardwalk to explore a unique environment filled with various trees, including the massive Loblolly pines. There are almost 50 miles of trails throughout the park.
Dangerous Creatures in Congaree National Park
It’s easy to forget how dangerous Congaree National Park is. Here are a few creatures you’ll want to watch for during your visit. Failing to do so could have serious consequences.
Congaree and the surrounding area are ideal environments for several species of snakes. There are approximately 21 different types of slithering reptiles within the park. Luckily, only four are venomous. Watching for copperheads, canebrake rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and the elusive coral snake is essential.
It’s worth mentioning that poisonous snakes tend to avoid people at all costs, but you may still encounter one. Keep your distance, and give it a path to escape. If the snake isn’t budging, it’s best to turn around and find a different route.
Discover more about venomous snakes: The 5 Most Lethal Snakes in the USA.
Feral hogs are an invasive species that established themselves in Congaree and the surrounding area. They’re descendants of domestic pigs who escaped or individuals released intentionally into the wild. Unfortunately, these pests negatively impact the natural environment and can be aggressive.
They use their sharp tusks to defend themselves or their young when provoked. As you can imagine, this can lead to severe injuries. Always keep an eye and ear for them while hiking in the park. They’re also known to dart into traffic, so keep your eyes on the road when driving.
While the frequent flooding within the park makes it impossible for alligators to establish nests, sightings are still common. You’ll likely see them near the river in the park’s southern section. Encounters with these creators are rare, but they can occur. Plan ahead to know how to respond if you run into one of these giant reptiles.
Like most wild animals, keeping your distance is the best policy. Generally, alligators will flee when they spot humans. They’ll protect themselves, their young, or their nests. Stay on the designated trail, never feed them, and report any encounters to officials.
Heading to the coast after you visit Congaree? Find out Why Myrtle Beach is Called Dirty Myrtle.
Size doesn’t matter regarding dangerous critters in Congaree National Park. Mosquitos, ticks, and other tiny insects are common throughout the region and may transmit diseases. Mosquitoes might carry Zika, West Nile Virus, Malaria, and more. In addition, ticks can cause Lyme disease, Rock Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichiosis.
The park warns that mid-spring through mid-fall are the worst times of the year. But it’s wise to bring insect repellent any time of year. The wet and humid environment can be perfect for these bugs to multiply quickly. Be sure to check yourself for tickets at the end of your adventure.
Which Creatures No Longer Live in the Park?
While Congaree National Park is home to some dangerous animals today, there were a few more previously. Animals like wolves, bears, and mountain lions once roamed the land. Sadly, there haven’t been any confirmed sightings or encounters within the park for many years.
The primary reason for their departure is deforestation causing the loss of their habitat. Hunting and predator control programs haven’t helped. Wolf and mountain lion populations have declined. Bear sightings in the region aren’t uncommon, but they tend to stay outside park boundaries.
You may feel safer knowing there aren’t many of these critters roaming in the wild. On the other hand, it’s important to remember the mission of the National Park Service. One of their primary purposes is conservation and preservation. It frustrates officials to know human behavior has hurt the natural habitats they protect.
Is Hiking Dangerous at Congaree National Park?
Hiking can be dangerous in Congaree National Park and other local parks. However, you can mitigate the risks by taking the time to prepare and develop a plan. Ultimately, you’re responsible for your safety. Pay attention to your surroundings and use good judgment.
As with any physical activity, hiking can be incredibly unpredictable. You could fall, the weather could change, or other issues could occur. Unfortunately, not everything is within your control, which is why many experienced hikers expect the unexpected.
Before heading out for an adventure, let somebody know your plan, route, and schedule. If something were to happen, this could give rescuers an idea of where to start looking. Cell signals can be unreliable. So try to communicate your plans before you get to the trailhead. You may not have a single bar of service once you enter the woods.
An additional way to stay safe is to hike with a friend. This can be extremely beneficial if things go south and one of you needs help. The healthy individual could then take the necessary steps to get help. It drastically improves the odds of surviving a difficult situation.
A few other tips are to have plenty of water, wear the proper clothes, and carry a map and compass. However, it’s not enough to have a map and compass. You need to know how to use them. Similarly, carrying water will only do you good if you drink it. Many hikers lose their lives due to heat exhaustion because they conserve too much water.
These field guides can help you identify much of the wildlife at Congaree: South Carolina Nature Set: Field Guides to Wildlife, Birds, Trees & Wildflowers of South Carolina.
Is Congaree National Park Worth It?
You must be careful when you enter this swamp-like landscape. Visiting Congaree National Park can be both exciting and dangerous. And while it’s impossible to eliminate all potential risks, proper planning and preparation can help minimize them.
Some of our best memories involved a certain level of risk. So don’t let fear stop you from exploring the outdoors!
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