#4 Congaree National Park
Conga-who?!? Most people have never heard of Congaree National Park. I had never heard of Congaree either until I started planning this journey. Congaree gets it's name from the river that starts in Columbia, SC not too far away. Congaree NP floods 10 time per year, not counting hurricanes. So at many times it can be hard to access except for the boardwalk (2.4 miles) they have built through the swamp. Oops! I'm not supposed to use the "s" word. It's a "floodplain". It's not just any floodplain either. The Congaree is home to the largest area of old growth bottomland deciduous forest in the US. They among some of the tallest in the Eastern US.
Most of what you see are Cypress, Tupelo and Loblolly Pine. The Cypress trees have "knees". There is a picture below of them sticking up of the swamp. They reminded me of little wooden hoo-doos. Anyone who has been to Utah will know what I'm referring to. The Loblolly Pine grows very tall (135 feet) and the branches are very sparse and only grow at the top of the tree.
It's other-worldly walking on the boardwalk and trails through this beautiful forest. I noticed that just a few inches in elevation changes the forest floor ecosystem greatly.
This land has been used for thousands of years by Native Americans, and more recently by African-Americans as a place to escape slavery. Finding it to be rich in resources as the Native Americans did, they stayed. Eventually it was used for logging and even moonshining. The terrain was too difficult and so logging died out. My guess is moonshine continued to do well. There is no way you could find a still in those woods unless you knew exactly where to look!
Somewhere in 1960's logging tried to restart but some hunter/conservationists decided to go the land protected. Harry Hampton (for whom the Visitor Center is named) played an important role in getting National Monument status for the area. Later it became a National Park!