Best Winter Weekend Getaway in Congaree National Park

By Alli Hill

Best Winter Weekend Getaway in Congaree National Park

With its mild winters and abundance of natural beauty, South Carolina is the perfect outdoor destination during the winter. Skip the snow-blanketed vacation and opt to visit Congaree National Park. This incredible park is the largest bottomland hardwood forest still in existence. From cozy campsites and freshwater fishing to down-home cooking at local smokehouses, here’s how to make the most of your winter weekend getaway at Congaree.  

Choose your campsite, Hopkins, SC

Camping is by reservation only, but fees are inexpensive and views are plentiful. Choose from two campgrounds on the premises, Longleaf or Bluff. Be prepared for a true rustic camping experience: there’s no running water or electricity at either campground, and one set of sites isn’t accessible by vehicle. Make sure you plan ahead.

Plan your hike

Hiking is one of the biggest attractions of the park, so make sure you bring good shoes. You can take your pick of a short boardwalk trail or extend your trek through the backcountry. This is the most preferred way to get up close and personal with all the park has to offer, especially in terms of scenery. 

Reel in a fresh catch

As long as you have a valid fishing license, you can fish to your heart’s desire within the park (minus the Weston Lake overlook). The lake and creeks within the park are home to a variety of fish, including bass, catfish, bream, and crappie. You’re free to bring in your own canoe or kayak to find the best fishing spots.

Cruise down the River Blue Trail

Speaking of kayaking, this 50-mile paddling trail ends at the Congaree National Park, so there are plenty of places to explore on the water. Cruising through the forest feels almost like you’re in prehistoric times, with unique towering trees and wildlife all around. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, drive to Columbia and travel the trail’s entire length.

Enjoy some downhome cookin’ at Country Smokehouse

This country-style restaurant makes it easy to enjoy all the best flavors of the south in a single sitting. Known for their real pit barbecue and all the fixings, you can eat your fill from the buffet for a single price. Their barbecue nachos are not to be missed!

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Get a family-friendly meal at Calhoun House of Pizza

For kid-approved flavors, you can’t go wrong with a meal at Calhoun’s House of Pizza. Just a short drive from the Congaree National Park, you can indulge in delicious pizza, pasta dishes, and even breakfast favorites like waffles and eggs. There’s never a bad time visit and never a bad meal to be had.

Explore the South Carolina State Museum

Weekend trips are often short on time, but a trip to the state museum should be a priority. Telling South Carolina’s story in the best possible way, visitors can check out the observatory and planetarium and explore four floors of permanent and changing exhibits. It’s the perfect activity for kids and adults alike, and you’ll want to visit more than once.

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Stock up on outdoor gear at the Backpacker Quality Gear

Known for carrying the best brands in outdoors, you can find everything you need for your weekend camping, hiking, and paddling. Names like Patagonia, Marmot, and Columbia Sportswear are mainstays in this store. Stop here before you head to the Congaree National Park for a top-notch experience all weekend long.

Meet the animals at Riverbanks Zoo

South Carolina’s largest zoo is nothing short of incredible. More like a vacation destination than a simple on-foot safari, the zoo is home to hundreds of animal species, a botanical garden, and nature trails. While you’re there, you can take advantage of all their activities, including a zipline, ropes course, backstage tours, and rides for kids.

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Ice skating at Boyd Plaza

When the colder weather rolls in ice skating usually tops the list of winter activities, and there’s no better place to polish off your skates than at the City of Columbia’s Holiday ICE. It is a wonderful way to bask in the holiday cheer, right at the Columbia Centre. With the dark winter sky covering the capital city’s center, the holiday music roaring, and a flock of townspeople, you’ll be in your glory!

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