On Friday, we drove north to our 83rd National Park – Congaree. Congaree N.P. is a swamp in the middle of South Carolina. After parking the 5er and truck in their spacious big rig parking lot, we walked up to the large visitor’s center. Inside, the ranger was telling someone, over the phone, that they had about 3 more weeks of nice weather for visiting the park before the mosquito invasion. Between her conversation and this sign mounted on the outside of the visitor’s center, I would guess that South Carolina has a bug problem come warm weather! LOL!
Needless to say, we were very glad that we got here when we did!
Inside the v.c., we picked up Jr. Ranger booklets and explored the visitor’s center (which was pretty cool!). The girls going in a big cypress to work on their booklets…There was a nice display showing how even when a big cypress dies, it still provides habitat…here the crater left from the tree’s root system fills with water and provides a home for fish, ducks, (and whatever other animals were in the exhibit 😉 )… We got to check out the local inhabitants… Even the big kids thought the cypress models were fun… Caleb isn’t the only one watching you Eli 😉 LOL! Eli was playing with Caleb, who would shoot Eli with a plastic spork (it’s just his thing lately?!?!); they were the only ones in the back of the v.c. when a ranger walked through the back door. Caleb promptly shot him too, and the ranger feigned dying then shot Caleb back. Congaree was instantly one of my fav parks! 😀
(unlike Fort Matanzas, where the volunteer ranger checking the kids’ books practically chewed the boys out for saying they would take a gun to the fort with them – it WAS a military fort!?!?!)
After checking out the very nice, kid friendly visitor center, we took our tribe outside to take a walk on the boardwalk…The kids all had things to find on the 2.4 miles of boardwalk; which we did not get to do the whole of because of time constraints. I must mention that I LOVED the Jr. Ranger program here! Absolutely fabulous! Especially for the little kids – there were 3 levels: 5 and under, 6 to 9, and 10 and above. Each level was SO age appropriate!
I cannot tell you how fun it was for the little girls (Peanut and Molly) to have a booklet where they really felt like they did all the work. There was some reading that we had to do for them, but they did ALL the writing and understood it. For instance, the boardwalk bingo was fun because instead of just crossing off pictures, they had to draw what they saw, with prompts in each box like ‘a flower’ or ‘something wet’. The booklet had questions about appropriate park behavior, and the littles got to circle smiley faces or sad faces instead of writing yes or no.
Emma and Joel did the 6-9 booklet, and they had fun and varied activities like a diagram of a bird skeleton that they had to match the bone descriptions to.
We only walked about a mile on the boardwalk. At first, it overlooks the swamp floor, but soon drops down so that you are just above the water. While we were here, even tho the rivers were not at flood stages, much of the swamp was under water, which we loved – after all, that is our picture of what a swamp is. We didn’t see any animals except for a squirrel, a few lizards, and some song birds. Oh, the girls did find a spider for their bingo 😉 But the swamp was lovely – we could just picture Francis Marion and his men possibly sneaking though and hiding out in this swampy area during the Revolutionary War, over 200 years ago. We were fans of the Swamp Fox long before we ever visited the east 4 years ago, so we are tickled to come across anything related to his story! Congaree is much like Big Cypress and the Everglades in that very, very little of it is accessible by vehicle. It is open to hiking and canoeing/kayaking (prepare for portages!)…, but you cannot drive through it. The water laying on the swamp floor is surprisingly clear (just as it was in Big Cypress), but we didn’t find any fish or other water creatures in it. Caleb loves boardwalks! …course, he likes it even better when we let him get off the beaten path and make his own trail. 😉We arrived back to the visitor’s center just in time to have the kids’ Jr. Ranger books checked. At Congaree, they could pick between badges or patches – of course mine all picked patches!
We then went outside and looked around a bit more, and one of the rangers came out to pull down the flag for the day. She asked Eli to help her fold it… I guess we didn’t get here much too early – flowers are in bloom here, and the days are warm, and we beat the mosquitoes!
Congaree National Park = Family Friendly?
Pros – well-done and kid-friendly visitor’s center, age appropriate and interesting Jr. Ranger program, engaging Ranger programs, easily accessed and safe for littles boardwalk, and great scenery!
Cons – there are few ranger led activities outside of summer, and outdoors might be a hostile environment during mosquito season!
Yep, we give it a 2 thumbs up (or is that 24 thumbs since we all liked it?), and really want to return (with kayaks!) when we have a lot more time to explore!