In 2023, Congaree National Park in central South Carolina welcomed 250,114 visitors, per the National Park Service, setting a new yearly record.

2023 saw “almost 35,000 more visits than that of the park’s previous record, set in 2021,” the National Park Service reported.

To some outdoor enthusiasts, that news might be surprising, since the park doesn’t have the greatest reputation.

In 2015, Fox News included it on a list of “America’s worst national parks,” saying that some feel it’s little more than a “small park with a boardwalk through a swamp ... so you can stare at some trees.”

Congaree often floods, but is a ‘hidden gem’

For many other visitors, it’s not just the mosquitoes, snakes and floods to be disliked. According to the National Park Service, “waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain,” which isn’t a bad thing for the wildlife. In fact, the floods are essential for the ecosystem and the growth of Congaree’s massive trees.

Unfortunately, flooding can make it difficult for visitors to enjoy the scenery and walk the trails. According to USGS, “major flood events occur on average 10 times per year, resulting in flooding of 90%” of the park. Winter and early spring is usually when flooding is the highest.”

But despite the negative reports, many others claim that Congaree National Park is a beautiful place. Jon Manchester, Congaree’s acting chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services, is one of them.

“I do believe it’s one of our hidden gems,” he told USA Today last year.

Additionally, the park has a rich history. According to the National Park Foundation, Native Americans lived in the Congaree region for thousands of years. Later in history, African American slaves found refuge in the area.

Today, the park is preserved as “a sanctuary for plants and animals, a research site for scientists, and a tranquil wilderness setting for walking and relaxing in.”

Is it worth going to Congaree National Park?

Congaree will likely be worth a trip if you know how to plan.

According to Travel + Leisure, the best way to experience Congaree’s magic is to stay in one of its campgrounds, where — if you bring your own water and equipment — you can enjoy the views of the forest and the sounds of wildlife.

Spring and fall are ideal times to visit because there are less insects and more colorful foliage. However, if you are planning a visit, try and sneak in at the end of May. This is when thousands of fireflies can be seen at night.

According to USA Today, the park also provides opportunities to hike, canoe, fish and kayak, which can be fun activities for the whole family.