Congaree National Park Lodging: Campgrounds, Cabins and Securing Reservations

by Amy Myers
Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Located in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, Congaree National Park is home to an incredibly vital ecosystem that boasts unique biodiversity full of salt marshes, coastal waterways and giant, lush green trees. This nearly 27,000-acre national park protects the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. In plain terms, there’s no place else in the country where you can find such vast river swamps and floodplain foliage.

Though it may not be the most well-known national park for cross-country explorers, Congaree National Park is a worthwhile destination for backcountry fanatics. Because the park only sees 150,000 visitors per year, flora and fauna can more safely flourish within the borders of the Congaree. For visitors that come to stay at one of the park’s campsites, that means more opportunities for wildlife spotting and plant identification, especially for those traveling the renowned, self-guided Boardwalk Loop that tells of the Congaree’s natural and cultural resources.

Congaree National Park is gorgeous no matter what time of year it is, but you’ll have a much easier time accessing both campsites and trails in the early spring and late fall. Floods are common in winter and the South Carolina heat can become a little too oppressive during the height of the summer. That said, you’ll want to book your campsites early so that you can get the most of your visit to the Lowcountry.

Camping in Congaree National Park

Both of Congaree National Park’s campgrounds, Longleaf and Bluff, are located fairly close to each other in the northern region of the recreational area. Longleaf is about 100 yards from the parking lot, while Bluff is about a mile away. All of the campsites here are walk-to or boat-to only, so tent camping is your only option if you plan on staying onsite. On the same note, neither campground offers a whole lot of amenities. If you’re looking for a more lavish stay during your national park adventures, you may want to browse further down for the venues that cater to RV and trailer camping in the surrounding cities.

For both campgrounds, there isn’t any potable water. Instead, you’ll need to make the trek back to the Visitor’s Center to fill up on drinking water and campfire extinguishant. Congaree National Park does not allow campers to use any external firewood.

Longleaf Campground

  • Location: Longleaf Campground, Hopkins, SC 29061
  • Price: $10-20 per night
  • Number of campsites: 14
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Harry Hampton Visitor Center, Bluff Trail, Boardwalk Trail, Weston Lake Loop, Sims Trail, Cedar Lake and Creek, Wise Lake, Oak Ridge Trail and River Trail
  • Reserve a Longleaf campsite here

Of the two Congaree National Park campgrounds, Longleaf has the most variety in its campsites and the most amenities. With 10 individual sites and 4 group sites, this area can accommodate groups and families of all sizes planning on exploring the Low Lands. Amenities at these campsites include trash and recycling cans, vault toilets, fire rings and fire pits and picnic tables. You can also find a bit more cell service for some providers, but anywhere you go in Congaree National Park, service will be spotty at best. For safe traveling, be sure to invest in an emergency radio before you hit the trails.

Bluff Campground

  • Location: Bluff Campground, Hopkins, SC 29061
  • Price: $5 per night
  • Number of campsites: 6
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Harry Hampton Visitor Center, Bluff Trail, Boardwalk Trail, Weston Lake Loop, Sims Trail, Cedar Lake and Creek, Wise Lake, Oak Ridge Trail, Cedar Creek Canoe Launch and Kingsnake Trail
  • Reserve a Bluff campsite here

With only six campsites and limited amenities, the Bluff Campground is unofficially reserved for campers that prioritize solitude and connection to the elements. Like Longleaf Campground, these campsites are in close proximity to a variety of Congaree National Park’s attractions, including the ever-popular Boardwalk Trail.

However, you won’t find very much cell reception, toilets or trash/recycling cans. The Bluff Campground is a pack-in, pack-out facility, meaning you’ll need to take whatever trash you produce back out with you. WAG bags or waste disposal bags are also highly recommended if you don’t feel like making the trek to Longleaf Campground or the visitor’s center for a bathroom. There are also picnic tables and fire pits at each of Bluff’s campsites. Though, you’ll need to fill up your water jugs at the visitor’s center in order to extinguish any flames.

Camping Outside of Congaree National Park

While Congaree’s campsites may be bare bones, that doesn’t mean this is the only way to experience the national park. In fact, there are quite a few parks, campgrounds and lodges in the surrounding towns of Lexington, Wedgefield and West Columbia. It may mean a bit of a drive to get to the park, but if you value comfort over convenience, these are the destinations for you.

Poinsett Park Campground

  • Location: Poinsett Park Rd, Wedgefield, SC 29168
  • Proximity to national park: 45 minutes
  • Price: $15-38 per night
  • Number of campsites: 60
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Shanks Creek, Poinsett Park Lake, Christmas Mill Lake, Palmetto Trail, Coquina Trail, Laurel Group Trail, Hill Top Trail and Scout Trail
  • Reserve a Poinsett Park campsite here

What better way to experience a national park than to stay at one of the neighboring state parks? It may sound strange, but if you want to maintain the nature-focused essence of your excursion, it’s a prime choice. Unlike Congaree National Park’s campsites, the ones found at Poinsett State Park are a bit more front-country friendly.

Here, you can find a variety of electric and tent-only campsites, all of which have access to Wifi, potable water, picnic tables, fire rings, a sanitation dump station and bathrooms with hot showers. There are also five cabins on site for Congaree visitors that need that extra bit of luxury. Or, if those no-nonsense campsites at Congaree National Park are all full, Poinsett Park has its own primitive camping area.

Of course, you can also explore Poinsett State Park’s trails and attractions on top of those at the national park. Just be sure that you take in Congaree’s bottomland forest before exploring elsewhere.

Barnyard RV Park

  • Location: 201 Oak Dr, Lexington, SC 29073
  • Proximity to national park: 35 minutes
  • Price: $38.29-$42.49 per two people per night; $1 plus for each additional person
  • Number of campsites: 129
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Saluda Riverwalk, Columbia Canal, Timmerman Trail, Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve, Saluda Shoals Park and Columbia Riverwalks
  • Reserve a Barnyard RV campsite by calling 803-957-1238

For an even comfier stay near Congaree National Park, Barnyard RV Park has anything and everything you may need while RV or trailer camping. The campsites here are complete with water and sewer, free cable and Wifi. Also available to the whole park are the gas station, dog park, public phones, sanitation dump station, temperature-controlled bathhouses, laundry facilities, meeting room, playground and trash services. You can even spend your morning sipping coffee by the duck pond before you jump in the car to the national park.

Not to mention, because the Barnyard RV Park is located in the heart of Lexington, you can do just as many urban activities as you do natural ones. So if Congaree National Park is only one stop along your camping trip, these camping spots are perfect for you.

Magnolia Campground Inc.

  • Location: 4031 Charleston Hwy, West Columbia, SC 29172
  • Proximity to national park: 25 minutes
  • Price: $30 per night
  • Number of campsites: 12
  • Months open: year-round
  • Nearby attractions: Silver Lake, Sweet Bay Pond, Terror Falls Haunted Farm, Toms Branch, Timmerman Trail and Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve
  • Reserve a Magnolia campsite here

Like Barnyard RV Park, Magnolia Campground Inc. has a bit more amenities than those within Congaree National Park. Each of these campsites has access to fire rings, outhouses, a restroom with a shower, firewood, swings and a sanitation dump station. Magnolia Campground Inc. also doubles as an event venue, so a boathouse and event pavilion complete with an outdoor kitchen are also on-site, in case the camping trip near the national park is a more formal affair.

Another main attraction of this campground is its scenic park with benches and its bird coop full of geese, chickens, peacocks and more. Magnolia Campground Inc. combines both the rustic nature of the surrounding attractions and the front-country comforts.