Visitors walk on the 2. 6 mile boardwalk to view the nature in the park. (Photo by P.J. Williams)

Congaree National Park recently saw its second-highest monthly visitation rate in nearly four years.

March posted a near-record number of 28,505 visitors at the park. The park’s 28,746 visitors in May 2019 made it the busiest month ever.

Congaree National Park is located in Richland County, 18 miles southeast of Columbia. It’s the only national park in South Carolina. The park has the largest tract of old bottomland forest remaining in the country.

The attendance rate skyrocketed over the past few months because more people are starting to learn about the park. 

John Grego, president of Friends of Congaree Swamp, said he was shocked by March’s attendance rate but is confused on why the numbers are fluctuating.

“I’ve been really surprised with the start of this year,” he said. “I don’t really understand why attendance fell off in the last part of 2022 and popped back up in 2023.”

Both 2021 and 2022 saw the highest annual number of visitors. Both years reached more than 200,000 visits. The record attendance year is 2021, with 215,181 visits, according to the National Park Service website.

Even with the staggering numbers the park sees throughout the year, visitors usually tend to stay away during the summer months because of the hot weather and the bugs.

“Summer (gets) hot out here in Columbia,” said Congaree National Park Ranger Jon Manchester. “We got a lot of bugs out here. …. People tend to shy away from the park when it’s really hot and muggy.”

Some visitors enjoy going to the park through all four seasons because they like to see the change in the weather.

“It’s just a nice outing,” said visitor Becky McSwain. “It comes in different seasons – it’s always something different.”

The park opened as a U.S. National Natural Landmark in May 1974. It was not officially established until October 1976, when legislation was passed to create Congaree National Swamp Memorial, according to the National Park Service website.

The park was forced to shut down in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and numbers reached an all-time low during those spring months. The park opened back up the next month, in May, but only had 140 visitors. 

The park has seen the attendance rate steadily improve nearly each month since the pandemic.

“People, since COVID, want to do more stuff outside,” Manchester said. “Even though we’re coming out of the pandemic and the emergency responses are ceasing, people still want to do stuff outside, and it’s free.”

Other park visitors go to the park because they enjoy how peaceful nature can be there.

“It’s a beautiful park,” said another visitor, Dawn Catalano. “It’s quiet – and nature – I just love it.”

The park is open 24 hours a day, all year-round and is free for all visitors.

The national park has several things people can do when they visit. (Photo by P.J. Williams)

The entrance sign off National Park Road when people first enter the park. (Photo by P.J. Williams)

The National Park Service offers an app to visitors that tells them information about Congaree. (Photo by P.J. Williams)

The National Park Service website shows how many people visited the park each month since 1985. (Graphic courtesy of the National Park Service)