Old growth hardwood forests in Congaree National Park. Photo by: Ken Lund
Off-the-radar parks are a good bet for avoiding throngs of tourists and permit hassles—but we bet this one won’t remain anonymous much longer. The largest tract of bottomland hardwood forest in the country, Congaree is one of the most biodiverse parks in the system. It hosts everything from foxes and river otters to treefrogs and skinks to herons and egrets—to some of the country’s biggest trees. But the best part may be that you can do Congaree on the no-plan plan. Just hop on the River Trail, a 10-mile lollipop-loop, and take it 5 miles into the floodplain before finding a tent (or hammock) site below the tupelos and cypresses. Finish the loop to see more giants (and scan for wild boars) before retracing your steps.
Trailhead Harry Hampton Visitor Center Season Year-round, but spring and fall are best for wildlife Permit Free; self-issue