Here are some of the historical, cultural, and natural landmarks you will see during your adventure.
Gervais Street Bridge: At least three unsuccessful attempts were made in the 1790s to bridge the Congaree River. The existing bridge opened in 1927, replacing an earlier bridge constructed in 1827. The earlier bridge was burned by Confederate forces in 1865 to impede the Union advance on Columbia. Union forces instead entered Columbia by crossing the Saluda and Broad rivers to the northwest, though not before shelling Columbia from the opposite bank. The remains of the original bridge are still visible along the West Columbia Riverwalk portion of the Three Rivers Greenway.
Granby Lock and Dam, Friday’s Ferry, and Columbia Canal: The Granby Lock and Dam were in use by 1905 to by-pass the rocky shoals of the Congaree River between Granby Landing and Gervais Street. When the river was low, movable wickets attached to the river bottom were raised to create a 4-foot rise in the height of the river. This allowed vessels using the lock to continue up the river without interference. When water was high, the wickets could be lowered and vessels proceeded up the river without using the lock.
The southern terminus of the historic Columbia Canal was located here as well. The canal was constructed in 1824 by Abraham Blanding and continued to Senate Street, connecting to canals on the Broad and Saluda rivers. The canal was damaged by an 1840 flood and fell into disuse around 1845. Many plans were made over the years to restore this original stretch of the canal, but never came to fruition.
The site of the Granby Lock and Dam marks the site of much of Columbia’s early history. The village of Granby (originally called “the Congarees”) on the Lexington side of the river was the first settlement in Saxe-Gothe, one of the townships created by South Carolina in 1733 to encourage inland settlement. The village was the site of a Revolutionary War siege and American victory shortly after the battles of Fort Watson and Fort Motte.
Friday’s Ferry connected the village to a landing on the Richland side of the river. The ferry was established as a public ferry by Martin Fridig (later Friday) in 1754, and at one time was managed by Wade Hampton (1754-1835). The village of Granby fell into decline with the designation of Columbia as the state capital.
Granite Quarries: Two quarries located on opposite sides of the Congaree River are major sources of construction material. Granite rock consisting primarily of quartz, feldspar, and biotite is extracted from this Piedmont geology.
Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve: This 630-acre preserve borders the Congaree River and the City of Cayce, and protects stands of locally rare Atlantic White Cedar along Congaree Creek. Archaeologists have found tools, arrowheads, and other evidence that people have lived in and around the preserve for nearly 12,000 years. The Cherokee Trail, leading from the Appalachian Mountains to the coast, runs through the preserve. The trail was later used by European traders and military forces during the Revolutionary War.
The Congaree earthworks, located on the north side of Congaree Creek, were built in the final months of the Civil War by John R. Niernsee, one of the most prominent architects (he designed the State Capitol) and engineers in South Carolina at the time. The fortifications represent a final defense for the City of Columbia prior to the arrival of General Sherman’s Union Army on February 15, 1865.
Boating access to the creek is currently limited to a drop-in from the riverbank at bridges. Boaters who wish to travel Congaree Creek to the Congaree River should be prepared to portage over downed trees that may obstruct the creek channel. Hikers can walk an easy 2.5-mile trail loop and view wildlife and historic clay quarries for nearby brickworks. For additional information contact the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at 803-734-3893.
Howell’s Ferry and Myrick’s Ferry: Howell’s Ferry was part of a road system constructed around 1756, by Thomas Howell, a prominent cattleman and landowner. The road leading from Howell’s Ferry, commissioned in 1766, was one of the first public roads in Richland County. Myrick’s Ferry, dating back to 1749, was located north of Mill Creek near Green Hill, a large point bar in the floodplain that shows signs of use by Native Americans.
Congaree National Park: The highlight of the Congaree River Blue Trail, the Congaree National Park is located 20 miles downstream of Columbia on river left. It was designated South Carolina’s first national park in 2003. Originally founded as Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976, the park is home to more than 15,000 acres of wilderness and covers almost 25,000 acres total. Paddlers and hikers alike can enjoy the network of 20 miles of hiking trails within the park and take advantage of opportunities to camp, fish, watch birds, and study nature. Guided walks and canoe trips are offered free of charge. Learn about special events and programs.
The park protects the largest contiguous area of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the U.S. The health of this unique and increasingly rare forest ecosystem depends on the periodic seasonal flooding of the Congaree River.
The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except December 25. During daylight savings time, the visitor center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. An official park map and guide, a self-guided boardwalk brochure, species lists, and camping and fishing regulations are all available online or at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.
Permitting & camping within the park: Backcountry camping in Congaree National Park is a great way to experience the wilderness. Free camping permits (issued for up to 14 days) must be obtained in advance. Campsites must be at least 100 feet away from backcountry trails, rivers, and streams. To protect the wilderness, campfires are not allowed in the backcountry, so cooking must be with a camp stove only. Full camping regulations (including “leave no trace” principles) and permit applications are available online or at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. Camping is primitive, with no designated camp pads or additional amenities.
Stump Gut: Located inside Congaree National Park is a series of channels that connect the floodplain to the Congaree River. Take out just after the gut and explore old growth cypress trees that are easily accessible by foot a few hundred yards inland.
Huger’s Ferry: Established in 1786, Huger’s Ferry was located at the plantation of Isaac Huger, a general in the Continental Army and the son of a wealthy merchant and planter. The ferry became obsolete when McCord’s Ferry was re-chartered in 1792. Remnants of the road to Huger’s Ferry are still visible in Congaree National Park.
Fort Motte (private property): During the American Revolution, the British seized and fortified the mansion of Rebecca Brewton Motte at Mount Joseph plantation along the Congaree River. The fortified mansion became known as Fort Motte. On May 12, 1781, Patriots led by General Francis Marion and Colonel Henry Lee forced the British and Loyalist occupants to surrender by setting the mansion’s roof ablaze with Rebecca Motte’s consent.
Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve: Located on river right across from Congaree National Park, this 201-acre preserve features steep, undisturbed bluffs rising 150 feet above the Congaree River and offers a spectacular overlook of the national park. The preserve harbors stands of upland and bottomland forests, and cultural remains from prehistoric and historic periods.
Boaters may enter the preserve from the river; however, there are no maintained docking or access structures on the bank. A walking trail (less than 1 mile) leads from the river’s edge to the top of the bluff. Along the bluff crest, visitors can use an observation deck, covered picnic shelter, and an education center or access an interior trail. No camping is allowed.
Public access and two parking areas are available from Turkey Track Lane, off State Secondary Road 25 less than 1 mile west of Fort Motte. The preserve does not offers maintained boat access to the river. For more information contact the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at 803-734-3886.
Devil’s Elbow (private property): On river left is Devil’s Elbow, an example of one of the many oxbow lakes found along the Congaree. Oxbow lakes are formed when a river changes course, cutting off an existing meander and creating a new channel in the process.
Norfolk Southern Railroad Bridge: The railroad segment from Branchville to Columbia is the second oldest railroad in South Carolina. Constructed in 1838-1842 by the Louisville, Cincinnati, and Charleston Rail Road Company, it consolidated with the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company to form the South Carolina Rail Road Company in 1844.
Bates Old River (flanked by private property): Bates Old River is an oxbow lake that was part of the Congaree River until a great flood in 1852 cut if off from the main channel. Bates Old River is one of the longest oxbow lakes in South Carolina. The inlet and outlet of Bates Old River are still discernible along the northeast bank of the Congaree’s present channel. Access to Bates Old River using an unimproved boat ramp is available from Highway 601.
McCord’s Ferry (Bates Ferry): Authorized in 1766, McCord’s Ferry was located near the northern tip of the Congaree River’s great meander, which was later cut off from the main river channel. The ferry was named after John McCord, a trader to local tribes and captain of a frontier ranger company during the French and Indian War. McCord’s Ferry was a strategic river crossing during the Revolutionary War. American forces camped near the landing during the siege of Fort Motte and forces were stationed at the ferry to protect American troops laying siege to the fort. A second ferry was authorized in the 1840s as the Congaree River was gradually cutting its new channel. It also was the site of skirmishes during the Civil War. At the time of the Civil War and for years after, these crossings were known as Bates Ferry.
Bates Bridge (Hwy 601): The Congaree River Blue Trail ends at Bates Bridge Landing at Highway 601 (river mile 51). The next take out is Low Falls Landing, approximately 15 miles downstream in the headwaters of Lake Marion. Bates Bridge Landing floods periodically, making it a poor choice for long-term parking.