Congaree National Park with Kids

Congaree National Park was an absolute treat.  I am always looking for National Parks to visit on our trips, and I came across this one about halfway between Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC.  Perfect!  As I started researching, I found that it is regarded by many as one of the most underrated national parks in the system.  It really offers a lot more than you might expect from a national park with virtually no roads through it! 

The park is located near Columbia, SC.  It is some of the tallest deciduous forest on Earth and the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States, according to the NPS.  

We opted for hiking as our choice activity, as we only had a few hours for our stop.  But you can canoe, kayak, and camp here as well.  There are even canoe trails!  They offer frequent ranger-led activities too, and a great junior ranger program, which we did while we were there.  

We started with a picnic at the picnic area outside the visitor center which was as fun as it looks here- hah!

Attitudes improved once they had some food and got amped about the cool hike! It’s amazing what a little food, rest, play, and water will do for a person.

We did the Boardwalk Loop Trail which had a really cool “tour” pamphlet associated with it.  You can also get this digitally if you prefer.  It was super informative!  Between that and our Junior Ranger activities, we learned a ton!  🙂  While planning this trip, I read that the boardwalk floods from time to time, so check before you go.  We also spurred off on another trail- I think it was the Bluff Trail.  Gorgeous!

The park is swamp and forest.  On the Boardwalk Trail, you will see the river floodplain, an oxbow lake, swampland, and hardwood forest.  It is incredibly diverse landscape over a few short miles.  The loblolly pines were our favorite thing to say on the hike, and we loved seeing and hearing lots and lots of birds and animals.  

We had visited Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve in March, and it had swampland too.  The kids noticed similarities and differences to that one, and it was really fun to hear their observations.  Lucy said it looked like a fairy forest, and I quite agree. 

The kids all earned their Junior Ranger badges! They take this pretty seriously, and the activities were really great for discovering plants and wildlife on our hike.

It was a great way to spend the Sunday afternoon.  We followed it with pizza at a classic dine in Pizza Hut and then drove straight to the ocean- more about that here.  

Exploring Historic Charleston with Kids

Whenever we go on vacation, as you may know from my previous post, I try to find things that are free or low-cost.  It’s also important to me that we all experience the uniqueness of the destination.  While putt putt golf is fun and entertaining, it’s pretty much the same everywhere.  So our list usually includes historic and cultural sites so that we can appreciate where we are in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Charleston has a lot of history and a lot of culture, so we were excited to explore!  The first morning we were in the city, we took time to walk around the historic area of the city.  We also made a few stops, including visiting the historic Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.  This building has been there since 1771, and it is currently a historic site revolving around the history of colonial Charleston and the American Revolution.  Many American revolutionaries were imprisoned in this dungeon.  

You can enter for a small fee.  Kids under 6 are free, and kids under 12 get in for $5.    They offer a combo ticket of this and the slave market museum, but we took a hard pass on the combo due to the ages of our young children.  It is open everyday.  

You are free to explore the main and upper floors of the building, and there is a guided tour of the lower level (the dungeon!) offered.  The people who work here were dressed in period dress and were very excited to have children visiting, so they were very enthusiastic and welcoming to our family.  The kids got to sign a copy of the declaration of independence, and at the time we were there, there was a man doing a musket demonstration.  George Washington visited here and held a big party in the ballroom, so that was an exciting point of interest for our older boys.  There was a lot to see and learn about regarding the American revolution.  We haven’t gotten to visit many revolutionary historic sites, so this was especially interesting and fun for us.

There were also a number of models of historic ships that really piqued all of the kids’ interest.  We went down to the dungeon for the guided tour.  This was a very informative and entertaining tour.  There are also exposed old foundational city walls to see down here, and there were many stories of brave and loyal American revolutionaries that were very intriguing to our older kids.  Jimmy lost interest and became somewhat disruptive, so we took a break.  He was tired, as you can see, but he did well the rest of the time at the place.  We were there for a couple hours.

We walked around the city and got to see the famous rainbow row.  We visited the pineapple fountain as well of course.  Charleston is a beautiful city, and it was a treat to just take it all in.  The kids noticed differences between home and here, and they asked lots of good questions about why it was the way it was.

The city has a big historic market called the City Market which is also open daily.  We had lunch across the street from it on our city day.  It was very lively and busy!  There were many people weaving and selling seagrass baskets, which we came to see pretty much everywhere we visited.  

Our first morning getting acquainted with Charleston and its history and charm was delightful!  We were so happy and grateful to be there and excited for what was next!

Favorite Charleston Beaches with Kids

We didn’t really choose South Carolina; South Carolina chose us. 

When we were looking for a spot for our summer vacation, we had one specific week to do it.  I have been planning a trip to South Dakota for three years and have never gotten to take it.  So I was ready for South Dakota!  However, Kareem really wanted to go somewhere with a beach.  I started pricing them out to compare some beach locations with South Dakota, and there were three pretty affordable beach locations- Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia.  These were about the same price as South Dakota.  We eliminated Virginia, thinking we will do that when they’re older.  We hemmed and hawed and then…. Then an opportunity to go to a music festival in North Carolina came up, and the opportunity to stay with one of my oldest friends, well the decision was made for us.  South Carolina beaches, here we come!  

We drove from Congaree National Park near Columbia straight to the ocean.  Our kids couldn’t wait to see the ocean, despite the fact that it was rainy and evening time.  We drove straight to Sullivan Island, not far from where we were staying.  I chose this beach due to the proximity to where we were staying.  We ended up visiting once more during our stay, on our final day in town.  This is an upscale beach community, and you definitely feel that vibe visiting.  Incidentally, this island is growing due to the way that the current carries the sand and the harbor prevents sand from being carried further south.  There are many, many beach entries along the island.  There is a coast guard tower here on the island as well.  The beach was very quiet during both of our visits.  The water was super calm, and we had some dolphins swim near us.  

Something very important to note about the beaches at Sullivan’s Island- there are no public amenities.  No public parking lots, showers, or restrooms.  So be prepared for that.  This is probably not one that I would visit again with children.  

We had the absolute pleasure of taking a boat out to Morris Island, an uninhabited barrier island very near a very old lighthouse.  While Sullivan’s Island is expanding, Morris Island, which is south of the harbor, is eroding.  It was a very cool beach to visit, though it is wild and we did not do any swimming here.  We did, however, collect about forty pounds of shells!  Collecting shells was a primary goal on this trip. And the shells here on Morris Island were plentiful!  And a very diverse finding of shells, though there were lots of oyster shells here.  No swimming, but a beach definitely worth visiting!  Of course, no public amenities.  In fact, it is only accessible by boat.  On the way, though, you will see some amazing wild sights, including TONS of dolphins!  

Folly Island Beach is very close to Morris Island.  This was a great one.  It may not have been the favorite beach, but it was a favorite evening. We got to see a double rainbow here, and the sky was super dramatic as we were there in the late afternoon into the evening.  We saw the most spectacular sunset and were treated to some wildlife sightings here too, including dolphins and a manta ray!

While we did not encounter a ton of public amenities, there is lots of street parking and public restrooms and showers available. The county park has ample parking and other amenities available there as well, including umbrella rentals.  There are lifeguards at the county park beach area, though we were not down that far. There was a ton of beach space.  There is a pier, but it was under construction. 

Isle of Palms was our second beach stop.  This one is up the road from Sullivan’s Island.  It is another wealthy community, but more down to earth than Sullivan’s Island.  There are also PLENTIFUL public amenities here.  There is a pier and rental areas, playgrounds, a lot of very easily accessible public parking, many public showers and restroom.  We went to the public city beach, where there were many lifeguards on duty.  This was a very crowded beach, but probably one of our favorites.  We enjoyed the water and the vibe here.  

Ultimately, my recommendation for beaches with kids in South Carolina is ANY beach because you can’t go wrong!  But as far as convenience and public amenities, Isle of Palms wins.  The uniqueness award goes to Morris Island.  The beauty award goes to Folly Beach!  There were two other beaches we didn’t get to visit, but that are on our list- Kiawah Island and Botany Bay.  Til next time, Charleston!

Hope you found this enjoyable and/or helpful!

Book of the Month

I absolutely love to read, but I haven’t always made time to read for pleasure. When I was going through my divorce and learning to share my kids, I looked for some enriching activities that I had always wanted to pursue but didn’t have time for. I ended up subscribing to Book of the Month. I’ve always had a pile of books on my end table or by my bed, and my shelves are always full. Book of the Month is the original book subscription box, and I really love it. 

You get access to early releases, the books are vetted by actual readers, and they are very reasonably priced.  You receive a hardcover book each month.  

But the thing I love about it is that you don’t have to!  You can skip a month and not be charged for it.  I started this at the same time that I was early into my doctoral program and a relationship.  I ended up not having the time I hoped for leisure reading.  I love the convenience of being able to skip AND not be charged.  If you completely forget to make a choice or to choose to skip, they do not just send you something.  They charge you, and you have a credit on your account.  I appreciate this so I’m not collecting a bunch of books I’m never going to read.

The cost is $12.50-$16.67, depending on your membership plan.  Shipping is always free, and there are often opportunities to add books on for a discounted rate.  For me, at the time, I was trying to save money, but I justified this as something that promotes wellness and my goals, especially as I was getting used to sharing custody of my kids with their dads.  It also is literally the cost of skipping two fast food meals a month- I can do that!  😀  

This is a picture of my daughter receiving some books for her birthday with her look of joy- similar to me each month getting my box. 🙂

Another thing I really love about it is that it is a convenient way for me to read things I might not typically.  The books all have reviews, they give you info that’s good to know before you read- for example, I am sensitive to reading about certain abuse situations, so I appreciate that info ahead of time!  They give you a synopsis, genre, and about the author, so you can make an informed decision.  I have enjoyed every book I have received, so they are doing a great job at giving me the info I need to decide!  I have been part of a book club, but with the inconsistency in my schedule the past couple years between doctoral work, work, kids, etc, this is a different way that encourages me to read and read new things. It’s really important to me to model a love of reading for my kids. I really love our reading time together, be it me reading to them, them reading to me, or us just reading together in one another’s company. All the photos in this post are of my kids reading, because believe it or not, nobody’s really out there taking pics of me reading my BOTM books. 🙂

For my birthday, my husband gave me an amazing little cabana so I can hide out and read outside- my favorite place to read, believe it or not. 😉  I’ll be excited to get my next box and test it out!  

**This review is in no way associated with Book of the Month in any official capacity. I just like it and wanted to share.**

Why Cold Weather Hiking is the Best Hiking

Welcome, October. While it was a balmy 94 degrees today, the promise of cooler temperatures is right around the corner. It has me dreaming of firey colored leaves, cozy evenings, and spooky nights. But what’s really exciting for me, as someone who hikes at least every weekend- is cold weather hiking!

Klondike Park, St. Charles County, MO

Here are my top three reasons- among many- why I love hiking in the fall and winter:

Less bugs, less bug spray.

My kids are not fans of getting sprayed down with smelly bug spray. I’m not a huge fan of spraying them with anything containing DEET and of course, the DEET-free options are more expensive. But I always dutifully do so, and you can always find bug spray in my car. In the fall and winter and cold early spring, you can worry less about all those bug bites.

My kids also happen to be tick magnets. And one of my children has anxiety around bug bites, but he worries much less when bugs are not milling about constantly.

The views are spectacular.

Castlewood State Park, MO

When you hike in fall, obviously, the fall foliage is a huge draw. However, even after the leaves fall, there are perks to hiking this time of year. Without all the leaves, you can often see geological features you may have missed and the scenic overlooks are often more visible.

Unique quiet.

As a lady who hikes the majority of the time with four kids and/or a forty year old man, quiet solitude may be a surprising item to find on my list. But when the weather turns, you find many fewer people sharing your trail. And when we get out, we love to sit in the stillness and listen- to nature, water, our breath, whatever. While we love meeting new families and friends out on the trails, we experience a different quiet when we are not meeting many people out there. It is really a beautiful experience. And when I do get my alone hikes in, it is especially spectacular.

St. Charles County, MO

Some tips: Be prepared.

Of course, hiking at any time of year requires preparation and precaution. Plan ahead. Let someone know where you’re going and when. I often record my hikes on the All Trails app so there is a record. Always take your basic supplies for first aid and safety, a map, headlamp, and water and food. Stay on the trail and check the weather beforehand. If you’re somewhere super remote, a weather radio and/or a satellite phone are good emergency gear to bring, as cell phones don’t work everywhere.

An additional precaution I recommend in these colder months is to head out early. Being aware of time is critical in these colder months with shorter days. The sun goes down much earlier, and if you’re like me, it can be easy to get caught up in the beauty and the experience. Staying aware is important. And lastly, when in doubt, turn around. It is not worth it to overextend yourself in any regard and turn what could have been a lovely adventure into a catastrophe, disaster, or emergency.

Hiking is a wonderful hobby that has significantly enhanced my life, and I hope it will continue to enhance my children’s lives. My hope is to leave with them some sense of wonder and adventure, an appreciation for the simple beauty that our world offers. So we can’t let a little cold weather stop us! There’s no such thing as bad weather- just bad clothes and bad attitudes. With the right preparation, you can have an even greater adventure in the cold!