We all know that the American South is home to many beautiful beaches and coastal attractions, but there are some amazing landmarks to visit inland, as well.
From caverns and hot springs to monuments and historic trails, here are just 5 outdoor destinations for you and your family to explore in the South.
(Of course, you should always check before your trip to see whether or not weather conditions, road closures, or pandemic-related restrictions have affected any of the attractions listed below. Some attractions may be temporarily closed, and others may offer limited admission or require reservations in advance. However, outdoor attractions can generally accommodate more social distancing than their indoor counterparts.)
“Cathedral Caverns” by user Faungg on Flickr
Cathedral Caverns State Park, Alabama
This park touts itself as Alabama’s “Coolest” Underground Adventure. Its primary feature is its giant underground cave, which offers visitors a break from the heat at a comfortable 60 degrees Fahrenheit temperature year-round.
Visitors can admire the giant cave entrance (one of the biggest commercial cave openings in the world) and travel 1.3 miles underground, exploring stalagmite formations (including “Goliath,” one of the largest stalagmites in the world), an underground river, and even a prehistoric shark’s tooth embedded in the ceiling. Visitors can also learn about early occupation by Native Americans, and watch for bats.
However, the cave isn’t the only feature in the park. Visitors can also enjoy 493 acres of marked hiking trails to further explore nature.
To plan your visit, start here.
“Blue Ridge Parkway-001” by glynneh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Blue Ridge Parkway
The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway winds 469 miles through the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers spectacular views. There are plenty of paved overlooks for drivers, but there are also lots of excellent hiking and camping opportunities along the trail.
The parkway begins in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and culminates in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee, North Carolina. Access to the parkway and overlooks is completely free of charge.
Sites along the trail offer visitors glimpses into Native American culture, agricultural history, and Southern Appalachian crafts and music. Nature lovers can explore a wide range of habitats and unique flora and fauna.
Along the way, there are plenty of visitor centers and dining and lodging options. You can also visit attractions like The Blue Ridge Music Center and beautiful waterfalls such as Linville Falls, or spend some time in the city of Asheville, North Carolina, home to the famous Biltmore Estate and a vibrant arts scene.
For more information, visit BlueRidgeParkway.org.
“Arkansas” by US Department of State is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs National Park was the first piece of land to ever be set aside by the federal government in 1832 — at the height of the commercial bathing industry — for recreational preservation. Its main feature is the area’s ancient thermal spring, as well as the nine grand historic bathhouses in town, referred to as Bathhouse Row.
The park, located in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, features mountain views, incredible geology, forested hikes, and abundant creeks for kids to splash around in. There are plenty of opportunities in the park to camp, fish, and explore nature.
The town of Hot Springs itself also has plenty of attractions, including a museum, an aquarium, and even a theme park, along with plenty of dining and shopping options. There are also a few state parks — Lake Catherine State Park and Lake Ouachita State Park — located nearby that offer opportunities for boating and swimming.
To learn more about visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas, check out the National Parks site.
“Natchez Trace” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi to Tennessee
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile recreational road and scenic drive that follows the “Old Natchez Trace,” a historic travel corridor used by Native Americans, “Kaintucks” (the term used for boatmen who floated merchandise down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from states throughout the Ohio River valley in the early 1800s), European settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and future presidents.
The trail runs from Natchez, Mississippi through Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee.
The parkway is also a designated bicycle route and offers plenty of opportunities for hiking and camping along the way.
A few of the popular attractions include:
- Prehistoric mounds and archaeological sites
- Scenic lookouts
- Historic points of interest
- The boardwalk trail loop through the Cypress Swamp
Learn more about the Natchez Trace Parkway at the U.S. National Park Service site.
Georgia’s Colonial Coast Birding Trail
Georgia’s Colonial Coast Birding Trail is a must for birding enthusiasts, both novice and advanced. However, the trail also offers an amazing way for history and nature enthusiasts to glimpse how the natural world intertwines with human history.
According to GeorgiaWildlife.com, more than 300 species of birds (75 percent of the total species of birds seen in Georgia) have been spotted at the 18 sites along the birding trail — many of which are rare or even endangered. That may be due to the trail’s variety of habitats to explore, each with its own flora and fauna. A few examples of the habitats included in the trail are salt marshes, old rice fields, woodlands, tidal rivers, freshwater wetlands, and shorelines.
Many sites also offer visitors the opportunity to visit 18th and 19th Century historic places in addition to birdwatching. Some of these sites include:
- Fort Pulaski National Monument – Located at the mouth of the Savannah River, this 5,600-acre national monument consists of McQueen’s Island, Cockspur Island and the adjacent salt marsh.
- Fort Morris State Historic Site – Originally a Guale Indian village, the site became the seaport town of Sunbury (one of several “dead towns” in Georgia) before becoming Fort Morris in 1776. The fort helped protect Georgia’s coast during both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
- Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center – This site contains remnants of an extensive canal system that linked the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers during the 1800s.
Of course, which birds you can spot on the colonial birding trail will vary quite a bit based on factors like the time of year, the weather, the tide levels, and the specific site. But regardless of how many birds you check off your list, you will “learn why the Creek Indians called the Georgia coast ‘The Enchanted Land.’”
A Unique Opportunity Near the Georgia Coast
The Colonial Coast Birding Trail begins near Savannah, Georgia, on Tybee Island, less than 30 minutes from downtown Savannah.
This barrier island boasts five miles of public beaches, as well as plenty of lodging options and casual dining opportunities. You can visit The Tybee Lighthouse, one of the oldest lighthouses in the nation, and check out the Marine Science Center, which gives visitors a glimpse into native marine life.
The historic city of Savannah is already one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S., but it also holds special appeal for nature enthusiasts. The city is located on the Savannah River, and within a short distance of the city visitors can experience “vast marshlands, pristine beaches, rivers, and creeks filled with marine life.”Along the Savannah River, visitors can experience vast marshlands, pristine beaches, rivers, and creeks filled with marine life. Click To Tweet
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