Blue Ridge Parkway
Vacation through the Deep South

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Running 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America's most scenic drives.

Vacation through the Deep South

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, is one of America's most popular national parks.

Southeastern National Parks

The Deep South of the United States is full of rolling hills, flowing rivers, sun-soaked beaches and several Southeastern national parks. In this trip, you will get to experience it all and create memories of a lifetime along the way.
Prepared By:

James Wynn

Adventurer & Photographer

Southeastern National Parks

Start / End

Atlanta, Georgia – Miami, Florida

States Covered
National parks

Great Smoky Mountains, Congaree, Everglades, Dry Tortugas, Biscayne

Total Distance

1,730 Miles

Suggested Days

At least 14

Suggested Seasons

Year Round

#ThisIsMyRoute

Overview

This road trip takes you on an unforgettable vacation through the Deep South of the United States, exploring many southeastern national parks and wonderful cities along the way. Begin in Atlanta and travel throughout the Southeast region, stopping at four national parks stretching from North Carolina to Florida. Along the way, explore major cities and sleepy southern towns along with epic wilderness and natural wonder. 

Preparation

We recommend at least two weeks to encompass all of the possible offerings that are suggested in this itinerary. The southeastern national parks in this trip are all worth spending at least a couple of days in, so plan accordingly. Almost all of the drives between locations are quite short, less than a few hours, with many even less than that. The weather throughout this region is reliably warm throughout the year. Watch out for hurricane season in the late summer and early fall, which can wreak major havoc in this corner of the country. If you choose to travel during this time of year, be sure to check the weather forecasts to ensure that you are safe to move between and around the southeastern national parks.

Itinerary

ARRIVAL IN ATLANTA

Fly into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and rent a car for the remainder of your trip. Atlanta is one of the major metropolises of the South and one of the largest cities in the country. There is a lot to do in the city, from botanical gardens to major sporting events. Like Los Angeles, the city is notoriously sprawling and traffic gridlock is not uncommon.

Best historical site:
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Best place for a stroll:
THE BELTLINE
Best place to catch a live show:
THE FOX THEATRE
Best place for dinner:
POOR CALVIN’S
Best place to stay:
EAST ATLANTA VILLAGE
SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

After your time in bustling Atlanta, get some much needed relaxation Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Though it is the most visited national park in the country, it will not be hard to find calm and tranquility in the half-million acres that constitute the park. Backpacking and camping are popular here, but the 850 miles of trails – which includes 70 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail – make for excellent day hikes as well. Also, there are a number of waterfalls in the park and a rich regional history including rum-runners and Indigenous heritage.

 

Best short hike:
SMOKEMONT LOOP TRAIL
Can’t miss it:
CADES COVE
Grab a burger and brew:
SMOKY MOUNTAIN BREWERY
Best place hike in for an overnight stay:
LE CONTE LODGE
Best waterfall hike:
GROTTO FALLS
Best place to experience crazy Americana:
GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE
NORTH CAROLINA

The next segment of the journey takes you through two of North Carolina’s more popular urban areas, the small and very hip Asheville and the booming and busy Charlotte. These days, Asheville is often compared to towns like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, as a casual, food-centric town with a vibrant cultural scene. The astounding number of breweries, art galleries, and live music offerings keep culture hounds happy. Alternatively, Charlotte is the major city in the state and has plenty of attractions like shopping and entertainment to keep travelers happy.

 

Can’t Miss it:
THE BILTMORE ESTATE
Best scenic drive: 
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Best way to see a ghost-Charlotte:
HAUNTED CHARLOTTE TOUR
Best place for dinner
THE CELLAR AT DUCKWORTH’S
Best night out:
UPTOWN
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA AND CONGAREE NATIONAL PARK

Next, head to Columbia, the capital and largest city in the state of South Carolina. Grab lunch in town and hit the road for nearby Congaree National Park. This southeastern national park was designated in 2003, making it one of the newest national parks in the country. The swampy environment is home to the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States.

 

Best Southern BBQ:
SOUTHERN BELLY BBQ
Best selfie:
THE WORLD’S LARGEST FIRE HYDRANT
Best nature walk:
BOARDWALK NATURE TRAIL-CONGAREE
Best way to see Congaree up close:
KAYAKING IN CEDAR CREEK
SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

A few hours southeast of Columbia is Savannah, the oldest city in Georgia and also one of the most pleasant places anywhere in the country. Situated near the ocean, the city has long been home to a thriving shipping industry and today is appreciated as a charming town teeming with American history. Savannah is famous for its cobblestone streets and historic buildings, which make for excellent aimless strolling. There is plenty of shopping and eating to be done, too, so savor your time here.

 

Great southern Architecture:
THE CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
Best place for southern food:
MRS. WILKES DINING ROOM
Best place for a stroll:
FORSYTH PARK
Can’t miss it:
BONAVENTURE CEMETERY
Best place for dinner:
COTTON AND RYE
COASTAL FLORIDA

Next, drive down the length of Florida, with Daytona Beach as your destination. On your way, stop in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States. You might even want to spend a night in this charming, historic city. Further down the coast is Daytona Beach, known as both “The World’s Most Famous Beach” and “The Spring Break Capital of the World.” The beach itself has attracted tourists and college students for decades. Expect big crowds in the summer, but the people watching here is part of the appeal, too. Bring a towel, a good book and prepare to soak in some sunshine. 

 

Best place to see the Atlantic:
CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE
Can’t Miss It:
CASTILLO DE SAN MARCOS AT ST. AUGUSTINE
Best museum:
PONCE DE LEON MUSUEM
Best place to shop:
RIVERFRONT SHOPS AT DAYTONA BEACH
Party like a college student on Spring Break:
BEACH STREET
Best place for dinner:
CHUCHERIAS HONDURAS RESTAURANT
DISNEY WORLD ORLANDO

No visit to Florida would be complete without a visit to Orlando and Disney World. With this metropolitan area being one of the largest in the state, the city is not at all limited to the Magic Kindgom. There are cultural attractions, dining and shopping that have nothing to do with Walt Disney’s creations. Yet, the city’s nickname, “The Theme Park Capital of the World”, lives up to its reputation. If you’re not into Disney, you could also spend the day at Universal Studios, LegoLand, or any of the other various theme parks in the region. Although, Disney World is a rite of passage that should be experienced at least once in your life, regardless of whether or not you have kids in tow. Spend a full day there and head back into nature afterwards. We suggest checking out one of the many natural springs that can be found throughout Florida. They’re great for canoeing, kayaking and cooling off in the sunshine state.

CAPE CANAVERAL

When you’ve had your fill of Disney, head back east to check out Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The site is home to many firsts in American space exploration, from the first U.S. Earth satellite to the first U.S. astronaut to the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. Spend the afternoon touring around and absorbing these important history lessons. Next, you will cross the state and hit Tampa, one of the largest cities in the state. There are many tourist activities in the city, from the Big Cat Rescue to the Electric Manatee Viewing Center, the Lowry Zoo to the Florida Aquarium. There is also plenty of shopping, dining and culture to be found everywhere.

 

 

Best place for a stroll:
BAYSHORE BOULEVARD
Can’t miss it:
YBOR CITY HISTORIC DISTRICT
Best place for a hike:
LETTUCE LAKE PARK
Coolest bridge:
SUNSHINE SKYWAY BRIDGE
Best place to people watch:
THE TAMPA RIVERWALK
Most American dinner ever:
MEDIEVAL TIMES
 
SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA

Your next stop is Sanibel Island, a small, scenic barrier island off Florida’s gulf coast. It’s a popular tourist destination, known for seashell hunting and wildlife refuges, which make up more than half of the island. The largest of these is J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts one of the country’s largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems. Understandably, the island a great place for anything from a romantic getaway to a family vacation.

 

Best place to shop local:
SANIBEL ISLAND FARMER’S MARKET
Most unique museum:
BAILEY-MATTHEWS NATIONAL SHELL MUSEUM
Hit the beach:
LIGHTHOUSE BEACH
Best hike:
APPLE POND PARK TRAIL
Get a little history:
SANIBEL HISTORICAL MUSEUM AND VILLAGE
Best place for dinner:
THE SANDBAR
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK

Your next stop is the incredible Everglades National Park, unlike anywhere else in the country. It is the third largest of the national parks in the U.S. (after Death Valley and Yellowstone), the largest subtropical wilderness in the country. Furthermore, it is one of only three places in the entire world to be designated an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site and a Wetland of International Importance. Of all the southeastern national parks, the Everglades will wow you. Hiking, boating, birdwatching, camping and fishing are all popular in the park, as well as bicycling thanks to the flat terrain.

 

Can’t miss it:
CAPTAIN JACK’S AIRBOAT TOURS
Best short hike:
MAHOGANY HAMMOCK
Best long hike:
COASTAL PRAIRIE TRAIL
Best ranger led tour:
1000 ISLANDS BOAT TOUR
Best bird watching from a canoe:
NINE MILE POND
Try some alligator:
EVERGLADES GATOR GRILL
THE FLORIDA KEYS: BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK AND DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK

Biscayne National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park are American southeastern national parks
On your penultimate leg of this trip, you will drive all the way down to Key West, only a few hours south of Miami. En route, visit Biscayne National Park, which preserves Biscayne Bay and its offshore barrier reefs. Ninety-five percent of the park is water, which makes for incredible ocean views and undisturbed underwater ecosystems. Additionally, Elliott Key is the largest island in the park and the first of the Florida Keys. Next, begin your drive down through the rest of the Florida Keys, with the southernmost Key West as your end point. You’ll pass through a number of small communities, so you can do this drive at your leisure. Plan on spending a few days in Key West and dedicate one of those days to visiting Dry Tortugas National Park. This corner of the Caribbean is only accessible by boat or seaplane from Key West. The journey is an adventure alone. Also, at Dry Tortugas you can explore Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. With so much to offer, this is arguable one of the most fascinating southeastern national parks.

 

Historic walk:
KEY WEST WALKING TOUR
Best museum:
ERNEST HEMINGWAY HOME AND MUSEUM
Can’t miss it:
THE SOUTHERN MOST POINT IN THE UNITED STATES
Best place to catch the sunset:
MALLORY SQUARE
Best place for a stroll:
DUVAL STREET
Best place for seafood:
THE CONCH REPUBLIC
MIAMI

Lastly, end your epic southeastern national parks road trip in Miami. Home to more than 5 million people, Miami is considered one of the most vibrant cities in the country and is the center for finance, culture and media in the state. The city is nicknamed the “Capital of Latin America” due to the large Cuban-American population, which represents roughly one third of Miami’s demographic spread. With its mix of Cuban, West Indian and other cultures, Miami truly feels like an international locale. As with all cities this size, there is plenty to occupy one’s time here.

 

Best place for a stroll:
VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS
Best outdoor art:
THE WYNWOOD WALLS
Can’t miss it:
LITTLE HAVANA
Best place to explore urban Miami:
MIAMI DESIGN DISTRICT
Best place for a stroll:
SOUTH BEACH
Best place for dinner:
VERSAILLES CUBAN RESTAURANT
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