American Southeast Road Trip

This southeast road trip takes you on a scenic journey to several of the cherished national parks, natural wonders, and historic sites of the American Southeast. From the Great Smoky Mountains to Hot Springs National Park, you’ll surely be amazed by all that this eclectic region has to offer!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Begin your road trip at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains features one of the country’s most diverse ecosystems. The Appalachian Mountain range houses an incredible range of plant and animal species, and you can delve into the historic settlements deep within the valleys. Coasting through Cades Cove lets you explore preserved cabins and churches of wayward travelers and stunning images of the forested peaks. Drive slowly along the roadway to watch for deer, black bears, and other wildlife hiding in the woodlands. Visiting during the spring reveals beautiful wildflowers and fall enchants you with a kaleidoscope of colorful foliage. There are endless hiking trails inside the park that take you to popular sights like Sugarland Mountain, Rainbow Falls, and the Alum Cave Bluffs.

Natchez Trace Parkway

The next stop on your road trip brings you to Natchez Trace Parkway. Spanning over 400 miles from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi, the Natchez Trace Parkway courses through ancient trails used by Native Americans and European settlers. Native Americans maintained settlements for thousands of years and followed the wild game that created paths through the dense forests. Once Europeans settled the area, the footpaths improved to enable pioneers to venture into unexplored terrain. Further development of the trails led to the creation of the scenic drive and cycling paths that follow the historic route. Traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway lets you visit many cherished sites that enabled the development of the region.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

Continue on to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area which transports you into the heart of the Bayou and the mysterious swamplands of Louisiana. Here there are incredible wildlife species and there is a unique cultural tradition surrounding the Atchafalaya River. The waterways offer an abundance of outdoor recreation. From bird watching and kayaking to camping and swamp tours, you’ll connect with nature like never before. While touring the swamplands and cypress forests, make sure to sample Cajun cuisine and listen to traditional Bayou music.

Vicksburg National Military Park

The next stop on your road trip is Vicksburg National Military Park. Nestled along the banks of the Mississippi River, Vicksburg hosted one of the most strategic battles in the American Civil War. Both sides recognized the importance of controlling the riverside city, and the rolling hills allow you to imagine the veracity of the 47-day siege. Over a thousand monuments decorate the landscape that commemorates the sacrifice of the soldiers who perished on the battlefield. Brilliant architects laid the foundation to make the Vicksburg National Military Park one of the finest artistic masterpieces in the country. Stop by the USS Cairo for a glimpse of the ironclads that patrolled the waterways during the mid-19th century.

Hot Springs National Park

Continuing along your journey, you’l come to Hot Springs National Park. The revitalizing hot springs located in Garland County, Arkansas were preserved by the federal government long before the concept of national parks existed. For centuries, humans have congregated at the healing waters flowing from Hot Springs Mountain into the spa town. Native American tribes utilized the natural springs for thousands of years, and European settlers created therapeutic spa baths for visitors seeking treatment. Established in 1921, parts of the national park run through town which allows residents to have convenient access to the historic bathhouses. The spectacular architectural works are among the most beautiful spa baths anywhere in the United States. Around the bathhouses, tackle the forested hiking trails to marvel at geologic treasures and peaceful creeks flowing around Hot Springs.

Congaree National Park

The next stop on your road trip brings you to Congaree National Park. The temperate forests in central South Carolina are among the most awe-inspiring anywhere east of the Mississippi River. Walking along the boardwalk and staring at the forest canopy lets you gaze at some of America’s tallest trees. The old-growth forest includes species such as cherrybark oaks, chestnut oaks, and American elms that soar well over 100 feet. You’ll find all sorts of wildlife inside the park, including bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, turtles, and snakes. The Boardwalk Loop is one of the park’s most popular trails that provides a detailed look at the bottomland hardwood forest.

Little River Canyon

Continue on to Little River Canyon. Although the state of Alabama doesn’t have a national park, Little River Canyon might be its most incredible natural wonder. Driving through the Little River Canyon Rim gives you 16 miles of sensational views of rocky cliffs, tumbling waterfalls, and beautiful foliage. The roadway passes numerous lookout points of steep ridges and lush forests as you climb Lookout Mountain. Woodland trails take you deeper into the canyon rim and let you explore the Southern Appalachians. 

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park

Finally, you’ll arrive at Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. This small trip in Atlanta lets you pay tribute to one of the nation’s iconic Civil Rights leaders of the 20th century. The group of buildings consists of King’s childhood home and the church where he was a pastor. Touring the grounds and reading historic markers provide insight into Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and his upbringing to become the champion of nonviolent change. Throughout the museum, you’ll see other famous moments from the Civil Rights movement and get to see the lasting impact on American society.

When to Go

The states included on this trip can be brutally hot and humid during the summer months. Although temperatures can still be uncomfortable during fall and spring, they are much better options than visiting in summer. Unless you thrive in scorching climates, arrange your trip for spring (March-April) or fall (October-November). Winter isn’t a bad option either, but some areas in the region can still experience chilly temperatures and snowy forecasts.

Staying Safe in Congaree National Park

South Carolina’s only national park, Congaree National Park consists of an old growth forest, wetlands, and a network of rivers. This lush, green park resembles a jungle, and its unique landscape is popular for hiking and canoeing. There are several precautions visitors to Congaree should take in order to remain safe during their visit.

Wildlife 

These wetlands are a breeding ground for nasty bugs like mosquitoes and deer ticks. It’s important to bring plenty of bug spray with you and check yourself frequently for ticks. This area is also home to a variety of venomous snakes. Keep your eyes open, and if you do see a snake make sure to keep a safe distance. Alligators are native to this region, so use caution around the water. Never approach any wildlife you encounter and always be sure to give animals a wide berth.

Weather

South Carolina weather is typically mild, but can get quite hot and humid in the summer months. Be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and be prepared to encounter a bit of spontaneous rain. 

Other Concerns

Always stay on marked trails. In addition to maintaining the sanctity of the park’s fragile ecosystem, remaining on the trails is a great way to avoid getting lost or running into trouble. 

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Safety- Congaree National Park 

WikiVoyage- Congaree National Park

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Points of Interest in Congaree National Park

South Carolina’s Congaree National Park is home to one of the country’s oldest and tallest forests. A unique landscape characterized by forest, wetlands, and the Cedar Creek, Congaree offers an almost eerie atmosphere deep in the heart of South Carolina. This park attracts visitors who love canoeing, hiking, camping, fishing and more. 

Canoeing and Kayaking 

Some of the most popular activities in Congaree National park are canoeing and kayaking. Bring your own canoe or kayak and ride through the marked Cedar Creek Canoe Trail as you take in views of the fascinating scenery and catch glimpses of native wildlife, including wading birds, turtles, river otters, deer, and alligators. If you don’t have your own canoe or kayak, you can easily rent them in the nearby town of Columbia.

Hiking 

There are many hiking trails to explore throughout Congaree National Park. The Boardwalk Trail offers a short and scenic trek through the forest and other backcountry trails provide more rugged hiking options.

Camping 

You’ll have several opportunities for camping in Congaree National Park if you so choose. All campers must have a reservation at either Longleaf Campground or Bluff Campground. If you prefer to camp in the backcountry, you must have a valid permit.

Fishing

Fishing is a popular activity in the park, but to do so you’ll need to have a valid South Carolina state fishing license. Be sure to read up on the park’s fishing rules and regulations before heading out. 

Ranger-Led Programs

There are a variety of ranger-led programs that happen periodically in Congaree National park. Take a guided nature walk through the park while a park ranger explains what you’re seeing and offers a bit of Congaree’s rich history. Free guided wilderness canoe tours also happen in spring and fall and require reservations. 

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Things to Do – Congaree National Park

Skyline and Seashore Road Trip

Hills and valleys by the Great Smoky Mountains

The Skyline and Seashore Road Trip spans several National Parks Service sites including Shenandoah National Park, Assateague Island National Seashore, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and others.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most protected areas in the eastern parts of the United States and there is no doubt why. This park is abundant with plant and animal life of several different kinds and the serenity of its ancient mountains will leave you dumb founded. This national park was established in 1934 and now, it receives more than 9 million visitors annually. If you find yourself in this park, do not forget to venture out into its abyss, as hiking is one of the most fun and common activities to do there all year long. The most common hiking spots include the Alum Cave Bluffs, Rainbow Falls, Charlies Bunion, Andrews Bald and Chimney Tops. However, always remember to carry the appropriate bear pepper spray with you as the park does have wild bears that have unpredictable behavioural patterns.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most visited areas in America’s National Park System due to the stunning views of the southern Appalachian Mountains that the drive through it provides. The northernmost part of the Parkway starts where the Shenandoah National Park ends. Most of the Parkway in Virginia goes through Jefferson and George Washington National Forests. The scenes across the Virginia part of the Parkway additionally incorporate excellent rolling fields with both olden agrarian sites and of those sites that are still active. The reproduced mountain ranches toward the start of the Parkway gives a brief look at conventional early American establishments. Aside the trip down memory lane, the Parkway also boasts a range of other activities such as bicycling, eco-tourism, fishing, camping, and hiking. Also, to avoid missing out on the blossoming of the flora in the Parkway, it is best to visit the Parkway during summer or early fall.

Shenandoah National Park

If you find yourself reminiscing the rarity of the Appalachian Mountains, you have found yourself in the right place. The Shenandoah National Park lies in an irresistible part of the Blue Ridge Mountain, covered with stunning wildlife and charming flora that will never cease to amaze you at every step of the way. Just like most other National Parks in the country, this park is also known for the hiking adventures that visitors embark on. For those looking to take a relaxing swim during the magnificent sunrise, you will be pleased to know that the Shenandoah River flows through the valley to the west, eclipsed by the Massanutten Mountains.

National Mall

For more than 200 years, the National Mall has symbolized our nation and its democratic values, which have inspired the world. The National Mall – the great swath of green in the middle of our capital city and stretching from the foot of the United States Capitol to the Potomac River – is the premiere civic and symbolic space in our nation. National Mall and Memorial Parks protects the National Mall and its iconic monuments and memorials and over 1,000 acres of greenspace in Washington, D.C.. Come to visit the National Mall and stay to explore all that National Mall and Memorial Parks has to offer.

Assateague Island National Seashore

When visiting the island, there is a high probability you are going to run into a group of wild horses that have learned to live synonymously with their vast surroundings. Other than just admiring the sheer beauty of these horses, you can also ride them in the Over Sand Vehicle (OSV) Zone. This 48,000-acre island situated off the coast of Maryland and Virginia is also ideal for camping, hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, shell fishing, swimming, surfing and yes, shell collecting. Setting aside these traditional activities, you can also get a permit to ride your vehicle in the OSV Zone for a fun and adventurous road trip experience.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Like the Assateague Island National Seashore, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers breathtaking beach experiences for you and your family. If you are up for an adventure, you can set up camp along the beaches and enjoy the unlimited fun that the beach life provides, from going swimming and fishing to getting the perfect summer tan. Watch out for the wildlife on the island because you may just find yourself sunbathing with a seal by your side. Apart from your blubbery friends, the island is also a common visiting spot for sea turtles during the summer as the adult females look to lay their eggs in the sand, thereby make sure you keep a respectable distance and keep the beaches clean!

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach, a city and vacation resort on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast, is the hub of the Grand Strand, a 60-mile string of beaches. It’s also known for its celebrity-designed golf courses. Along its beachfront boardwalk are arcades, souvenir stands and restaurants, as well as the old-fashioned Family Kingdom amusement park and the SkyWheel, one of the country’s tallest Ferris wheels.

Congaree National Park

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.


Now that we have glanced through what is in store for you when you seek to take part in this amazing road trip, you may be wondering about the when and how?

The best time to enjoy this road trip is during the late spring, summer, and early autumn seasons due to the fact the nature is more alive during this time as the flowers are blossoming and the wildlife is active. This time of year is also ideal for any beach related activity because lets just admit it, nobody enjoys the beach when it is cold outside. You can enjoy the trip in any way you want and therefore the amount of days it takes to complete is completely up to you. Realistically, you can enjoy the experience in a week or two, but it will surely take longer if you are really looking to explore and venture out more.

There is always something for everyone in the great outdoors and if this trip sounds like something you want to do with the ones you love, use the self-guided route at the US-Parks website to help you plan your trip.