Here in the Southeast we are so blessed to have the beautiful Gulf Coast, Atlantic Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountains running in between as our playground. Not to mention all the lakes, rivers, National Parks, and other outdoor places for fun. Adventures in the Southeast USA are easy to come by and this collection contains some of the best.
These 17 other travel bloggers talk about their own favorite adventures plus some tips if you’d like to visit the same spots. Don’t miss these adventures in the Southeast this fall as we all know we need some good to come out of 2020.
It’s easy to practice social distancing with most of these activities, but as usual, please follow all CDC, state, and local guidelines and stay safe. Wear your mask and wash your hands.
Camping at the Southern Terminus of the AT – Springer Mountain, Georgia
Submitted by Stephanie from Travanie Travels
One of the most memorable camping trips I have ever been on was a backpacking trip to the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia. As the southern terminus and official starting point of the 2,000+ mile long Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain is the perfect spot to experience the community, legacy, and culture of the iconic AT.
After hiking a section of the AT through the Blue Ridge Mountains, my boyfriend, Travis, and I decided to spend our last night camping at the designated hiker shelter/campsite on top of Springer Mountain. We weren’t expecting it – but we were immediately welcomed into the trail community even though we weren’t traditional through hikers. After immediately making friends with everyone at camp, we spent the evening sitting around a campfire, meeting new people and hearing their inspiring stories while sharing snacks and a bottle of whisky.
If you love hiking/camping and are interested in experiencing the trail magic and community of the AT but aren’t sure if you want to hike the entire trail, I highly recommend camping at Springer Mountain. You’ll need your own backpacking gear but at the campsite you will have access to a firepit, three-sided shelter, and self-composting outhouse. There are also plenty of space and trees for setting up your own tent and hammock as well!
Hiking Whitaker’s Point – Kingston, AR
Submitted by Jordan from The Homebody Tourist
When visiting Arkansas, my expectations were low and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. By the end of the weekend I was blown away with the rugged beauty and hidden gems!
Be prepared as you enter the Ozark National Forest, you are entering the land of no service and never-ending dirt roads. It is the perfect excuse to put your phone away and enjoy life around you.
Here, you can start looking for natural swimming holes, waterfalls, and awesome hikes.
Topping my Arkansas list was hiking to Whitaker’s Point (sometimes known as Hawksbill Crag). It is a 2.9 mile moderately easy (dog-friendly) hike that leads you to a BEAUTIFUL overlook.
Bring your hammock and picnic along on this hike and be ready to spend a lot of time relaxing, reading, and enjoying the views at the overlook!
Tip: The road to the trailhead is rough and gravel. A four-wheel drive car would be ideal, but if it is dry a two-wheel drive car will make it.
Glass Bottom Kayaking – Boca Grande, FL
Submitted by Charles from McCool Travel
One of the most unusual, memorable, and exciting adventures we have done along the Florida Gulf Coast was exploring Gasparilla Sound in a clear kayak. Paddling in a clear kayak is disorienting at first but then becomes super fun. You will see fish, plants, crabs, and even dolphins below and next to your kayak. Clear kayaks are perhaps even safer and sturdier than regular ones, as they are made from bulletproof material.
This amazing US Gulf Coast adventure is near Punta Gorda—drive across the Boca Grande Causeway and look for Glass Bottom Rentals signs (reservations recommended). The shallow waters around Boca Grande Causeway create some of the most vibrant and remarkable tropical water colors in the world; allow time for some photos when driving there and back.
While kayaking, be prepared to get stuck on the Boca Grande Sandbar, and explore around Dog Island and under the old railroad bridge (current fishing pier). Glass Bottom Rentals offers several kayaks (clear and traditional, single and double, sit in and fishing), SUP boards, and canoes, along with guided tours and night excursions. Bring water, sunscreen, a hat, bug spray, and your sense of adventure.
Secret Falls – Highlands, North Carolina
Submitted by Becky from Becky and Ryan Travel
If you love gorgeous waterfalls, Highlands, North Carolina is a must-visit location. Located just over the Georgia/North Carolina border, it has a little something for everyone with outstanding restaurants, lots of cute shops, a craft brewery, and tons of outdoor activities.
There are multiple waterfalls in the area, but our favorite is ”Secret Falls” which is a little over 6 miles away from the city center.
The hike to the waterfall is 1.3 miles out and back but there are plenty of hills and obstacles to keep things interesting. Expect to cross a few streams and climb over some fallen logs on your way to the prize! You can find other paths to wander down if you’re looking for a longer hike, but we spent so much time exploring the waterfall itself that we were plenty tired by the time we got back to the car.
Go midmorning when the sun is just behind the falls to see this beauty at its most majestic- you won’t be disappointed.
Surfing – Jacksonville, FL
Submitted by Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel
Jacksonville, Florida is well known for its plethora of beaches. With white sand, a lively atmosphere, and clear waters, Jacksonville, Beaches are hard to beat. But did you know they also have some of the best surf in the state?
The most well beloved surf spot near Jacksonville is called “the poles”. It is located in Hanna Park and best suited to intermediate surfers. The best conditions are in the winter or at low tide.
You can also find locals surfing the break at Jackson Pier. There is a left and right hand break on either side of the pier.
If you are new to surfing you can find a number of qualified surfing instructors at Jacksonville Beach. They offer board rentals, one on one lessons and group lessons.
Fall Foliage Hike – Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Submitted by Julie from Fun in Fairfax VA
The stunning natural beauty of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains draws visitors year-round, aided by easy access from the greater Washington DC region. But Shenandoah National Park is especially beautiful when fall foliage colors the views. Many leaf peepers enjoy the Autumn show from 105-mile Skyline Drive and 75 scenic overlooks. To fully appreciate the fall spectacle, though, visitors should leave the car behind and explore some of the park’s 500 miles of trails.
Happily, the park offers a wonderful range of hikes, from the one-mile wheelchair-accessible Limberlost Trail to the longest stretch of Appalachian Trail in any state. Families and casual hikers can reach a rocky overlook with excellent fall views on an easy hike to Stony Man summit. For a longer and more challenging trek, follow the Appalachian Trail to Mary’s Rock and expansive views of the surrounding mountains. Or tackle a short but dramatic rock scramble to the open summit of Bearfence Mountain and 360-degree foliage views.
Rangers at the park’s entrance stations and two Visitor Centers can offer tips, maps, and guidebooks to help you find the hike that’s right for your group. After your hike, reward yourself with the park’s favorite treat—a tall slice of Blackberry Ice Cream Pie.
Canoeing with Alligators – Hillsborough River, Florida
Submitted by Karen from Outdoor Adventure Sampler
Can you imagine canoeing by an alligator in the wild? How about being surprised by gators around every bend in the river? When you paddle the Hillsborough River near Tampa, FL, expect to see this and more.
A day trip on the Hillsborough River is packed with non-stop wildlife viewing. Besides alligators sunning between the roots of cypress trees, white ibis roost in the trees, deer and wild hogs splash through the swamp, and turtles and otters pop in and out of the water. Spanish moss dangles from majestic bald cypress trees along the river. The trip is a chance to see the “real Florida”.
Canoe rentals, shuttle, and trip planning advice are available at Canoe Escape outfitters in Thonotosassa, FL. You can go out for an hour or choose a full day of paddling.
Looking to escape the crowds at Busch Gardens near Tampa? A canoe trip through the wilderness of the nearby Hillsborough River is a peaceful alternative. Just don’t tip the canoe near an alligator.
Ziplining in the Smoky Mountains – Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC
Submitted by Deanne from Scenic and Savvy
If you love nature and are up for an adventure, you’ll love ziplining in the Smoky Mountains. An adrenaline rush with a birds eye view of lush landscape below, ziplining is one of the best ways to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Located along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the stunning Smoky Mountain scenery creates the perfect setting for soaring above the treetops.
A variety of companies offer ziplining tours through the Smokies perfect for young and old, couples and groups. Safely clipped in to the lines above you, there’s no need to be nervous if this is your first time, but there are a few things to know:
- You will need to attend a brief safety orientation and fill out a waiver beforehand.
- Wear comfortable clothing and closed toed shoes.
- Empty your pockets or secure items in zippered pockets.
- Leave dangling jewelry behind.
Then enjoy the thrill of flying from mountain peak to mountain peak taking in sweeping views of the spectacular Smokies.
Graveyard Fields Loop Trail – Canton, NC
Submitted by Stephanie from Destination Graves
Graveyard Fields is a very popular hike off the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway located just south of Asheville, North Carolina. Do not rely on GPS for directions, instead drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mile Post 418.8, about 45 minutes from downtown.
You can vary the length of your hike depending on if you’d like to see the Upper Falls, Lower Falls, or both. A short 1⁄3-mile hike will take you down several sets of stairs to the beautiful Lower Falls (shown below), whereas a longer 3.5-mile loop will give you a glimpse of the Upper Falls as well. The trail varies from dense forests, fields of wild berry bushes, to a mounded, rocky terrain.
Pro-tip: The Lower Falls is a popular swimming hole in the summer months so arrive early and be prepared for weather changes or getting wet! I recommend rain jackets, hats, proper footwear (the rocky trail is slippery when wet), and ample dry clothes back in the car.
White Water Rafting the Nantahala River – Bryson City, NC
The Nantahala River is perfect for beginners and experienced rafters alike. The Nantahala Outdoor Center offers all kinds of trips from guided raft trips to duckies (inflatable kayaks) to a shuttle service for independent kayakers.
If you’ve never tried white water then rafting the Nantahala River is the perfect place to start. You’ll enjoy gorgeous scenery in the mountains of North Carolina and an adrenaline-filled few hours as you navigate the rapids. The river is full of Class II and one Class III rapid at the end.
One warning – the water is cold! Be sure to wear some quick-dry clothing over your bathing suit. Once you’re done with rafting for the day you can enjoy a cold beer and delicious meal from either Big Wesser’s or River’s End. Don’t forget a dry bag for the river and a change of clothes for when you get off.
The Outdoor Center also offers zip lining, mountain biking, hiking, and a ropes course if you’re not interested in rafting.
Airboating – Everglades National Park, FL
Submitted by Lori from Travlinmad
Fall is the perfect time to visit south Florida, when the summer temps cool down and the humidity blows through. It’s nearing the end of hurricane season and the lush greenery begins to dry a bit bringing the perfect mid-80s (F) days we love. One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of south Florida is heading inland, straight for the Florida Everglades to sail across the River of Grass at lightning speed on an airboat ride.
Airboating is a popular way to get around the shallow grasslands of the ‘Glades, and skidding across the watery plains is an epic thrill! Fall is a great time to go airboating since wildlife spotting gets even better in the cooler temperature.
There are plenty of airboat tours from Miami and Naples, and many of them carry dozens of passengers. For a more personal tour, head to Everglades City or Chockoloskee and find an operator with a 6-8 passenger airboat. These smaller craft can go places the bigger ones cannot, including through the low lying mangroves. Flying through these tunnels over inches of water is one of the most epic things to do in the Everglades, and is sure to be the highlight of your south Florida vacation!
Hiking Maryland Heights – Harpers Ferry, WV
Submitted by Jordan from The Solo Life
One of the best hikes in Maryland is actually at the meeting point of three different states, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Maryland Heights Overlook trail also overlooks two rivers, the Shenandoah and Potomac.
Usually associated with Harpers Ferry, WV, which is across the river and worth a visit in its own right, Maryland Heights is a 5 mile moderate/hard loop with stunning views at the top. For these reasons, this trail is worth a hike.
If visiting, the parking lot at the trailhead is extremely small, so it’s worth it to park across the river in Harpers Ferry. From here, take the pedestrian bridge to reach the start of the trail. To make this part even more interesting, the pedestrian bridge and the walk to the trailhead is actually part of the Appalachian Trail.
Wear sturdy shoes and bring lots of water, since the ascent to the overlook is pretty steep and rocky. Also, be sure to check the National Parks Service website, as sometimes the overlook is closed due to peregrine falcon nesting.
For one of the best overlook views in the area, as well as a solid hike that gets your heart pumping, make sure to add the Maryland Heights Overlook trail to your list.
Bioluminescent Kayaking – Cape Canaveral or Cocoa Beach, FL
Submitted by Amy from The Florida Travel Girl
One of the most unique things I’ve experienced in the Southeast US is bioluminescent kayaking on the Space Coast of Florida. Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral are one of the few places on earth home to this phenomenon where plankton glow in the dark at night.
May through October, you can take a trip down there and either kayak or paddleboard through the lagoons to see it for yourself. I have done this multiple times and almost always am always amazed by the beauty of the water lighting up at night.
The best experience I have had bioluminescent kayaking was with BK Adventure in Cape Canaveral. This touring group has found a very secluded spot less than an hour from Orlando to paddle through and get the most optimal viewing experience.
I also recommend going during the new moon phase so it’s extra dark and the bioluminescence is more vibrant. Whatever you do, make sure you wear bug spray as well, because they can be brutal during Florida summer nights! It is worth it though for an epic nature experience unlike any other!
Backpacking the Art Loeb Trail – Pisgah National Forest, NC
Submitted by Carrie from Trains, Planes, and Tuk Tuks
Undoubtedly one of the best adventures in the Southeast U.S. is backpacking the Art Loeb Trail in Western North Carolina.
While hiking this 3-5 day trail, you’ll summit four 6,000-foot mountains, walk along a ridgeline with 360-degree views, watch the sunset over Shining Rock Wilderness, and have much of the trail to yourself.
The highlight is camping on Black Balsam Knob, but be aware that at 6,100 feet it’s cold and wet. It can even snow between October and May. You’ll need to be 100% self-sufficient with food and gear — including a paper map and compass (Shining Rock Wilderness has no marked trails). Black bear sightings are common, and you’re required to use a bear canister.
The Art Loeb runs 31 miles from Davidson River Campground near Brevard to Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp at the base of Cold Mountain. Since this is a point-to-point hike, you’ll need to leave a car at one end or use a commercial shuttle company like Pura Vida Adventures. The trail is easier if you do it north-south, but if you tough it out going south-north you’ll save the best views for the end.
Devil’s Bathtub – Fort Blackmore, VA
Submitted by Cee from Itz a Family Thing
If you are looking for somewhere special, Devil’s Bathtub is the place for you. I am sure the name is off-putting, but don’t be swayed. This natural masterpiece is located in Jefferson National Forest, in Fort Blackmore, VA.
The views on your way to the waterfall are breathtaking, but it can get narrow and slippery so be careful. You will come to a fork that splits into different directions, the most heavily trafficked route is left. This route will take you through a few creek crossings so be sure to have proper shoes and extra socks. By a few, I mean 13 or 14 so be prepared.
The trail to the right is longer (7 miles), but there are no creek crossings and it is less strenuous. Since there can be flooding it is advised that you do not visit in the spring when it is most likely to rain. If you are up for a challenge the best time for this hike is in the summer or fall.
Once you reach the waterfall you will be rewarded with a view straight from a magazine. The water is cold, so don’t think you will be rewarded with a nice warm swim. The blue-green natural wonder is amazing to look at, especially given the somewhat difficult hike to get to it. Once you are done enjoying your reward you may take some time to rest before hiking back.
Kayaking the Florida Mangroves – Key Largo, FL
Submitted by Pauline from Beeloved City
If you are heading down south, visiting the Florida Keys is a must do! Most people head straight to Key West but are actually missing out on the true beauty of the keys!
Going on a road trip in the Florida Keys is an adventure itself but if you want to really explore, you should go kayaking in Key Largo! You can either rent your own kayak or go on a guided tour. The first option is perfect for adventurers, the second for people who want to learn more about the ecosystem.
You will paddle in the sea and head to the mangroves. There are tunnels so you can easily paddle your way in and discover some of the most beautiful plants and birds in Florida! Once you reach the sea again, make sure to keep an eye for manatees and dolphins! They are everywhere and might just be right next to you!
Kayaking in the Florida Keys is truly a magical experience. It’s so beautiful and unique! There is something about it that you won’t find anywhere else in the world!
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway – Blue Ridge Mountains, NC/VA
Submitted by Katriona from Earth to Katriona
Known as “America’s favorite drive” – this spectacular 466-mile parkway weaves between the Appalachian and Smoky Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina, offering incredible mountain views that shine all shades of blue. As a city girl hailing from Sydney, Australia, I absolutely loved this drive and exploring the art, culture and crafts along the small and friendly mountain towns.
I can guarantee you, this scenic drive will take your breath away no matter what season you visit. Gorgeous fall colors line the Parkway during Autumn, a wonderland comes alive in Winter as blankets of snow cover the trees and mountains and lush green scenery with native blooms await you during Spring and Summer.
Although there are many hiking trails and places you can stop off at along the drive, I loved spending time nearby Boone, North Carolina. The area near Boone is easily accessible to an array of waterfalls and hikes like the Crabtree Falls, Linville Falls and the tallest peak on the East Coast, Mount Mitchell. It is also close to Linn Cove Viaduct, a very popular photo spot with gorgeous views of the parkway.
Swim at Sliding Rock – Asheville, NC
Submitted by Christina from Live a Wilder Life
One of our favorite adventure activities in the Southeast is Sliding Rock in Asheville, NC. Located in the Pisgah National Forest, Sliding Rock is a 60-foot natural water rock slide that lets you off into the frigid crystal clear waters below.
A popular spot for locals, the slide is open from April to October and costs $3 per person. You can still visit the slide in the off season, but there will be no lifeguards on duty, and bathrooms will be locked. The rock slide is easy to access with a short five-minute walk from the parking lot.
One thing to know before you go….the water is ice cold. Even on the hottest of days, the water temperature stays a consistent 50-60 degrees. The moment you get dumped into the pool below, you’ll feel the frigid waters and wonder why you did it. Five minutes later, you’ll be doing it again.
We visited in late October and saw kids as young as three years old going down the rock slide with their parents, so if they can do it, so can you! Make sure to wear water shoes so you can climb up the rocks without slipping.
BONUS: White Water Rafting the Gauley River – Fayetteville, WV
Submitted by Cindy from Cinders Travels
My husband and I have spent the past two years full-time RVing across the USA! During that time, we’ve been on quite a few adventures! One of our favorites was the fantastic day we spent whitewater rafting on the Gauley River in Fayetteville, West Virginia!
Our day with River Expeditions was the most all-inclusive whitewater rafting trip we’ve ever experienced! They offer many different trip options, suitable for all ages and abilities, from coasting easy rapids to tackling Class V+ rapids, on both the New River and the Gauley River.
To break down what a full day rafting with this tour company is like, first, you arrive a bit early and get breakfast. Then they get you all set up to raft! You crash waves on the water for a while, eventually stopping for a prepared lunch. Then you jump back in the barge and raft some more! You also get the opportunity to jump out and float twice during the trip!
After plunging into what felt like endless rapids, we ended our rafting trip gliding under the New River Gorge Bridge, a sight to be seen all on its own!
And once the rafting is over, the fun is not. They have tons of activities on their 100-acre property to keep you entertained. We opted to play pool at the Red Dog River Saloon and took a post-rafting soak in the hot tub! We were even served a BBQ dinner at the end of the night.
Another bonus is that you can opt to stay on the property, so you don’t have to worry about getting home after your rafting trip and evening at the bar. Lodging options include tent camping, safari tents, luxury cabins, rustic cabins, RV sites, and bungalows!
Lastly, if you want to leave the resort, the local town Fayetteville has lots to explore. It’s been listed as one of the “Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel Magazine. Fayetteville has lots of small-town charm, boasting delicious restaurants, lots of window shopping, and a lovely town park.
I know it may sound like I work for this place, but I do not! I just loved every little detail about the experience we were provided at River Expeditions. I hope you get to enjoy it sometime as well!