A trip to the American South is a rollicking ramble through storied locations and natural wonders. From the inky sweep of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the sombre beauty of Jekyll Island, the Southern USA is a land of exceptional natural beauty.*
Maggie Valley, North Carolina
The snow-covered pines look incandescent backed by the Blue Ridge Mountains
Wedged between two national parks, the town of Maggie Valley is the gateway to some of North Carolina’s most captivating scenery, namely the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site located at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and encompasses over 500,000 acres of wooded valleys and seemingly eternal autumn scenery. Great Smoky was given its first name, ‘Land of the Blue Smoke’, by the Cherokee due to the wisps of blue film that shrouded the mountains – a natural phenomenon of water and hydrocarbons emitted by the trees which, when seen in a certain light, creates a misty, bluish hue. Drive along the park’s scenic highway and take a trip to the observation platform atop mountain, Clingmans Dome for stellar views. And if you’re visiting in June, hang around until nightfall and you may be lucky enough to witness the synchronised light show that the park’s fireflies put on; an electrifying showcase where streaks of brilliant yellow cut through the darkness. If you’re not camping out, book a room instead at the sleepy Cardinal Inn.
For the daring, try hiking the Appalachian Trail
Roanoke is a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains territory and another stop in which to explore this enrapturing mountain range. The self-proclaimed ‘Capital of the Blue Ridge’, Roanoke is right in the region’s heartlands and offers visitors the opportunity to drive both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail. For those craving adventure, the Appalachian Trail is a thunderous 3,500km hike that is the nation’s longest footpath, traversing six national parks, eight national forests and 14 states. While the initial length may put off many travellers, there are a range of day hikes and shortcuts that explain why millions of people come to hike its wildflower-strewn ways. And the scenery helps too; mountains haloed with mist, black bear sightings and inky black forests can all be found in these parts. Should you prefer a less active trip but still want the views, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a winding route that crests burnt-orange forests and panoramic mountain sides. Whichever you choose, begin your trip in style at the King George Inn.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Blowing Rock juts out over 3,000 feet above the John's River Gorge
Blowing Rock is an unusual rock formation and a stony vantage point that looks out across the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it’s a popular stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Jutting out over 3,000 feet above the John’s River Gorge, the rock’s steep sides combined with the valley’s wind currents mean that light objects are often blown up into the sky. There’s a legend associated with this too; two lovers were walking here when the man received a message that he was being called into battle. And when his lover begged him to stay, he was so distressed that he threw himself off the rock and into the gorge. However, the lover prayed to the Great Spirit for his return, and the Spirit obliged, sending a gust of wind that carried the man right up onto the top of rock. While there’s no need to test out the rock’s supernatural powers yourself, it’s a wondrous place to cast your eyes over the valley hugged by woods on all sides. Stay in the village of Blowing Rock at Chetola Resort.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
The graveyard of gnarled trees makes for a haunting sight
A sombre sweep of gnarled trees and green forest, Jekyll Island is a beautiful – and at times haunting – sight. A 4000-year-old island and part of an archipelago known as the Golden Isles, it once was a stamping ground for tycoons (back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). These days, the glittering and historic houses of business magnates can be admired all over the island but it’s the nature that magnetises. Home to thriving wildlife, it’s somewhere you can expect to see anything from waterfowl to sea turtles. And truly lives up to its Golden Isle name, with more than 10 miles of sparkling shoreline – including the undulating Great Dunes and the bleached graveyard of trees that is Driftwood Beach. Spend the night at Jekyll Island Club Resort.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Expect impeccable views of the forest and riverlands from Pinnacle Mountain
Little Rock is a city of leafy green parks and makes a great base for seeing some of Arkansas’ wealth of natural beauty. One of the best and most active ways to do this is to take the Arkansas River Trail, a 114km cycle route that takes you through quiet wooded countryside to the Pinnacle Mountain State Park. This park is home to the surging Arkansas landmark, Pinnacle Mountain, and hiking to the top will gift those adventurous enough with impeccable views of the riverland. Beyond this park, the Ouachita National Forest is a green patchwork cut by rivers and waterfalls, primed for those in search of quiet boat rides and hidden glades. Recover at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel.
**The data scientists at Booking.com dug into internal data to find the most highly rated destinations in the Southern USA states for ‘nature’.