Okefenokee Swamp is like No Other Place in the World

Alligators, otters, and bears abound in this sprawling mass of wetlands

Regarding rich biodiversity and pristine natural beauty, the United States is home to many incredible destinations scattered across all 50 states. While iconic national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, Joshua Tree, and the Grand Canyon have earned worldwide acclaim, one particularly fascinating natural feature has flown largely under the radar. Measuring in at over 400,000 acres of pristine wetlands sprawled across southern Georgia Okefenokee Swamp is one of the last great bastions of wilderness left in the southern U.S.

The name Okefenokee comes from a Creek Indian word meaning trembling earth. During the Seminole Wars, Native Americans hid in the Okefenokee Swamp to escape capture. The leader of these refugees was a chieftain known as Billy Bowlegs. Billy’s Island was one of his refuges and legend says the island was named for him.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the years, Billy’s Island was home to a tenacious family of squatters, the Lees, who refused to abandon their claimed land until forced by court order. In 1909, Hebard Lumber Company came and began cutting centuries-old cypress trees. 

The Hebard family sold the property to the government in 1937; the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was created that same year.

Despite its massive size, few access points offer visitors a glimpse into the untamed wilderness of North America’s largest blackwater swamp. However, for those wishing to spend a weekend searching for native Southern flora and fauna, Stephen C. Foster State Park offers unrivaled opportunity in the remote reaches of southern Georgia. While this certified Dark Sky Park and Natural Wonder of Georgia is a top destination, the entire region was a much different place in the distant past.

Millions of years ago, the area was under the ocean. It’s possible that, during this time, the saucer-shaped depression the Okefenokee Swamp would later occupy was formed. After the ocean receded, freshwater replaced saltwater and plant life and peat deposits began to fill in the depression. A mosaic of habitats like wet prairies, dense cypress forest, and upland pine forests are found throughout this 438,000-acre wetland.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those planning to explore this diverse array of natural habitats, there’s no shortage of lodging options scattered all across the park grounds. There are over 60 sites available for RVs or anyone brave enough to rough it in their own personal tent while anybody in need of more upscale accommodations can book one of the park’s nine fully-furnished cottages. Equipped with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a personal backyard fire pit these spacious dwellings are perfect for immersing oneself in the natural world without having to go totally prehistoric.

Many sites offer scrubs and trees to afford privacy. The wide grassy hiking trail that runs behind the campsites is a natural haven. Birds of various kinds flutter between the moss laden oaks and cypress trees. Saw palmetto and blackberry vines are a large part of the undergrowth. Plaques along the trail tell the story of Spanish moss and the native trees and scrubs. 

It’s not really a swamp. It’s the headwaters of both the Suwannee and the Saint Marys rivers. It’s just easier to say swamp than natural wetlands preserve.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Extensive open areas at the core of the refuge like the Chesser, Grand, and Mizell Prairies branch off the man-made Suwannee Canal accessed via the main entrance to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, 11 miles southwest of Folkston. The prairies are excellent spots for sportfishing and birding and guided boat tours of the area leave from the Okefenokee

Refuge concession Okefenokee Adventures works in partnership with the refuge to provide guided boat trips; rent camping gear, bicycles, motorboats and canoes; operate a gift shop; collect entrance fees; and provide food service.

Truly the best way to get a close look at the swamp inhabitants is to take a boat tour from Okefenokee Adventures. Their regular boat is a 24-foot Carolina skiff and there’s one step down into it from the dock. Additionally, you need to have a good balance in order to maneuver to a seat as the boat rocks a lot. An accessible pontoon boat is also available but it might not be the next boat out.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This boat has level access for wheelchair users and folding seats for able-bodied passengers. Both boats have a canopy for protection from the midday sun. Best bet is to check in the gift shop about the availability of the accessible boat as soon as you arrive then enjoy the visitor center while you wait.

The 90-minute tour goes through the Suwannee Canal as the naturalist points out the flora and fauna and gives passengers a short history of the area. Expect to see turtles, herons, ibis, hawks, and lots of alligators along the way. And if you visit in the fall, you’ll also likely see the migrant Sandhill Cranes.

The concession also has equipment rentals and food is available at the Camp Cornelia Cafe. The visitor center has a film, exhibits, and a mechanized mannequin that tells stories about life in Okefenokee (it sounds hokey, but it’s surprisingly informative). A boardwalk takes you over the water to a 50-foot observation tower. Hikers, bicyclists, and private motor vehicles are welcome on Swamp Island Drive; several interpretive walking trails may be taken along the way.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Save some time to explore the refuge on foot on one of the three accessible trails along the eight-mile-long Swamp Island Drive. It’s easy to find—just follow the signs as you leave the main parking lot.

The Upland Discovery Trail is the first trail you’ll come upon along the drive. There’s a paved parking area with accessible parking on the right with level access to the trail across the street. The quarter-mile trail is made of hard-packed dirt and although there are some exposed roots along the way they are easy to dodge. The worst obstructions are at the beginning of the trail so if you make it past the first ten feet, you’re good to go. Be sure and look for the trees marked with the white bands and they mark either a roosting or nesting spot of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

Our guide steered the pontoon boat to a patch of grasses and peat in the process of forming land to show how the name Land of Trembling Earth came about. When he poked at the small island with his paddle, it trembled. With these little pockets of almost-land dotting the surface of the lake, it’s easy to see how a person could become lost in this place that’s more water than land.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’re likely to see alligators and birds as you travel about 2 miles into the lake from the dock. Although it’s named Billy’s Lake, the path amid the many islands looks more like a creek ranging from 35 to 155 feet wide. We ventured into a narrow offshoot of water called Minnie’s Run. Here, our guide maneuvered between giant cypress trees with branches that often brush the sides and top of our little boat. Throughout the waterway, we encountered several types of water lilies. The most distinctive, the American white water lily has dozens of narrow white petals surrounding a bright yellow center. 

Wood signs with arrows direct us where to turn to reach certain places in the swamp. Five Sisters is another marker that boaters use for navigating the area. It’s a cluster of five cypress trees, three of them living and two dead representing five sisters who once lived deep in the swamp. It’s here that we spot a small alligator swimming with just its eyes and the top of the head visible. 

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I asked about some of the other wildlife found in the park including deer, bears, foxes, snakes, bobcats, and otters. He said the best time to see a bear is when the blackberries are ripe or when there are a lot of acorns on the ground. Bobcats are early morning and late evening prowlers.

Of course, no trip to Okefenokee is complete without venturing into the remote depths of the swamp in search of wildlife—a feat that’s best accomplished on a guided motorboat tour. With a Stephen C. Foster State Park ranger versed in the ins and outs of the swamp as your pilot this is by far the best way to acquaint yourself with the many creatures that call the park home.

There are around 620 species of plants, 39 fish, 37 amphibians, 64 reptiles, 234 birds, and 50 mammal species known in the swamp today. Alligators, white-tailed deer, and turkey are regularly seen around the park during the day. Most nights, barred owls hoot across the campground, and after an evening rain shower many species of frogs will call out.

In spring, swallow-tailed kites arrive from their wintering grounds in South America to nest and are frequently seen acrobatically flying over the park. During the winter, river otters are more commonly seen in the main waterways and sandhill cranes are frequently heard calling from marshy areas throughout the swamp.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While some may be drawn to the park in search of the South’s larger mammal inhabitants including bobcats, black bears, and gray foxes these particular beasts tend to steer clear of any human activity. They’re therefore seldom seen by visitors—though you may be able to catch a glimpse of one if you’re particularly lucky. For avid bird watchers, a particularly prized sight is the red-cockaded woodpecker. These mottled creatures tend to gravitate towards mature pine forests and they’re currently endangered in the state of Georgia.

Okefenokee Swamp may be one of the state’s most iconic natural features but it’s far from the only one worth visiting in the region. For a truly memorable time add a second preserve to the list after you’ve thoroughly explored Stephen C. Foster State Park.

Okefenokee Swamp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few minutes’ north of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge boundaries, Laura S. Walker State Park offers visitors the opportunity to spot gopher tortoises, pitcher plants, and all manner of wading birds and it even comes equipped with its own 18-hole golf course. Meanwhile, those who make the journey to Georgia’s idyllic seashore can find Cumberland Island, a pristine coastal getaway that’s rife with sandy beaches.

Georgia might earn most of its acclaim thanks to its world-class cities but the state has far more to offer than simply Atlanta and Savannah. Stephen C. Foster State Park may be a little difficult to get to but there are few things in life more satisfying than sitting still in a kayak in the heart of the swamp surrounded by nothing but the gentle hum of Georgia’s native wildlife.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Worth Pondering…

Choose only one master—nature.

—Rembrandt

15 Best Free Things to do in Savannah

From exploring picturesque squares to attending iconic festivals, you’ll find that some of the best things to do in Savannah don’t cost a dime

Savannah, Georgia has been named one of the best destinations in the United States by countless publications and I certainly agree! It’s a great place to explore historic sites, to see locations from your favorite films like Forrest Gump and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and much more.

You can indulge in a luxurious vacation in Savannah but there also are plenty of activities around town that won’t cost a thing. Here are 15 of the best free things to do in Savannah.

Chippewa Square © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Spend time in the squares and parks

What sets Savannah apart from so many other Southern cities is its layout. The streets are in a grid format usually surrounding small parks called squares that are usually centered around a statue of a notable Georgian. Chippewa Square is known as the site of the Forrest Gump bus scene even though the bench no longer sits there. Johnson Square was the first to be established in the city while Oglethorpe Square honors the city’s founder. While not a square, Forsyth Park is Savannah’s most beautiful public park with its iconic white fountain.

The waving girl statue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Visit the statues

While you’re in the squares, don’t miss the statues in nearly everyone. Wave to Johnny Mercer in Ellis Square, James Oglethorpe in Chippewa Square, Columbia in Columbia Square, Nathanael Greene in Johnson Square, Sergeant William Jasper in Madison Square, and John Wesley in Reynolds Square. And don’t forget about the Waving Girl on River Street.

3. Go on a free walking tour

Take a free walking tour of the city and get a dose of history while visiting Savannah’s most famous landmarks including the famous squares and the Mercer Williams House. This tour, led by local historians is based on tips so you pay what you think it’s worth. While it’s technically free these guides are supported by visitors. The 90-minute tours can be booked online and meet at Johnson Square.

The Old Sorrel-Weed House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Explore Savannah’s final resting places

Featuring Spanish moss-draped oaks and historic graves, Bonaventure Cemetery is Savannah’s most famous burial ground. Established in 1907 in nearby Thunderbolt, this Victorian-style cemetery is where Johnny Mercer and Conrad Aiken are buried.

But Bonaventure isn’t the only historic cemetery in town. Colonial Park Cemetery downtown was established in 1789 and includes the graves of plague victims. Laurel Grove Cemetery has a large section of plots for slaves and free people of color as well as the grave of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts.

5. Re-enact your favorite moments from Forrest Gump

Did you know that the Academy Award-winning film used several Savannah locations? I’ve already mentioned Chippewa Square which is free to visit. The Independent Presbyterian Church (at the corner of Bull and Oglethorpe) was seen in the opening scenes where a feather floats past the steeple. Debi’s Restaurant and Love’s Seafood also were used. It’s not free to eat at the restaurants but it’s worth the cost for film fans.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Tour the historic churches

It’s impossible to walk around Savannah without noticing the church steeples. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is the most well-known with its stained glass windows and white exterior. They have free self-guided tours most days of the week but they also accept donations. Independent Presbyterian which we just mentioned was rebuilt in 1891 after a devastating fire. Christ Church on Bull Street was built in 1733 making it the first house of worship in the state. The Historic First African Baptist Church opened in 1774 and features pews built by slaves and a subfloor used on the Underground Railroad.

7. Spend a day on Tybee Island

If you’ve had enough fun downtown, head over to Tybee Island, Savannah’s beach town. You will pay to park (around $2) and to dine at the many cafes and seafood restaurants but the beach itself can be accessed free of charge. Check out the famous pier and admire the lighthouse, one of the few left on the Georgia coast.

8. Ride the ferry

The Savannah Belles Ferry connects River Street with Hutchinson Island, home to the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center and the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. It also stops in front of the Waving Girl statue at the Savannah Marriott Riverfront. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotels to ride the free ferry which operates daily from 7 a.m. to midnight. There are four boats each named for an important woman in Savannah history: Juliette Gordon Low, Susie King Taylor, Florence Martus, and Mary Musgrove.

City Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Window shop on Broughton Street

If you’re short on cash, visit Savannah’s shopping district to admire what they’re carrying. Make a mental list of all the items you want to buy at The Paris Market and Brocante inhale the delicious chocolate aroma at Chocolat by Adam Turoni and browse for funky vintage goods at Civvie’s.

10. Wander the Savannah Botanical Gardens

The stunning natural Savannah Botanical Gardens boast a rose garden, herb garden, camellia and azalea garden, beehive, nature trails, and a pond. The historic Reinhard House, an 1840s farmhouse was built near present-day Savannah and preserved for future generations to enjoy.

First Baptist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Join the fun at Savannah’s events and festivals

There’s always something going on in Savannah and many events are free to attend. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a local favorite held every March 17 in the historic district. The SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival is held in late April and features artwork on the sidewalks of Forsyth Park.

12. Hit the nature trails

Savannah is also home to several nature preserves where visitors can disconnect. The McQueen’s Island Trail is a six-mile trail home to native plants like palms as well as animals like turtles, bobcats, and pelicans. It starts at Fort Pulaski National Monument, the site of Revolutionary and Civil War battles. Skidaway Island State Park is a retreat from the city offering camping, boardwalks, an interpretive center, and the opportunity to spot countless species.

13. Admire the historic homes (from the outside)

The most beautiful historic homes in Savannah typically charge a fee for tours but that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the architecture. The Mercer Williams House is known as the setting for The BookMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The Flannery O’Connor House is where the writer lived during her childhood. The Juliette Gordon Low House was the home of the woman who is credited with starting the Girl Scouts of America. Jones Street is one of the best for admiring homes.

Historic River Street © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Explore Plant Riverside District

Marvel at the enormous geodes from around the world and life-sized chrome dinosaur in the lobby of the JW Marriott. Ooh and aah at the high-end shops, carefully curated retailers, and original galleries. And people-watch in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on the river in the high-energy Plant Riverside District.

Art gallery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Peruse the art galleries

Savannah has a thriving arts scene which can be seen at the Telfair and SCAD museums. But, to see the up-and-coming artists visit the galleries especially those around City Market. Sue Gouse Inspirations, Gutstein Gallery, and Oksana Fine Art are just a few of the many worth checking out.

With so much to see and do in and around Savannah, one visit simply isn’t enough. Fortunately, that same Southern hospitality is ready to welcome visitors back again and again.

Check this out to learn more:

Worth Pondering…

Savannah is a lovely pastel dream of tight cobbled streets. There are legendary scenes to rival any dreamed up by Tennessee Williams.

—Rosemary Daniell

Snowbird Guide: States with the Least Snow

Planning for a future RV snowbird road trip? Need to know where it doesn’t snow? Here are the top six states with the least snow to get you started on your plans.

The seasonal migration of Canadian and American snowbirds from the greater north into southern states like Arizona, Texas, Alabama, and Florida and then back home again requires good planning.

There are many logistical issues to consider when traveling and one of the first decisions is how you’ll get from point A to point B.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Planning for the best and preparing for the worst will help you keep safe during your snowbird travels whether in sunny weather or adverse road conditions.

Here are the top six states with the least snow to get you started on your plans.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

# 6: Georgia

When it comes to Georgia and snow, it’s all about what area you visit. For example, parts of northern Georgia can see up to as much as three inches of snow each year. If you want to avoid snow altogether, stick to central and southern Georgia where less than an inch of snow a year is the norm. By the way, the higher snow totals in northern Georgia are due to the Northeastern mountain region.

By the way, I have a series of posts on Georgia:

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

# 5: Mississippi

If you hate snow and want to avoid it at all costs many areas of Mississippi are bound to deliver. The Gulf Coast and southern regions of Mississippi see an average of half an inch of snow or less each year. Central Mississippi usually gets less than an inch of snow but northern Mississippi can get up to two inches though it’s infrequent.

It’s worth noting that the Gulf Coast of Mississippi is a popular vacation destination. Winter months offer high temperatures in the 60s. Cities throughout the Gulf Coast like Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis offer a variety of holiday events throughout the winter months. 

Another great winter event in coastal Mississippi is, of course, Mardi Gras. Though more commonly associated with Louisiana, Mardi Gras has a 300-year history on the Gulf Coast. Numerous Mardi Gras events take place beginning in January and into February.

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

# 4: Alabama

The Alabama Gulf Coast and southern Alabama are a great escape from the white stuff. Most cities in these regions average .2 inches or less of snow a year—not exactly the best destination for cross-country skiers. That isn’t to say snow is completely out of question. Some cities in Alabama have seen record snowfall amounts of more than 13 inches.

By the way, I have a series of posts on Alabama:

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

# 3: Louisiana

Average snowfall throughout Louisiana is an inch or less making the state a consistently snow-free destination. Winter highs are likely to be in the mid-60s. In addition to its temperate climate, Louisiana has one impressive draw for winter traveling: Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras has been openly celebrated in New Orleans since the 1730s. The Mardi Gras traditions began in France and then spread to French colonies. It was brought to New Orleans by a French–Canadian explorer in 1702. The traditions and celebrations have slowly grown over time to become what New Orleanians call the.

The Carnival season begins on January 6 or King’s Day kicking off a long stretch of celebrations and events. The date of Fat Tuesday changes every year and is always the day before Ash Wednesday (February 13, 2024). Bacchus and Endymion are two of the biggest parades of the season and happen the weekend before Fat Tuesday.

By the way, I have a series of posts on Louisiana:

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

# 2: Florida

Summing up the average snowfall in Florida is easy: none. Don’t believe it? It snowed in Florida 16 times in the entire 21st century. Simply put, temperatures don’t drop low enough.

The average high is in the mid-60s. The consistent weather and lack of winter precipitation make Florida a great destination for vacationing. Florida is the number one destination in the United States for Canadian transplants and one in four residents in Florida are seniors.

Florida is home to several attractions that make it a desirable vacation destination. One of the most well-known is Disney World and some of the winter months are the least busy at the park.

Consider planning a trip in early to mid-December or January to mid-February. If you are looking for something a bit different consider a visit to the Kennedy Space Center or Everglades National Park.

By the way, I have a series of posts on Florida:

# 1: Hawaii

YES, HAWAII DOES GET SNOW!

Just not very much! But how practical is it to get your RV there? So Florida could be in this number 1 spot.

Are you really surprised? Of course not!  Much like Florida, Hawaii’s average yearly snowfall is non-existent. It also boasts highs in the 80s and lows in the upper 60s.

Weather like this should certainly make you consider saying Aloha to Hawaii in the winter months.

The only place you are likely to see snow in Hawaii is at the top of the state’s three tallest volcanoes: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Haleakala.

Worth Pondering…

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida but they turned sixty and that’s the law.

—Jerry Steinfeld

The Ultimate RV Lifestyle Destinations Guide: RV Trip Ideas Based on Location

Looking for exciting RV trip ideas and travel suggestions?

This ultimate guide brings all of my destination resources to one place! Browse LOTS of RV road trip ideas based on location or interests.

We have been living the RV Snowbird Lifestyle for over two decades, cataloging our trips from year to year. I’ve shared countless articles and resources to help fellow RVers enjoy similar travels. Now, I’m bringing it all together in this ultimate destinations guide filled with many great RV trip ideas.

You can use this guide as an index to discover new ideas or dig deeper into places or things you’ve always wanted to see. I’ve organized it into two parts: location and activities/interests.

So, whether you’re interested in Arizona or scenic drives, Texas or birding, Georgia or hiking, you’ll find excellent resources to help with planning your next adventure!

RV trip ideas based on location

In this section, I organize my many location-based articles and resources into an easy-to-scan index. You’ll see helpful articles and links to useful resources.

When something catches your interest, click through to the links to learn more!

SOUTHWEST

The Southwest has stunning and unique landscapes you can’t see anywhere else in the world. We have fallen in love with the Southwest—Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and California.  From red and orange rock formations in the desert to green and lush mountains, there’s so much to see in this one area of the country and hiking and birding that can’t be beat. Then there is the beautiful national parks, state parks, and regional/county parks—and, of course, the Grand Canyon.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona

Visit Arizona for the iconic red rock formations of Sedona to the majestic Grand Canyon. Or for the vibrant cities such as Phoenix and Tucson which offer a range of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

New Mexico is a great destination for RVers due to its diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage. From deserts to mountains, RVers can enjoy a range of scenic drives and outdoor activities. The state is also home to a number of historic Native American pueblos as well as Spanish colonial missions which provide a unique cultural experience.

New Mexican cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, Native American, and Mexican ingredients and techniques. While familiar items like corn, beans, and squash are often used, the defining ingredient is chile, a spicy chile pepper that is a staple in many New Mexican dishes. Chile comes in two varieties, red or green, depending on the stage of ripeness in which they were picked.

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah

Every state thinks its fun. Every state claims to have something for everyone. But not every state has five national parks (The Mighty Five), 46 state parks, five national historic sites and trails, and a dozen national monuments and recreation areas. While it’s mathematically impossible to finish your Utah bucket list, I’ll help you plan the trip you’ll be talking about forever!

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California

What is the quintessential wine experience in the Golden State? Where are the must-see natural wonders? Which beach is best? How do you decide which theme park to visit? Where best to spend the winter? Scroll through my favorite places to go and things to do and start dreaming about your next California adventure today. 

SOUTHEAST

Over the last decade, the United States’ southeastern portion has become the ultimate place to visit for people who love outdoor activities and sports. You will find plenty to do from whitewater rafting to camping and hiking the trails when you visit the area. The twelve states located in the Southeast include Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Kentucky.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia

From the mountains down to the coast and everything in between, Georgia offers well-known and off-the-beaten-path experiences in cities both big and small. From ghost tours and island resorts to hidden gems here are a few can’t miss attractions, stays and towns when visiting Georgia.  

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina

South Carolina is a state of variety with beautiful beaches, remote islands, charming cities and towns, watery wilderness, great golf, interesting history, rolling hills and mountains, and much more. From the Upcountry mountains through the vibrant Midlands and to the Lowcountry coast, the Palmetto State amazes.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama

From the foothills of the Appalachians through countless river valleys to the sugar white beaches of the Gulf, natural wonders abound. The 22 state parks which encompass 48,000 acres of land and water provide opportunities to fish, camp, canoe, hike, and enjoy the great outdoors.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana

Break away from the Interstate and take a road trip down one of Louisiana’s 19 scenic byways. From historic treasures and music festivals, to country kitchens and coastal wetlands teeming with wildlife, each drive offers you an authentic taste of Louisiana food, music, culture, and natural beauty. Start planning your trip here.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky

With everything from world-class horse racing to world-class bourbon, the list of things to do in the Bluegrass State seems almost endless. But with so many options, where do you even start? Here are a few experiences that stand above the rest.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida

The Sunshine State connects you to natural landscapes, vibrant wildlife, and a host of outdoor activities and interactions.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas

Mention Texas to someone from another state and they might picture cowboys herding longhorn cattle across the open range or scheming, wealthy oil barons a la TV’s Dallas. The Lone Star State which was admitted to the United States after winning its own independence from Mexico still sometimes seems—as the state tourism slogan goes—like a whole other country. And, boy, do we have a LOT of helpful articles on this popular RV destination!

MIDWEST

The Midwest, also known as America’s Heartland, lies midway between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains and north of the Ohio River. The Midwest is generally considered to comprise the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio

Ohio is home to a wide range of attractions from sprawling parks with stunning waterfalls to bustling cities and college towns. 

Shipshewanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana

Appreciate a slower pace of life in a state known for its rural charms, Amish communities, and architecturally impressive cities.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Dakota

North Dakota has uncrowded, wide-open spaces, and amazing vistas that take your breath away at must-see national and state parks, and recreational areas.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota

An often overlooked travel destination, South Dakota is a land of breathtaking scenic beauty.

Here’s the thing, visit South Dakota once and the place SELLS ITSELF. Much more than just the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Badlands, SoDak is the most scenic places you knew nothing about. Until now!

Worth Pondering…

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

—Gandalf the Wizard, Lord of the Rings

11 Best Things to do this Summer in Georgia

Road trips to water parks, quirky landmarks, drive-in movies and many more of the hottest ways to explore Georgia this summer

Summertime in the Peach State is unlike anywhere else. Sure, it can be hot but there are plenty of ways to cool down. No matter what part of Georgia you’ll be visiting, you’re sure to have a great time. I have a few suggestions to add to your list.

1. Cool off in the water

What better way to beat the summer heat than by wading into the ocean, jumping in a lake, playing at one of Georgia’s water parks, or taking a dip in an RV park’s swimming pool?

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Georgia Coast

Kayak around a historic lighthouse at Tybee Island, photograph Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, explore historic Sapelo Island, and much more on the Georgia Coast.

Margaritaville at Lanier Islands

The water park at Margaritaville at Lanier Islands opens every May as another way to enjoy the lake with mat racing slides, a zipline, and water activities for little ones.

Georgia’s Lake Country

Head to Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair for watersports, fishing, golf, and cool morning breezes. You’ll love all of the water activities as well as great dining, shopping, and nearby sightseeing in Eatonton, Greensboro, Madison, and Milledgeville.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Six Flags White Water

Six Flags White Water in Marietta is a longtime favorite with nearly 70 acres of slides, tube rides, and a wave pool.

SoakYa Water Park at Lake Winnepesaukah

At Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park and SoakYa Water Park in Rossville, swimmers can relax at the beach lagoon, race on the slides, and splash in the interactive kids’ area.

Spivey Splash at Clayton County International Park

Cruise along the state’s largest lazy river at Spivey Splash waterpark at the Clayton County International Park in Jonesboro. Kids will love cooling off on the splash pad, flow rider, water slides and pool, and testing their skills on the ropes course.

Splash in the Boro

At Splash in the Boro Family Water Park in Statesboro, swimmers can float on the lazy river, brave the water slides, and bob in the wave pool.

Summer Waves Water Park

On Jekyll Island, swimmers can take a break from the beach at Summer Waves Water Park to brave the Pirates Passage flume, drift down Turtle Creek, and wade into the kiddie pool.

Camping at Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Camping

Georgia is an ideal playground for those who like a variety of camping adventures. Georgia’s state park system allows you to enjoy a variety of camping experiences across the state and many other campgrounds and attractions offer inviting settings for sleeping under the stars.

Park your RV or set up your tent at campsites in the North Georgia mountains to explore miles of hiking and biking trails, waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and undisturbed forests. Or go camping on the Georgia coast near beaches, boating, fishing, and more water activities. Throughout the state, rolling hills, lakes, and rivers offer the perfect conditions for camping trips filled with fun.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park

The Okefenokee Swamp is the backdrop for a unique camping experience among the swampy lowlands and wildlife of southern Georgia at Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo. A certified dark sky park by the International Dark Sky Association, this park has minimal light pollution so guests can experience some of the darkest skies in the Southeast. Stand beneath a sky full of stars and see the Milky Way stretched out above you.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park

Camp along Wolf Creek and enjoy the babble of tumbling waters lulling you to sleep at night after exploring North Georgia’s beloved mountain playground at Vogel State Park near Blairsville. With 34 cottages; 90 tents, trailer, and RV campsites; and primitive backpacking sites, visitors have a range of overnight accommodations. Swim, boat, and fish in Lake Trahlyta and explore hiking trails to waterfalls, playing miniature golf, and stepping back into history at the Civilian Conservation Corps museum.

Soar through the trees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Soar through the trees

Feeling adventurous? Georgia has a number of thrilling ziplines for all experience levels.

Banning Mills Screaming Eagle canopy tours has the largest, continuous zip line canopy tour in the world.

In Columbus, you can zip from Georgia to Alabama with Blue Heron Zipline Adventure Park.

Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge soar above North Georgia with two towers and three sky bridges.

Farmers market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Hit up the farmers markets

Take advantage of the state’s agricultural bounty by visiting one of the many Georgia Grown farmers markets, like Dublin’s Market on Madison, the Atlanta State Farmers Market, Oconee Farmers Market, and the Cordele State Farmers Market, the major watermelon distribution hub for the Southeast. They’re easy to find in nearly every region. You’ll find fresh produce, meats, seafood, prepared foods, and crafts. It’s a great way to pick up ingredients to cook for friends and family. The Georgia Department of Agriculture is a good place to start looking.

5. Plan a road trip to see quirky landmarks

Georgia has some truly unique attractions that are worth a road trip in their own right. There are quirky artist havens like Pasaquan in Buena Vista and Summerville’s Paradise Garden created by Howard Finster, one of America’s most widely known and prolific self-taught artists.

The Ashburn Peanut is a beloved landmark for those driving south along I-75 while the Plains Peanut has the same smile as President Jimmy Carter. While in Plains, be sure to tour the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park to learn more about America’s 39th president.

The Doll’s Head Trail is a funky Atlanta hike and the faces carved into trees on St. Simons Island make for a mystical treasure hunt.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Catch a drive-in movie

Although there aren’t many drive-in theaters left, summertime is great for catching an outdoor film in Georgia. Gather your friends, chairs, and snacks for a new or second-run movie. Swan Drive In in Blue Ridge, Starlight in Atlanta, Jesup Drive In in Jesup, Tiger Drive In in Tiger, and Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater in Trenton are ones you can check out around the state. Wilderness has the world’s largest screen!

7. Eat a peach

Nothing says Georgia more than peaches. Summer is the best time to get them from roadside stands and in restaurants. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the state fruit whether in fried pies, milkshakes, peach wine, jams, or straight from the tree.

Laura S, Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Make a run for it

An Atlanta (and Georgia) tradition is the world’s largest 10K race: the AJC Peachtree Road Race. It winds from Buckhead to Midtown every July 4. Runners also can participate virtually by running 6.2 miles wherever they choose. Even if you’re not up for the race itself, make a sign to cheer on the competitors.

9. Go on a farm stay

Get up close with the animals at one of Georgia’s farm stays and guest ranches. In Bluffton, White Oak Pastures is a working cattle farm with guest cabins.

In Madison, Crafdal Farm Alpacas lets you stay in rustic cabins on the same property as alpacas, and Southern Cross Guest Ranch is a dude ranch with horseback riding.

Bavarian village of Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Tour a historic home

Choose a part of the state and there’s a historic home you can learn about.

In Atlanta, it might be the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center which film fans will recognize as President Snow’s mansion in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. In Macon, tour the 18,000-square-foot Hay House known as the Palace of the South.

Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange, the Callaway family home, and the Little White House in Warm Springs where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt retreated also can’t be missed.

11. Chow down on ice cream

Cool off with a cool treat! Georgia has some fantastic ice cream establishments.

You’ve likely heard of Leopold’s in Savannah which usually has a line down the street. The parlor has been scooping ice cream since 1919 including its famous Tutti Frutti flavor (rum ice cream with candied fruit and freshly roasted Georgia pecans).

Lane Southern Orchards makes peach ice cream as does Jaemor Farms where you’ll want to add a fresh fried pie to your order.

In Atlanta, Jake’s Ice Cream is a must-stop if you’re walking the Atlanta Beltline and in the Grant Park neighborhood be sure to stop into one of Historic Oakland Cemetery’s newest neighbors, oh-so-sweet Cereal and Cream.

Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If a Georgia getaway is on your mind this summer you’ll want to check out these posts:

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

The Best Things to do this Spring in Georgia

Spring in Georgia is the perfect time to bask in perfect weather at festivals celebrating music, art, food, and local traditions

Spring in Georgia brings blooming flowers, warmer days, and activities of all kinds. Spring is an undeniably beautiful time of year to visit Georgia. From March to May the average low of 65 degrees F and an average high of 80 degrees F is perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, and strolling through the state’s many parks and botanical gardens. Spring break trips offer perfect opportunities to explore new places and attend events throughout the state.

From outdoor adventures that take advantage of the great weather to favorite events that only happen once a year, here are nine of the best things to do around the state this season.

Beach on Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Go to the beach

Georgia’s beaches are among its best resources. Plan a getaway to explore some of Georgia’s 15 barrier islands, including…

Golden Isles

Nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah and Jacksonville lies the mainland city of Brunswick and its four barrier islands―St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island. 

The port city of Brunswick is laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah’s with city streets and squares still bearing their colonial names. Explore the historic area which is enjoying a renaissance and features shops, restaurants, and beautiful homes reflecting a variety of styles dating from 1819.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive to St. Simons Island. Check out Fort Frederica National Monument, the archaeological remnants of the island’s first European settlement or make your way to Neptune Park, an oceanfront park next to the St. Simons Island Lighthouse that offers a playground, picnic area, casino, and pool. Cannon’s Point Preserve features 660 acres of greenery and Late Archaic shell rings dating back to 2500 BCE.

Since 1928, Sea Island has been known as an exceptional destination featuring five miles of private beach, a Beach Club, tennis center, Yacht Club, and Shooting School as well as three championship golf courses including the home of the PGA TOUR’s RSM Classic.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 10 miles of sandy beaches, four golf courses, a 250-acre Historic Landmark District and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Jekyll Island has been a family-favorite state park destination for 75 years. 

In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat known as the Jekyll Island Club. It soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip with these guides to the Golden Isles and Jekyll Island:

Tybee Island

Tybee Island is a family-friendly beach town 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. Rent a cute cottage, go on a dolphin tour, dig into fresh seafood, and much more. Those traveling with RVs and tents can stay at River’s End Campground and RV Park which is a few blocks from North Beach. There are more than 100 sites with full hookups, cozy cabins, and primitive sites. Campground guests will enjoy convenient amenities and comforts of home like a 24-hour laundry room, a fully equipped fitness center, the island’s largest swimming pool, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island National Seashore is the largest and southernmost barrier island in Georgia offering visitors more than 17 miles of secluded white, sandy beaches. Wild horses and other island wildlife roam freely throughout the ruins and along the beach. Glimpses of the Carnegie lifestyle can be easily imagined throughout the ruins of Dungeness, Plum Orchard, and Greyfield Inn.

Cumberland Island is accessible by ferry only. Reservations for the 45-minute ferry ride are recommended. Board the ferry to Cumberland Island in St. Marys, a historic small town located on the Georgia coast approximately midway between Jacksonville and Brunswick.

Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip with these guides to Cumberland Island:

2. Attend a spring arts or sports event

Just as daffodils, dogwoods, and azaleas flourish in the spring in Georgia so do outdoor arts and sports events. Pick any city and you’ll likely find a spring event to enjoy.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

International Cherry Blossom Festival

Each March, Macon becomes a pink, cotton-spun paradise as over 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees bloom in all their glory.The International Cherry Blossom Festival is a perennial favorite held March 17-26, 2023 that features art exhibitions, rides, and performances. 

The Creek Indians were the first inhabitants of the area that would later become known as Macon, settled by Europeans in 1809. Celebrate the Native American tribes that called the Macon area home at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, a site dating back 17,000 years. The site has North America’s only reconstructed Earth Lodge with its original 1,000-year-old floor as well as the Great Temple Mound.

Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1960s, Macon was ground zero for the music industry thanks to Capricorn Records and artists like the Allman Brothers Band and Otis Redding. Learn about the band that called Macon home at The Allman Brothers Band Museum at The Big House, the Tudor-style home that Berry, Duane, and Gregg lived in with their family and friends. It has a large collection of guitars and band memorabilia.

The Blessing of the Fleet

Each spring, Darien holds The Blessing of the Fleet Festival for the captains of local shrimp boats. The largest event of its kind on the East Coast, it’s also a great time to get some exercise with the 5K run, admire arts and crafts, watch fireworks, and salute seagoing ships during the maritime parade. The 55th Annual Blessing of the Fleet on the beautiful, historic Darien Waterfront is set for April 21-23, 2023.

Savannah Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Music Festival

The annual 17-day springtime festival (March 23-April 8, 2023) is Georgia’s largest musical arts event featuring up to 100 productions. Established in 1989, Savannah Music Festival features artists from all genres including classical, jazz, folk, country, and rock. 

Savannah’s Historic District is sprinkled with 22 historic squares, stunning period architecture, and beautiful cobblestone streets, each with unique elements and stories. Take a walk down America’s Most Beautiful Street, Jones Street, take photos in front of the iconic Forsyth Fountain, and stop at places like Chippewa Square, best known as the site of the bench scene from the movie Forrest Gump.

Plan your trip with this Guide to Savannah.

Hank Aaron, a Braves legend

Atlanta Braves

Take in an Atlanta Braves game at Truist Park. The Braves open at home on April 6, 2023 against the San Diego Padres. The Braves’ first homestand of the season will continue with three more games against the Padres and a three-game set against the Cincinniti Reds. 

The Braves baseball team was moved to Atlanta in 1966 from stints in Boston and Milwaukee. It’s the longest continuously operating franchise in Major League Baseball. In their years as an organization, the team has won four World Series (most recently in 2021). Legends like Hank Aaron helped make the team what it is today.

In March 2017, the Atlanta Braves officially moved to their new home at Truist Park (formerly SunTrust Park). It’s surrounded by The Battery, an entertainment complex with restaurants, stores, concert venues, and a hotel.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Masters

Tickets to the legendary golf tournament in Augusta are hard to come by but even if you don’t have tickets there is plenty to do off-course during Masters Week April 3-9, 2023. 

Established along the Savannah River in 1736, Augusta was once home to cotton production which helped it become the state’s second largest city. These days, much of the city’s industry surrounds the medical fields and technology thanks in part to nearby Augusta University. The city is home to Augusta National and the Masters Golf Tournament as well as the birthplace of legends like James Brown. A thriving arts community, plentiful outdoor exploration, and locally owned restaurants only add to its appeal for travelers.

Spring blossoms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Delight in spring blooms

Spring color pops out early in Georgia especially sunny yellow daffodils and cheery pink cherry trees and tulip magnolias. Trace the season’s progression through the rainbow of colorful flowers, trees, and bushes that burst onto the scenery from their winter slumber. From the North Georgia Mountains to the coast you can explore a gorgeous array of gardens expertly created to showcase the season’s best.

See the largest daffodil display in the nation at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground in early March. More than 200 varieties of early, mid, and late bloomers cover 50 acres of hillsides and valleys.

Experience the beauty of 20,000 azaleas in bloom at Callaway Resort & Gardens in Pine Mountain during Spring FlowerFest March 25-May 7, 2023.

Spring blossoms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate Mother’s Day weekend at the 16th annual Picnic in the Garden in the Pecan Groove at Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange on May 13, 2023 featuring a picnic spread contest, live music, pony rides, and yard games. Explore the historic Ferrell Gardens which are one of the best-preserved 19th-century gardens in America.

The Savannah Botanical Garden includes nature trails, a picturesque pond, and an archaeological exhibit among the formal and natural displays. Enjoy the Southern charm of the historic Reinhard House, the sweet sounds of songbirds, and wander along a path that explores camellias, ferns, and a children’s garden. Admission is free.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take a culinary tour of the state

You can’t say we don’t eat well in Georgia! Go in search of fresh flavors this spring on a culinary trip across the state.

Food Festivals

Georgia’s spring food festivals offer a huge menu of options. A few choices include:

  • Georgia Strawberry Festival, Reynolds, April 22, 2023
  • Vidalia Onion Festival, Vidalia, April 20-23, 2023
  • Hiawassee Highlands Wine Festival, Hiawassee, May 13, 2023
  • Taste of Alpharetta, Alpharetta, May 11, 2023

Pick-your-own Farms

Grab a bucket and head to one of Georgia’s many pick-your-own farms for a true Southern springtime tradition. The whole family will have fun picking their favorite springtime treats fresh from farms throughout the state.

Springtime in Georgia means warmer temperatures, blooming flowers, and…strawberry season. The official strawberry season can stretch from late April to July 4th in Georgia with the best picking from May to mid June.

Adairsville Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food Tours

Eat your heart out in Georgia where restaurant and dining options range from casual to fine dining and you’ll find all types of cuisines—especially Southern. Dig in to the South’s best barbecue smoked to perfection and matched with mouthwatering sides like baked beans and macaroni and cheese. Peel and eat sweet, wild Georgia shrimp served with a basket of warm hush puppies while a sea breeze carries away the cares of the day.

Check out one of the many food tours like Atlanta Food Walks, Taste of Thomasville Food Tours, or Savannah Taste Experience.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Taste of Thomasville is a three-hour progressive lunch though downtown Thomasville that starts in the courtyard of The Gift Shop. Participants and the tour guide walk to award-winning food establishments in the downtown area. Between the food establishments, the participants learn the history, culture and stories that make Thomasville a unique town. 

Take a three-hour walking and tasting tour through the gardens and historic, cultural landmarks of the squares of Savannah, the Hostess City of the South. Savannah Taste Experience food tours will open your palate through bites and tastings at distinctive restaurants, extraordinary specialty food stores, and other notable eateries while providing a local’s perspective on culture, history, and architecture of Savannah. 

Getting out on the water at Stephen S. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Get out on the water

Enjoy the great outdoors around Georgia, especially the lakes, rivers, and ocean.

Lake Life

Georgia’s Lake Country boasts two expansive lakes with more than 15,000 acres of water (Oconee and Sinclair) and more than 10 golf courses nestled in the neighboring communities of Eatonton, Greensboro, Madison, and Milledgeville.

Closer to Atlanta, Lake Lanier welcomes boaters and fishermen. Lakes Burton, Rabun, Hartwell, and Blackshear are also worth exploring.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring the Okefenokee Swamp

Take a walk on the wild side at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine 680-square-mile wilderness is an ecological wonder. The main entrance to the National Wildlife Refuge is located near Folkston.

Hike the Chesser Island Boardwalk to the Owl’s Roost Tower for an unparalleled view of the swamp prairies and the Okefenokee Wilderness. The Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center is a perfect place to begin your Okefenokee experience―talk to refuge staff and volunteers about recreational opportunities, recent wildlife sightings, and take a guided boat tour with knowledgeable naturalists or rent a canoe or kayak and set out on your own.

Take advantage of the discounts on multi-day, multi-entrance passes to Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross and Okefenokee Adventures in Folkston to experience boat tours, train rides, nature shows and the incredible scenery of the fascinating swamp environment.

Brasstown Bald with fall colors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Plan a road trip

What’s a better time to start planning a getaway by car or RV? Decide what you want to see whether it be coast or mountains, cities or small towns. Follow the 41-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway through the mountains, drive along US-17 to coastal communities from Richmond Hill to Darien or taste your way through the state on Georgia Grown Trail 37.

Surrounded by the beauty of Chattahoochee National Forest, the 40.6-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Georgia Grown Trail 37 is Georgia’s first officially branded agritourism highway created to spotlight the agricultural bounty and beauty found in Southern Georgia. Featuring over two dozen agritourism hotspots and out-of-the-way shopping adventures, Georgia Grown Trail 37 takes you on a tasty adventure through small towns and family farms. You will find olive farms, vineyards and wineries, U-Pick berries and produce, unique farm products, and specialty shops. Take I-75, Exit 39, East or West.

Hunt for murals © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Hunt for murals

Looking for colorful walls to photograph? You’re in luck. Atlanta has hundreds of murals in every corner of the city especially around Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward. Savannah also has its own usually commissioned by art galleries and non-profits to beautify their buildings. Macon also has upped its game in terms of public art, with murals, sculptures, and Little Free Libraries around town. Don’t miss the mural in Dublin which honors the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

8. Tour a brewery, cidery, or distillery

The Peach State has a thriving scene for craft beverages as new breweries and distilleries are opening every year in every corner of the state. No matter where you go, plan on having a designated driver.

A brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breweries

They may be found in old warehouses where the grind of machinery has been replaced with liquid gold and the sound of good times or in new wide-open spaces.

Atlanta has the most craft breweries including big-name ones like Sweetwater and those with multiple locations like Monday Night. But there are many breweries in other cities and towns like Macon Beer Company, Creature Comforts in Athens, and Eagle Creek Brewing in Statesboro. Grab a bite with your pint at a brewpub, like Good Word Brewing and Public House in Duluth.

Located within walking distance of college dive bars, Creature Comforts Brewing Co. hangs out in a former car dealership and auto repair shop on the edge of downtown Athens. Try its Tropicalia and see why it’s considered one of the top IPAs in the country.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Macon has been making a resurgence thanks in part to breweries like the Macon Beer Company. This spot playfully uses the city’s name in the name of its beers such as Macon Love, Macon Plays and, of course, Macon Money.

Taking its name from the coastal Georgia Island, Jekyll Brewing has paved the way for craft breweries in the northern suburb of Alpharetta. And on the topic of branding you may be amused by the names of their beers such as Hop Dang Diggity, Southern Juice, Cooter Brown, and ‘Merican Amber.

Cideries

The gluten-intolerant can rejoice as there are also cideries around the state. Urban Tree Cidery is located on Atlanta’s Westside with a taproom to sample their varieties. Treehorn in Marietta is another favorite as is Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge. If you’re looking for a low-alcohol option, Cultured South on Atlanta’s West End brews the popular Golda Kombucha.

A distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distilleries

Distilleries also are open to visitors to offer a glimpse into how your favorite spirits are made. Atlanta has the ASW Distillery, Old Fourth Distillery, and Independent Distilling distilleries. Dalton Distillery and Dawsonville Distillery both specialize in legal white lightning. Richland Rum in Richland and Brunswick crafts the only single-estate rum in the United States made from Georgia-grown sugar cane.

Moonshine and other spirits © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moonshine

Whether you go all in and tour a moonshine maker’s distillery or you attend a local festival named after the famous drink, Georgia is a great place to start your moonshine journey.

In the summer, classic cars and their owners head to the Georgia mountain town of Hiawassee for the annual Georgia Mountain Moonshine Cruiz-In. The three-day event features live mountain music, a real moonshine still, arts and crafts vendors, automotive vendors, and hundreds of classic cars.

Visit Blairsville in September for the Moonshine Market Arts & Crafts Show featuring regional vendors, live music, food, beer and spirits, and distillery tours. 

A winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries

Georgia is more than just craft beer and moonshine. The Peach State has its fair share of wineries especially clustered around the North Georgia Mountains. Muscadine and fruit wines are produced as well as well-known varietals.

Kaya’s Winery and Tasting Room in Dahlonega are built atop a ridge that is 1,600 feet above elevation and offers panoramic mountain views in North Georgia. Enjoy wine made from estate-grown grapes with a view from the covered deck.

On the Helen side of the North Georgia Mountains are a number of wineries but Yonah Mountain Vineyards & Winery is frequently listed as a favorite. The namesake mountain rises into view from the tasting room inspiring the logo that makes the rounded peak look like a bear’s back. Experience their tastings which showcase chardonnay, merlot, malbec, pinot noir, and sauvignon blancs. The wine cave tour is what makes Yonah Mountain completely unique, the only known one in the state.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Bike the trails

Gear up with your helmet and two wheels to explore the state. There are plenty of paved bike paths for beginner or expert riders.

The Silver Comet Trail rails-to-trails path connects Atlanta to the Alabama state line and is accessible from the cities of downtown Rockmart and Cedartown. Bikers, runners, hikers, skaters, and horseback riders use the trail for recreation and commuting. The Silver Comet Trail begins at the intersection of South Cobb Drive and the East-West Connector in Smyrna and runs all the way to the Alabama border. There, it meets the Chief Ladiga trail in Alabama. 

The Carrollton GreenBelt is the largest greenspace and greenway conservation project ever undertaken in the city of Carrollton’s almost 200-year history. The 18-mile long linear city park is the largest paved loop trail system in Georgia and provides residents and visitors a unique escape.

The Chattahoochee Riverwalk in Columbus runs 15 miles alongside the water offering views of the whitewater rapids and a connection to the National Infantry Museum. By foot or on bike, you will skirt the cityscape, examine historic monuments and markers, and take in the wild beauty of the rolling river and native wildlife. Geocachers can take on the RiverWalk GeoTour, the first of its kind in the world with 31 challenging geocaches with collector game pieces including three coins.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing as it does no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

Cumberland Island National Seashore Seeks Feedback on Visitor Plan

A management plan that will help visitors better enjoy the 40-square-mile Cumberland Island National Seashore barrier island off St. Marys, Georgia is available for public review and comment

After holding daily visitation at Cumberland Island National Seashore to roughly 300 for nearly four decades, the National Park Service (NPS) is proposing to more than double that under a visitor use management plan open for public comment.

Under the national seashore’s general management plan which was adopted in 1984, daily visitation to the park has been held to “approximately 300 people per day.” The Park Service’s preferred alternative in the visitor use management plan (VUM) now being crafted says that approximately 600 people per day could be allowed to enter the national seashore via the Dungeness and Sea Camp docks and another 100 people per day to the Plum Orchard dock if ferry service was available.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“These changes would be implemented adaptively meaning the park would monitor key indicators to ensure sensitive shorebirds are protected as are visitor opportunities to experience the rustic atmosphere, quiet solitude, and wilderness character described by visitors and public commenters. Adjustments would be made based on this monitoring,” a park release said.

The draft environmental assessment on visitor use explains that the cap of 300 daily visitors was related to the number existing ferry service could handle and that the higher number contained in the plan was built around the carrying capacities of specific areas on the national seashore.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The primary goal of this VUM plan is to preserve the fundamental resources and values of Cumberland Island. The amount, timing, distribution, and types of visitor use on Cumberland Island influence both conditions of fundamental resources and visitor experiences,” notes one section of the EA. “By identifying and managing the maximum amounts and types of visitor use that areas on the island can accommodate, the National Park Service can help ensure that resources are protected and that visitors have the opportunity for a range of high-quality experiences.”

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with increasing ferry traffic to the park which is set on an island off the Georgia coast, the preferred alternative calls for “adjustments to the locations and number of allowable campers at wilderness campsites to expand and disburse camping opportunities, establishes a few new trails to distribute use more evenly across the island, calls for limited facilities including boardwalks and a pavilion to facilitate greater accessibility for visitors with a range of abilities, provides for kayak and canoe rentals on the island to diversify the available recreational opportunities, and includes limited health and safety items for sale on the island.”

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among the proposed changes are the following:

The park would expand camping opportunities at Sea Camp Campground by adding the three existing overflow sites to the current reservation system. Fifteen of the 19 individual sites would be available for visitors to reserve at any one time and four sites would be rotated into administrative closures to allow recovery or prevent impacts from heavy use. Parties of up to six campers would be able to reserve sites through Recreation.gov and fees would continue to be implemented for public campsite reservations. The two group sites that can accommodate up to 20 campers would remain open for reservations as well. Under the NPS preferred alternative up to 130 people may camp in the front country campground at one time with 40 campers allowed in the group sites and 90 campers allowed in the individual sites ([15 available sites x 6 people] + [2 group sites x 20 visitors] = 130 campers).

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park would offer camping opportunities at four designated wilderness campsites and maintain the number of visitors that could camp in the designated wilderness at one time. Brickhill Bluff and Hickory Hill would remain active. Additional wilderness campsites would be designated at Toonahowie and Sweetwater Lakes. Sites at Hickory Hill and Sweetwater Lakes would be accessed by foot while the Brickhill Bluff and Toonahowie sites could be accessed via land or nonmotorized and/or small motorized watercraft. The existing site at Yankee Paradise would be abandoned and replaced by public camping opportunities at Hunt Camp campground which is adjacent to but outside the wilderness area.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park would offer backcountry camping opportunities at current levels at Stafford Beach Campground and new opportunities at Beach Creek campsite and Hunt Camp campground. The designated backcountry sites would continue to be administered through a permit system managed by Recreation.gov; fees would be implemented for public camping reservations. Fees for Beach Creek campsite and Hunt Camp campground would mirror those charged for wilderness campsites and Sea Camp Campground, respectively as amenities are similar. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park would construct and realign South End Trail to provide a loop trail opportunity by connecting the Dungeness Marsh Boardwalk to portions of the existing trail. That new segment would serve as one leg of the loop and the beach would serve as the other leg. A new spur trail would be constructed to connect with the proposed Beach Creek campsite. A portion of the existing South End Trail that runs through the south end marsh would be abandoned and the segment realigned onto upland terrain.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park would create one new trail segment to provide direct beach access from the Nightingale Trail. A bathhouse consisting of restrooms and outdoor showers (~400 square feet) would be constructed at the junction of the existing Nightingale Trail and the new segment.

Approximately 2,670 feet of water utility line would be installed from an existing well house across the Main Road and along the Nightingale Trail. Electricity would either be provided by solar panels or by extending an existing utility line approximately 1,850 feet along the Nightingale Trail from the Main Road. These utility lines would be installed utilizing a trenching machine along existing roads and trails.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An approximately 1,200-square-foot septic leach field would be installed in appropriate proximity to the bathhouse. The exact location of these facilities would be determined during design. Additional compliance requirements would occur before implementation. A pavilion (~800 square feet) would also be constructed alongside the Nightingale Beach access spur providing shelter to visitors within the dune field.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island was added to the National Park System in 1972. Accessible only by boat, the national seashore features unspoiled beaches and dunes, marshes, and freshwater lakes, along with historic sites. Twisting live oaks covered in resurrection ferns and Spanish moss make up the island’s maritime forest shading an understory of sable palms and palmettos. Facing the mainland the island gazes across mudflats during low tide and swaying marshes. Looking to the east, visitors step through designated pathways between rolling dunes to hit the sandy beach bordering the Atlantic Ocean. During low tide, sand appears to stretch in all directions.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor use management plan has been in the works since 2017. The Park Service sought public feedback on draft strategies for visitor use management in spring 2019 receiving 2,260 individual correspondences that helped guide the direction of the plan. A virtual meeting to discuss the plan with park staff has been set for November 17 at 6 pm. EST. The meeting will be recorded and available on the NPS planning website following the meeting. 

Comment period closes November 30, 2022.

More on Cumberland Island:

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

It’s Fall Y’all in Georgia State Parks

Cooler temps, cozy blankets, sweet s’mores, campfires and more! Fall is one of the best times to enjoy camping with family and friends in Georgia State Parks.

Crimson reds, rustic oranges, and bright yellows mark the highly anticipated start of fall in Georgia’s State Parks. Nature lovers can opt outside to take in the kaleidoscopic scenery with family and friends from atop overlooks, underneath waterfalls, in kayaks, RVs, or tents. Whatever adventure you seek, there are activities that everyone can fall for at Georgia’s State Parks. Venture out to discover why these parks are a must-visit for autumn.

It’s fall in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the “Leaf Watch 2022” travel planner, visitors can find information on the perfect Georgia State Parks for viewing fall foliage at GaStateParks.org/LeafWatch. The site also includes hiking tips, autumn events, and updates from park rangers. Visitors are encouraged to tag their most Instagram-worthy photos with #GaLeafWatch and #GaStateParks for a chance to be featured on the Leaf Watch website.

Laura S. Walker State Park

Sleep under the stars: For those looking for the perfect spot to toast s’mores and truly enjoy crisp, cool fall air there is no better time to gather around the campfire than fall. Regardless of equipment whether it be a motorhome or a trailer or the preferred method of getting there—via foot, boat or car—Georgia State Parks have campsites for all tastes.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay in the heart of autumn beauty and the middle of the action at Black Rock Mountain, F. D. Roosevelt, or Tallulah Gorge state parks. A few unique camping spots include Chattahoochee Bend and High Falls where visitors can paddle into their site; lakefront locations at Tugaloo, Elijah Clark, and Seminole; or tent platforms at Victoria Bryant and Fort Mountain. Camp with a steed at equestrian campsites at Hard Labor Creek, A.H. Stephens, General Coffee, and Watson Mill Bridge state parks. 

More on Georgia State Parks: Best Georgia State Parks: Plan Now for a Spring or Summer Getaway

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf peeping at top overlooks: Track vibrant fall color as it moves across the Peach State at some top parks for leaf peeping. Top overlooks to experience glorious fall foliage await in Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Amicalola Falls, Vogel, Unicoi, F.D. Roosevelt, and Tallulah Gorge state parks. Visit these hot spots to revel in the dazzling display of fall color in late October through November depending on weather and temperatures.

Those who enjoy venturing off the beaten path will particularly enjoy the lesser-known state parks for viewing fall color: Moccasin Creek, James H. Sloppy Floyd, Victoria Bryant, Chattahoochee Bend, and Watson Mill Bridge. 

It’s fall in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go chasing waterfalls: Waterfalls are Georgia’s State Parks’ calling card. Pick and choose from one of Georgia’s many awe-inspiring waterfalls perfectly positioned around the state. Watch from atop an overlook or a bridge below at the whitewater cascading down as the rocks reflect bright reds and oranges of fall.

At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast. Cloudland Canyon has two waterfalls that tumble over layers of sandstone and shale into pools below. Visitors also can discover these wonders of nature at Fort Mountain, Black Rock Mountain, High Falls, Tallulah Gorge, and Vogel state parks. Best of all, the cooler fall temperatures make the hike to reach these falls even more worth it.

Ocmulgee National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing in Georgia’s State Parks: Reel it in this fall. From trout to spotted bass, striped bass, and crappie, Georgia’s State Parks offer some of the best fly fishing, trout fishing, and bass fishing in the country. Pick from a wide variety of parks to get the adventure started.

More on Georgia State Parks: 4 Best Georgia State & National Parks

Are you new to fishing? The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Fishing Tackle Loaner Program provides a way for budding anglers to try fishing without having to purchase any equipment. Available at 24 Georgia State Parks the program provides rods, reels, and tackle box equipment. Interested visitors can inquire at the park office and check out the equipment for the day.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall water adventures: At Hard Labor Creek, Stephen C. Foster, George L. Smith, and Indian Springs, water lovers who prefer leaf peeping from a kayak are in for a treat. Paddling tours of lakes let visitors enjoy autumn color from a different perspective, including copper-colored cypress trees reflecting off tannin-tinted ponds. Sign up for a ranger-led paddle or rent a canoe to explore solo. 

Fort Mountain, Vogel, and Unicoi rent equipment for paddling their small mountain lakes. These are good locations for beginners to practice paddling skills. Visitors at Fort McAllister can rent canoes to explore Redbird Creek with its sawgrass, fiddler crabs, and occasional dolphins. Paddlers who bring their boats to Crooked River can enjoy the abundant wildlife and the shortest route to Cumberland Island National Seashore (across the Intracoastal Waterway).

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster is the western entrance to the famed Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It features more “open” water than the grassy plains of the eastern entrance. Rent canoes or kayaks to explore Minnie’s Lake, Billy’s Island, or “the narrows.” Alligators, deer, ibis, herons, and egrets are commonly seen within the swamp. Reed Bingham, George L. Smith, Magnolia Springs, Laura S. Walker, and Little Ocmulgee also have pretty lakes where Spanish moss, cypress trees, and lily pads reflect off the dark water.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Horseback riding at F.D. Roosevelt State Park: Trot through the Georgia countryside on guided rides surrounded by brilliant fall foliage and breathtaking views of Georgia hardwoods, mossy rock gardens, and Pine Mountain valley.

Some Georgia State Parks welcome horseback riders offering miles of horseback riding trails, equestrian campsites, horse stalls, or riding rings. Guided rides are available at Don Carter and F.D. Roosevelt State Parks. Most horseback riding trails are loop rides with links to other trails allowing you to customize your adventure. A.H. Stephens, Cloudland Canyon, F.D. Roosevelt, Fort Mountain, General Coffee, Hard Labor Creek, Don Carter, and Watson Mill Bridge offer horseback riding trails.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore on two wheels: Bicycles are welcome at most state parks and some parks rent bikes. State law requires that riders 15 and younger must wear a helmet.

More on Georgia State Parks: Laura S. Walker State Park: A Place to Reconnect With Nature

Bikers will get their fill of fall thrills as they speed down invigorating hills and breeze past colorful overlooks at Fort Mountain and Cloudland Canyon state parks. Race past bright fall colors and scenic views in the forests of Panola Mountain and Red Top Mountain. These parks belong to Georgia’s Muddy Spokes Club, a series of mountain biking trails created to challenge experienced and casual cyclists alike to tackle 68 miles of trails in 11 state parks. 

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find paved trails at Panola Mountain and Tallulah Gorge state parks. Hard-surfaced trails are located at Red Top Mountain, Skidaway Island, Smithgall Woods, and Magnolia Springs state parks and Hart State Park.

Mountain bikers may test their endurance at Cloudland Canyon, Hard Labor Creek, Fort Mountain, Tallulah Gorge, Unicoi, Richard B. Russell, Mistletoe, Fort Yargo, Watson Mill Bridge, and Victoria Bryant state parks.

More on Georgia State Parks: Spotlight on Georgia: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

It’s fall in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bike rentals are available at A.H. Stephens, Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Crooked River, Florence Marina, Fort McAllister, General Coffee, Georgia Veterans, Laura S. Walker, Little Ocmulgee, Magnolia Springs, Panola Mountain, Reed Bingham, Richard B. Russell, Skidaway Island, and Vogel state parks. Contact the park for pricing.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Cumberland Island Celebrates 50 Years as a National Seashore

Experience the island’s unique history, natural beauty, and wildlife during special events throughout the year

There is only one place on Earth where you can find wild horses, secluded white beaches, live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and the skeletal remains of a once-famous mansion. Cumberland is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands along the Georgia coast. The National Park Service protects almost 36,000 acres of the island including miles of unspoiled beaches.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cumberland Island National Seashore, the southernmost and largest barrier island on the Georgia coast is just that place and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the congressional move that saved it from commercial development.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in October, Cumberland Island kicks off a year-long series of events including special programs, a speaker series, and even a parade. While special events such as the Cumberland Island-themed St. Marys Seafood Festival in October are exciting enough to entice a crowd the island’s history, beauty, and wildlife are unmatched experiences no visitor should miss at any time of year.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

Although inhabitants of Georgia’s coast can be traced back thousands of years starting with a Timucuan tribe a more concrete history begins with 16th-century Spanish missions and James Oglethorpe’s 17th-century British forts. Oglethorpe also named a hunting lodge Dungeness in honor of a beloved landmark in England. The Dungeness name and remnants of the properties associated with the land remain to this day.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the American Revolution, the island attracted prominent families with famous pedigrees such as General Nathaniel Greene, George Washington’s most trusted officer. He and his wife borrowed the Dungeness name and began construction on a four-story mansion that would undergo several alterations over the next century. Dungeness lands then fell into the hands of Robert Stafford who purchased most of Greene’s property at auction. He built his sprawling mansion and plantation of more than 1,300 acres.

Related article: Cumberland Island: Wild, Pristine Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Civil War brought more change to the island as formerly enslaved people, locals, and others trying to navigate Reconstruction all attempted to carve out a living and a life here. Near the turn of the 20th-century members of the renowned Carnegie, family made their way to the island, purchased 90 percent of the land, and built a Scottish castle aptly named Dungeness.

Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dungeness Ruins

Visit the ruins of a mansion that was once called Dungeness. First built in 1884, the Dungeness Mansion was intended as a winter home for Thomas Carnegie (younger brother and business partner of Andrew Carnegie), his wife Lucy, and their nine children. Though Thomas passed away soon after construction, Lucy Carnegie went on to spend more and more time and resources on the island estate.

Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several additions and remodels were made over the next thirty years. By the time Lucy passed in 1916 the mansion had grown to approximately 35,000 square feet. The mansion caught fire in 1959 and only the brick and stone walls remain.

Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though the mansion is in ruins it remains one of the most picturesque and visited spots on the island. Visitors can walk the grounds around the house and the numerous support buildings that were part of operating the estate.

Related article: The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beauty

There simply isn’t one way to describe the scenery on Cumberland Island; it offers a variety of breathtaking landscapes and backdrops. Take a few photographs on the island and you can easily convince someone that you have visited multiple countries and traveled many miles.

The quiet beaches bring peace and splendor together particularly in the evening when the soft lull of the waves blends into the pastel-colored sky. Walk in any other direction and you’ll run into a different kind of majesties such as salt marshes full of fiddler crabs, shrimp, and alligators.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rivers and sounds traverse through it all so that every turn is a new adventure. Point a camera anywhere and capture untouched nature in all its colorful brilliance. If you need shade, spend some time under the live oaks and let the trees serve as nature’s canopy to protect you from the elements.

Though the grandeur of nature is significant on Cumberland Island so is the architecture. Of the three dozen homes here almost all are still owned and cared for by the same families who built them. There is an affection for ensuring the dwellings capture some aspect of the scenery and many of the homes themselves are works of art.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beach

Cumberland Island is home to 17 miles of uninterrupted beach. No docks, houses, or other structures interrupt its serene beauty. The island boasts a healthy expanse of vegetated dunes that make it one of the most important nesting spots for loggerhead sea turtles in all of Georgia and a sanctuary for migrating shore birds.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swimming is very popular but caution should be exercised. It is the open ocean and all the tides, currents, and animals that call it home exist. There are no lifeguards. There are designated crossings marked on the map providing access to the beach. These will either be trails or boardwalks. If a boardwalk exists, please use it to help protect the dunes. Crossings on the beach side are marked with a black and white striped pole along the dune line.

Related article: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife

Imagine a world where a wild horse gallops freely in the distance and you are so distracted that you almost don’t even notice a turkey scurrying across your path. On the other hand picture, yourself stepping onto a beach just in time to watch brown pelicans diving into the ocean for breakfast.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maybe you even catch a glimpse of the endangered loggerhead sea turtles struggling to make it to sea or you tread quietly while you observe deer challenging feral hogs for foliage. Cumberland Island is a playground for all of these animals and countless others who make their home here. Whether it’s woodpeckers, owls or even armadillos the importance of preserving all wildlife and their habitat is paramount throughout Cumberland Island.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Ways to Experience Cumberland Island

Visit Cumberland Island for the day, camp overnight (walk-in tent sites), or be a guest at the upscale Greyfield Inn made famous by John F. Kennedy Jr.’s wedding. Day visitors and campers reach the island by taking the Cumberland Island Ferry from the Cumberland Island Visitors Center in St. Marys to the Sea Camp Dock. Guests of the Greyfield Inn take the hotel’s private ferry, the Lucy Ferguson. The boat ride itself is a wonderful way to see Cumberland’s beauty from the water.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys

As the Gateway to Cumberland Island and the Georgia Coast, St. Marys offers a laid-back vibe with Southern charm for a perfect relaxing retreat or an outdoor adventure. Attractions include the downtown historic district, the St. Marys Submarine Museum, and St. Marys Waterfront Park. You can visit the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum and the Cumberland Island Visitors Center. You’ll enjoy water sports and cycling plus shopping and dining at locally owned spots.

St Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual events include an Independence Day Festival, St. Marys Seafood Festival, and free concerts in the park. The Cumberland Island National Seashore and Crooked River State Park are visitor favorites and popular for biking, birdwatching, kayaking, hiking, camping, and more.

Related article: Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Plan Your Visit

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cumberland Island at the St. Marys Seafood Festival on October 15 featuring vendors, food trucks, races, and an island-themed parade. Cumberland Island’s park superintendent is the grand marshal and the National Park Service will offer informative and kid-friendly activities such as colonial encampments, a highland pipe and drum band, musket firing, and a special 50th-anniversaryth anniversary program.

Enjoy Cumberland Island’s incomparable attractions anytime by taking the passenger ferry from downtown St. Marys, the Gateway to Cumberland Island for an island adventure.

Worth Pondering…

The beach is the draw—

17 miles of hard packed blonde sands.

You can walk forever and seldom meet a soul

—Esquire

The Ultimate Coastal South Road Trip: From New Orleans to Savannah

Discover the sights, sounds, and tastes along this Coastal South road trip

The dog days of summer are the perfect time to embark on a great American road trip.

One such road trip links two of the South’s most historic and poetic cities: New Orleans and Savannah.

Cajun cuisine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the route, explore the Gulf Coast—balmy shores full of quirky beach towns, Cajun culinary magic, and breweries—as well as the white-sand beaches of the Eastern Seaboard between Florida and Georgia.

Pack your sunscreen and bathing suit, and throw on a blues and Southern rock playlist. This weeklong road trip through America’s warmest (both in climate and culture) region awaits.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your trip in New Orleans

The Big Easy. N’awlins. The Birthplace of Jazz.

New Orleans is one of America’s most storied and with deep French, Spanish, and African roots culturally distinctive cities. As the saying goes, New Orleanians are perpetually either throwing a party or recovering from one. For those seeking revelry, look no further than the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street—the latter is also one of the best places in New Orleans for live music.

Like Las Vegas, New Orleans doesn’t have open-container laws. So snag yourself a daiquiri while you stroll and admire the city’s inimitable architecture, street music, and local characters.

Related article: The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston

Dine at one of New Orleans’ legendary restaurants—perhaps Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s, or Galatoire’s.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis is about an hour and a half east of New Orleans.

As with Louisiana, the French colonized these shores in the late 17th century. I recommend taking Highway 90 from New Orleans. This route follows the coastline and is far more scenic than the slightly more expedient Interstate 10.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the revelry of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, a quiet and breezy beach town is the ideal place to catch your breath.

For those interested in blues history visit 100 Men Hall. This hallowed music venue has hosted the likes of James Brown, Etta James, and Muddy Waters. The current owner, Rachel Dangermond continues to host musicians and uses the hall for events in support of coastal Mississippi’s African American community.

The gorgeous Pearl Hotel overlooks the ocean and sits within easy walking distance of the restaurants, beach bars, and ice cream parlors of Bay St. Louis. Right across from Pearl Hotel is The Blind Tiger, a beach bar serving up delicious “royal reds,” deep-water shrimp, a coastal Mississippi delicacy.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulfport, Mississippi

Driving east from Bay St. Louis, you’ll soon arrive in Gulfport.

Be sure to start the morning with a coffee and plate of biscuits at Fill-Up with Billups, an old-fashioned gas station converted into a diner.

Related article: The Underrated Coast

Boasting a dozen well-known casinos, Gulfport is a popular gaming destination. But if gambling isn’t your thing, Gulfport also boasts world-class charter fishing and is home to Chandeleur Island Brewery.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biloxi, Mississippi

About 30 minutes down the coast from Gulfport is Biloxi, the Playground of the South.

Long renowned for the abundant shrimp, oysters, and crabs of its warm waters Biloxi suffered tremendous destruction from Hurricane Katrina.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Biloxi is on the rise again with a slew of busy casinos, booming commercial and recreational fishing industries, and killer dining and drinking. If you’ve had your fill of gambling, take a shrimp boat tour with Capt. Mike at Biloxi Shrimping Trip. He takes passengers out into Biloxi Bay to learn about the world’s favorite crustacean.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Just east of Biloxi Bay, this small town is a leafy artists’ colony that punches well above its weight for dining, coffee, and nightlife. It’s sprawling with live oaks and buildings bedecked with wrought-iron balconies and the old French influence is palpable.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs comes alive at night. To find a bustling patio bar and live music, just walk up Main Street after dark. Check out Maison de Lu for excellent French-inspired seafood with a Gulf twist. And don’t leave Ocean Springs without getting a cup of joe at Bright-Eyed Brew Co., a local roastery adored by both visitors and locals.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

Continuing east and crossing state lines, Mobile is about an hour from Ocean Springs.

Related article: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

If you have time, keep to coastal Highway 90—it’s a much prettier drive than the inland Interstate 10 as noted previously.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with New Orleans, Biloxi, and most older Gulf Coast settlements, the French founded Mobile in the late 17th century. Mobile also claims to be home to North America’s oldest Mardi Gras.

Beer aficionados should check out Braided River Brewing Co., a recently opened brewery that’s already garnering national awards.

Hank Aaron Childhood Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re a sports fan be sure to pay homage to one of the great ones at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located adjacent to Hank Aaron Stadium. Aaron was one of the best to ever play this game. Aaron played 23 seasons. He came to the plate almost 14,000 times. He hit .305 with 755 home runs and 6,856 total bases—more than 700 total bases beyond everyone else. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the list, Stan Musial, is more than 12 miles worth of bases.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Consistently ranked as one of the nation’s coolest small towns, Fairhope is an upscale beach town about an hour southeast of Mobile. With wooden piers stretching out over blue waters, white-sand beaches, and gorgeous architecture, Fairhope is a town that seduces visitors to stay permanently. What’s more, Fairhope boasts some of the South’s best restaurants. Check out Tamara’s Downtown for scrumptious Gulf Coast delicacies.

Fairhope is undeniably posh (golf carts are the preferred means of transportation here). However, it also has a funky side, evidenced by the ample coffee shops, breweries, and the fact that the town once had a flourishing nudist colony.

Tallahassee, Florida

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

Tallahassee is about three hours east of Fairhope. Home to nearly 35,000 college students, Florida’s capital is one of the country’s most notorious college towns. As you would expect with an overpopulation of 18-to-22-year-olds, Tallahassee brims with rowdy bars, late-night eateries, and youthful verve.

Amelia Island near Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Florida

Another 2½ hours of driving will take you from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Jax is the largest city in the U.S. in terms of geographical breadth. It’s also the hometown of Southern rock legends the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In Jacksonville, the characteristic form of the Florida beach—that is, powdery white sand against placid, turquoise water—is fully realized. Not to mention that Jacksonville’s beaches are far less crowded than those farther south. For fun in the sun, head to Neptune Beach near downtown Jacksonville.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Head north up the coast for about two hours to reach Savannah, the final stop on our jaunt through the coastal South. Savannah is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and boasts some of the most stunning examples of the South’s grandiose pre-Civil War architecture.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike Atlanta, a city Gen. Sherman burned to the ground during the Civil War, the Union Army spared Savannah its torches—some say because Sherman had a local mistress who convinced him that her city was too beautiful to destroy. Either way, posterity is grateful that Savannah remained intact as the Historic District—with its stately fountains, mansions, and lush public parks—is a national treasure.

Related article: The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

St. Marys, Georgia (just north of the Florida/Georgia state line) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

Whether your thing is American history, beautiful cities, fabulous cuisine, or gorgeous beaches, the coastal South makes for a fantastic road trip.

This route links the old and superlatively poetic cities of New Orleans and Savannah. It shows you the best of coastal Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, North Florida, and the southern reaches of the Eastern Seaboard.

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot