The Best Scenic Drives in the South (2024)

The South is full of natural beauty and road trips are one of the best ways to experience it. Any of these scenic drives will take you past stunning landscapes and breathtaking views. So, grab your road trip essentials, fill up with fuel, and hit the road!

The South’s best scenic drives invite travelers to experience the landscape up close as they wind through small cities and tiny towns, beaches and mountains, rolling countryside, and deep forests.

Some of these drives are short, others are much longer, but no matter the length of your getaway, don’t forget to allow some time for side trips. Small towns, state parks, hiking trails, and historic markers await travelers willing to make a stop and set out on a rambling route to somewhere new.

Keep the camera handy because panoramic vistas, fields of wildflowers, and sandy beach scenes are just some of the sights to look for and marvel at as you navigate these scenic drives across the South. Once you’ve begun the drive, you’ll know that on these memorable Southern routes, the journey truly is the destination.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, Virginia

It’s no surprise that the Blue Ridge Parkway topped this year’s list of the South’s best scenic drives. A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.

If you need ideas, check out:

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Road, North Carolina and Tennessee

When you get to Newfound Gap, you won’t believe the wealth of overlooks, picnic areas, and trails to explore. Take this spectacular road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park to experience the pristine wilderness that drives millions of Americans to this wildly popular park year after year. The views get increasingly breathtaking, putting a lifetime’s worth of astonishing natural eye candy into a couple of gallons of driving.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway, Louisiana

This Louisiana byway reaches through three of the state’s southern parishes—St. Martin, Iberia, and St. Mary—as it winds through Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya Basin from Morgan City to Arnaudville. Travelers can make stops along the byway’s 183 miles to explore inviting small towns, go kayaking in Breaux Bridge, and enjoy authentic local Cajun food in the destinations along the route.

Here is an article to help:  ‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

For a dreamy drive, look no further than this Virginia road. Skyline Drive extends for 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park following the crests of Blue Ridge peaks as it goes. That means vistas galore with views over the rolling Virginia landscape. It’s also a lovely place to watch the seasons change; visit in autumn to see the leaves turn.

That’s why I wrote Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive.

Lookout Mountain Parkway. Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee

Easily accessible from several states and a great day trip, the route along Lookout Mountain Parkway runs from Gadsden, Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and passes through Georgia in the process. It’s 93 miles long and travelers are invited to stop for the nearby attractions—including waterfalls, canyons, and national parks—along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for scenic vistas as you make your way along the route.

Plan a day, plan a week. There is so much to see and do along the Lookout Mountain Parkway and you won’t want to miss a thing.

Come see…just for the fun of it!

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

One place in Southwest Louisiana that never ceases to amaze is the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-miles-long scenic byway where natural wonderlands abound. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s last great wildernesses.

The Creole Nature Trail features four wildlife refuges (three national and one state): Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge. While there are five entrances to the Creole Nature Trail, the most popular entrances are off I-10 in Sulphur (Exit 20) and just east of Lake Charles at Louisiana Highway 397 (Exit 36).

Here are some helpful resources:

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection, Alabama

This 130-mile scenic byway connects the people and places in coastal Mobile and Baldwin counties and showcases the rich culture and flavor of Alabama’s Gulf Coast region. You’ll discover beautiful beaches, authentic downtowns, wildlife preserves, historic sites, and the freshest seafood in the state.

Check this out to learn more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national 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

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Coast Scenic Byway, Mississippi

The Gulf Coast Scenic Byway is the 36-mile stretch of roadway that runs through the cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs. Long Beach, Pass Christian, and Gulfport are all home to historic downtown districts through which the byway either runs or borders to the south.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ashley River Road National Scenic Byway, South Carolina

This short 13-mile byway is a historic journey along the Ashley River. Plantations and expansive gardens dot the route along with significant Revolutionary and Civil War sites. This pastoral scenic drive makes an illuminating route to Charleston or a must-experience daytrip if you’re already there.

Step back in time and immerse yourself in history at Middleton Place Plantation. The National Historic Landmark preserves the stories of the Middleton family, the enslaved, and the freedmen. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was founded by the Drayton family in 1676 as a rice plantation. Built in 1738, Drayton Hall Plantation is a prime example of Palladian architecture and has never been restored.

Road trip planning

Road trips take a little planning. Here are a few tips that will help make your scenic road trip a success:

There is so much to see and do in the South

The South is home to many fascinating, attractive, and unusual destinations. Because the Southern states occupy a significant portion of the United States, anybody planning extensive travel in the country will inevitably find themselves in the region sometime. Once you arrive, you will be in for a real treat.

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

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

70 Degree Road Trip #1: The Coastal Adventure

A clever climatologist routed a 70 degree road trip around the U.S. where you can enjoy 70-degree weather all year long

In 2015, a climatologist named Brian B. created a 70 degree Road Trip map that has been shared over 10 million times over various platforms. That map was a hypothetical trip through the U.S. with the route tracking where the normal daily high temperature was approximately 70 degrees Fehrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). 

The map was based on the 1981-2010 climate normals produced by the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI). Every 10 years, new climate normals are produced. In May 2021, the 1991-2020 normals were released by NCEI.

It might surprise people that the shift in 70-degree temperatures between 1981-2010 and 1991-2020 was very slight. Instead of updating the map to reflect temperature changes he came up with new routes. The original route was interesting but it left out a lot of options. This time around, there are multiple routes to choose from.

The map consists of three different routes that chase 70-degree weather all year long. You can now choose a Coastal Route, Interior Route, or United States and Canada Route. 

In this article, I will focus on what Brian B. calls the Coastal Route. I’ll cover the other two routes in upcoming articles.

Keep in mind you don’t have to do this entire route. You can simply use it as a guide to plan trips using segments at different times of the year. But, if you have the time and resources, it sure would be an epic journey to do the entire route!

Route 1: The Coastal Adventure

The coastal route starts in Tampa, Florida, and ends in San Diego, California. It’s an extraordinary 7,468-mile journey through diverse landscapes and coastal views.

Brian calls it the coastal route because it takes you along the east coast follows the shores of some of the great lakes and finishes off on the southern coast of sunny California. However, this route may be better designated as the exterior or perimeter route.

It has a long stretch across the northern states and a detour inland once you get out west. That’s what is required to stay within the 69-71 degree window.

But, even though it doesn’t take you entirely down the Oregon and California coastline, you’ll still see amazing landscapes every mile of the journey.

I’ll walk you through the journey and link to helpful articles to help you plan your trip.

Myakka River State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January

Set off from Tampa, Florida, and make your way east toward Orlando. Enjoy the warm weather, sandy beaches, and vibrant attractions including theme parks, shopping, and dining experiences. 

Mileage: 151 miles

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February

Head up the east coast of Florida to Jacksonville taking in the pristine coastal views and visiting historic landmarks such as the Fort Caroline National Memorial. 

Mileage: 81 miles

Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

March

Continue northward along I-95, stopping by the charming cities of Savannah and Charleston. Reach the North Carolina border where delicious Carolina BBQ awaits. 

Mileage: 341 miles

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

April

Continue traveling up the I-95 corridor to explore the vibrant cities of Richmond, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia while soaking in the East Coast’s rich history. 

There are so many museums and historical sites in this part of the country. It’s worth looking for reciprocal memberships to use at museums, botanical gardens, zoos, and more.

Mileage: 447 miles

Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

May

Take in the scenic beauty of the northeast as you drive from Philadelphia through New York City and all the way to Boston. Revel in the flourishing spring atmosphere as you explore cosmopolitan cities and quaint towns. 

Mileage: 300 miles

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

June

Buckle up and get ready to cover a lot of ground this month. In this stretch, you go all the way from Boston, Massachusetts to central Montana. This long stretch rewards you with natural wonders such as Niagara Falls and the vast wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

While 2,388 miles seems like a lot, that’s only 80 miles a day. So, you can still spend time seeing plenty of sights along the way.

Mileage: 2,388 miles

Mount St. Helens, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

July

Traverse through the stunning terrain of western Montana, Idaho, and Washington on I-90. End your month in the lush surroundings of coastal Washington. 

Mileage: 965 miles

Applegate River Valley, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

August

Journey south along breathtaking coastal highways making your way to Newport, Oregon. Marvel at the Pacific Ocean’s rugged beauty and discover charming coastal towns. 

Mileage: 289 miles

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

September

Thread your way through eastern Oregon on lesser-traveled mountain highways. Conquer I-84 in Idaho and I-15 in Utah, soaking in the picturesque landscapes. 

Mileage: 962 miles

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

October

Explore the enchanting rural highways of the Southwest, driving southeast from Utah to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Immerse yourself in the region’s rich culture and natural splendors. 

Mileage: 546 miles

Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

November

Venture west on I-40 from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, then head south on I-17 to Sedona and Phoenix. Witness the mesmerizing Arizona landscape including the iconic Grand Canyon.

Mileage: 467 miles

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

December

Conclude your coastal adventure taking I-10 from Phoenix to Los Angeles, followed by I-5 to San Diego. Celebrate your journey’s end while basking in the warmth of California’s sun-kissed beaches. 

Mileage: 531 miles

Make It Round-Trip!

As you see, this 70-degree road trip takes you three-quarters of the way around the United States. You can continue your road trip through the southern states to complete your loop around the United States.

You’ll lose your 70-degree weather but you won’t have to deal with the Southern heat as it’ll be December or January when you start heading back to Florida.

And don’t forget, I’ll be back with two more routes that chase 70-degree weather through the interior United States and all the way through the U.S. and Canada.

Worth Pondering…

Shoot for the moon, Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.

—Les Brown

40 Things Only Southerners Will Understand

Someone once said that when you visit the South, you need a translator

Geographically speaking, anyone north of Kentucky and west of Texas won’t have a clue what we’re talking about. But if you were born or raised in the South, or travel for an extended period of time, you most definitely will relate to these 40 things.

Adairsville, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Y’all better believe “y’all” is a word.

2. And y’all better believe we understand grammar just fine. But some things are tradition.

3. You know everyone in town—and all their cousins.

4. And if you need to know anything about any one of ’em, just ask Margene down at the hair parlor.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. A true Southerner knows that “fixin’” can be a noun, a verb, or adverb.

6. You know the difference between a hissie fit and a conniption, and that you don’t “have” them, you “pitch ‘em.”

7. Grits aren’t just a breakfast staple. They’re a potluck mainstay when smothered with cheese and baked in a 9 x 13.

Related: 5 Things I Learned While RVing The American South

8. Y’all know, with absolute certainty, that anything can be fried, eaten, and enjoyed.

Hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. You like to fry everything—fried bananas, fried shrimp, fried chicken, and especially hush puppies, which are the best!

10. Favorite Foods. Cornbread, biscuits and gravy, turkey dressing (not stuffing!), peach cobbler, grits, collard greens, fried okra, jambalaya, and jumbo, and of course, irresistibly rich chocolate cake topped with pecans and more chocolate.

11. A meal without collard greens is no meal at all. It’s a staple of the South, and don’t you forget it.

12. And, yes, we ask for hot sauce at every meal.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. You know tomatoes with eggs, bacon, grits, and coffee are perfectly wonderful; that red eye gravy is also a breakfast food, and that fried green tomatoes are not a breakfast food.

14. Sweet tea is the only kind of tea. Get out of here with your unsweetened crap.

15. You could never and should never ring in the New Year without having some black-eyed peas. These good luck charms are the only way to make it the best year possible.

16. Honey, sugar, dumpling, pumpkin, and sweetie pie are usually not referring to food.

GrandDaddy’s BBQ, Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. The squeak of a porch swing and the slam of a screen door will always make you feel at home.

18. Anything beyond the front door is the porch.

Related: Spotlight on South Carolina: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

19. Which is where you like to have your tea, ice-cold, and sweet. (And your gossip hot.)

20. It’s not that we’ve partied in a barn but that we party in barns.

Truth BBQ, Brennan, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. With or without moonshine. Usually with. Shhh…it’s delicious with apple juice and simple syrup.

22. We take our whiskey and bourbon very seriously.

23. We’re able to orient ourselves based on which church is on what corner.

24. You know someone of nearly every denomination. You’ve got your Lutherans, your Catholics, your Baptists, your Presbyterians, your Methodists…seriously, the list goes on and on.

Woodford Reserve Distillery, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. It’s not a shopping cart, it’s a buggy.

26. Here’s the thing: In the South, football is a lifestyle. From tailgating to the food to the family atmosphere, it’s more than just a game.

27. College sports rivalries are a religion to us. You’re a Tarheel or you’re a Blue Devil. It’s ‘Bama or Auburn. There is no in-between.

28. We will drive hours on a Saturday to go to the big college game day—even as adults, even if we didn’t technically go to that college.

Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

29. Speaking of manners, you were grounded multiple times as a kid for forgetting your “yes ma’am”s and “yes sir”s.

30. Only Southerners grow up knowing the difference between “right near” and “a right far piece.” They also know that “just down the road” can be 1 mile or 20.

31. Only Southerners make friends while standing in lines. We don’t do “queues,” we do “lines”; and when we’re “in line,” we talk to everybody!

32. It is courteous to hold the door open for someone, even if they’re 20 feet away.

The Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden, Kerrville, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

33. An inch of snow can shut down a whole state.

34. No summer is complete without a big ol’ crawfish boil and a family game of cornhole.

35. Catching lightning bugs in mason jars was one of your favorite childhood pastimes.

36. Along with falling asleep to the sweet lullaby of cricket chirps and toad croaks.

Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

37. You’re not ashamed to admit it: You definitely own some camo.

38. And, no, you’re not afraid to get a little mud on your tires. Or your boots.

39. Don’t even think about scheduling something on a Sunday because everything’s closed except church.

40. But if you want to stop by for some biscuits later, just holler!

Ambrosia Bakery, Baton Rouge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And to those of you who are still having a hard time understanding all this Southern stuff, bless your hearts, I hear they are fixin’ to have classes on Southernness as a second language!

And for those that are not from the South but have lived here for a long time, ya’ll need a sign to hang on ya’lls front porch that reads “I ain’t from the South but I got here as fast as I could.”

Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bless your hearts, ya’ll have a blessed day.

Worth Pondering…

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

The unique floodplain ecosystem in central South Carolina is home to some of the tallest trees on the East Coast

There’s a perfect refuge in the midst of the Southeast: Congaree National Park, a 41-square-mile patch of old-growth forest. Congaree is the last stand of a forest ecosystem that was long ago cleared to supply timber and to make room for farmland and development.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vast majority of the original forest has been destroyed, something that occurred over several centuries. It wasn’t until the 1950s and ‘60s that local folks realized they had something special you couldn’t find anymore.

Today, Congaree is what’s left of a 30-to-50 million-acre forest that once stretched from Maryland to Florida and as far west as Missouri. The timber industry was active in the area until the 1970s when a coalition of conservation groups worked with South Carolina’s U.S. Senators to get a national monument designation for the park. It was expanded, designated as a national park in 2003, and later as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The East Coast isn’t known for its uninterrupted wilderness. But when you start to consider the understated beauty of places like the Okefenokee Swamp—a shallow, 438,000-acre, peat-filled wetland—or the Everglades, or even the northern woods that cover much of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, the eastern wilderness concept makes sense.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park sits roughly in the middle of a giant triangle formed by three busy interstates connecting Columbia (the state capital), Sumter, and Santee. The farther we traveled from the asphalt of the city, the thinner traffic became. The state’s rural areas felt alive. But the pace seemed slower, too, as we drove along the mostly-empty roads.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other than a handful of signs here and there, you wouldn’t know there’s a national park nestled amid these hundreds of acres of old growth forest.

For a long time, not a lot of people did know. According to Park Service statistics, Congaree attracted fewer than 96,000 visitors annually 20 years ago. That number has crept up a bit—146,000 people found solace there in 2018—but it’s a trickle compared with the millions of people that visit the Grand Canyon National Park or the Great Smoky Mountains every year.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For some reason, people are not familiar with the park or even this part of the state. A lot of people who come to South Carolina want to go down to Charleston. The middle of the state is a lesser-known entity.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those who do make it to Congaree National Park are in for a treat. The entry road winds toward the visitor center through a thick canopy of trees. More than 20 miles of trails and more than 10 miles of the Congaree River snake through the park. About 15,000 of its 27,000 acres are designated wilderness areas.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the bald cypress trees have been here for centuries. The average canopy height is 130 feet and among the tallest trees are a 167-foot-tall loblolly pine, a 157-foot-tall sweetgum, a 154-foot-tall cherrybark oak, and a 135-foot-tall American elm. The forest floor is teeming with wildlife—everything from bobcats, coyotes, armadillos, and otters to turtles, snakes, alligator gar, and catfish. It is also an important hub for migratory waterfowl.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree is a floodplain forest, so it’s a unique ecosystem most people aren’t familiar with. At any given time of the year, the forest floor could be dry, muddy, or flooded with a foot of water. Regardless of the season and the amount of water among the trees, anytime is a good time to visit because there are so many different ways to experience the park. All the different seasons and phases are beautiful.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a warm November day we enjoyed an afternoon walk on the raised boardwalk that cuts a 2.4-mile loop around the north end of the park. There were several places to descend from the boardwalk onto solid ground.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One thing to keep in mind is that conditions can change from month to month and even from day to day. One day, you might need a pair of walking shoes; another, a kayak might be a better bet. There’s a canoe and kayak access trail for the days when the river floods large parts of the forest.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree is unique in the East. You can go out and it’s just you and nature. Even on a busy day, you don’t have to go too far to get away from folks.

Congaree National Park is open 24 hours a day, year round. The visitor center is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on federal holidays

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson