The South is a diverse region and while the cities like Nashville, Charleston, and New Orleans get all the glory, it’s the great outdoors that really sets it apart from the rest of the country. It’s home to one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world as well as one of only two everglades in the world. So whether you’re an avid outdoorsman (or woman!) or just looking to explore your surroundings for the day, each state has something for you.
Rock Climbing: Chattanooga, Tennessee
The state of Tennessee is full of outdoors destinations, including the hiking and mountain biking in Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains, but we selected Chattanooga. The town was once a railroad hub and was a tourist stop when I was growing up with attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium, Ruby Falls, Rock City, and Chickamauga Battlefield. In the last few years, however, it has become known worldwide as a rock climbing and bouldering destination. The Stone Fort and Rocktown are favorite venues for bouldering, while Foster Falls is best for intermediate climbers. If you’re a pro, try the Tennessee Wall or Sunset Rock. Stop by Rock Creek to get outfitted with all the gear you need.
Mountain Biking: Hot Springs, Arkansas
The Ozarks of Arkansas are a nature lover’s dream, from Bentonville to Hot Springs. While I wouldn’t recommend the courses at Cedar Glades Park for beginners like me, Hot Springs is one of the highest rated mountain biking areas in the world. The ten miles of trails features changes in elevation, bridges, and varied surfaces. Also in the park is a playground, RV park, disc golf course, and a climbing wall. Rent a bike and other gear from one of the shops in town.
Cycling: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Between the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Allegheny Mountains, and Shenandoah National Park, the rolling hills of Virginia make for a cyclist’s dream. Bike through the wine region near Charlottesville or down iconic Skyline Drive. Staunton is a good place to base yourself for outdoor adventures. Black Dog Bikes is the best place to get your wheels serviced or purchase extra accessories. Shenandoah Bicycle Company offers both rentals and repairs.
Rafting: Columbus, Georgia
Set on the Chattahoochee River on the border with Alabama, Columbus boasts the longest urban whitewater rafting in the world. Created by Georgia Power and used in the 1996 Olympics, Whitewater Express is the main operator in town with an outpost on the Riverwalk. The course includes a handful of class 4 and above rapids with a few smaller ones in between. They also operate kayaking, paddleboarding, and zip lining excursions.
Hiking: High Country, North Carolina
The mountains of North Carolina have so much to offer outdoors lovers, especially hiking fans. Linville Gorge, outside Boone, is a favorite spot with trails for both beginners and experts. Nearby Mt. Mitchell is the highest point in the Appalachian Mountains. When you’re not hiking and camping, wander around the High Country towns of Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, and Boone. Stores like Footsloggers and Mast General Store are useful for picking up any necessary gear and provisions.
Kayaking: The Lowcountry, South Carolina
We can’t leave out the coast! South Carolina’s Lowcountry has unique ecosystems you can’t find anywhere else in the region. Outside of , you can go on kayaking excursions of the Intercoastal as well as Ashley and Cooper rivers. They leave from James Island and Mount Pleasant. If you get the chance, explore barrier islands like Bull Island and Cape Romain. Closer to Myrtle Beach, you’ll find the best wildlife spotting opportunities in a kayak at Huntington Beach State Park, which also has camping.