By Browning Hemric
We have a lot to offer here in the south. Whether you like rugged mountains or long stretches of beautiful beaches, delicious BBQ or whitewater rafting, this unique region really has something for everyone. Each specific area and state in the southern US has it’s own flavor and style, and crossing county lines can feel like you’ve traveled into another country. We’ve put a list together of some of our favorite, biggest and best attractions we can think of here in the good ol’ south that you’ve got to check out while you’re here! Have fun y’all!
1) Highest Point East of the Mississippi River - Mt. Mitchell State Park
At 6,684 feet above sea level, Mt Mitchell State Park was North Carolina’s first state park, and the highest mountain peak in the eastern United States. The park offers beautiful 360 degree views from the observation deck as well as hiking trails galore. Here you can pick up the famous Mountains to Sea Trail. There is a museum where you can learn the history about Mt Mitchell and the unique environment that thrives at such high elevations. Mt Mitchell State Park is a must see if you’re visiting the mountain of North Carolina.
2) Largest Oak Tree - Angel Oak
The Angel Oak Tree is a beautiful southern live oak located on John’s Island, only about 20-30 minutes outside of Charleston, SC. The tree is estimated to be between 400-500 years old, stands 66 ft tall and has a circumference of over 28 feet. This magnificent tree has a broad reaching canopy extending nearly 2,000 square yards, and looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. With it’s branches twisting and curving, the Angel Oak will take your breath away at first glance. You can walk beneath it’s huge branches, and remind yourself how little we actually are in the great big world!
3) Best Class V+ Whitewater in the South - Gauley River
If you’re a big whitewater enthusiast then you’ll love the Gauley River in West Virginia. The Gauley offers huge Class V+ rapids over a 35 mile stretch of river that will drop you over 668 feet. With over 100 rapids considered to be some of the most difficult and technical in the country, you’ll be sure to get the thrill of a lifetime. There are beautiful gorges and rugged ravines the river winds through, as well as old oak and yellow poplar forests with many species of wildlife who make this area their home. That is if you can even see the animals while you're cruising through huge waves andgiant holes.
4) Biggest Jazz Festival - Jazz Fest
New Orleans is know for Mardi Gras, but they also host Jazz Fest, the largest jazz festival in the US. The festival is held on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May each year and draws in thousands of visitors from all over the US. There’s ton of music to enjoy including blues, R&B, Cajun and Latin to name only a few. The official food policy of the festival is “no carnival food”, so Jazz Fest vendors offer up delicious local Cajun and creole favorites as well as exotic and adventurous options for everyone to delight in. The festival has been held since 1970, and grows in popularity every year. Grab your handkerchief and get in the second line!
5) The Longest Cave System in the World - Mammoth Cave National Park
From high above the ground to underneath, Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky is the longest cave system known in the world. There are over 390 miles of passages that have been discovered with new discoveries being added to this number each year. There are many different cave tours that are offered from electric lit tunnels to visitor carried paraffin lamp tours. They even have headlamp tours through small muddy passageways where you’ll crawl on hands and knees. Native American remains and artifacts have been discovered in Mammoth cave suggesting these - and other cultures - have used the caves for rituals and means of shelter. If you’re curious about the mysterious world of caves with it’s fascinating rock features and creatures, Mammoth is perfect place to check out.
6) Best Horse Racing - Kentucky Derby
Most everyone has heard of the Kentucky Derby, which is one of the most famous horse races in not only the US, but in the world. Visitors flock to Louisville, KY to attend this prestigious event. Gorgeous thoroughbred horses compete around a classic dirt track at Churchill Downs, one of America’s most legendary racetracks. 20 horses run one and one quarter miles before the grand finale, which is a much larger group than your average horse race. The derby has been nicknamed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”, which refers to the length of time it typically takes for the race to be won. Grab your big billowy hat and a mint julep!
7) Largest Home in the United States - Biltmore House
The Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina is the largest privately owned home in the United States. This French Renaissance style chateau took six years to complete starting in 1889. The home has roughly 174,240 square feet, with 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, 34 bedrooms, an indoor pool, a bowling alley and countless beautiful gardens and outdoor trails to explore. Besides the house itself, the Biltmore Estate also offers horseback riding, segway tours, rafting and kayaking tours along the French Broad River, as well as skeet shooting and a winery. You can easily spend a day or more exploring this gorgeous estate and never run out of things to do.
8) Best BBQ in the South - Red Bridge’s Barbecue Lodge
Now, the best BBQ in the south is tough to pin down, but Red Bridge’s Barbecue Lodge in Shelby, North Carolina is one of the front runners. In different states around here, folks like their BBQ cooked differently. Some like sweet BBQ, other like a tomato based, but typically in North Carolina they do things the vinegar way. Thrillest.com voted Bridge’s best BBQ in America in the first ever BBQ bracket. Bridge’s have been pit cooking their pork over hickory wood for over 70 years and is served with vinegar based sauce with a red slaw. Between that and their hot-out-of-the-frier hush puppies, it’s tough to beat.
9) Longest Hiking Trail- Appalachian Trail
In case you feel like walking all the way from Maine to Georgia, we have a trail here in the Southern US where you can do just that! The Appalachian Trail - lovingly referred to as the AT - runs around 2,200 miles and is managed by the US National Park Service as well as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Many hikers flock to this region to see if they have what it takes to hike the entire trail. Some are thru-hikers, with their goal being to hike the entire trail in one season. The AT will take you through mountain ranges and alongside beautiful rivers and streams. Even a short hike on the AT is worth it if you get to visit any of the areas where the trail is nearby.
10) Best Rock Climbing - Red River Gorge
We finish up our list with some rock climbing to work off all the beignets and BBQ! The Red River Gorge area in Kentucky offers amazing rock climbing for a climber of any skill level or expertise. This area is a mecca for climbers, with a unique canyon area offering sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, and grand arches. Climbers refer to this area as “The Red”, and it draws in visitors and climbers from all over the US and the world. Spend some time exploring new routes, and test your skill level on some of the tougher climbs!
Come on down y’all, and visit the beautiful American South. There’s a little something from everyone to enjoy here whether it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, trying some “mud bugs” or crawfish, or exploring one of the longest know caves in the world. The next time you’re out this way, add one of these great attractions to your itinerary!