Top 10 Southeast Adventures



By Mary Burnham
(published in DEEP Magazine; summer, 2005)

Flex your muscle and work up some adrenaline from Virginia to Florida, and every state between.

FLORIDA: Kayak the Conch Republic

In the Florida Keys, it’s a tradition to toast the sunset. What better place to raise your glass than at a secluded island campsite? Take your paddle in hand and follow the newly-designated Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail through 107 miles of coral islands. The shallow, Caribbean-blue water teems with rays, tarpon, small sharks and exotic tropical fish.
Pack: Bug repellant; a bug-shirt in summer.
Try: Cafe con leche (Cuban coffee, strong and sweet) to keep your spirits afloat.
Avoid: Sunburn. With all-day exposure, don’t even think about taking your hat off.
kayakfloridakeys.com

GEORGIA: Hike the Appalachian Trail

As much as we’d love it, most of us can’t afford to take six months off to measure the distance from Georgia to Maine with our feet. So it’s a lucky thing that the Peach State offers the best eight miles of the whole trail. Hike from Georgia’s spectacular Amicalola Falls to the world-famous Springer Mountain, and enjoy enough challenging climbs and scenic views that will make you feel like a bona fide trailblazer. Midway through your hike, the Len Foote Hike Inn, accessible only by foot, offers showers, great views and a good night’s sleep.
Pack: Hiking poles—it’s all uphill.
Try: The inn’s tasty, hearty family-style dinners.
Avoid: Blisters—break in your boots well beforehand. Vaseline provides handy protection for hot spots.
gastateparks.org/​info/​amicalola, hike-inn.com

WEST VIRGINIA: Climb Seneca Rocks

Who needs a “Rocky Mountain High” when West Virginia claims its own lofty heights: spiky plates of sandstone that tower 960 feet above pastoral North Fork Valley. This hard rock is ideal for climbing, and with 400 mapped routes, you’ll never get bored. Some of the best climbers in the country play here. The Seneca Rocks Mountain Guides and School of Rockcraft can help you become one of them.
Pack: Your bathing suit for an après-climb swim in the North Fork River.
Try: A spelunking tour of nearby Smoke Hole Caverns.
Avoid: Holiday weekends—too many climbers!
senecarocks.com

WV & NC: Whitewater Rafting

Millennia of moving water carved gorges through the Appalachians, creating the Southeast’s best whitewater. First-timers gain confidence on the Nantahala’s Class I to III rapids in NC, while playboaters and adrenaline junkies find satisfaction on WV's Gauley and New.
Pack: A waterproof camera.
Try: A scenic train ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad before you leave.
Avoid: Wearing cotton—it sucks heat from your body, and even summer nights can be a bit nippy here.
Nantahala Outdoor Center, 800.232.7238
noc.com, aceraft.com

NORTH CAROLINA: Hang-Glide Kitty Hawk

When the Wright Brothers chose Kitty Hawk to launch their first flight over 100 years ago, they knew what they were doing. It’s still a great place to fly, and you don’t even need your pilot’s license. Jockey’s Ridge features the East’s tallest sand dunes, ideal for launching your glider and your airborne life. Take lessons at the Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding Training Center, the world's largest hang gliding school. Bobbing amid air currents while dangling from a harness may be the closest you’ll come to superhero status.
Pack: Tennis shoes—you’ll run to push off, and you’ll need good support for your landing.
Try: An early morning hike to see sand tracks left by night critters.
Avoid: Heavy meals before taking off.
kittyhawk.com

GEORGIA: Navigate the Okefenokee Swamp

An alligator slips into inky water as a great blue heron screeches, startled from its perch by a splashing paddle. Close encounters of the natural kind abound on a multi-day canoe trip into Georgia’s 438,000-acre watery wilderness. Access the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near Folkston, and you can choose from six color-coded trails through the labyrinthine swamp. Camp on one of the tent platforms along the way.
Pack: A portable toilet, required by park rules.
Try: Fishing for your dinner—the large-mouth bass are delicious.
Avoid: Sharing your camp with alligators or bear—hang your food!
okefenokee.fws.gov

VIRGINIA: Hike the High Country

Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, near Marion and enjoy 25,000 acres of the state’s highest vistas. Wild ponies run free in these meadows, filled with landscapes that’ll trick you into believing you’re out West.
Pack: A wide-angle camera lens to take in all that beauty.
Try: The giant wild huckleberries.
Avoid: Feeding the ponies—help them stay wild.
fs.fed.us/​r8/​gwj/​mr

SOUTH CAROLINA: Kite-Surf the Low Country

While wave quality can be a little unpredictable in this part of the world, the wind is almost always top-notch. That’s why many Southern surfers are taking up kiteboarding. Hold on tight, and your brightly colored kite will whip you through the water at an alarming speed. Let go, and it will idle overhead while your mind catches up with your body. After a good half-day of instruction, you’ll be riding the waves like a sailfish.
Pack: A cooler full of food, water, and maybe a couple of beers. You won’t want to break for lunch.
Try: A “stunt” kite first. It’s easier and requires less instruction.
Avoid: Outfitters who rent without giving an in-depth lesson.
halfmoonoutfitters.com

NORTH CAROLINA: Fish the Outer Banks

NC’s Outer Banks reach within 30 miles of the Gulf Stream, making Hatteras and Ocracoke ideal launch points for trolling this deep, warm, abundant Atlantic current. You may have to work for your supper—it can take up to hours to reel in a trophy fish like a marlin—but nothing tops the feeling of accomplishment. Join a charter tour, and you’ll catch enough tuna, snapper and grouper to stock your freezer for months.
Pack: A flashlight. Offshore trips depart before sunrise and return after 6 p.m.
Try: Night fishing and stargazing.
Avoid: Seasickness. The Gulf Stream has its own weather conditions, so keep a Dramamine on hand, just in case.
outerbanks.org

TENNESSEE: Backpack the Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more types of blooming plants than any other national reserve (1,500 in all), and more visitors as well (9 million annually). Avoid the herds of wildflower pilgrims and catch the colorful drama deep within the forest on a multi-day backpacking trip.
Pack: Pocket plant identification book.
Try: The trail less trampled—there are 800 miles in all.
Avoid: Picking flowers—it’s a tempting no-no.
nps.gov/​grsm