Partner Content for Travel South

The Best of the South

Explore the distinctive sights and sounds found only in these southern states.
Photograph by Kent Kobersteen
Car driving along a winding road in Dolly Sods

West Virginia: Wander winding country roads

Celebrated in John Denver’s classic song “Country Roads, Take Me Home,” West Virginia’s curvy backroads and byways are road-trip dream drives. For sky-high mountain and valley views, follow the Highland Scenic Highway (Routes 39 and 150) through the Monongahela National Forest. To see waterfalls and wildlife, cruise the Appalachian Highway (Route 32) from Harman north to Thomas, passing Blackwater Falls State Park and the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Explore Harpers Ferry National Historic Park—celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2019—and the Eastern Panhandle on the Washington Heritage Trail (Routes 9, 230, 340, and 51). The 136-mile route loops through Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson Counties, making it easy to visit several signature Mountain State sights, such as Berkeley Springs, the nation’s original spa town; rock-chiseled Paw Paw Tunnel, a 19th-century engineering marvel on the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal; and historic Shepherdstown, Charles Town, and Martinsburg.

Photograph courtesy West Virginia Tourism, Dolly Sods
whitewater rafting in west virginia

West Virginia: Go whitewater rafting

Rumble or float through spectacular river gorges on a wild or family-friendly whitewater rafting ride. Southern West Virginia is home to two of the nation’s top whitewater destinations: New River Gorge National River and Gauley River National Recreation Area. With its gentle Class I-III rapids, the Upper New River is perfect for first-timers, while the Lower New River’s 27 Class I-V rapids create ideal conditions for a classic whitewater rafting trip. Pump up the thrill factor even higher on the Gauley River with more than 100 Class III-VI rapids in an eight-mile stretch.

For family-friendly rafting, kayaking, and tubing, head to the Eastern Panhandle and the Class I-III rapids of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Beginner to advanced whitewater adventure awaits in northeastern Mountaineer Country. Make Morgantown—home of the West Virginia University Mountaineers—your base for off-the-beaten-paddling-path rafting and kayaking on the remote Cheat River.

Photograph courtesy West Virginia Tourism, New River Gorge
The lyric theater and alabama theater in the historical Theater District of Alabama.

Alabama: Tune into music history

Alabama is a magnet for music royalty and for everyone who loves music. In Muscle Shoals, tour Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and FAME Recording Studios to hear the stories and see the memorabilia of iconic artists, such as The Rolling Stones, who recorded here. Channel your inner superstar at the nearby Alabama Music Hall of Fame where you can record a song accompanied by music and vocals.

At the W.C. Handy Birthplace, Museum and Library in Florence, see original sheet music handwritten by the “Father of the Blues.” Celebrate Alabama music legend Hank Williams, Sr. in Georgiana at the Hank Williams, Sr. Boyhood Home & Museum and in Montgomery at the Hank Williams Museum. In Birmingham, see who’s playing at restored venues like the Lyric Theatre, built in 1914, and the Alabama Theatre, a former movie palace opened in 1927.

Photograph courtesy Alabama Tourism, Lyric Theare and Alabama Theatre
Cathedral caverns in scottsboro alabama

Alabama: Explore wild outdoor spaces

Alabama is brimming with places to play outdoors. Hike under and around the 148-foot long Natural Bridge of Alabama, the longest naturally formed bridge east of the Rockies. Launch a kayak or canoe from the 5 Rivers – Alabama Delta Resource Center to explore rivers, canals, and lakes in the 250,000-acre Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the second-largest river delta in the United States. For a consistently cool (60°F Fahrenheit year-round) subterranean adventure, tour the illuminated caves at Cathedral Caverns State Park in Woodville and DeSoto Caverns in Childersburg.

At Little River Canyon National Preserve, hike to the bottom of Alabama’s deepest canyon, which plunges to depths of more than 600 feet in places. Experienced rock climbers can scale the canyon’s sandstone walls, while mountain bikers, horseback riders, and hikers can roam 23 miles of unpaved backcountry roads. In Dismals Canyon, a Natural National Landmark, walk through a primeval forest thick with waterfalls and moss-covered rock formations. Take a twilight canyon tour to see twinkling blue “glowworms,” bioluminescent insect larvae locally known as Dismalites.

Photograph by The Protected Art Archive, Alamy, Cathedral Caverns
Aerial view of the Buffalo National River in Arkansas

Arkansas: Float, hike, and mountain bike

Flowing wild and free through the Ozarks for more than 130 miles, Arkansas’s Buffalo National River was the first (designated in 1972) National River in the United States. Rent a canoe, kayak, or raft to run the Buffalo’s rapids or float the pools. Along the way, soak up shoreline views of towering bluffs and gushing cascades. To see one of The Natural State’s tallest waterfalls, visit Petit Jean State Park, home of the Instagram-famous Cedar Falls.

In the capital city, Little Rock, walkers, hikers, and bike riders can access the nearly 90 miles of trails in the Arkansas River Trail System, which includes three designated cycling routes. For more challenging mountain biking terrain, head to the state’s IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) Ride Center-cities—Bentonville, Fayetteville, and Hot Springs—home to trails for rookie-to-expert riders.

Photograph by Randy Olson, Buffalo National River
Exterior shot of the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas.

Arkansas: Celebrate American art and history

Only in Arkansas can you stroll around the smallest National Park in the U.S., tour a Presidential Library and Museum, and peruse (for free) a world-class collection of American art masterworks. Compact Hot Springs National Park—the first land set aside for protection by the federal government—protects 5,500 acres, 47 geothermal springs, and eight ornate bathhouses, built between 1892 and 1923. Relive Hot Springs’ heyday as a spa resort with a soak in 143°F waters at Buckstaff Bathhouse, opened in 1912.

In Little Rock, tour the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, where exhibits include an exact replica of the Oval Office and Bill Clinton’s signature saxophone. At Bentonville’s free Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, view works from the colonial era to the present and walk the nature trails. The curved museum complex itself is a masterpiece, sculpted to fit its Ozark forest home.

Photograph by Christina Horsten, Alamy, Crystal Bridges Museum
Electric guitars on display at the grammy museum in mississippi

Mississippi: Follow the Mississippi Blues Trail

While the roots of country, gospel, folk, and rock music run deep in Mississippi, the state is best known as the birthplace of the blues. Immerse yourself in the places and history that forged the distinctive Delta blues sound by visiting some of the iconic stops on the Mississippi Blues Trail.

Discover a hit parade of Blues Trail landmarks on and near the 140-mile stretch of the Blues Highway (U.S. 61) between Clarksdale and Vicksburg. In Clarksdale, tour the Delta Blues Museum and listen to live music (Wednesday to Saturday nights) at the neighboring Ground Zero Blues Club. In Cleveland write, record, and mix an original blues song at the world-class GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi before making a pilgrimage to Dockery Farms, a former cotton plantation and long-time home of Delta blues pioneer Charley Patton.

Photograph courtesy Visit Mississippi, Grammy Museum®
Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tulepo Mississippi

Mississippi: Be inspired by artistic all-stars

Mississippi boasts a star-studded lineup of homegrown musicians, actors, and writers. Spark your creativity at places celebrating their lives, such as the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo. See the two-room house where the King was born, tour the Elvis Presley Museum, and read the outdoor Story Wall filled with reminiscences from people who knew Elvis as a child.

Legendary bluesman B.B. King was born in Indianola, home to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. Hear, watch, and play the museum’s engaging exhibits and see thousands of artifacts, such as several of King’s beloved “Lucille” guitars. In downtown Meridian, read the names embedded in the Walk of Fame as you stroll to The MAX (Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Complex). Opened in 2018, the highly immersive museum focuses on the early influences that shaped Mississippi’s biggest stars.

Photograph Courtesy Visit Mississippi, Elvis Presley Birthplace
Woman and her dog looking out at the mountains in North Carolina

North Carolina: Discover dog-friendly destinations

North Carolina makes it easy to stay and play with your four-legged best friend. Dog-friendly cities, such as Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Wilmington, have off-leash parks and several, patios and places to stay for pampered pups. The cities’ minor league baseball teams typically host a few pup-in-the-park games, too. Leashed dogs also are permitted on the trails in the 164-acre NCMA (North Carolina Museum of Art) Museum Park in Raleigh.

With trails in all North Carolina state parks and forests open to on-leash dogs, it’s easy to go hiking with your best bud. Visit the western mountains to let Fido dip in the water on easy-to-moderate hikes like the Triple Falls Loop in DuPont State Recreational Forest and the figure-eight loop trail through the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. October to March, treat your dog to an off-leash (under voice command) beach day near Wilmington at Freeman Park in Carolina Beach.

Photograph courtesy Visit North Carolina, Craggy Gardens Summit
Wright Brothers memorial in North Carolina

North Carolina: Embrace the “first in flight” life

The Wright brothers famously chose the windswept dunes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks as the place to launch the world’s first controlled, powered aircraft flight. Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills to see the first-flight launch and landing spots. Then, follow the brothers’ example by sampling some of the ways to “fly” across the state.

On the coast, try aerial adventures like kiteboarding, hang gliding, parasailing, and kite flying. In the central Piedmont region, experience the thrill of floating in the nation’s largest indoor skydiving wind tunnel and fill your social media feed with images of the wind-powered folk art at Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. After casting a line for trout on Jackson County’s Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail®, try a flight of craft beer at one of the state’s more than 300 breweries and brewpubs.

Photograph courtesy Visit North Carolina, Jockey's Ridge, Nags Head
A woman sits outside an estate to celebrate South Carolina's gullah traditions

South Carolina: Discover Gullah music and culture.

Rhythmic hand clapping, foot stomping, and soulful, call-and-response singing are hallmarks of Gullah music, a unique African American art form born on Sea Island rice plantations. The Gullah—direct descendants of the enslaved West Africans brought to the islands in the 1600s—speak a distinct English-based creole language (also called Gullah) derived from several West African languages.

At performances around the Lowcountry, hear the singsong cadence of Gullah in the soulful spirituals sung by ensembles, such as Marlena Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers, the Plantation Singers, and Ann Caldwell and the Magnolia Singers. Each May, learn about Gullah culture, history, and traditions at The Original Gullah Festival in Beaufort. Gullah music, dance, and storytelling also are part of the annual Heritage Days Celebration held in November at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark, a former St. Helena Island school founded to educate freed Sea Island slaves.

Photograph courtesy Discover South Carolina
A couple dancing the shag, South carolina's state dance

South Carolina: Groove to the Carolina Shag

South Carolina’s state dance, the Carolina Shag, is a quick, compact, and smooth move that anyone can do. Originating at Grand Strand beach parties in the 1930s and 40s, the upbeat shag is danced to beach music—a laid-back, sand-in-the-shoes blend of rhythm and blues, soul music, and disco

Learn the basic steps (a six-count, eight-step pattern danced in a slot) and watch seasoned Shaggers effortlessly shuffle, step, and twirl in North Myrtle Beach, widely considered the birthplace of the dance. Legendary shag hotspot Fat Harold’s Beach Club offers free beginner lessons on Tuesdays and nightly beach music. At the Ocean Drive Beach & Golf Resort, join the nightly shag dance party at the old-school OD Beach Club. The resort is also home to the Spanish Galleon Nightclub, regular host of the National Shag Dance Championships.

Photograph courtesy Discover South Carolina, The Spanish Galleon