Unique Adventure Getaways
Thrilling Destinations Just a Short Drive Away
By Tony Jenkins and Susan Flowers
Now that you’ve completed the adventure of moving to your new city,you’re probably ready for an all-new adventure that’s less stressful, but just as rewarding. Fortunately, there are numerous adventure-filled vacations within an easy drive of Atlanta. From whitewater rafting in the Smokies to hiking in the Okefenokee Swamp, one-of-a-kind opportunities abound.
Upcountry, South Carolina
“The Upcountry” is a term used for a region of 10 counties in the northwest corner of South Carolina. Little more than two hours northeast from Atlanta, it’s perfect for an adventure-filled day trip or long weekend.
The region’s most singular feature would have to be its waterfalls—more than 120 of them, to be exact. Some are easily accessible, such as Reedy River Falls and Wildcat Falls, while others, like Rainbow Falls and Raven Cliff Falls, are perfect for serious hikers looking for more of a challenge.
The 85,000-acre Andrew Pickens District of the Sumter National Forest is also ripe for exploration, whether you choose to do so on foot, bike, or horseback. And if you’re into water activities, there’s the Chattooga National Wild & Scenic River, which offers rafting, canoeing, kayaking and trout fishing, as well as three major lakes—Hartwell, Keowee and Jocassee—popular for boating, fishing and SCUBA diving.
Known as the birthplace of Dolly Parton, Sevierville is a picturesque getaway less than four hours from downtown Atlanta. The area offers an abundance of activities for adventure-seekers and nature-lovers, including fishing, camping and canoeing at Douglas Lake; sparkling formations, grottos and a crystal-clear stream in the Forbidden Caverns; and rafting tours through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.
The town is only minutes away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is free to enter and is America’s most visited national park. With more than 800 miles of maintained trails, it’s a hiker’s heaven. Whether you’re looking for a strenuous all-day or overnight hike or something quick and easy, you’ll find it here, along with sights that are best experienced rather than described.
Looking to add even more thrills to your getaway? Consider a visit to one of several zip-lining companies in Sevierville, where you can enjoy breathtaking mountain views as you zip along, hundreds of feet above the trees and streams. You can even challenge your family and friends on dual racing zip lines, or try some night zipping under the stars.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, only a five-hour drive from Atlanta, is an adventure-lover’s paradise.
The Okefenokee was established in 1937 to conserve the Okefenokee Swamp, which is thought to be 6,000 to 8,000 years old and is teeming with amphibians, fish, mammals, reptiles and birds—and a few larger animals as well. Paddle your canoe through the swamp and you might glimpse an alligator or a bear.
Of course, wilderness canoeing is an experience best reserved for those who can take on a challenge, so come prepared for strenuous paddling or pushing canoes at some points. Visitors may also be subjected to extreme temperatures and precipitation. Canoers can camp at any of nine designated campsites located throughout the refuge.
If you’re looking for something less taxing, guided boat tours are available, including a 90-minute trip through the Suwannee Canal and Chesser Prairie. You can also arrange for an extended or overnight excursion.
Hikers can enjoy eight different trails. Take in nature’s wonders as you observe birds and other wildlife in their natural habitat, and enjoy plant life that surrounds you at every step. Walk the Upland Discovery Trail and take advantage of your chance to photograph a colony of redcockaded woodpeckers, or immerse yourself in the forests of the 4-mile Long Leaf Interpretive Trail. You may also enjoy cycling on the swamp’s paved roads, although bicycles are not permitted on hiking trails.
Huntsville, Alabama—less than four hours northwest of Atlanta—may be known for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, but that’s not the only attraction for those seeking an out-of-this world adventure. Whether you want to kayak along the Flint River or explore underground caverns, Huntsville has the right getaway for you.
Just minutes from downtown, the Land Trust of North Alabama offers more than 30 miles of public trails for hiking, biking, bird watching or picnicking at one of three mountains; Wade Mountain, Blevins Gap and Monte Sano.
The Monte Sano State Park has 14 miles of hiking/biking trails, including those geared toward serious hikers and bikers who don’t mind adventuring amongst exotic plants and wildlife. The Hays Nature Preserve and the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary offer more than 10 miles of trails perfect for hiking or mountain biking.
For a change of pace, there’s Cathedral Caverns. Just a 20-minute drive from Huntsville, it offers a breathtaking look at nature’s wonders, with 14 acres of underground caverns for amateur spelunkers to explore. Among the sights are the 45-foot Goliath stalagmite column, the Frozen Waterfall and the 126-foot entrance. Other fun activities include nature trails, a climbing wall and gemstone mining. Tent camping facilities are available within Cathedral Caverns State Park as well.
Hernando County: Exploring “Florida’s Nature Coast”
Named for the explorer Hernando de Soto, Hernando County, Florida, offers a wealth of opportunities to explore just six hours from Atlanta. Known as “Florida’s Nature Coast,” the region boasts more than 107,000 acres set aside for recreational use.
Campers can pitch a tent under the stars in the Withlacoochee State Forest, while hikers and runners can enjoy a wide network of trails. Biking enthusiasts can take advantage of options including the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail and a 55-mile, all-terrain mountain bike trail in the Withlacoochee State Forest.
Visitors can also paddle along the Weeki Wachee River, observe birds and wildlife at the Weekiwachee Preserve and Chinsegut Conservation Center, and ride horses along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, among other attractions.
And no visit would be complete without a stop at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. This 538-acre park features canoeing and kayaking, a riverboat cruise and a live mermaid show that has entranced visitors for more than 65 years.
For more information on Hernando County, call 844-435-7368 or visit www.naturallyhernando.org.