Exploring the Great Outdoors
Thrilling Adventures 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, exciting leisure opportunities abound.
Upcountry, South Carolina
Looking for a fun, adventure-filled trip a little more than two hours northeast of Atlanta? Try “The Upcountry”—a region of 10 counties in the northwest corner of South Carolina, which not only has enough things to offer for a great day trip but also enough things to keep you entertained for a long weekend.
Those seeking the perfect view will enjoy scoping out the area’s more than 120 waterfalls. For some family-friendly options, look to easily accessible destinations like Reedy River Falls and Wildcat Falls. If you’re eager for a bigger challenge, check out Rainbow Falls and Raven Cliff Falls, which are perfect for serious hikers.
Once you’ve seen the waterfalls, move on to the Andrew Pickens District of the Sumter National Forest. At 85,000 acres, it’s ripe for exploration, whether you choose to do so on foot, bike, or horseback. Then, hit the water again, but this time, for rafting, canoeing, kayaking or trout fishing. The Chattooga National Wild & Scenic River is perfect for such activities. For a more leisurely afternoon, relax on one of the area’s three major lakes: Hartwell, Keowee and Jocassee. Take some time for boating, fishing and SCUBA diving for the ultimate work-week reset.
Known as the birthplace of Dolly Parton, Sevierville is a picturesque getaway less than four hours from Atlanta. Sevierville offers many activities that will please both adrenaline junkies and nature enthusiasts. Start with fishing, camping and canoeing at Douglas Lake. Then check out the views of sparkling formations, grottos and a crystal-clear stream in the Forbidden Caverns. Next, take a rafting tour through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. And that’s just the beginning.
The town is only minutes away from America’s most visited national park: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is free to enter. It’s a hiker’s heaven with more than 800 miles of maintained trails. Serious hikers will find plenty of options for difficult all day or overnight adventures, while those seeking a calmer experience will love the quick and easy options. Whichever approach, the park has a universal appeal: sights that are best experienced rather than described.
For even more thrills, visit one of several zip-lining companies in Sevierville. They offer you breathtaking mountain views as you zip along, hundreds of feet above the trees and streams. Feel free to challenge your family and friends on side-by-side dual racing zip lines, or cap off the day with some night zipping under the stars. After a full weekend, visitors will easily see that Sevierville is more than just the birthplace of Dolly Parton.
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 five mountains: Wade Mountain, Rainbow Mountain, Harvest Square, Blevins Gap and Monte Sano.
The Monte Sano State Park has 20 miles of hiking trails and 14 miles of biking trails, including the Mountain Mist and McKay Hollow trails, which are geared toward serious hikers and bikers who don’t mind adventuring amongst exotic plants and wildlife. You may encounter a rattlesnake,copperhead or king snake as well. 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.
Historic Banning Mills
For a great getaway in-state, try ziplining at Historic Banning Mills just an hour southwest of Atlanta. This destination is home to the world’s longest zipline canopy tour according to Guinness World Records: Screaming Eagle. Come for a weekend visit, and stay in a bed-and-breakfast-style lodging amidst Snake Creek Gorge while surrounded by beautiful scenery. Before you get your adrenaline pumping, explore the old ghost town of Banning, Georgia, and the old ruins of the town’s paper mill.
Start with a simple, hour-long forest tour, perfect for families with young children. They’ll get to glide over woodlands from the safety of nine zip-lines. Then, move on to a bigger challenge with the Flight Pattern Zip Line Tour, where you’ll go down a line 200 feet above Snake Creek Gorge. Finally, get your thrills in with Screaming Eagle and zip down a half-mile-long line from the highest timber pole tower in the world.
After you’ve gotten all your kicks from the resort’s zip-line offerings, unwind with a spa treatment at the resort. Spend the rest of the day at the pool or playing horseshoes. You can also drive ten minutes over to Oak Mountain Golf Club to get in some relaxing tee time. For dinner, grab a picnic basket for the family or enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner on the terrace overlooking the gorge with your special someone.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
With more than 400,000 acres of exotic wildlife and lush vegetation, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, only a five hour drive from Atlanta, is a nature-lover’s and adventure-lover’s paradise.
Meaning “land that trembles when you walk on it,” the Okefenokee was established in 1936 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—oh, and a few larger animals as well.