Great Outdoor Getaways
Five 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 opportunities abound.
Upcountry South Carolina
If you just can’t wait to get outside, head to the Upcountry region of South Carolina, home to some of the state’s most gorgeous scenery and most exciting outdoor fun, just slightly more than a two-hour drive from Atlanta.
For outdoor adventure, Paris Mountain State Park, encompassing 1,540 acres just north of Greenville, is practically a world in itself. For hikers and mountain bikers, there are more than 16 miles of trails, from the easy half-mile Turtle Trail to the challenging 3.6-mile Sulphur Springs trail, where navigating the rocky ravines will reward you with ridgetop views and possibly sightings of deer or other wildlife.
Water lovers will love Paris Mountain too. Anglers can cast their line in Lake Placid for catfish, bream and bass. Canoes, kayaks and paddleboats are available for rent, and there’s a swimming area just right for splashing. There are numerous spots for a picnic, and both trailside and paved campsites for those who want to stay a while. Meanwhile, downtown Greenville is just 15 minutes away for those who prefer to relax in urban comfort.
Straddling the state line with Georgia is the Chattooga River, one of the Southeast’s best whitewater rafting sites. Paddlers float through pristine forests on their way to thrilling Class IV and V rapids, and even novices can enjoy the ride on a guided tour.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
With more than 400,000 acres of exotic wildlife and lush vegetation, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is an adventure-lover’s paradise only a five-hour drive from Atlanta.
The refuge was established in 1936 to conserve the Okefenokee Swamp, thought to be 6,000 to 8,000 years old and teeming with deer, mink, otters, bobcats, tortoises, storks—oh, and a few larger animals as well. Paddle your canoe alertly through the swamp and you might glimpse an alligator or a bear.
Be sure to come prepared for strenuous paddling or to push the canoe at some points, as well as for extreme temperatures and precipitation. Canoeists can camp at any of the designated wilderness campsites located throughout the refuge with reservations. If you're looking for something a little less taxing, 90-minute guided boat tours are available, including trips through Suwannee Canal and Chesser Prairie and a sunset tour. You can also arrange for an extended or overnight excursion.
Hikers can enjoy many 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 photograph a colony of red-cockaded woodpeckers, or immerse yourself in the forests of the four mile Longleaf Pine Interpretive Trail. You may also enjoy cycling on the swamp’s paved roads.
Fishermen can enjoy the refuge throughout the year—but you may have to compete with an alligator for your catch! The refuge features shallow water prairies, lakes and ponds, and fishing from a boat, kayak or canoe is permitted in various areas.
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. Serious hikers will find plenty of options for challenging all-day or overnight adventures on more than 850 acres of maintained trails, while beginners will love the quick and easy choices.
For even more thrills, visit one of Sevierville’s several zip-lining companies for breathtaking mountain views as you zip along, hundreds of feet above the trees and streams.
Located less than four hours northwest of Atlanta, Huntsville, Alabama may be best known for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, but that's not its only attraction for those seeking an out of this world adventure. Whether you want to kayak on the Flint River or explore underground caverns, the right getaway is waiting in Huntsville. Just minutes from downtown, the Land Trust of North Alabama offers more than 60 miles of public trails for hiking, biking, bird watching or picnicking at any one of eight nature preserves, encompassing five mountains: Wade Mountain, Rainbow Mountain, Green Mountain, Keel Mountain and Monte Sano.
Southeast of the city along the Flint River, the Hays Nature Preserve and the Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary offer more than 10 miles of scenic and gentle paved trails perfect for hiking or 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 (one of the tallest in the world), the Frozen Waterfall and the 126-foot entrance cavern. Other fun activities include nature trails, a climbing wall and gemstone mining. Tent camping facilities are available within Cathedral Caverns State Park as well.
Chehaw State Park
Chehaw State Park in Albany bills itself as “Nature’s Playground,” and it definitely lives up to the nickname. The park was founded on the principles of conservation, preservation and education, and it continues this mission with more than 700 acres of unspoiled conservation land, a wild animal park and the state’s only accredited zoo besides Zoo Atlanta.
Chehaw boasts more than 10 miles of exciting mountain bike trails, designed in loops of one mile or less in length so riders can create their own routes. For BMX racers, there’s a racing track open to the public that hosts sanctioned races, along with an adjacent practice track. Disc golfers will want to check out the 18-hole, par-54 disc golf course. If you’re feeling more sedate, hop aboard the Wiregrass Express for a scenic tour of the native South Georgia landscape, or the African Veldt ride to view the seven species of animals that roam the 40-acre exhibit in natural herds.
The Veldt is part of the Zoo at Chehaw, which houses more than 230 specimens representing more than 125 species, including cheetahs, meerkats, lemurs, camels and more. Participate in a feeding or chat with a keeper as part of your visit on a weekend.
There’s so much to do that you’ll want to spend more time, so camp out at one of the park’s 44 RV sites, 18 tent sites, or air-conditioned camper cabins, accessible to laundry and dump facilities and equipped with hookups and a fire ring to grill the fish you catch in the lake.
For More Information
Chehaw State Park
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Upcountry, South Carolina