5 Socially Distant Adventures to Get Your Thrills in the Southeast

The Southeast may be home to globally popular attractions like Disney World and Graceland, and major cities like Nashville, Savannah, and New Orleans, but it also boasts 450,000 acres of federal land designated as wilderness—which means you don’t have to travel too far to avoid the crowds and find some off-the-grid adventures south of the Mason–Dixon line.

From the Appalachian Mountains stretching through parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina to the bayous dotting the shorelines of Louisiana and Arkansas, the southeastern corner of the U.S. has varied landscapes with plenty of space to escape and unplug—without completely leaving civilization behind.

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If you’re looking to explore the further reaches of more familiar areas, the Southeast offers opportunities for everything from sunny beaches and hidden waterfalls to caving deep under the earth and angling for flounder and bluefish along the Gulf Coast.

Disclaimer: Before planning a trip in the Southeast, be sure to review the CDC Travelers’ Health page for alerts and updates, as well as any travel advisories for the specific location you hope to visit. Wear a mask, socially distance, and bring food, drinks, and supplies if you can.

5 Socially Distant Adventures to Get Your Thrills in the Southeast

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1. Rappel Into Ellison’s Cave – Walker County, GA

Experienced cavers can venture far below the earth in Ellison’s Cave, situated on Pigeon Mountain in the Appalachian Plateaus of northwest Georgia, two hours from Atlanta and an hour from Chattanooga, TN. This is the 12th-deepest cave in the U.S., and it’s home to two of the deepest pits in the country, one of which—the Fantastic Pit—drops over 500 feet. The cave in its entirety is 12 miles long with a total vertical descent of 1,063 feet, and it takes more than seven rappels to reach the pitch-black bottom (seriously, you need to really know what you’re doing or go with a guide).

Get up-to-date COVID-19 information on Georgia, here.

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2. Paddle the Wilderness Waterway Trail – Homestead, FL

Everglades National Park—a 1.5-million-acre wetlands preserve a mere 45 minutes from Miami—is the country’s largest subtropical wilderness. The best way to see it is undoubtedly via boat, and canoers and kayakers tend to take at least eight days to paddle the Wilderness Waterway trail, which covers 99 miles through one of the most secluded regions of the eastern U.S. between two visitor centers. You’ll need a permit to paddle the lazy river as it winds its way through coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes, and pine flatwoods; then, camp out at beach sites or the elevated wooden platforms with roofs dotting the wetlands.

Get up-to-date COVID-19 information on Florida, here.

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3. Go Bouldering in Cherokee National Forest – Elizabethton, TN

Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park is flooded with 12.5 million visitors per year, making it the most popular national park in the U.S. Not too far north, though, the Cherokee National Forest offers the same Appalachian wilderness to a mere 2,875,000 annual visitors. Within this 655,598-acre forest—which is just under two hours from Knoxville and three hours from Charlotte, NC—are a number of bouldering areas: Blue Hole Falls has a wide variety of climbing options, including slopers, crimps, pockets, steep roofs, massive arêtes, and highballs; and Backbone Boulders offers problems ranging from V0-V4 and higher.

Get up-to-date COVID-19 information on Tennessee, here.

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4. Fish for Dinner in Cocodrie – Terrebonne Parish, LA

One of the most remote areas in the U.S., Terrebonne Parish is just a two-hour drive from New Orleans and two and a half from Baton Rouge. But there’s only one road in and out of Cocodrie, a tiny fishing, shrimping, and crabbing village on the bayou. Due to its location on the edge of freshwater country, there are a ton of options for anglers—you can fly-fish, deep-sea fish, inland fish, and swamp fish year-round. Launch a boat from the local marina to see what you can hook in the 2,500-square miles of swamps and wetlands.

Get up-to-date COVID-19 information on Louisiana, here.

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5. Backpack the Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Asheville, NC

The Appalachian Trail may be more famous, but the Mountain-to-Sea Trail covers 1,175 miles starting from inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the Tennessee border—three hours from Charlotte, NC—and following the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Outer Banks. Just over 100 through-hikers have completed the whole trail, compared to 19,000-plus who’ve made the Appalachian trek. You don’t have to hike the whole thing (it passes through four national parks, three national forests, and two national wildlife refuges), but make sure to hit the segment with Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in mainland eastern North America.

Get up-to-date COVID-19 information on North Carolina, here.