From beautifully rugged mountain terrain to amazing marine wonderlands, the parks of the USA’s southern states are a sight to behold. Discover some of the best natural beauty the region has to offer as we take in spots including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s most visited park, and the awe-inspiring Mammoth Cave National Park, home to the world’s longest cave system.
Spread over the North Carolina-Tennessee border, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is over 500,000 acres of Southern Appalachian natural beauty, wildlife and culture. Boasting the rights to being the USA’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was also awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1983 for its biodiversity and historical significance. Its breathtakingly beautiful mountains, ridges, and forest are home to over 800 miles of trails and an estimated 1,500 black bears alongside stunning scenic spots like Mount Le Conte, the third-highest peak in the park, and Cades Cove where the historic homes of early European settlers can be seen.
Nestled around the spa town of the same name, Hot Springs National Park is home to 5,550 acres of hilly forest, scenic hiking trails and of course the thermal hot springs from which the park gets its name, whose healing powers have been used for millennia. Downtown Hot Springs’ Bathhouse Row, a designated National Historic Landmark, features a cluster of early-20th-century bathhouses with the beautiful Renaissance Revival-style Fordyce Bathhouse today acting as the park’s visitor center. For beautiful views head to Hot Springs Mountain Tower which looks out over the park, the Ouachita Mountains, and the surrounding Arkansas countryside.
Located in the hilly terrain of south central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park was designated in 1941 with the mission of protecting the labyrinthine cave system, which, with more than 400 miles of explored passages mapped, is the longest known cave system in the world and the rolling woodlands of the Green River valley. Exploration of Mammoth Cave dates back to around 4,000 years ago when Native Americans first entered its imposing, yet eerily beautiful depths with European settlers first coming to the area in the late 17th century. Cave tours are available, taking in subterranean sights like the vast Rotunda Room and the Frozen Niagara dripstones.
Boasting what is undoubtedly one of the most stunning river canyons in the Southern states, the beautiful rugged terrain of Georgia’sTallulah Gorge State Park is home to two miles of waterfalls, pools, and the Tallulah River. Not for the fainthearted, the Hurricane Falls Bridge, a swaying suspension bridge hovering 80 feet above the rocky gorge, offers breathtaking views of the park’s waterfalls and upstream the towers constructed to assist daredevil tightrope walker Karl Wallenda to cross a quarter of a mile wide gap in the gorge in 1970. This can still be seen while the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center provide information on the history and ecosystem of the area.
Despite downtown Miami being visible one the horizon, Biscayne National Park is like being in another world. Located across southeastern Florida’s Biscyane Bay and the northern Florida Keys, 95% of the park is actually water. A crystal clear marine ecosystem home to a vast array of wildlife including tropical fish, manatees and sea turtles and several shipwrecks explorable by scuba diving that is a testament to the area’s maritime heritage. The idyllic Boca Chita Key to the north of Biscayne National Park features a campground and a picturesque ornamental lighthouse offering spectacular views over the park, Biscayne Bay, and Miami Beach.
Traversing the rugged mountains, serene hollows and beautiful waterfalls of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park it’s hard to believe that Washington D.C. is less than 100 miles away, but this Blue Ridge Mountain wilderness is the world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. While the park is easily explored via car on Skyline Drive, a gorgeous stretch of road that runs the entire length of the park and part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the more intrepid visitor can venture into Shenandoah National Park’s beautiful wilds and see sights like breath-taking vistas from atop Stony Man Overlook and the enchanting Dark Hollow Falls.
Tennessee’s biggest and best-loved state park, Fall Creek Falls State Park is made up of 26,000 acres resting atop the rugged terrain of the Cumberland Plateau. The park’s sprawling wilderness plays host to lush unspoiled woodland, babbling streams, dramatic gorges and beautiful waterfalls including the park’s namesake Fall Creek Falls, which at 256 tall is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern USA. Stunning panoramic views can be enjoyed from overlooks like Buzzard’s Roost while the rushing waters at Cane Creek Cascades which lead down to the scenic Cane Creek Falls can be seen from a quaint suspension bridge swaying above the creek.
Located in the Gulf of Mexico about 70 miles west of Key West and only accessible by boat or plane, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the USA’s most remote national parks and a marine wonderland rich with wildlife and history. Above sea level tiny idyllic islands populate the park and are home to landmarks including Fort Jefferson, a beautiful coastal fortress built in the 19th century, and Loggerhead Key Lighthouse while below the waves an abundance of aquatic life awaits divers with miles of coral reefs and species such as sea turtles, nurse sharks, staghorn coral and reef fish.
Holding the title of the USA’s biggest subtropical wilderness, the Everglades National Park was established in 1947 with the mission of protecting the unique and diverse ecosystem of the wetlands and encompasses the southern part of the Everglades region. Spanning 1.5 million acres, the park’s beautiful marshes, swamps, and mangrove forests were designated a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and the area is still a rich ground for ecological research today. An awe-inspiring array of animals calls the Everglades National Park home from wading birds like great egrets and wood storks to Florida panthers and American alligators.
One of the USA’s newest national parks, Congaree National Park was designated in 2003 as a means of protecting the South Carolina area’s beautiful floodplain forest and the unique ecosystem it plays host to. Spread across over 25,000 acres, Congaree National Park’s floodplain is fed by the nutrient-rich waters of the Congaree and Wateree rivers and is home to the largest tract of bottomland hardwood forest still standing in the southeastern region alongside a whole host of fauna from feral pigs and armadillos to catfish and snakes. Visitors can explore its enchanting swamplands and Spanish moss-covered trees from a number of scenic trails leading through the park. Helen Armitage