Unexpected US Adventures: Unlocking the Secrets of the Southeast

Manatee Springs State Park, in Florida, is one of many undiscovered gems in the Southeastern States
Manatee Springs State Park, in Florida, is one of many undiscovered gems in the Southeastern States | © Paul Franklin / Alamy Stock Photo
Tamsin Wressell

The Southeastern States, such as Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia, may not be well known for outdoor adventure, but if you know where to look, you can find plenty of incredible places.

From underwater cemeteries to wine trails through rolling vineyards, this corner of the US is full of surprises. We’d recommend a road trip, weaving through the states to get in a full range of thrills — we’ve rounded up some of our favourite spots along the way.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Park

Adventure type: Outdoor

Where: Gulf Shores, Alabama

This is a rare patch in the state of Alabama, covering 7,000 acres (2,833ha) of protected coastal land along the Fort Morgan Peninsula, with sand dunes rolling into pine oak woodland. There are swathes of pristine, undeveloped, coastal barrier here that form a protected habitat for sea turtles, Alabama beach mice and more than 360 species of bird. Wildlife watching is a big draw, but there are other outdoor activities — hiking through the woodlands is a great option for photographers, while you can also canoe and kayak in the Little Lagoon.

The coastal barrier of Bon Secour National Wildlife Park provides a habitat for sea turtles, Alabama beach mice and more than 360 species of bird

Delta Music Heritage Trail

Adventure type: Cultural

Where: Helena, Arkansas

The Mississippi Delta Blues Trail is fairly popular with tourists, but across the border in Arkansas, this one is on the lesser-known side of Blues history. The stories moved from the fields of plantations into juke joints here, before spreading around the world — Helena played a vital part in this history, with King Biscuit Time, the longest-running blues radio show (established in 1941) starting here. While many of the radio stations and original joints have closed, the music can be heard throughout bars along the Arkansas Delta, with memorials, live music, museums and markers remembering artists along the way.

Manatee Springs

Adventure type: Wildlife

Where: Chiefland, Florida

In northwest Florida along the shores of the Suwannee River, the state park gets a lot of manatee visitors, swimming up from the Gulf of Mexico in search of warmer water come winter. With the water remaining around 23C (73F) here, it’s ideal for them to wait out the colder months, using the warmer waters as a nursery for their calves, too. The grassy kelp at the bottom of the river keeps them fed, while you can also spot bass, speckled birch and maybe the occasional alligator in the springs. You can swim here during summer, and kayaking is allowed throughout the year. Come around winter and you might just get a curious manatee swimming beside your kayak.

Go for a winter kayak in Manatee Springs, in northwest Florida, and you may well be joined by an adorable, curious companion visiting from the Gulf of Mexico

Neptune Memorial Reef

Adventure type: Underwater

Where: Key Biscayne, Florida

South of Miami and 3mi (5km) off the shores of Key Biscayne lies an underwater city for the dead. In what is the world’s largest reef made by humans at a depth of 40ft (12m), this subterranean cemetery has an entrance marked by giant lion statues. There are stone roads, crumbling gates and ruins, with cremated remains cast in concrete, accentuated with bronze and steel accents. The memorial reef is free to visit for all divers, whether to visit stones of the deceased or to explore the sculpture park and marine life.

Old Car City

Adventure type: Landscape/photography

Where: White, Georgia

Stick with us here. This is one of the world’s largest junkyards for cars and vehicles, but over time it has grown into a beautiful landscape of metal and moss, merging with the surrounding forest. The yard was once a family-owned used-car dealership — as nature slowly started to blend with the 4,000-odd cars, they reopened as the showplace it is today. Trees have wrapped themselves around car doors, foliage covers bus roofs and plants sprout out between tractor tyres. The 32-acre (13ha) junkyard (with 6mi/10km of trails) is a great place for photography, with its moody, otherworldly atmosphere.

Old Car City, in Georgia, is one of the world’s largest junkyards for cars and vehicles. Against all odds, it’s also one of the most strangely beautiful and alluring spots in the state

Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (Pari)

Adventure type: Astronomical

Where: Rosman, North Carolina

Developed by Nasa, Pari is a 200-acre (81ha) science campus in the centre of the Pisgah National Forest. It was built during the pioneering days of the US space program, now transformed into a public science centre. There are great mountain views here, with hiking trails dotted with Space Shuttle memorabilia and stargazing facilities, with knowledgeable astronomers at hand too. Using the Verizon Visa Card at this facility, and elsewhere on journeys in the Southeastern States, can help you earn rewards and allow you to get more out of your adventures.

Georgia Wine Country

Adventure type: Wine trail

Where: Dahlonega, Georgia

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia produces some incredible award-winning wines in its wineries and vineyards. With the elevation of the mountains and the humid climate, Dahlonega is a great place for producing — and tasting — the state’s European and American grape hybrids. There are five wineries in this area, with several tasting rooms and endless swathes of scenic vineyards along the way. It’s a scenic drive, stretching for 39mi (63km) in total, with the opportunity to combine scenery with produce and hearing from expert winemakers.

The high altitude and humid climate of Dahlonega, Georgia, makes it the perfect place to produce excellent wines from European and American grape hybrids

Using the Verizon Visa Card, where Visa credit cards are accepted on journeys in the Southeastern States, can help you earn rewards and allow you to get more out of your adventures. To learn more about Verizon Visa Card and start earning rewards, visit verizon.com/verizonvisacard.

In partnership with Verizon, CT is offering a promo code of $35 to be used across Culture Trip for one year. Enter VERIZON35 at checkout to redeem.

The Verizon Visa® Card is issued by Synchrony Bank pursuant to a license from Visa USA Inc.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

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All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

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