The South was meant to be enjoyed out of doors. Whether you’re a first-time hiker or a veteran mountaineer, you’ll find plenty to occupy your daylight hours on this road trip from Atlanta, to Knoxville, Tennessee — a route that takes you through 372 miles of beautiful bike trails and mountain paths.
Head of the Appalachian: Dahlonega, Georgia
Driving time from Atlanta: 1 hr, 5 min; 65 mi
Just one hour north on US-19 from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, Dahlonega, Georgia trades in traffic and city vibes for expansive mountain vistas, roaring waterfalls and picture-perfect wineries.
The region is known to many hikers as the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT), and each year, thousands begin their pilgrimage to Maine here at Springer Mountain.
The entire Appalachian Trail hike takes six months; if you don’t have that kind of time, skip north on Highway 60 to the Woody Gap trailhead. From here, a 2.2-mile hike to Preacher’s Rock treats you to stunning views of the eastern section of Chattahoochee National Forest.
Dahlonega is also famous for its waterfalls; you’ll find eight stunners within 45 minutes’ drive of the city.
The closest is DeSoto Falls, where two different hikes lead to viewing platforms for the upper and lower falls. One of the tallest waterfalls in the South is located nearby at Amicalola Falls State Park. View the 728-foot falls from paths at the bottom, middle or — if you’re in the mood for a strenuous climb — top.
Round out your adventure with a wine tasting. Dahlonega considers itself the “Heart of Georgia Wine Country” (it’s awaiting official designation as the Dahlonega Plateau AVA) and is home to six local wineries. Each has its own variety of blends including European, French hybrid and American wine grapes.
Parks and Recreation: Greenville, South Carolina
Driving time from Dahlonega: 2 hrs, 15 min; 119 mi
Next stop: Greenville, South Carolina. Located just over two hours north from Dahlonega, on Interstate 85, Greenville is known for its gorgeous parks. Perhaps most popular among its outdoor attractions is the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 21-mile multi-use greenway that runs parallel to Reedy River, which flows through the heart of the city.
Be sure to bring your binoculars; this park has been designated an Important Bird Area of Global Significance by the National Audubon Society.
For a leisurely stroll, head to Falls Park in downtown Greenville, where you can view landscaped gardens and Reedy River Falls. While in Greenville, look for Art in Public Spaces, which showcases the city’s history through 70 original works.
The red steel “Untitled 2002-2003″ sculpture (referred to by many residents as Gumby) seems to end up in the background of almost every photo taken in Greenville, as it sits at one end of The Liberty Bridge in Falls Park.
On the way out of town, stop at Chimney Rock State Park.
Hike the Outcropping Trail, and climb 499 steps to the park’s namesake. You will be rewarded with panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure and the Carolina Piedmont.
Paddler’s Paradise: Asheville, North Carolina
Driving time from Greenville: 1 hr, 20 min; 62 mi
Follow the crest of the Black Mountains along the 4.3-mile Deep Gap Trail hike. Water lovers will want to paddle the French Broad River; rent stand-up paddleboards from Asheville Outdoor Center, which offers a 7-mile self-guided tour to the historic Biltmore Estate.
Or rent a Bellyak a type of kayak that combines swimming, paddling and surfing.
After a day of adventure, refuel with a visit to one of Asheville’s craft breweries; the city claims to have more breweries per capita than any other in the United States. For something a little smoother, head to the new ginger beer brewery, Ginger’s Revenge.
End of the Road: Knoxville, Tennessee
Driving time from Asheville: 2 hrs; 116 mi
Offering hiking, paddling and biking, Knoxville, Tennessee is one of the region’s most accessible cities for outdoor adventures.
Explore an urban playground on 49 miles of trails at Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. The two most popular trails are the South Loop and Battlefield Loop, which meander through forested hillsides, across fields of sunflowers, along riverbanks and through abandoned rock quarries.
On the South Loop, visit Ijams Nature Center, popular for mountain biking.
The rolling woodlands offer more than 6.8 miles of multi-use trails and about 3 miles of exclusive hiking trails. The Battlefield Loop is still in development, and will provide history buffs with the ability to visit three Civil War forts and a battle site.
As if the land trails weren’t enough, Knoxville has some 50 miles of river trails that carve through downtown. Paddle the Tennessee River along Knoxville’s shoreline, or explore the sparkling blue quarries at either Meads Quarry or Fort Dickerson Quarry.