Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hidden Travel Gems of the Southeast

The southeastern United States is home to many well-known tourist meccas. Who hasn’t been to, or at least heard of, Orlando and Daytona Beach? There are also a multitude of lesser-known spots that can appeal to a variety of travelers.

One of my family’s favorite places to get away from it all is Cade’s Cove. Nestled within a valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, Tennessee, Cade’s Cove contains an eleven-mile loop road that drives around the valley. As you drive, you and your family will be able to spot a variety of wildlife among the breathtaking mountain scenery. We have seen more deer than my kids can count, along with foxes, turkeys, and even families of bears. One way of determining where bears have been sighted is to look for the “bear jam,” lines of cars moving slowly as people watch and photograph the animals!

Wildlife is not the only thing to see in Cade’s Cove. There are also many historic buildings located near the loop road. Visitors can see old farmhouses, churches, a gristmill, and barns and other farm buildings. The cove also has nature and hiking trails of various lengths. One trail even leads to Rocky Top, the mountain made famous by the bluegrass song. Many visitors also enjoy fishing and wading in the rivers and creeks of the cove. The park also offers horseback tours of the cove and hayrides around the loop road.

Cade’s Cove contains a campground, but people who prefer hotels will find them only a short drive away in Townsend. Pigeon Forge is also nearby. Visitors there can choose from a multitude of restaurants, musical shows, and entertainment, including Dollywood.
In Pigeon Forge, the Holiday Inn Express and the La Quinta are both modern hotels with affordable rates. You can find out more about Cade’s Cove on the national park web site at

A second spot that my family has recently discovered is Sylacauga, Alabama. This little town has a lot more to offer than a funny name! Sylacauga is located forty miles southeast of Birmingham and is a true southern small town.

Sylacauga was first settled by Creek Indians and was visited by Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, in 1540. One of the areas claims to fame is the DeSoto Caverns Park. The park offers hour-long tours through the caverns, which feature thousands of natural cave formations as well as light which vary throughout the year.

The park also has many other attractions that range from the tame, miniature golf, to a rock climbing wall, go-carts, and bathtub racers. There is also a chance to pan for gemstones like a prospector from a hundred years ago and Lost Trail Maze that takes up three-fourths of an acre.

Sylacauga is also home to the Blue Bell Creamery. Many southerners know Blue Bell ice cream as a delicious snack. The Blue Bell Creamery offers tours where visitors can see how this treat is made. Additionally, a country store offers ice cream as well as many other craft and souvenir items. Tours are by appointment only. Visitors can call 888-573-5286 to make a reservation.

Located near Sylacauga is the Talladega National Forest. The national forest contains beautiful, mountainous terrain that can be enjoyed without traveling all the way to the Appalachians. The forest contains trails for hikers, horses, and ATVs as well as scenic drives. You can find out about the national forest at

In Sylacauga, the Holiday Inn Express or the Jameson Inn are the primary lodgings. The Golden Rule barbecue is very good and Buttermilk Hill offers formal dining. You can learn more about Sylacauga at

For those who prefer the ocean, Wilmington, North Carolina is destination that offers beaches as well as a sense of history. The area’s beaches offer several piers for fishing, but less of the carnival atmosphere of many beach towns. There is ample public beach access, but most parking is metered.

For history buffs, the area offers many interesting stops. A fun attraction for kids and adults alike is the WWII battleship, USS North Carolina. Visitors can explore the ship as well as visit a museum that details the ship’s service in the Pacific campaigns of WWII where it was damaged by a Japanese torpedo. Fort Fisher State Historic Site is the location of a Civil War battle.

Wilmington also features a vibrant nightlife and many other museums and cultural centers. Visit for more information and a free travel guide.

Depending on what you are looking for, the South has many other hidden gems as well. From snow skiing to water-skiing, from small town life to elegant and fashionable cities, the south has something for everyone. Find your own hidden gem and make some memories with your loved ones!

No comments: