11 States, 15 Hikes

15 Best Hikes of the South


September 11, 2014 Sports and Outdoors : Camping By
Day-Hikes-South-Gear-Patrol-Lead-Full

From Appalachia to the Everglades, the South does trails like they do tailgating: long, strong, and with inexplicable pride. A day hike in the South is unlike anywhere else in the country, and Southern hospitality has nothing to do with it. These routes aren’t mild-mannered debutantes; they’re Cajun-fire, barbecue-battling, SEC-proud man-makers that land you on mountaintops and rock-solid outcroppings. These Daniel Boone trail blazers aren’t boxes to be checked, but rites of passage for the burliest hikers.

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Alabama

Crimson Tide, Crystalline Lakes

Conecuh Trail

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How Long: 13.5-mile north loop and 5-mile south loop (connected by 4-mile link trail)
Found In: Andalusia, AL
Which Is: 2 hours northeast of Mobile; 2 hours south of Montgomery
The Draw: Crystalline lakes and one-of-a-kind Southern scenery. Starting from Blue Pond (a swimming hole worth returning to), the northern and southern loops take you past sapphire-blue ponds and a whole slew of Southern flora.
Don’t Miss: The bug spray. You’re passing through bogs and swamps, so you do the math. Visit in winter to dampen the swarm and take advantage of cooler temperatures.

Arkansas

Where Bill Clinton Inhales

Eagle Rock Loop

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How Long: Up to 26.8 miles
Found In: Ouachita National Forest, AR
Which Is: 2 hours and 30 minutes southwest of Little Rock
The Draw: More river crossings than your Chacos can handle. The path, however long you take it, continually crosses over creeks and rivers, then peaks at various vista points along the way.
Don’t Miss: Locking down bragging rights for the total loop. It’ll be tough to do in a day; take a weekend to complete this razorback rite of passage.

Florida

Bring the Gator Spray

Florida Trail, Hopkins Prairie to Juniper Springs

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How Long: 10.5 miles
Found In: Silver Springs, FL
Which Is: 1 hour and 30 minutes northwest of Orlando; 1 hour and 45 minutes south of Jacksonville
The Draw: The Juniper Prairie Wilderness, named “the jewel of the Florida trail” for its diverse flora and fauna.
Don’t Miss: Hidden Pond, a quiet watering hole fed by a crystal-clear spring. Do miss (but see from a distance) the sinkholes that line the path, interspersed between the surprisingly flush sand pine forest.

Georgia

Life’s a Peach

Blood Mountain Loop

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How Long: 6 miles
Found In: Chattahoochee National Forest, GA
Which Is: 1 hour and 40 minutes north of Atlanta
The Draw: The route offers a mix of rhododendron-covered pathways and panoramic rock outcroppings — but the peak, sitting on jagged rocks overlooking the valley, is what you’re really here for.
Don’t Miss: Your DSLR, especially in autumn when the deciduous trees take on a panoply of colors, coating the trail with fallen leaves and making the somewhat easy trek entirely photo worthy.

Tallulah Gorge

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How Long: 2 miles
Found In: Tallulah Falls, GA
Which Is: 2 hours northeast of Atlanta; 2 hours southwest of Asheville, North Carolina
The Draw: A 1,000-foot gorge that slices its way through lush forest growth. There are also naturally occurring water slides scattered along the way, so bring a bathing suit.
Don’t Miss: A hiking permit. The trip to the floor of the falls is restricted to 100 per day, so go on a slow weekday or go early.

Kentucky

The Bourbon Trail

Swift Camp Creek Trail

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How Long: 7 miles
Found In: Daniel Boone Wilderness, KY
Which Is: 1 hour and 15 minutes south of Lexington
The Draw: Lots and lots of arches: Red River Gorge carves out the largest concentration of arches east of the Rockies, all packed into tree-crowded scenery. Swift Camp drops you into the heart of things, past arches, waterfalls, and plenty of green.
Don’t Miss: The impact of the logging industry. Before it was declared a national park, the whole Daniel Boone forest was chopped. Loggers used to float trees down the creek; the logging trails and second-growth forest remain a testament to that time.

North Carolina

No Tar on These Heels

Mount Mitchell Trail

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How Long: 11.4 miles
Found In: Pisgah National Forest, NC
Which Is: 1 hour northeast of Asheville
The Draw: Hiking the highest peak east of the Mississippi River (6,684 feet). That, and it’s tough. It punches up elevation quickly, so watch the heart rate soar. The drawback: a road ascends to the peak, so you get tourists at the top. Go on a bad-weather day to ditch the crowds, or hit the trail when the park’s closed.
Don’t Miss: Enjoying the old-growth forest as you sweat your way to the top. It’s no walk in the park (so to speak), so stop from time to time, catch your breath and remember to appreciate your surroundings.

South Carolina

Smiling Places. Sweating Faces.

Chattooga Trail

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How Long: 18.3 miles
Found In: Mountain Rest, SC
Which Is: 1 hour and 30 minutes west of Greenville
The Draw: The trail runs right down the Chattooga River (it’s point to point, so consider transportation back) and reps an impressive waterfall-to-mile ratio (there are five on the trail).
Don’t Miss: Your rod and reel. Anglers rejoice in a river flush with trout, and trekkers who extend the trip to a multi-day hike can enjoy the fine delicacy of fresh-caught meals.

Tennessee

Where Elvis is King

Fiery Gizzard Trail

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How Long: 12.5 miles
Found In: Grundy Forest State Natural Area, TN
Which Is: 1 hour and 30 minutes southeast of Nashville; 1 hour northwest of Chattanooga
The Draw: Views from the ridgetop and waterfalls along the way. A point-to-point trail that’s do-able in a day, the it’s moderate hiking with grade-A views.
Don’t Miss: Your trail car. Get dropped off at the Trailhead, then get picked up at Foster Falls. Or, if you’re in for a two day trek, camp out at Raven’s Point and then complete the loop the next day.

Mt. Cammerer

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Found In: Great Smoky Mountains, TN
Which Is: 1 hour and 15 minutes southeast of Knoxville; 1 hour and 15 minutes northwest of Asheville
The Draw: A challenging hike that rewards with a panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains.
Don’t Miss: The turret-style fire tower at the top. Hand cut from the rock below your feet, it’s a solid piece of history that hosts a 360-degree view.

Texas

Everything’s Bigger

Guadalupe Peak Trail

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How Long: 8.4 miles
Found In: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX
Which Is: 2 hours east of El Paso
The Draw: After summiting the highest peak in the state (8,751 feet), you can say you’re “standing on top of Texas”, which has a nice ring to it.
Don’t Miss: Water and a wind jacket — this is West Texas, y’all. The trail’s mostly unprotected from sun and wind, so it’s not uncommon for the trail to be hot and for the peak to be cool (and to get hit with 80 mph winds).

South Rim Trail

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How Long: 12.6 miles
Found In: Big Bend National Park, TX
Which Is: 1 hour and 30 minutes south of Marathon
The Draw: All the rugged desert rock and tough-as-Texas foliage you can handle as you walk the ridge overlooking the Chisos Basin floor.
Don’t Miss: The “boot” and the “pinnacles”, stark rock formations that drop from the ridge. They’re what make this hike so striking; take a minute to stop, gaze, and rehydrate.

Virginia

Is for Nature Lovers

Old Rag Trail

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How Long: 8.8 miles
Found In: Shenandoah National Park, VA
Which Is: 2 hours and 45 minutes southwest of Washington, D.C.; 1 hour and 15 minutes north of Charlottesville
The Draw: Climbing on rocks never lost its luster, and the peak of Old Rag gives ample rock entertainment for big kids.
Don’t Miss: Your fortitude and a spirit of adventure. There’s some serious scrambling on the trail, rewarded by a rock outcropping that gives panoramic views of the park.

Rhododendron Trail

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How Long: 7.7 miles
Found In: Jefferson National Forest, VA
Which Is: 2 hours and 30 minutes southwest of Roanoke; 2 hours and 15 minutes northwest of Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The Draw: The highest peak in Virginia (5,729 feet) and a casual mix of rock outcroppings and wooded pathways make this one hell of a visually sexy route.
Don’t Miss: The herds of wild highland ponies. About 120 ponies roam the area, and they’ll come up to you looking for food. Don’t feed them, but have a camera ready.

West Virginia

Mountaineers Know Mountains

North Fork Mountain Trail

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How Long: 9.6 miles
Found In: Monongahela National Forest, WV
Which Is: 4 hours and 30 minutes southwest of Washington, D.C.; 2 hours and 30 minutes north of Charlottesville
The Draw: Cliffs, vistas, and outcroppings — that’s what West Virginia does. You can take the trailhead up Chimney Top for a 6-miler out and back, or continue on down the whole trail (you’ll need a pick-up car).
Don’t Miss: The trail. It can be tricky to follow, so it’s worth bringing a GPS along (or a map and compass). General rule of thumb: stick to the ridge, but don’t get lost in the views.