Where To The Find The Best National Parks In The South

The South is known for their charm and hospitality, and that extends to the natural elements found in this U.S. region as well. Some of the most beautiful mountains, monuments, and rivers can be found down south and the National Parks Service is responsible for conserving and preserving some of the best natural and built landmarks found here. From mountain ranges that have been the inspiration of many country songs to significant historical markers that represent important moments in American culture, the South is home to sites that everyone should lay eyes on at least once in their life.

Whether you are used to life in the city or you reside in another part of the country, taking a break to surround yourself in some of the beauty the South's national parks have to offer will, at the very least, offer a refreshing and revitalizing vacation. Set out on a road trip to hit multiple of these amazing southern designated wonders or plan a trip to explore just one, no matter how you choose to see this part of the world, just make sure to include some of the best national parks it has to offer.

Alabama's Little River Canyon National Preserve

Appalachia is known for its heavily wooded mountains that change color with the coming and going of seasons, and Little River Canyon National Preserve is a great example of just how beautiful the southern part of the Appalachian Mountains is. The defining feature of the preserve is Little River Falls, a 45-foot waterfall that leads to desirable swimming holes, like Hippie Hole. Both spots are a short, accessible walk from the preserve's parking area, making it ideal for travelers wanting an easy outdoor adventure.

Though the walk to Little River Canyon's most popular site is quite easy, the preserve offers trails for all skill levels and can provide hikers with scenic views throughout the entire trek. If a camping trip is what you're looking for, you'll have to choose another destination on the list — Little River Canyon closes at sunset and overnight stays are not permitted. The preserve does offer the perfect family day trip for those who want to bask in Appalachia's beauty during daylight hours, especially for those who may not be up for a strenuous hike.

Arkansas' Hot Springs National Park

While Yellowstone certainly steals all the thunder when it comes to hot springs in the United States, Arkansas' Hot Spring National Park is no consolation prize. Not only does the park contain 47 hot springs, but it was also the first area protected for its natural elements in the United States, becoming a reserve some years before the national parks system was established.

Two of the eight bathhouses within the park allow for visitors to experience the hot springs, however, there is no outdoor access to the park's titular features. For outdoor adventurers, there are trails that allow you to admire springs like Hot Water Cascade and navigate the park on foot. Those interested in the healing properties that are thought to exist within the springs and the park can either take a dip in one of the available bathhouses or simply exist in the calming atmosphere the park provides — they don't call it the "American Spa" for nothing.

Florida's Everglades National Park

It's easy to focus on the miles of coastline and exciting city life that plenty of Florida has to offer residents and visitors, but a large portion of the Sunshine State is made up of something quite different. Though there are no mountain peaks or precarious cliffs here, the Everglades National Park is one of the most intimidating national parks. When you don't consider its history with crime and disappearances or the deadly wildlife hidden below the water and in the tall grass, though, the beauty of the Everglades is unmistakable.

The National Parks Service provides a vital role in protecting the Everglades, as the area is an important wildlife habitat. The park covers around 1.5 million acres that is home to hundreds of species of animals, 39 of which are endangered or threatened, and even more plant and insect variations. Guided tours are available to see this wildlife up close, though taking a kayak is certainly worth the views if you're brave enough!

Georgia's Cumberland Island National Seashore

If you've ever taken a beach trip, spotted a sandy coastal hangout spot, or even observed a beach scene on TV, you probably have a good idea of what most destination beaches are like. Georgia's Cumberland Island is a far cry from what you may be accustomed to, though, as the 17 miles of coastline are only accessible by boat or ferry, making them far less crowded and touched by beachgoers.

This lack of foot traffic makes it possible for wildlife to flourish there, including a species of endangered sea turtles and more than 100 wild horses. If you are respectful to the land, animals, and plant life that live there, Cumberland Island National Seashore makes for an amazing day at the beach. With fewer people and a far more natural atmosphere, the seashore offers an experience unlike any other beach you may have enjoyed — keep a sharp eye out for alligators and bobcats, as it's not unusual to see the predators in their natural habitat here.

Kentucky's Mammoth Cave

In the underground of Kentucky lies hidden the largest discovered cave system in the world, the appropriately named Mammoth Cave National Park. Traveling here could place you among stalagmites and stalactites while learning about human history that dates back thousands of years. Cave tours will take you by peculiar rock formations and cave drawings, including a collection of signatures written on the cave walls and ceiling that dates back to the Civil War.

The park doesn't only apply to the cave, but also the areas on top of it. Biking, hiking, camping, and even kayaking are available and are favorite pastimes in the location. While vastly different from the expansive darkness the cave offers, exploring the park Earth-side is just as beautiful, though maybe not quite as awe-inspiring. Take a kayak down the Green or Nolin River or spend hours down in Mammoth Cave, either way, you will need to channel your inner explorer.

Louisiana's Poverty Point National Monument

Poverty Point in Louisiana offers an important North American heritage site from the ancient world. The National Parks Service protected monument was once a thriving city and hub that flourished with trade. The monument of the site uses mounds and rocks to look similar to an amphitheater, with rows of semi-circles seeming to look toward the center of the half-circle.

Much like Stonehenge, Poverty Point National Monument has historians scratching their heads on exactly why such a structure was built, as the energy expended on it must have been extreme. The sheer size of the structure is enough to make it quite a spectacular feat for ancient times. Though not nearly as well known or as old as Stonehenge, the monument is a much closer option for Americans and an ancient marvel that they can see in the comfort of their own country.

Mississippi's Natchez Trace Parkway

Road trips can be a fun time, especially when you can expect great scenic views pretty much the entire time. Natchez Trace Parkway has over 400 miles of road for visitors to set off down in order to admire the natural beauty of Mississippi, along with the other two states that share the attraction. The roadway loosely follows the path of the historical "Old Natchez Trace" which has been in use since the days of the prehistoric Native Americans and continued to be used by European settlers, enslaved people, and more. For those who want to do more than drive, though, stopping for a hike or even to set up camp is an option, and likely a wise one if you want to soak up as much of the natural beauty of the place.

Oklahoma's Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Oklahoma may not have any official national parks, but that doesn't mean they are lacking nature and beauty. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area has a little bit for everyone, with a popular swimming hole, a lake for boating and fishing, hiking and walking trails, and plenty of wildlife to observe. If you find yourself in Oklahoma, the recreation area makes for a day of fun, especially if you need a long pitstop while road tripping and need to recover from a long stretch behind the wheel — the area offers camping sites and trailer parking for overnight stays as well.

North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is almost 500 miles long, running through both Virginia and North Carolina. Parts of the parkway run through Shenandoah National Park, the Appalachian Trail, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — all three of which you will find listed elsewhere on this list. In fact, in following the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can hike part of the Appalachian Trail and see parts of both national parks, making the stretch of road pretty valuable for park collectors and trail seekers. Along its route, you'll find stunning overlooks and scenic views that strike awe. It takes around 12 hours to drive the parkway just one way, a task that would make a pretty stellar weekend road trip.

South Carolina's Cowpens National Park

South Carolina's Cowpens National Park is the site of a Revolutionary War battle that made history as the only successful double envelopment in the war. The military tactic involved an army attacking an enemy from both sides and its success at Cowpens was a win for the patriots. It's a point of great pride at the park and battle reenactments as well as park ranger-led history walks are common here. History and military buffs would find great joy in the national park, making it a must-see attraction if passing through the area.

Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Not only are the Great Smoky Mountains one of the most visited national parks, but they are instilled in the culture of the communities who reside in their vicinity. Incredible views, strenuous hikes, and a sense of blissful peace is what awaits those who visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Hiking trails like Charlies Bunion offer peaks that show off the mountains for as far as the eye can see, creating an amazing sight for those who make it to the top. Rainbow Falls, on the other hand, results in a hike surrounded by wilderness and wildlife with the reward of gorgeous falls. When hiking or camping in this national park, it's very important to be informed on trail conditions and how to — or how not to — interact with wildlife for your own safety.

Texas' Big Bend National Park

The two national parks in Texas are absolutely breath-taking. Both have mountains that are total stunners, but it's Big Bend National Park's diverse terrain and habitats that bring it the title of best national park in its state. Besides a backdrop of shapely mountain ridges, the park is a surprisingly lush desert with various types of blooming cacti and yucca with a number of species roaming. The Rio Grande runs through Big Bend and offers life to the land and the wildlife found here, making the combination of mountain, river, and desert a holy trinity of natural beauty.

Virginia's Shenandoah National Park

Virginia is another state that is touched by the Appalachian Trail's beauty, and the state's only official national park contains and protects a portion of the trail within it. Shenandoah National Park is over 300 square miles of Blue Ridge Mountain land that contains a number of other smaller trails and plenty of mountain overlooks that are accessed either by car or hiking. Most of these breaks in the mountains and peaks overlook either the Shenandoah Valley or a seemingly endless view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, either result is almost certain to steal your breath away no matter what season or time a day you make your trek.

West Virginia's New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

As gorgeous as meadows, mountain peaks, and canyons are, sometimes all you really need is the river. As simple as that sounds, West Virginia's New River Gorge National Park and Preserve offers views that are just as stunning as some of the more dramatic national parks. Lush greenery, cascading falls, and a huge iron bridge that compliments the surrounding nature perfectly make New River Gorge one piece of West Virginia that should not be missed out on. Whether you spend part of a day or many days here, you will not have a lack of sights to take in. Visitors can head out on the river in a raft or kayak, hike the many trails, or take a scenic drive in order to take advantage of what nature has to offer here.