Behold the Milky Way with your bare eyes, journey far from land in search of coral reefs teeming with colorful fish, set off on a scavenger hunt through live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and seek a serene spot for meditative contemplation amid craggy mountaintops. You can find all this and more in the American South—if you know where to look.
The South is brimming with oft-overlooked destinations that offer a break from the crowds and the opportunity to behold something truly captivating. But the problem with hidden treasures such as these is that they don’t stay hidden for very long. Plan your Southern-style road trip to take in these lesser-known getaway spots before they earn mainstream attraction status.
South Midas locations
Midas wants to help you get ready for your summer road trip, starting with your vehicle. Our techs can run a completely free Closer Look Vehicle Check. This in-depth visual inspection lets you know what needs fixing now and what can wait, so you can hit the road with confidence.
Make the trip before the trip to Midas and get $20 off a full-synthetic oil change. Request your appointment at Midas.com.
Thorncrown Chapel, Arkansas
Tucked in the Ozark Mountains is the offbeat enclave of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Here you’ll find everything from haunted hotels to natural springs, quaint cafes, historic museums, and, perhaps most notable of all, the awe-inspiring Thorncrown Chapel. Heralded as one of the best buildings of the 20th century, this unique wood and glass non-denominational church serves as a serene place for people of all religions to meditate and reflect—or simply enjoy an architectural work of art—amid the building’s airy design that embraces the region’s scenery.
Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
Three miles off the coast of North Carolina sits the barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Situated away from the crowds, it’s the perfect spot to camp, collect seashells, climb lighthouses, tour historic villages, fish, and watch as wild horses run free along the Shackleford Banks. Protected species such as green, loggerhead, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles call Cape Lookout home, and its secluded location makes it ideal for stargazing, with the islands having been named one of the few International Dark Sky Parks on the East Coast.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Despite its location near the South Carolina capital city of Columbia, Congaree National Park doesn’t evoke the name recognition, or visitation numbers, of some of the more touted parks in the U.S. However, this preserved old-growth bottomland hardwood forest isn’t only easy to visit, but it’s also remarkable, offering visitors the chance to stroll along observation boardwalks, fish along the park’s rivers, and kayak or canoe through the swamps in search of otters and wading birds. If you plan your visit in May, you may even enjoy an unusual sight: a synchronous firefly show.
Dismals Canyon, Alabama
For a different type of light show, head to Alabama’s Dismals Canyon. It’s one of the only places in the world where you’ll find the rare bioluminescent glowworms known as dismalites, and those seeking a peek at the insects’ bright blue-green glow will need to embark on a nighttime hike. Come daytime, trek to the canyon floor to venture through a sunken forest and into a labyrinth of caverns and grottos. Teeming with towering rock formations, mossy-green trees, and hidden waterfalls, the journey into Dismals Canyon is one you won’t forget.
Davis Bayou Area, Mississippi
Millions of visitors are drawn to the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s emerald waters and fertile marshes. But while most travelers head to the beachy offshore islands, few realize that a hidden gem is waiting for them back on the mainland. The Davis Bayou area, located near Ocean Springs, Mississippi, can go overlooked amid the white sand beaches, but it offers a unique destination in which to explore captivating environments, including a coastal forest and bayous that offer ample bird-watching and saltwater fishing opportunities.
St. Simons Island Tree Spirits, Georgia
Georgia’s “Golden Isles” are a best-kept secret hideaway for relaxing beaches, impressive golfing, epic whale watching, and more. Charming St. Simons Island is the ideal place to head for sun-soaked strolls alongside salt marshes, through a delightful downtown brimming with boutiques, and underneath a canopy of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. As you wander, be sure to look closely at the majestic trees as they hide a crafty secret: Hidden among the trunks are the intriguing faces of Tree Spirits, carefully carved by a local artist.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Dry Tortugas National Park’s location in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico has earned it a reputation for offering unspoiled beauty and serenity in a remote setting. Accessible by a high-speed ferry, boat charter, or seaplane charter from Key West, Florida, it’s a journey that’s well worth the effort. Comprised of seven islands, idyllic beaches, protected coral reefs, and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson, this ocean oasis is the perfect spot to snorkel, fish, sightsee, and truly get away.