Hidden Destinations in the American South

As summer begins to come to a close, many look for a quiet getaway to escape to, and Southern Living has curated a list of the region’s hidden destinations to escape to this summer.

As always, due to local regulations, travel restrictions, and COVID-19 surges, it is suggested that travelers properly research all local guidelines and CDC recommendations in order to keep you and those you care about as safe and responsible as possible in these unprecedented times. Luckily, Southern Living’s list of “Hidden Southern Escapes” includes many isolated getaways, allowing for more social distancing and relaxation.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia

Once upon a time, nearly one million acres of desert habitat covered southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, and preserving that environmental marvel in Virginia today is the largest intact remnant of that desert habitat, the Great Dismal Swamp National Refuge. Originally opened as a result of a local forest products company’s sizable 1973 donation of 49,097 acres to The Nature Conservancy, this refuge encompasses over 112,000 acres of an environmentally, biologically, and historically important area. Visit Lake Drummond, the largest natural lake in Virginia, and take part in some one-of-a-kind birding or boating experiences in one of the most diverse and unique landscapes available in the American South.

Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma

In their curated list, Southern Living calls this destination the literal “home where the buffalo roamed,” and they’re not technically wrong because as the National Park Service reports this exact stretch of land in Oklahoma was originally inhabited by tens of millions of bison. Today, this preserve that encompasses 39,650 acres is the single-largest protected remnant of the tallgrass prairie habitat left on the planet earth today. Visit the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve to take part in excellent wildlife watching opportunities, since over 700 plants, 300 birds, and 80 mammals call this prairie home. One highlight of the preserve is quoted by the Nature Conservatory as allowing visitors to “experience the wide-open prairie and the patches of cross timbers forest by circling the 15-mile bison driving loop, hiking along designated trails and stopping to take in the views at various scenic turnouts.”

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

Second only to the majesty of the Grand Canyon is the Palo Duro Canyon State Park located in the heart of the Texas Panhandle. At this hidden destination, visitors of this massive, other-worldly expanse can explore the canyon as they see fit by foot, mountain bike, car, or horse. The park itself has over 30 miles of equestrian, biking, and hiking trails from which to view the canyon’s highs and lows as well as the wildlife. This State Park originated from a vast ranch owned by the legendary Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight before it was acquired by the State of Texas in the 1930s. The diverse landscape that embodies the park is a combination of sediment, rock formations, and canyon walls, but they are also contrasted spectacularly by the vibrancy of Texas plant life. This makes for a truly beautiful, picturesque expanse of land that was once so unique that it inspired the infamous painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

The final hidden destination listed here in the name of isolation and hermit-try is South Carolina’s Daufuskie Island, a location only accessible by boat. Now occupied by local artisans is the Mary Fields School, a historic schoolhouse where classic author Pat Conroy taught. Conroy, who has written such literature as The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, was inspired by the students and outside, timeless island landscape on Daufuskie Island to write his 1972 memoir The Water is Wide. Take a self-described “remote retreat from modern life” and visit an island lost to time itself.

For more travel-related news and other hidden destinations to visit, click here.

The Greatest Walking Tours of the American South

Southern cities have so much to see and learn about in terms of local art installations, unique architectural trends, and natural history that sometimes the best way to see it all is by booking a walking tour with a knowledgeable resident and expert of your destination. Thanks to Southern Living’s curated list of “2021’s Best Walking Tours” to be found in the southern United States, you’ll be properly prepared the next time you’re in a new location with a rich history.

If you’ve never taken a walking tour, it’s essentially a more calculated attempt at learning a wide array of a city or town’s history by hearing it from a knowledgeable tour guide instead of you driving around the city picking up your facts through context clues. These tours are typically found in the town’s busiest areas and they can range from the general “learn about the history of this district of New Orleans, Louisiana” to “popular filming locations in Savannah, Georgia.” There’s truly something for everyone depending on your particular interests or level of prior knowledge you come to the tour with, but here are our favorites from Southern Living’s “2021 South’s Best” list.

Walkin’ Nashville Music City Legends Tour

Nashville, Tennessee

If you’re a fan of the golden age of country music, then there’s no city quite as fruitful as Nashville, Tennessee since no other city rivals it in terms of country music’s legacy, superstars, and impact. When booking the “Walkin’ Nashville Music City Legends” walking tour, you’ll learn just how much the genre has evolved over the past century and exactly how the city itself played a role in making the greatest legends of country music such as Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, and plenty others into the notable icons they are today.

This two-hour tour spans only about one mile of Nashville, but it’s less about walking and more about the story of the biggest names in music that have the city to thank for some aspect of their success. When on the tour, you’ll be inundated with anecdotes, music history, trivia, and more as you’re brought to notorious Music City landmarks like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Ryman Auditorium, Printers Alley, and The Maxwell House Hotel, all of which have played a significant role for country music’s biggest stars. The tour ends in maybe the city’s most sought-after location, and after over 90 minutes of insider information about the genre, there’s no place else you’d rather find yourself than the Country Music Hall of Fame, where you can let yourself go wild and at your own pace! Book a ticket today and learn more about not just country music but the city that calls the genre its primary export.

Fredericksburg Walking Tours

Fredericksburg, Texas

For many, the attractions found on a walking tour are the immediate draw, but the regimented schedule of a tour guide’s well-meaning itinerary is a drawback. If that’s the case, then this history-rich, self-guided tour of the 175-year old town of Fredericksburg, Texas is the perfect way to learn about the legacy of the town’s historic district that has garnered some natural recognition of its own.

Once you set forth on the tour, you’ll immediately notice that Fredericksburg’s streets are incredibly wide, and sure “everything’s bigger in Texas,” but the width of the streets is due to the fact that the founders of the town had an outstanding need for a full team of oxen to be able to turn around in the street before being hitched up on one of the street’s still-accessible metal hoops (found along the sidewalks). The tour allows you to independently survey the town’s historical district according to the areas that interest you the most– whether that be admiring the Admiral Nimitz Gallery of the National Museum of the Pacific War, learning about Fredicksburg’s founding history in the iconic Vereins Kirche Museum found in the center of Marktplatz, or setting down for one of your three meals at the unforgettable Rathskeller Basement Restaurant in Frederickburg’s Historic Keidel Hospital Building. Sure you may have to spend multiple days taking in all that this notable Texan city has to offer, but that’s just the price you pay when you’re learning about one of the more architecturally and historically rich towns in the Southern United States.

 For more travel-related news and information, click here.


The Grand Canyon of the South

Thesouthernweekend.com recently published an article about “The Grand Canyon of the South” which, before that, we had never heard about.  Upon further research, we realized that the word needs to get out about this breathtaking beauty of a US attraction!    The Palo Duro Canyon (“palo duro” is spanish for “hard wood”) is one of America’s most beautiful natural attractions out there, though it is little known.  This may because it’s older, bigger brother The Grand Canyon gets all the attention.  The Palo Duro Canyon should not be overlooked.  It’s the 2nd largest canyon in the US, about 120 miles long, up to 20 miles wide in areas, and boasts over 40 miles of scenic views and hikes.  Its elevation at the rim is 3500 feet above sea level and it’s only about a 30 minute drive from Amarillo, nestled in the heart of the Texas panhandle. In comparison, The Grand Canyon, is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 ft. deep.

Palo Duro Canyon was formed by water erosion from the Red River. The water deepens the canyon by moving sediment downstream and wind and water erosion gradually widen the canyon. Humans have resided in the canyon for approximately 12,000 years. Early settlers were nomadic tribes that hunted mammoth and other large game animals. Later, various Indian tribes lived in the canyon until 1874. The State Park surrounding the canyon opened on in 1934 and contains over 29k acres of gorgeous scenery. Palo Duro Canyon State park is an excellent outdoor classroom. School groups from across Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico visit the park each year. Park staff offers guided educational programs (by reservation only) for school and special interest groups. There is also a Junior Ranger program available for children ages 4-12. There are activities they must complete and have signed by a ranger before they can receive a sleeve patch at the Visitor Center or Park Headquarters. The activity brochure can be requested at the Visitor Center or Park Headquarters.

The park offers a variety of activities such as hiking, road biking, mountain biking, a scenic drive, camping, picnicking, wildlife and wildflower viewing, backpacking, and horseback riding.  Many flock to the area for unique bird watching experiences. There is a Wildlife Viewing Blind located behind the Palo Duro Trading Post that provides a quiet place to watch birds. A water feature is in place along with feeders. Photos are posted on the walls for those who need help with identification though, any of the trails throughout the park have the potential to be excellent bird watching spots.

Summertime temperatures can be brutal in the canyon. Temperatures often range from the 90s to 115 degrees. It is always advisable to engage in activities in the morning or late evening due to the high heat. Make sure you and everyone in your party stays hydrated and does not overextend themselves physically. Do not attempt the very long trails in the high heat of the day.  For those unable or unwilling to view the canyon by foot or horseback, there is a scenic drive of about 16 miles that takes you to the floor of the canyon and that features beautiful views of the scenery.

The park also allows special events though they must be reserved, scheduled, and approved by the park ranger.  The park has been a breathtaking venue for many “I Dos” as it offers awe-inspiring views and scenic spots to exchange vows.

For more travel tips and news, click here.