With the weather turning to more favorable conditions, it’s never been more tempting to take in the wonderfully diverse scenery of the Southern United States, and with Southern Living’s expert curation of the eleven “South’s Best Parks 2021,” it’s also never been easier.
The full list serves as a home-grown bucket list of sorts with a well-researched collection of both the hidden and popular landscapes that show off the vast diversity of natural scenery found in the Southern states. Engage with nature in one of the most breath-taking settings around with the following Southern parks that hold both obvious testaments to nature’s beauty as well as subtle, nuanced reminders of the utter charm of Southern communities.
Just 25 miles outside of downtown Amarillo, TX lies the nation’s second-largest canyon and the state’s second-largest park, Palo Duro Canyon State Park. In this South’s Best Park, the canyon itself has been created by years of erosion from the Red River to form a chasm that is 800 feet in depth and ranges from six to 20 miles in width throughout the 120 miles of Texas High Plains. With that sheer expanse of land, there’s plenty of room for exploration by foot, mountain bike, horse, or car. Many visitors choose to stay close to the “South’s Grand Canyon” in one of its charmingly rustic “Cow Camp Cabins,” located on the floor of the canyon or atop one of the cabins located on the canyon’s upper rim. Either way, there’s no better vantage point to simply breathe and take in the rugged beauty of this charming piece of Texas history and terrain.
The park opens at 7:00 am and closes at 10:00 pm daily. For more information on visiting, go to palodurocanyon.com.
Gulf State Park, Alabama
Located nearby the infamous beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach lies a coastal reserve of over 6,000 acres known as Gulf State Park. With two miles of beaches, 2,448 ft. of fishing space, three freshwater lakes, a nationally recognized scenic nature trail, beach pavilion, picnic area, and expansive, 496-site campground, this Alabama Gulfside treasure has something for everyone. Anglers can rest easy knowing that this State Park has the single largest pier in the Gulf of Mexico while also being Alabama’s only public pier in the Gulf. The sands of Gulf State Park’s beach are unmistakably white and often quiet, making it the ideal site of your next station of relaxation. Though, if you wish to be more active, the park is home to the 900-acre Lake Shelby which is ideal for swimming, kayaking, and canoeing.
The park’s trails and picnic areas are open from sunrise to sunset. For more information on visiting, go to alapark.com.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
This South’s Best Park is the park for those wanting to explore a Southern mountain that’s bound to take their breath away, then look no further than the 200,000-acre breadth of protected land that is only 75 miles from the metropolis of Washington DC. The natural land itself is home to deer, songbirds, and black bears while also providing visitors with spectacular vistas, isolated wooded enclosures, cascading waterfalls, and fields upon fields of vibrant wildflowers. Shenandoah is a perfect spot for the casual or adventurous hikers who are interested in trekking to the top of Bearfence Mountain or the Hawksbill Summit Trail for an unforgettable 360° view or even a family trek down a less-intimidating day hike along the Dark Hollow Falls Trail. Though, if visiting, be sure to especially seek out the Cedar Run Falls, which is a skinny waterfall that’s carved into a steep chute from surrounding rock, making it the ideal swimming hole to dive into, rounding out a day of exhaustive hiking.
Shenandoah National Park is always open, Skyline Drive, the only public road through the Park, is periodically closed. For more information on visiting, call (540) 999-3500.
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