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Off the Beaten Path: The South

Part 5 of a 5 part series:

by: Ben Shaw

At the end of this lockdown, I’m going on a trip…. Part 5 of 5, the last stop on our journey around the country, the south. If I have a long weekend, these are the places I run to…

Roan Highlands, Tennessee

Hiking, Backpacking

I’ve done the Tour Du Roan three times, three different ways. I’ve hiked it in the winter, fall and summer, it’s always been a beautiful section of trail. The highlands are several different peaks spanning 20 miles along the North Carolina-Tennessee Boarder, this highest of which is Roan Mountain. Roan stands tall at 6,285’ and is home to the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail, believe me when I say this, it gets cold up there…. The nice thing about this section of trail is that it offers a great supply of water, a lot of diversity and plenty of points to bail out if you need. My advice is to book a shuttle out of the Mountain Harbor Hostel to Iron Mountain Gap and spend the next four days hiking north towards Highway 19 East. You’ll go through old growth pines, grassy balds, and see some awesome sights along the way. This section of the AT is best done in the late fall and early spring in my opinion, it improves the views! Be warned, this one is a knee bender though, there’s a few thousand feet of elevation change between start and finish.

Best time to go: Year Round

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

Car camping, Kayaking, Hiking

Nestled down by the Florida Georgia Line, sorry, couldn’t help myself, the mystic black swamp of Southern Georgia covers 438,000 acres of wetland protected by both a National Wildlife Refuge and National Wilderness Area. Its boundless with adventure, and unfortunately, I’ve never been there…. Luckily Dalton has, and here’s his two cents on this wonderful destination:

“Okefenokee is primarily a place for those wanting to take a walk or paddle on the wild side. With a wide array of different swampy channels to paddle through, adventurers will pass by breathtaking mangrove fields, wide open plains and of course the mucky murky swamp. Okefenokee boasts an incredible ecosystem containing, raptors, otters, cranes and best of all, a plethora of alligators. You can choose to do kayaking day trips or a multi-day trip, either way you’ll get to see some incredible sites.”

Best time to go: April-October (Maybe not July unless you really like humidity…)

Laurel River Lake, Kentucky

Hiking, Car Camping, Boating , Swimming, Kayaking, Cliff Diving

Laurel River Lake is a man-made reservoir that covers between 5,600 – 6,600 acres and has over 200 miles of shoreline. Most of the surrounding area is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest and is open to boating, swimming, dispersed camping and tons of fun. There’s two boat in campgrounds on the north and south sides of the lake and several developed campgrounds scattered around the lake as well. One of my favorite summer escapes is to snag a spot at the White Oak Campground and spend the weekend exploring the north channels of the lake for cliffs to climb and dive from. If you need a summer escape, this is your place…

Best time to go: April-November

Grayson Highlands / Mount Rogers NRA, Virginia

Hiking, Backpacking, Car Camping

Are you starting to figure out that I like the mountains? The Grayson Highlands and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area encompass 154,816 acres of rolling hills, wild ponies, wilderness and sweeping mountain vistas. At the center of all of this is the 5,729’ high point of Virginia, Mount Rogers, unfortunately the summit isn’t that exciting, sorry Virginia. I will say though, the trails are amazing, with over 200 miles of trail systems, the area offers endless options. You can enjoy a quick weekend along the Appalachian Trail of you can wander off of one of the plentiful side paths and spend a week traversing the entire area. Pro-Tip, there’s cattle all over the place so keep an eye out…. Getting charged by a long horn will get your heart going a little more than you probably asked for.

Best time to go: Year Round

Black Mountains, North Carolina

Hiking, Backpacking, Car Camping

The Black Mountain range contains 6 of the 10 highest peaks east of the Mississippi and the tallest, Mt. Mitchell sitting at 6,684’. The highest part of the range sweeps north to south for 15 miles and creates a famous to me trail, the Black Mountain Crest. It’s a 12.1 mile slog up and down some extremely difficult terrain. The range also hides a “class 3” route up the backside of Celo Knob to 6,327’, it’s an awesome scramble up…. Your three options in the area are setting up a basecamp at the Briar Bottom Campground to explore the area or enjoy a stay at Albert’s Lodge (the owner is a gem of a man). If you’re up to backpacking, you can stay at Deep Gap, but be warned, the area is popular with Black Bears, luckily they’re no larger than your dog!

Best time to go: Year Round

Lake Jocassee, South Carolina

Kayaking, Car Camping, Cliff Diving, Fishing

Lake Jocassee is definitely a hidden gem, it’s a man-made lake covering 7,500 acres and is open for public recreation. Your best bet is to setup camp at Devils Fork State Park, boat in sites are available. From there you can either wander your way around the lake during the day or set out across the lake to find your own spot to hide away on the north shore. There’re hidden waterfalls, too many secluded coves to count and breathtakingly clear water here. The lake even boasts records for some of the largest freshwater fish ever caught in the state of South Carolina. I wish this one was a little closer to home because I’d be there every weekend if I could.

Best time to go: Year Round

Explore more locations from the Off the Beaten Path Series: South, Southwest, Northeast, Midwest, Northwest