USA Travel

24 Must See Parks in the Southeastern United States

By
Tim Gillespie
on
February 22, 2021

The southeastern region of the United States beckons travelers to come to explore its national and state parks. There you can find miles of scenic roadways, long stretches of sandy beaches, free-flowing wild rivers, and endless forests blanketing mountain ranges. Countless opportunities for hiking, biking, paddling, and camping can be found in these parks, most of which are within a short drive from a big city. Next time you are planning a weekend camping and hiking getaway to the southeastern United States, consider one of these parks as your next outdoor adventure destination.

Smokey Mountain National Park, Southeastern United States National Parks
Fishing in Smokey Mountain National Park

Best National Parks in the Southeastern United States

Everglades National Park, Florida

The largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, this park provides an important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species, while also offering year-round camping possibilities. The park’s two drive-in campgrounds, Flamingo and Long Pine Key are equipped with flushing toilets, showers, and potable water. Long Pine Key tends to be the quieter of the two. Backcountry camping sites are available but require a permit. Beach camping sites are the most primitive with no toilets, but offer incredible sunset views.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

In this park, you will find the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. There are several trails at Congaree that traverse the floodplain.  Since the terrain is generally very flat, most trails are easy to moderate in difficulty. The Boardwalk Loop Trail provides hikers an opportunity to observe several different tree species in the old-growth forest. Those looking to explore the park by water can opt for a trip along the 15-mile (24 kilometers) Cedar Creek Canoe Trail. Opportunities are plentiful for viewing various types of wildlife such as river otters, deer, turtles, wading birds, and even the occasional alligator! There are two designated campgrounds inside the park that require a reservation for camping. Neither campground has running water and the bathrooms are vault style. Additionally, there are several backcountry campsites that can only be reached by foot or boat travel. Generally, camping at Congaree is more primitive than in other parks.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is a land bursting with cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows. With over 500 miles of hiking trails to choose from, hikers will have plenty of options to find their perfect adventure. The Doyle River Falls trail is a moderate, 3.3-mile (5.3 kilometers) hike through the woods along cool, clear mountain streams to two unique waterfalls. A hike to Old Rag, the most popular destination in the park, Features adventurous rock scrambles and 360-degree views that make you feel like you're on top of the world. Then, of course, there is the famous Skyline Drive that cuts through the park that provides unforgettable views, especially during the fall foliage season. Five designated campgrounds offer modern amenities and plenty of backcountry wilderness campsites.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. America’s most visited national park is renowned for its diversity in plant and animal life, and the beauty of its mountains. Hikers can enjoy the park all months of the year with opportunities to chase waterfalls, take in incredible views from mountain top vistas, or walk amongst old-growth forests. There are 150 official trails within the park with popular destinations being Alum Cave Bluffs, Rainbow Falls, and Chimney Tops. There are 10 developed front country camping locations inside the park as well as plenty of backcountry wilderness campsites that require a permit before pitching your tent.  Bryson City is known as the Gateway to the Smokies and worth checking out as well.

Interested in joining other like-minded individuals on a camping and hiking trip to one of the United States National Parks, check out our hiking trips at Under30Experiences.

Best State Parks in Alabama

Lake Lurleen State Park, Alabama

This 1,625-acre scenic park offers plenty for outdoor recreation and relaxation. There are 23 miles of hiking and biking trails ranging from easy to moderate in difficulty. The 4-mile (6.4 kilometers) Ridge Loop Trail takes hikers through the wooded forest surrounding the lake. The 250-acre Lake Lureen is stocked with several varieties of fish offering anglers a great opportunity to catch the night’s meal. Boat launch areas and a pier to swim off of are onsite as well. The campground included 91 modern campsites with water and electric hook-ups with bathroom facilities within walking distance.

Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama

Alabama’s largest state park, located just south of Birmingham, is a wonderland for hikers wanting to explore the park’s lakes, streams, and rocky slopes. There are more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) of trails, for both hiking and biking, including The Red Trail which has been listed as an Epic Ride by the International Mountain Biking Association. The Alabama Wildlife Center provides rehabilitation services to injured native birds that can be viewed from the Tree Top Nature Trail, an elevated boardwalk winding through a secluded woodland valley. Other activities include swimming, boating, and fishing on Beaver and Double Oak Lakes, plus a cable wakeboard park. Camping is open year-round with over 100 tent and RV sites available, as well as backcountry camping along a 13-mile (20 kilometer) loop trail within the park.

New to camping? Check out our Camping Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Their First Trip

Best State Parks in Florida

Three Rivers State Park, Florida

Looking around the landscape of rolling hills, pine forests, and steep ravines, you’ll quickly realize that this state park has a terrain very different from the rest of Florida. Nestled way up near the Georgia border where the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers converge to form Lake Seminole, visitors can enjoy camping, seven miles of paved and unpaved bicycle trails, and five miles of nature trails. With 2.5-miles (4 kilometers) of lake shoreline, fishermen will find some of the best freshwater fishing in the state. Canoes are available for rent and there are two boat ramps as well. The campground consists of 30 shaded campsites, each with a view of the lake, a fire ring, and a grill. Bathrooms and showers are available at the campground.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Florida

Stretching along the northern shore of the Loxahatchee River, a nationally designated Wild & Scenic River, is this unique state park to explore on land or by water. Visitors can explore coastal sandhills, upland lakes, and scrub forests, or can even go for a swim off the park’s sandy beach. Hikers can head into the woods on an extensive trail system that includes a 9-mile (15 kilometers) portion of Florida’s Trail Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail. Paved and off-road trails are available for biking opportunities and canoe, kayak, and motorboat rentals are available for those looking for an aquatic adventure. There are two main campgrounds within the park offering a total of 142 sites, for both RV and tent camping. Both campgrounds have restrooms, showers, and water available.

Cumberland Falls State Park, camping in southeastern United States
Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

Best State Parks in Kentucky

Cumberland Falls State Park, Kentucky

Home to 68-foot (21 meters) Cumberland Falls, which is known as the “Niagara of the South”, this park is a hiker’s paradise with over 17 miles (28 kilometers) of trails, many that link up to the adjacent Daniel Boone National Forest. Cumberland Falls is one of the few places in the world that regularly produces a moonbow. The “moonbow,” also called a white rainbow or lunar rainbow, is formed just like a rainbow—light is refracted in tiny water droplets—and appears for the two or so days, as long as the sky is clear, on either end of the full moon. Guides rafting trips, which can get you up close to the falls, are offered on the Cumberland River. There are 50 campsites in the park with water and electrical hookups, plus restrooms and showers. 

Kingdom Come State Park, Kentucky

Some of the most extraordinary rock formations in Kentucky are featured at this park, including Log Rock, a natural sandstone bridge, and Raven Rock, a giant rock exposure that soars 290 feet into the air at a 45-degree angle! There are 8 different overlooks for visitors to take in the views of this beautiful park that spans over 1,200 acres of wilderness. This park consists of 14 miles (22 kilometers) of hiking trails, 38 miles (61 kilometers) of biking trails, and a 3.5-acre mountain lake for year-round fishing and boating. Four primitive campsites are available, each equipped with a fire ring, picnic table, and access to the bathrooms.  


Best State Park in Arkansas

Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas

Nestled in the Lee Creek Valley of western Arkansas, this park is home to a beautiful range of forests, unique rock formations, and magnificent waterfalls.  Multiple hiking trails criss-cross the park including the 15-mile (24 kilometer) Butterfield Hiking Trail which is great for overnight backpacking trips.  Miles of biking trails ranging from easy to difficult can be ridden inside the park including the Fossil Flats trail which has hosted the Ozark Mountain Bike Festival. Campers will find plenty of options for staying the night at the 143 campsites that are open on a seasonal basis.

Best Parks in Mississippi

Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi

Named for the chief of the Chickasaw nation, Tishomingo State Park offers a unique landscape of massive rock formations that are part of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Over 13 miles (20 kilometers) of hiking trails are located within the park, all rated easy to moderate hiking. The CCC Pond Trail is a relatively flat loop trail that circles the pond and includes a waterfall. Several rock outcroppings and bluffs are open to rock climbers as well, though a permit is required to climb. Additionally, canoe trips and fishing is available on Bear Creek, which runs through the park. There are 61 tent/RV sites located in the wooded area surrounding the lake and another 17 primitive tent sites. The campground has picnic tables, grills, bathrooms, and showers available.  

Clarkco State Park, Mississippi

Situated on 815 acres of gently rolling woodlands, visitors enjoy hiking the many trails while soaking up the lake views from their campsite. A well-marked, 5-mile (8 kilometers) nature trail encircles the park that includes an observation tower at the upper end of the lake. Bicycling is permitted on this trail as well. The park also includes a 9-hole disc golf course and tennis courts for those looking for alternative activities. The lake offers freshwater fishing and water sports including water skiing, canoeing, and kayaking. There are 7 primitive tent camping sites and 43 tent/RV sites complete with water and electrical hookups. Picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and showers are available at the developed campground.  

Best State Park in Louisiana

Sam Houston Jones State Park, Louisiana

Tree-filled lagoons and a mixed pine and hardwood forest combine to create a unique natural environment in this 1,087-acre park located just north of the city of Lake Charles.  Bird watching is a prime activity with nearly 200 species of birds during the prime migration season.  Numerous waterways providing access to the Calcasieu River offer plenty of options for paddling, fishing, and boating.  There are 3 main hiking trails that intersect the park that allow hikers the best chance to observe the diversity of wildlife.  The park is also home to a disc golf course for those looking for alternative camping activities.  The campground has 26 campsites and 5 backcountry campsites.

Best State Park in South Carolina

Huntington Island State Park, South Carolina

With 5 miles of beautiful beaches and 102 camping sites with electricity and water, this South Carolina gem is a little slice of paradise. The campground also has hot showers and restroom facilities. The onsite nature center houses live reptiles and exhibits displaying the park’s natural resources. Also, daily tours are led by park staff to provide more information. From the fishing pier, one can usually spot dolphins and view birdlife. There are several hiking and biking trails throughout the park and fishing opportunities for those seeking some recreational activities.

Best State Parks in Georgia

Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia

Home to thousand-foot deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, wild caves, waterfalls, cascading creeks, dense woodland, and abundant wildlife, this year-round park offers ample outdoor recreation. There are 72 tent, trailer, and RV sites complete with electric and water hookups, 30 tent-only sites, and 13 backcountry camping sites for those looking for a more secluded camping area. Recreational activities include hiking, biking, caving, horseback riding, fishing, and disc golfing.

Fort Mountain State Park, Georgia

Sitting at the southwestern end of the Cohutta Mountains, this park which was once home to the Cherokee Indians is a great destination for hikers. Over 60 miles (96 kilometers) of hiking trails lead to scenic overlooks and wind through hardwood forests. There are an additional 27 miles (43 kilometers) of biking trails, including The East-West Bike Loop, which is rated as one of the most beautiful and challenging mountain bike trails in the Southeast. During the summer months, visitors can cool off in the 17-acre lake or cast a line for fishing. There are 70 tent and RV sites available at the campground open year-round.  

Looking for a camping destination in other regions of the United States? Top 20 USA Camping Destinations For Your First Trip


Best State Park in Virginia

Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia

Located in the Appalachian high country, this park’s landscape includes mountain meadows, 5,000+ foot (1,500+ meter) peaks, trout-filled streams, and grassy pastures dotted with wild ponies. The summit of Virginia’s highest peak, Mount Rogers, can be reached on an 8.5-mile (13 kilometer) hike and hikers can link up with the famous Appalachian Trail which runs directly through the park. Thirteen different trails are located inside the park offering up plenty of opportunities to immerse oneself in this remote wilderness. Grayson Highlands State Park is also well-known for incredible bouldering and anglers will have plenty of opportunities to snag a trout or two in the waters of Big Wilson Creek. Campsites are easily accessible along a paved road and provide fire pits and restrooms.


Fall Creek Falls State Park, hiking in Southeastern United States
Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

Best State Parks Tennessee

Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

This park encompasses more than 29,000 acres laced with cascades, gorges, waterfalls, streams, and lush stands of virgin hardwood forests. Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet (78 meters), is one of the tallest free-flowing waterfalls in the eastern United States, though several other waterfalls within the park are just as photogenic. The park boasts 56 miles (90 kilometers) of hiking trails, 24 miles (38 kilometers) of biking trails, and access to rock climbing areas, though a permit must be obtained first. Fall Creek Lake is for fishing and boating, with pedal boats, kayaks, and canoes available for rent. The park’s 200+ campsites offer up camping with everything from modern facilities to backcountry sites.  

South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee

This huge park has over 25,000 acres to explore and is known for some of the best hiking and backcountry camping in Tennessee. There are over 90 miles (144 kilometers) of hiking trails, multiple rock climbing areas, and several small lakes for fishing.  The Fiery Gizzard Trail is a challenging 10 mile (16 kilometers) hike that is considered one of the Top 25 hikes in the United States for its stunning overlooks and multiple waterfalls. including impressive overlooks, vistas, and cascades. The Foster Falls campground has 26 rustic campsites with a fire ring and a picnic table, as well as restrooms. Additionally, there are 93 backcountry campsites spread out over 12 designated backcountry campgrounds within the park. Reservations are encouraged for all campsites.

Best State Parks in North Carolina

Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina

Hanging Rock State Park offers one of the best experiences for traditional outdoor enthusiasts. With nearly 20 miles (32 kilometers) of hiking trails leading to mountain top views and cascading waterfalls, more than 8 miles (12 kilometers) of single-track mountain biking, a stocked lake for swimming and canoe rentals, plus access on the Dan River for paddling, there is more than enough to keep you busy. The campground hosts 73 tent sites, each with a picnic table and a grill, with restroom facilities, showers, and drinking water available.    

Lake Norman State Park, North Carolina

Lake Norman, North Carolina’s largest man-made lake, is located about a half-hour north of Charlotte. This park features 33 campsites complete with picnic tables, grills, restroom facilities, and a beach within walking distance. There are over 30 miles (48 kilometers) of trails to explore via hiking or mountain biking. Lake Shore Trail is a beautiful, 3-mile (4.8 kilometers) scenic footpath along the lakeshore designed to accommodate an array of fitness levels. For those who want to get out on the water, a free boat launch is available at the south end of the park, as well as kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, and paddleboards for rent. 

Heading to North Carolina?  Consider spending a weekend in Asheville or Bryson City.

Best State Parks in West Virginia

Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Blackwater Falls State Park is named for the amber waters of Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot cascade tinted by the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. The waters plunge five stories then twist and tumble through an eight-mile-long gorge, making this one of West Virginia’s most photographed destinations. The park offers more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) of hiking trails and scenic biking trails. In the winter months, aside from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, visitors can get a rush of cold mountain air with a brisk ride down a quarter-mile sled run, the longest on the East Coast. The campground, which is open from April through October, has 65 tent sites with restrooms and hot showers.

Coopers Rock State Forest, West Virginia

Located just 13 miles (20 kilometers) from Morgantown, this park features canyon overlooks, 50 miles (80 kilometers) of hiking and biking trails, sandstone cliffs for climbing, and a lake perfect for reeling in trout. Coopers Rock Overlooks offers a 360-degree view of incredible mountains and forests. Nature’s beauty is everywhere throughout the park. One of the more popular trails, Henry Clay Iron Furnace Trail, takes you on a trip back in time where you will discover a huge stone structure used for producing iron in the 1800s. Area outfitters provide guide rafting trips on the nearby Cheat River which at its peak runs up to Class IV rapids! The campground has 25 sites with restrooms, showers, and water available.  

Before you head out on your next camping adventure, make sure you have the Essential Camping Gear.


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Tim Gillespie
Tim is U30X's Thailand Manager & Community Builder, and has been living, traveling and accumulating experiences in SE Asia since 2009. He loves being in the outdoors, immersing himself in local cultures, and tasting exotic foods.

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