Where do you start when planning a Deep South road trip itinerary? There’s so much to see and to do in the Southern States. That’s the problem I’ve been having because we are in the process of planning a Southern USA road trip. We have driven through some of the Southern USA like from Miami to the Florida Keys, North Carolina from Washington to the Outer Banks, a road trip from Huntsville Alabama to the Gulf Shores, and a Louisiana road trip post-Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Long before I met him, my husband did a Southern States road trip with his best friend. From what I gather, it involved a lot of beer and pizza. Our family-friendly Deep South USA road trip would be quite different! I’ve reached out to some travel blogger friends for other ideas on Deep South tours.
Ideas for A Southern USA Road Trip
I’m sure all the fabulous and diverse things to do on a Deep South Tour is why Lonely Planet has chosen the American southern states as one of their top regions to visit.
The Southern USA Road Trip
In terms of natural beauty, the region has it in spades, from the mountains of Appalachia and national forests such as Chattahoochee and Pisgah to islands such as the Outer Banks (NC), Golden Isles (GA), and Hilton Head (SC).
If it’s culture you seek, the Southeast is the birthplace of the blues, country, jazz, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s fantastic food, from the low country cuisine of the coastal regions to the soul food that traces its roots back to Africa.
If it’s hip cities you’re into, the region has more than its fair share, from Asheville and Charleston to Nashville and Mobile. And then there’s my hometown, Atlanta, which has grown from the city Sherman burned to a bustling metropolis rich with international flavor.
Whether you’re into Civil War history or the Civil Rights movement, the Southeast has a uniquely diverse array of offerings that will appeal to travelers of every style. So much so that, in recent years, a significant portion of our visitors seem inclined to stay!
– Bret Love & Mary Gabbett at Green Global Travel
South East USA Road Trip: North Carolina
North Carolina is a superb state to visit on your South East USA Road trip with its combination of major cities, charming small towns, mountains and beaches.
With the help of some experts, we have 10 areas to road trip in North Carolina that you should visit and what you can do at these places.
- spot wild horses in Northern Outer Banks
- pay homage to the first flight at Kitty Hawk
- drink craft beer in Asheville
- pretend to be a college student again in Wrightsville, Durham and Charlotte
- eat great barbecue everywhere
Two of our favourite North Carolina road trips tends to be going east on our way to the Outer Banks for beach time or west to the Blue Ridge Mountains for hiking.
South East USA Road Trip: Virginia
Virginia is such an easy place to visit from Washington D.C. and also from the north of the country.
- wide sandy beaches along the Chesapeake Bay
- a family-friendly beach town Virginia Beach
- presidential homes like George Washington’s Mt Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Madison’s Montpelier
- charming trendy university town, Charlottesville
- wine country, luxury hotels and antiques shopping for couples getaways because you know… Virginia is for lovers!
The capitol, Richmond Virginia is conveniently located for any southern USA road trip. There’s so much to do in Richmond Virginia too!
Outdoor adventures, excellent dining, and a cool arts scene are just a few of the fun things to do in Richmond Virginia on your next southern US road trip.
Virginia’s capital city straddles the James River and takes full advantage of that waterfront setting. Richmond’s walkable downtown is packed with interesting stops connected by scenic paths like the Canal Walk, a 1.25-mile trail close to the river.
Stroll or jog across the T Tyler Potterfield Bridge for fantastic views of the Richmond skyline. Or take the cool footbridge to Brown’s Island, a popular spot for hiking and hanging out by the water. You can get on the water too, with kayak rentals and rafting trips. On the southern end, the Canal Walk connects to the 52-mile Capital Bike Trail.
Richmond is justly proud of its dining and brewery scene. Choose from downtown spots like Parterre at the historic Linden Row Inn, or Lemaire in the iconic Jefferson Hotel. Or head out to neighborhood favorites like Lunch or Supper and Kuba Kuba. Brew lovers can sample from 40 breweries on the Richmond Beer Trail, 10 of which are tucked into the hip Scott’s Addition neighborhood.
History and art lovers will find it easy to build an itinerary in Richmond. Historic sites like St John’s Church, the Poe Museum, and the American Civil War Museum interpret important moments and characters in American history.
Art highlights include the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the ICA Richmond, and a fantastic collection of murals scattered throughout the city.
– Julie McCool by Fun in Fairfax VA
Southern USA Road Trip: South Carolina
Why include South Carolina in your Southern USA road trip?
- visit elegant and historic Charleston
- laze on miles of sunny beach coastline
- spend family time on Myrtle Beach, South Carolina’s answer to Virginia Beach
- play golf on Hilton Head
- explore nature with South Carolina’s mountains, rivers and lakes
Here 5 travel experts tell us about their favourite parts of South Carolina to help you plan your prefect Southern USA road trip.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Oozing with Low Country charm, Beaufort on Port Royal Island is one of South Carolina’s oldest cities. Known for its laidback atmosphere and historic antebellum mansions, Beaufort is big enough to offer plenty to do, yet is small enough to explore on foot.
Top of any visitors list should be a walk around the historic district to see the finest of the preserved houses from the 1700s, when the town was founded, set amidst mighty old oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss. The area is so picturesque, that’s it’s become a popular backdrop for movies, most notably The Big Chill, The Great Santini, and Forrest Gump.
Be sure to also take a stroll through the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park or, for a shadier option, the Spanish Moss Trail. Another must is a visit to Parris Island and its impressive lighthouse. While wildlife and nature lovers will enjoy exploring Beaufort’s marshlands is by kayak.
Anyone with an interest in the Civil War should visit the Beaufort National Cemetery. It’s said to be one of the most beautiful in the United States. The 33-acre site is the burial ground for over 18,500 Confederate and Union servicemen and women.
For an overnight stay, the award-winning Beaufort Inn in the heart of the historic district combines old-world charm with luxurious, modern amenities. In addition to guest rooms in the main house, inviting verandas complete with rocking chairs, welcome guests to the historic cottages dotted around the picturesque gardens.
– by Kathryn Burrington from Mandala Meadow
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina is known for its colorful buildings, warm weather and delicious Southern cooking – and of course, a high level of Southern charm! During my whirlwind visit to Charleston, I tried to pack in as much as possible, and I was not disappointed by this sweet Southern gem.On the strong recommendation of a local friend, I went to Poe’s Tavern for lunch and had the best shrimp salad sandwich of my entire life! Poe’s is located just two blocks up from the beach, so it’s the perfect spot to eat before or after visiting the ocean. Their seafood is so fresh and the atmosphere has a fun, bustling local haunt kind of vibe out on Sullivan’s Island. I highly recommend checking Poe’s Tavern out while you’re in town!A great spot for wandering and snapping some Instagram-worthy photos is Rainbow Row, which is a series of thirteen beautiful, colorful historic houses in downtown Charleston.
– by Sierra Dehmler at www.passportvoyager.com
Congaree, South Carolina
Just 30 minutes from Columbia, SC lies one of the country’s oldest bottomland hardwood forests. Congaree National Park is a perfect way to get off-grid for the day and appreciate nature without driving hours into the middle of nowhere.
See state and national champion trees towering above you while you stroll the Boardwalk Loop trail. This is the perfect intro to the park and a handy pamphlet from the Visitor Center will explain more about the water tupelo, loblolly pines, and cypress knees you see along the way.
To see the park’s namesake, the Congaree River, be prepared for an all-day trek through the woods. Check with the Visitor Center first for any downed bridges or flooded trails, and don’t forget a map and compass, just in case!
If you’d rather paddle your way through the park, bring your kayak (or rent one from a local business) and spend the afternoon floating down Cedar Creek. Cedar Creek is much smaller and calmer than the Congaree River, perfect for a relaxing float rather than battling rapids and currents.
Campgrounds are available for tent campers, but there are no RV campsites in Congaree National Park. However, a few nearby state parks and campgrounds can accommodate RV’s.
Camping isn’t for everyone, and let’s be honest, some of you don’t fully understand just how terrible the southern heat and humidity can be in the summer. Enjoy the park by day, and then enjoy some AC at a hotel in Columbia overnight!
– by Rachel Means of Means To Explore
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Hilton Head Island in the low country of South Carolina is known as a resort town with world-class golf courses, incredible beaches, and the infamous Harbour Town Lighthouse. Hilton Head Island makes for the ideal weekend getaway of relaxation and recreation.One of the top things to do on Hilton Head, other than golf or head to the beach, is to explore Sea Pines Forest Preserve. It is an impressive 605 acres of nature trails and boardwalks featuring unspoiled terrain. Pack a picnic lunch and plan to spend a few hours exploring this wild destination in the heart of this resort community.While you are at Sea Pines, be sure to make a reservation for dinner at Sea Pines Beach Club. It has one of the best patios on the island and is a perfect way to end your day exploring Sea Pines.A visit to Hilton Head Island is never complete without a visit to Harbour Town and you can easily spend an entire day at South Beach Marina Village, known for the incredible sunsets and Salty Dog Cafe. Shelter Cove is also a wonderful place to explore with younger kids and if you time your visit right, there are interactive shows held at the bandstand.If you are looking for accommodations, you may be surprised to discover that Disney has a resort on the island. Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort features many recreational activities and offers 12 miles of stunning beaches. There are multi-room villas, a pool with waterslide and endless outdoor fun while you enjoy the local charm of Hilton Head Island.However you choose to spend your time on Hilton Head Island, you will be greeted with southern charm and endless low country views.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach refers not only to the South Carolina tourist destination, but also to the 60 miles of beautiful white sand beaches that stretch far down the Carolina coast making an ideal setting for a growing retirement community, as well as host to umpteen bachelorette parties, guys’ golf outings, family reunions, and myriad conventions.
A drive through town on the main drag captures the Southern scene sprinkled with Piggly Wiggly, Chick-Fil-A and Krispy Kreme stores. And it immediately screams beach town and family resort, with mega beach shops, mega-tsunami surf stores, dozens of miniature golf courses, and pancake houses every couple blocks.
The Myrtle Beach area also features more “cultural” attractions within easy driving distance. Aside from the many excellent restaurants specializing in seafood and Southern cuisine, there’s the Brookgreen Sculpture Gardens, a stunning collection of American sculpture set amid gorgeous gardens.
The Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture Gardens are a real American gem, and worth making a special trip to this part of South Carolina to spend a delightful morning wandering in them.
Allow a few hours to walk the gardens. If you do it justice, it may even take more than a day. If you have children, or if you’re a child at heart, don’t miss the special exhibits of charming animals and figures designed specially to amuse the young ones.
Also worth a visit is Hopsewee Plantation, a meticulously maintained relic of the antebellum South, right down to the slaves’ quarters.
– by Tom Bartel at Travel Past 50
Deep South Road Trip: Alabama
Alabama is a fascinating place to visit on a deep south road trip with an astounding array of different landscapes. An Alabama road trip will take you from the mountains of North Alabama to the wide sand beaches of the Gulf Shores in the South.
Things you can do in Alabama include:
- explore Huntsville aka Rocket City with its NASA space center and historic Antebellum houses
- admire Helen Keller’s pioneering work at her birthplace and museum near Florence Alabama
- learn about the civil rights movement in Birmingham and Montgomery
- rummage for bargains at the Unclaimed Baggage store in Scottsboro
- chow down on amazing barbecue at Big Bob Gibson in Decatur
A Civil Rights Road Trip in Alabama
Three things you will find in the Southern states of the USA — delicious southern cooking, destinations with a deep yet troubled history, and the birthplace of the many musical genres that have impacted American music.
One way to experience what makes the south unique is through a Civil Rights road trip.
On this Deep South Road Trip itinerary, start in Atlanta, the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and home to the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
From Atlanta, head down to Montgomery, Alabama and visit the Rosa Parks Museum and Freedom Rides Museum to learn about the monumental impact the bus boycott and Freedom Rides had on the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.
It is then a short one and one-half hour drive to Birmingham, Alabama, where you can learn about the civil rights struggle in Alabama at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, visit the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and sample from Birmingham’s burgeoning food scene.
Finish off your road trip in Memphis, tracing the arc of MLK, Jr.’s life from beginning to tragic end with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel, the site where he was assassinated.
Of course, the Memphis music scene is hopping with the blues clubs on famous Beale Street, Gibson guitar factory tours, Elvis’ Graceland, the Memphis Blues Hall of Fame, and historic STAX Museum of American Soul Music.
– by Tamara Gruber at We3Travel
Southern USA Road Trip: Tennessee
Any southern USA road trip needs to include Tennessee just because this state has provided so much to American culture – Elvis, Dolly Parton, country music and Tennessee Whiskey to name a few!
Here are some things you can do on a road trip in Tennessee:
- thrill in the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains
- taste test Tennessee Whiskey on a Jack Daniels Distillery Tour
- pay homage to 70’s style decor and rock and roll at Graceland
- listen to live music in Nashville
- stay overnight at the original Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel
The Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel is on my son’s wish list thanks to a mug we have in our house that my husband brought back as a souvenir from a trip before my son was born.
So check out our 50+ Tennessee Road trip ideas for Southern USA road trip ideas gleaned from several travel experts.
Southern USA Road Trip: Georgia
Do you have Georgia on your mind for a South East USA road trip? Here are some reasons why a Georgia road trip should be part of your Southern USA road trip:
- discover why Atlanta is such a major hub for the region
- stroll the historic streets of Savannah
- visit the Tybee Island lighthouse
- explore Georgia’s beautiful coastline
- bite into a Georgia peach
Our list of Georgia road trip ideas was put together with the help of our travel expert friends and is sure to have lots of cool things you will enjoy doing on your Southern USA road trip.
Deep South Road Trip: Mississippi
When you think of the Deep South, you definitely think Mississippi.
Coastal Mississippi is very small and pretty much a continuation of the Gulf Shores in Alabama.
Ironically we have gone from Orlando through the Florida Panhandle to Mobile, Alabama. And we have gone from New Orleans to Houston.
I am determined to make up the nearly 150 miles that we seem to have missed between Mobile and New Orleans which seems packed full of things to see including Biloxi Mississippi. Biloxi is known for its casinos and fun atmosphere but it is also the home of Beauvoir, where Jefferson Davis retired at the end of his leadership as President of the Confederacy.
I also love Home Town on HGTV and am on a mission to visit Laurel Mississippi where it is based. Laurel looks so charming thanks to Ben and Erin Napier. ( Yes, Waco Texas is also on my wish list to visit which was made famous by former HGTV couple, Chip and Joanne Gaines).
Laurel, Mississippi is the setting for HGTV’s show “Home Town.” This is definitely a town on the rise and a place that you must stop on your southern road trip. Laurel was working on improving itself even before the show began and has seen great changes in recent years.
It was once a wealthy logging town and therefore has a multitude of charming and well built homes that were once falling into disrepair. Due to “Home Town” many of these homes have now been renovated. If you watch the show you can drive around and see some of your favorites.
The downtown area is being lovingly restored with new shops and restaurants opening regularly. You will find both men’s and women’s clothing stores with stylish pieces, furniture stores, lovely gift shops, toy stores, and antique stores.The people of Laurel are incredibly friendly and the restaurants are delicious.
The highlight is the town itself, besides the downtown area it is also known for its beautiful parks. In fact, Gardiner Park was designed by the same landscape architect who planned Central Park in New York City. You may also want to visit the Lauren Roger’s Museum of Art which is a very nice art museum to be located in such a small town.
There are a few hotels located in the town of Laurel although there are none in the historic district. If you want to stay in the historic area you will find many airbnbs for your stay! My favorite is The Laurel Cottages in downtown Laurel.
– by Karen and Emily of Wheels Up Enterprises
Natchez, Mississippi would be a wonderful stop on a southern road trip especially if you are interested in architecture, old houses, antiques, or American history.
Natchez is known for having more intact antebellum homes than anywhere else in the United States and many of them are open for touring. When you arrive in Natchez be sure to stop by the Natchez Visitors Center to pick up a list of which tours are available and purchase your tickets to view these homes. Stanton Hall, Rosalie Mansion, and Longwood are three of the most popular and are open most of the year.
The Visitors Center also houses an incredible, though sad, display to help you learn more about the history of slavery in and around Natchez.
But Natchez isn’t all about history. You will also find some incredible restaurants in town. Be sure and check out the restaurants in the “under the hill” neighborhood especially the Magnolia Grill or The Camp.
Shopping should also be on your list of things to do. The people of Natchez are in love with old furniture and china and silver and there are many antique stores in the downtown area to poke around in and possibly discover a new favorite piece.
The best places to stay in Natchez are in some of the old homes. Many of them take in guests. There are also some hotels on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River including the highly rated Natchez Grand Hotel and Suites.
– by Karen and Emily from Wheels Up Enterprises
Deep South Road Trip: Florida
There’s so much more to Florida than the ever popular Orlando theme parks. We have been to some of the more popular places like the Palm Beaches, Orlando, Miami and Key West, including a beautiful road trip from Miami to Key West.
Gainesville is an awesome place to visit for its diversity. As a college town where the University of Florida is located, there are a ton of very unique bars, and many that are cheap as dirt (the benefits of a college town!) Some even let you bring your dogs, which is fun whether you have a pup or not – I mean, who doesn’t love having a beer and petting a cute dog at the same time?There are some cool walks to do as well, on one of which you can spot gators. Just don’t get too close, and they won’t attack. I swear, they’re tame! (Don’t bring your dogs for that walk, though, as they do want to eat your dog, just not you!)Gainesville is filled with surprises, and awesome places to eat. Ever tried a falafel burger? You got it. As it’s a bit of a trendy place, there are loads of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, as well as something for the meat eaters out there – rest assured.Overall, Gainesville is incredibly diverse, plus it’s a small city so it’s easy to walk around even if you don’t have a car. I highly recommend visiting!
Beautiful Southwest Florida is as much a geographic region as it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Florida. Located in the sub-tropical southwest “paradise coast” of Florida, the region lies at the edge of the Florida Everglades giving visitors unparalleled nature and eco tourism opportunities.
The main cities of Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, and Fort Myers all offer great shopping, dining, and cultural activities centered around the Arts, and are surrounded by the small, still quaint fishing towns that offer a glimpse into the slower pace of Floridays gone past.
Island towns like Sanibel and Captiva islands, Pine Island, and Matlacha, are easy day trips from wherever you stay and perfect for paddling the calm bays and backwaters, browsing art galleries and eating fresh shrimp tacos for lunch.
It’s just a short drive to Miami for those needing more action, and a fun 3-hour boat ride to check out Key West for the day. But the biggest draw for visitors to southwest Florida is some of the best beaches in the country, with Caribbean-style turquoise water, soft white sand, and some of the best shelling in the world.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida
My family loves visiting the islands of Sanibel and Captiva on the West coast of Florida. They offer some of the Sunshine State’s most sublime scenery. Miles of white sand beaches, acres of wildlife refuge, and a low-key vibe make this part of Florida a true island oasis.Both Sanibel and Captiva have long been known as the best spots in the world to go shelling, but Sanibel in particular has a huge abundance of shells due to its unusual east-west orientation, allowing the shells to roll in and stay put. People come from far and wide to go shelling on Sanibel.Sanibel is also the home to the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, offering a ton of wildlife spotting, making the island a nature-lovers paradise. There is town life as well, but for the really funky part of the islands, head over the bridge to Captiva, where swirls of bright colours great you with quirky stores and bungalow-style restaurants and cafes.Captiva is fun and unique, with places like the wacky Bubble Room, which celebrates Christmas all-year round, and known for their delicious cakes. Sunset Beach cocktails can be had at famed Mucky Duck, a Captiva institution. Best of all, though, is just hanging at one of the islands’ many beautiful beaches, and feeling completely removed from the hustle and bustle.
One of the most famous ecosystems in the southeast US is the Florida Everglades, as it contains the largest subtropical wetland in the country. Over 1.5 million acres has been designated as Everglades National Park, and is home to more than 70 threatened or endangered species.The Everglades has such a unique ecology that it’s also received several international recognitions, including International Biosphere Reserve, Wetland of International Importance, and World Heritage Site (this place is special, y’all!).Since the Everglades is so shallow, with sawgrass marsh as its primary feature, motorboats can’t operate in most areas. So the most novel – and fun! – way to explore it is by airboat. Airboating is a great eco-friendly option, since there’s no submerged propeller to damage underwater plants and wildlife (that gets extra points from this sustainability-minded traveler). It’s also loud, windy, and fast!To get a little taste of what the Everglades has to offer, I recommend a tour with Everglades theRiver of Grass Adventures. Just an hour’s drive from Fort Lauderdale and a cost of $50 for a one-hour tour, it’s easily accessible and well-priced. The guides are super knowledgeable on ecology of the area, and there’s a good chance you’ll have some close encounters with local wildlife. Fingers crossed for an alligator sighting!
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is as much fun to visit as it is to say (oh-kuh’-fuh-noh’-kee). Residing along the Georgia and Florida border in the Southeast United States, this renowned swamp covers 438,000 acres. The look and feel of this swamp is almost prehistoric, as alligators inhabit the waterways and Spanish moss hangs from the trees.
If you are a wildlife lover, be sure to bring your binoculars and camera. Besides the thousands of alligators in the swamp you might also see black bears, otters water moccasins and a whole host of interesting birds, including the osprey, sandhill crane and anhinga.
You can explore Okefenokee Swamp at your leisure from your car or the wilderness walkways, or take one of the many tours offered by the Park Service. You can even take a train tour aboard “The Lady Suwanee” along the Okefenokee Railroad.
I very highly recommend getting out of your car and taking the Adventure Walk to the Observation Tower. This boardwalk sits low – nearly on top of the swamp so wildlife viewing is fantastic. The Observation Tower is 90 feet high and allows wonderful panoramic views of the swamp.
– by Cherri Megasko at Bucket List Travel Club
Florida For a Southern States Road Trip
When you think of Florida, you probably think of Disney and gators, but there is so much more to it than that. It’s home to the oldest city in the US (St Augustine), one of the least visited national parks in the country, natural springs with crystal clear water, and some of the best cave diving in the world. And if none of that interests you, it’s got the Kennedy Space Center, beaches galore, some of the best state parks, and one of the most stylish cities in the country.I love visiting Florida, because just driving three hours can feel like an entirely new place. There’s something for everyone whether you’re a city slicker or a beach bum, there’s a place for you.I love the colorful shops in Cocoa Beach, boating around Port Orange, relaxing at the Anastasia Island State Park, and exploring the springs.In Gainesville check out The Flying Biscuit for brunch and CYM for a delicious coffee.If you’re in St. Augustine, head to Kookaburra for a unique coffee experience and an awesome dinner at The Floridian after wandering the old city.Florida is an awesome place to visit because it is such a diverse state.
Deep South USA Road Trip: Louisiana
We have done a Louisiana road trip that went West across the state startingd with Mardi Gras in New Orleans and ending in Houston. This Louisiana road trip included visiting the famous River Road plantations and Lafayette in Cajun country.
Travel exerts give us five other perspectives on places you could include in your Louisiana road trip.
Deep South USA Road Trip: Texas
Eastern Texas is part of the Deep South culture but Texas itself is so big that it’s hard to contain in one culture. After all, it’s the Republic of Texas, once and forevermore.
Houston itself is a major international hub and a great place to start your Deep South USA road trip from the West side of the region.
Austin, the state capital of Texas, is a great place to visit and rightly deserves to be included in the Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Regions to visit in 2018.
Known predominantly for it’s eclectic music scene and the University of Texas at Austin, Austin also has enough parks and lakes to keep every outdoor enthusiast happy and are great for hiking, biking, swimming and kayaking.
It also has a blossoming food scene and currently serves up some of the best BBQ and Taco’s in the whole of the South! Add in an outdoor gallery and 2 annual music festivals, and you’ve got a city with something for everyone.
If you are planning a weekend in Austin, this guide has everything you need to know from things to do, where to stay and what to eat!
– by Vicki Garside at Make Time To See The World