Great Destinations in the Southeast to Rejuvenate, Relax and Have Fun!
By Jennifer Colosimo
Life’s busy calendar keeps us occupied, so it’s no surprise the vacation bug hits more than once a year. A little time away from everyday life does wonders for the soul. It refreshes you, relaxes you, and helps you refocus on what’s important—your health, family and friends. The Southeast offers plenty of ways to escape within a half-day’s drive from Atlanta. Whether unwinding for the weekend or seeking a week of adventure, here’s your road map for where to go and what to do when you get there.
Live The Lake Life
Perhaps most well visited by Atlantans is the massive Lake Lanier with lake life classics like high-end residences, rentable water sports and wide channels for larger-than-life boats.
Find a bevy of marinas and boat rentals with plenty of parking at Lake Allatoona. Its 12,000 acres of lake offers lots of water fun. For more entertainment, enjoy 14 parks for day trips and camping, family-friendly cabin rentals and restaurants to refuel for more fun in the sun.
Sharing borders with South Carolina, Lake Hartwell has plenty of swimming, fishing and recreation, rivaling perhaps Georgia’s best-kept lake secret all the way at the other end of the map. Built in 1925, Lake Blackshear sparkles near the Florida line as a water sport lover’s paradise and a freshwater fishing destination.
Just outside of Athens, Georgia and located in historic Greene County, visitors of Lake Oconee can choose to stay in adorable accommodations in town to explore the history still preserved, or book a suite at an upscale resort. The region offers cozy campgrounds, access to plenty of on-the-water activities, a renowned food and wine festival, outdoor concerts and more.
Whether jumping off the roof of a boathouse on private, pristine Lake Burton, water skiing between North Carolina and Georgia on blue-green Lake Chatuge, or taking a dip in Lake Rabun, these northern lakes offer postcard-worthy snapshots, and plenty of fun things to do.
Perhaps most picturesque is the crystal clear aquamarine waters of Lake Blue Ridge. This family-friendly area offers access to picnic and campsite accommodations, plus a home base for bike rides, easy shoreline hikes, fishing, kayaking, paddleboards and more. Spend a day hiking, antiquing, visiting wineries and popping into unique eateries.
Take (Us) to The River
The 93-mile Toccoa/Ocoee River runs from Tennessee into North Georgia and boasts roadside rafting headquarters every few miles for experienced (or more adventurous) rafters. The river also provides plenty of can’t-miss stops like the swinging bridge along The Benton MacKaye Trail.
The rapids of the 25-mile-long Chattooga River begin near the tristate area where Georgia meets both North and South Carolina, and is considered to be one of the best whitewater runs in the world. Another worldly nod is the Niagara of the South, or as locals know it, Tallulah Falls.
North Carolina’s Nantahala River offers rafters of all ages and experience levels 8 miles of sparkling water and varying rapids to tackle, as well as exhilarating Jeep tours, hiking, mountain biking and more.
On the mainstream Chattahoochee River, find canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and fly fishing.
In fact, there are several fly fishing schools that offer courses–quite literally–on the fly. Rent cabins on the river or pitch tents in one of the campgrounds along the banks to experience nature as intimately as your party wants.
Toes in the Sand
Head to Georgia and Alabama’s southern beaches, Florida’s panhandle and northeast coastline or the South Carolina coast.
Alabama’s beaches offer small-town charm with entertainment. From Orange Beach and Gulf Shores to Perdido Key, soak up the arts scene, history, adventure parks and white sand beaches. Try stand-up paddleboarding or windsurfing. End your day at the famous Flora-Bama Lounge for beachside cocktails, live music and fun.
Along Florida’s 30A, you’ll find some of the most sought-after residences for blue-green water and white sand beaches. Spots like Destin and Sandestin, Panama City Beach and Grayton Beach, Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach, Seagrove and Seaside are packed with all kinds of family-friendly adventure. Spend your days parasailing, jet skiing and shell collecting on the beach or shopping, golfing and seafood sampling in town, and at night, pack the itinerary with
Putt-Putt, amusement park thrill rides and dinner by sunset along the water.
Go east for Florida’s Forgotten Coast. From retro beaches like Carabelle and St. George Island to remote stays on Alligator Point, St. Theresa and more, there’s an address to book a stay on what may seem like your own private beach.
Nearby Apalachicola—aka the land of friendly people—is world-famous for fresh oysters served any way you can dream up, plus the charm of local shops, galleries and rich maritime history make the ambience as good as the freshly shucked delicacies.
Across the state, South Georgia meets Florida’s northeast coastline to offer classic beach destinations with fun, quirky towns like St. Simons and Jekyll Island in Georgia or Fernandina and St. Augustine below the state line. St. Augustine is ripe with history and small town Fernandina serves to-die-for seafood. In St. Simons, rent bikes for hours of exploring before dinner by the pier.
On South Carolina’s coastline, play a round of golf on the gorgeous Kiawah Island or take an easy walk across the beach on quiet, wildlife-rich Fripp Island. Opt for adventure and take a banana boat ride or go parasailing at Myrtle Beach. Or take a sunset dolphin river cruise around Hilton Head Island.
Escape to The Mountains
From countless waterfalls to day hikes on the Appalachian Trail, the mountains provide bucket-list-worthy stops to schedule any vacation around.
In this region, bed and breakfasts abound, as do quiet, secluded cabins, family campsites, a handful of luxury resorts and even a casino. You can choose super, small-town vibes in cities like Blairsville, Helen, which has Tray Mountain, and Hiawassee in Georgia, North Carolina’s Hayesville, Franklin and more.
Larger map dots, like Blue Ridge boast a bevy of breweries, walkable shops and eateries, plus a drive-in theater and access to plenty of river activities or day hikes. Chattanooga is a classic destination with traditional stops like Lookout Mountain, the Choo Choo, the
Tennessee Aquarium, Rock City and more.
Or visit the tiny Tennessee town of Roan Mountain and walk through its beautiful hardwood forest. In Asheville, fill your itinerary with art museums, eclectic eats, chocolate shops and countless brewery tours before or after your day spent at nearby Biltmore Estate.