Guide to Southeast Road Trips


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From Washington, D.C.

Assateague Island National Seashore

KaraSuva from Pixabay

Assateague Island National Seashore is located on a remote, windswept barrier island known for sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests, coastal bays, and of course—its wild horses. Well known to people who have never even been to the island, the "wild" horses on Assateague are actually descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. Sounds a little bit like the effect a vacation to Assateague Island might have on us all, doesn’t it? Don't miss the chance to camp at the Bayside Drive-In Campground, which makes up in sunset views what it lacks in hook-ups. Tents, trailers, and RVs are welcome at this dry campsite where you just might awaken to find a new four-legged friend with checking you out. 


Prime Hook

Richard Lee via Unsplash

If you're looking for a destination that's really for the birds (migratory, that is), head to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, a 10,144 acre refuge officially established in 1963 as a migratory bird sanctuary. Its salt and freshwater marshes, ponds and impoundments, wooded swamps, upland grasslands and forests are home to an astonishing number of plant and animal species. While you're there, explore the southern Delaware waterways on a cruise or water tour offered by Captain David Green & his family and the crew of Cape Water Tours and Taxi. Along the Broadkill River lies Steamboat Landing, where cabins, seasonal sites, and transit sites are abundant, and where fishing, crabbing, clamming, and waterskiing are accessible directly from the campground's two boat docks.

New River Gorge

Ashley Knedler via Unsplash

Don't let the name fool you. The New River is actually one of the oldest rivers in North America, and the New River Gorge is a National Park that offers as many glimpses into the cultural history of the Appalachian Mountains as it does the unique and diverse natural habitats. Experience the wild ride of a guided raft trip with West Virginia Adventures, where you can choose among gentle float trips, intermediate trips, or extreme trips. Stay at the Breeze Hill Campground, where you can choose from primitive sites or RV sites with full hookups. With facilities that are complete with a newly built shower house, bathrooms with hot water, and electricity, you'll find it easy to unwind after your day spent exploring the New River. 


Rohan Makhecha via Unsplash

Head west from D.C. for about three hours to find remarkable forests, deep valleys and the wildness that's become West Virginia's hallmark. Circleville, like the rest of Pendleton County's communities, is a decidedly small town and a welcome getaway from the bustle of busier city streets. It's an ideal base camp for caving, ziplining above gorges, and rock climbing. The Via Ferrata at NROCKS offers a mile of fixed-anchor, professionally-guided rock climbing where you’ll gain 1085 feet in elevation, cross a suspension bridge that is 150 feet high and 200 feet long, and reach exposed heights of 280 feet. It's also an ideal place to explore some of West Virginia's 5,000 caves. Equipped with a helmet, a headlamp, and a whistle, beginners can expect to walk, stoop, and crawl while learning about geology, cave formation, underground navigation, and basic safety. Head to Back Ridge Shadows' 6 RV Sites—equipped with 30 and 50 amp electrical service—near the highest point in the state at Spruce Knob. You'll enjoy hiking on nearby trails, biking, boating, hunting, and fishing. 

Natural Bridge State Park

Va. Dpt. of Conservation & Recreation via flickr

Virginia's Natural Bridge State Park has a jaw-dropping 215-foot tall limestone Natural Bridge that was carved out by Cedar Creek, accompanied by beautiful forests and rolling meadows. Seven miles of hiking trails, including Cedar Creek Trail that leads from the park’s Visitor Center under the bridge to the Monacan Indian Village and Lace Falls with its 30-foot cascade, makes exploring the park a breeze. Located only five miles from Natural Bridge, Camp Jellystone features cabin rentals, tent sites and RV camping. You'll love its proximity to the state park, and the kids will swoon over its jumping pillow, wagon rides, beach, pool, and mini-golf, among other amusements. 


From Atlanta

Nantahala National Forest

Sebastian del Val from Pixabay

The Nantahala National Forest in Southwestern North Carolina is defined by its soaring mountains and plunging gorges. "Nantahala" is a Cherokee word meaning "land of the noonday sun," a fitting name for the Nantahala Gorge, where the sun only reaches the valley floor at midday. See the terrain from a unique perspective on a family raft trip with the Nantahala Outdoor Center for full or half-day trips and six different rivers to choose from. For a campsite that gives you access to hiking In the Smokies, rafting with NOC, exploring nearby Cherokee or Gatlinburg, and more, the Grumpy Bear Campground is just what you need.


Brevard & Pisgah National Forest

Vimal V. via Yelp

You know what they say. When the mountains are calling, you must go. And families launching out for adventure from Atlanta have an incredible mountain destination with Brevard and the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina only a couple of hours away. Pisgah National Forest was once the property of George W. Vanderbilt and is home to old-growth forests and the highest mountain peaks east of the Mississippi. With 100,000 acres of public lands, 1,000 miles of hiking trails, 300 miles of single-track mountain biking and over 250 waterfalls, Brevard is an unspoiled mountain town where you can experience countless adventures. But don't experience the area's natural beauty from afar. Pay a visit to Sliding Rock, a natural waterslide where you can slip-slide a day away in icy, rushing mountain waters. Keep an eye out for white squirrels, which are said to have descended from an escaped carnival squirrel, while you're in Brevard. The Davidson River Campground offers camping, including several loops of shaded campsites, and easily accessible hiking trails, fishing spots, waterfalls and other attractions within Pisgah National Forest. It lies just four miles west of the town of Brevard and less than an hour from the city of Asheville.

Jekyll Island

S. Massey

With miles of wide, flat beaches, bike trails through Spanish-moss-covered live oaks, and wildlife interactions at world-class facilities, Jekyll Island is a family vacation jackpot only four and a half hours from Atlanta. It was also the private playground to the industrial age's wealthiest barons, so the historic village isn't too shabby, either. Any visit to Jekyll must include a trip to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where visitors can learn about endangered sea turtles through eco-experiences led by biologists and researchers. There's even a sea turtle hospital where you can meet the "patients," learn about what put them there, and see how the center is making a difference in their future. The Jekyll Island Campground has 179 total campsites (167 full hook-up sites and 12 primitive tent sites) and is nestled among the maritime forest of Jekyll Island. Located only a half mile from Driftwood Beach and Clam Creek Picnic Area, including the fishing pier, it's a great place to park.

Grover Island

Gail Hampshire via flickr

Few have heard of tiny Grover Island just off the coast of St. Mary's, Georgia. Its 400 acres within Crooked River in Camden County is just four miles from Cumberland Island National Seashore and its awe-inspiring wild horses. It was the first national forest preserve to be established in the United States in 1799—preceding our national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges, and national forests. In addition to its beautiful forests and abundant wildlife, Grover is rich in archaeology, containing aboriginal sites from centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America. Stay at Crooked River campsite, where you'll be surrounded by palmetto trees and Spanish moss-draped oaks. Head out from your campsite to explore a nature trail that winds through forest and salt marsh, and glimpse gopher tortoises, fiddler crabs, herons and other birds.

Amelia Island

Unlike remote Grover Island, Florida's Amelia Island is a developed island escape where you can still enjoy an uncrowded beach, wide-open outdoor spaces, and comb for shark's teeth in the sand. You'll find quaint restaurants, breweries, and entertainment In the historic downtown area, but don't miss a chance to explore Fort Clinch. This state park includes a historic Union fort during the Civil War, and visitors can explore its rooms, take a closer look at the row of cannons aimed across the St. Mary's River at Georgia, and participate in ranger-led discussions. Outside of the fort, over a thousand acres await your exploration. Located along the northeast tip of the park, just steps from the ocean, Atlantic Beach Campground offers 21 RV and six tent-only sites that are surrounded by snow-white sand dunes and sunny sites.


– Shelley Massey


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