Forget revolutionary rock n’ roll, cheese grits, and sweet tea — you should really be heading to the South for its unforgettable roads. Between the soft Appalachian mountains, humid coasts, sultry lowlands, and quirky roadside towns, there’s plenty of scenery here carved out by stretches of asphalt for every type of road tripper.
Got your styrofoam cup of Cajun Boiled peanuts and glass bottle of Coke? Good. You’re ready to hit the road.
Florida State Road A1A
This route hugs the eastern edge of Florida from Miami to the Georgia-Florida line. It’s a two-lane, 72-mile highway that takes its drivers past historic sites and reenactments, forts, lighthouses, and the Fountain of Youth. It’s also where you can visit the Pellicer Creek Aquatic Preserve, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Faver-Dykes State Park, Matanzas Inlet, and the Intracoastal Waterway. Stop by the PGA Tour National Headquarters and ATP International Tennis Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, and swim with dolphins, turtles, 300-pound groupers, and manta rays in Marineland.
But if you’re into historic, hippie, and colony vibes, St. Augustine will be your best stop. As the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States, St. Augustine is home to an abundance of historical sites. Walk along the Bridge of Lions and through the City Gates before grabbing a beer at The Bar With No Name. You’re in Florida after all, so it’s time to chill out.
Charleston to Savannah
Between Charleston and Savannah is a stretch of road lined with massive oaks, coastlines, regional flavors and smells, and all the best seafood you can stomach. Just over 200 miles, you’ll also see plenty of islands, antebellum towns, plantations, forests, swamps, marshlands, and rivers. And, of course, in true Southern fashion, it’s meant to be driven slow.
Starting in Charleston, look out for beautiful churches, antebellum architecture, historic landmarks, and gardens. From there, you’ll go to Edisto Island by heading south on Highway 17 before taking the exit on Highway 174 to an oak-lined road going to the coast. After Edisto Island, go on to Beaufort — a town with romantic vibes, friendly locals, and a peaceful atmosphere. Hunting Island and Hilton Head Island are also worth checking out before reaching the country’s most charming city of Savannah.
Drink a beer on the cobblestone streets, walk around the squares, get a bowl of shrimp and grits, and learn about the rich history of the town. Be sure to stretch your legs from the road trip by getting out of the car and exploring Savannah by foot. It’s the country’s first planned city, so it’s pretty impossible to get lost. Just always know where Abercorn is, and if you hit River Street, you’ve gone too far. And, for the love of all things itchy, don’t touch the Spanish moss.
The Natchez Trace Parkway
This is a two-lane, curvy, restricted access national parkway with no billboards and hardly any traffic. Lined with thick woods, a lake, and a couple of swamps, you’ll see wild turkeys, rabbits, deer, and tons of birds. There’s also stops for short hikes to waterfalls and spots to read about the history of the parkway. 444-mile long, it runs from Nashville to Natchez and is a safe space for wildlife to move between national forests and state parks. It also contains a selection of plant species so diverse, there are representative habitats from four ecosystem provinces along the route.
Heads up, though — it gets dark with lack of traffic and lights, so try to start the parkway as early in the day as possible.
Delta Blues Highway
Highway 61 forms a sultry route along the Mississippi River where the Delta Blues were sung into life. Along the way, you’ll hear soul, gospel, and R&B being picked, plucked, and played from cars, porches, and churches. Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley all rode the Delta Blues Highway, so this road trip means driving in the tracks of some of the world’s most legendary musicians.
Start in Memphis by hitting up the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which includes more than 2,000 exhibits, videos, photographs, and instruments in honor of the famous Stax sound. For live blues, head to Wild Bill’s, and for barbecue — because who would ever go to Memphis without eating barbecue — hit up Rendezvous for some dry ribs.
Next, you’ll go to Tunica, which is like a Mississippi version of Las Vegas with its casino-based economy. If you don’t spend all your time (and money) here, you’ll head to Clarksdale next, which is where you go to for barbecued chicken, tunes and jams, and to see the legendary blues crossroads where the devil waits with his guitar. While in Clarksdale, be sure to check out some live music at the blues and folk art store Cat Head or grab a drink at Morgan Freeman’s nightclub Ground Zero Blues Club before going to the Delta Blues Museum right next door. Next stop is Rosedale, a town sang about by the famed blues musician Robert Johnson, and last, you’ll hit Vicksburg.
Congrats. Consider yourself a true connoisseur of Delta Blues.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a quintessential Southern road trip and probably one of the most beautiful. Winding around mountains and Appalachian highlands for 469 miles, you start at the southern end of the Shenandoah National Park and follow the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Great Smokies. While any time of the year is beautiful for the drive, the best season is autumn when the dogwoods and gum trees turn red against the yellow hickories and green firs.
In addition to wildlife and amazing views, there’s also plenty of hiking to do along the parkway such as Humpback Rocks and the Yankee Horse parking area, where you can learn about an old logging railroad and hike the short trail to Wigwam Falls. The most popular part of the parkway is the Peaks of Otter section, which is where you can get information at the visitor’s center, fill up your tank, grab a bite to eat, or find a place to sleep for the night. You can also check out beautiful views for sunrise and sunset in addition to hiking the two-mile loop to Fallingwater Cascades. From there, you’ll wind around another 100 miles before crossing the North Carolina border. Once you reach the border, you’re at the highest and best part of the Blue Ridge Parkway — 250 miles of skirting mountain ranges before ended up at Great Smoky National Park. Some points of interest along the way include the Museum of North Carolina Minerals and Mount Mitchell State Park.
Tail of the Dragon
Nobody tackles the Tail of the Dragon for its scenery; you do it for the adrenaline. Only 11 miles long, this one may be the shortest road trip on the list, but what it lacks in length and scenery, it makes up for in 318 twists and turns through thick woods along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. There are no intersecting roads, no houses, and no buildings — only curves tilted like a racetrack. Stop at the intersection of US 129 and NC 28 for pictures, food, or a place to sleep, which you can do all of at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. You should also check out the Tail of the Dragon Store across the street for souvenirs and photos to commemorate your road trip.
Travelers on the road claim to have heard ghosts while driving at night, which isn’t too far-fetched considering the road claims, on average, one life a year. But the legends and reputation of the road have gone far past North Carolina and Tennessee. The road was featured in The Fugitive with Two-Lane Blacktop showcasing it at the end of the movie.
Be careful on this one. Because how else will you be able to take your obligatory survival photo with the dragon statue? Buckle up and take it slow.