Walk away from the AT
Named for the Appalachian Trail‘s reputed father, Georgia’s 91-mile Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) skirts marble-flecked gneiss ridges, waterfalls, and rhododendrons along the Appalachians’ western crest. An 85-mile leg extending into the Smokies is in the works.
Step off from Bush Head Gap for a 2-day, 12.8-mile Tennessee Valley Divide stomp along the BMT’s toughest terrain. After 8.6 roller-coaster miles with zero public road crossings, crash at Holloway Gap, an eden of lush ferns and mature hardwoods. The next day, conquer Flat Top Mountain’s 3,792-foot fern-covered summit, and descend to Dyer Gap. See www.bmta.org for trail maps.
Camp in a Carolina treehouse
South Carolina’s Edisto River has the nation’s longest stretch of free-flowing black water. The current slides at a sleepy 2 to 4 mph, attracting hawks, wood storks, and lazing gators. When the water’s high, you can paddle from the river proper out among creepy-cool old-growth cypress trees.
In the heart of the Edisto River Refuge, start off at a protected tupelo swamp and paddle 22 miles over 2 languid days. Crash in a secluded treehouse set among oak branches and fall asleep to the serenade of swamp-loving frogs and owls. Carolina Heritage Outfitters (www.canoesc.com) rents the boats and the digs.
Lose yourself in wild Alabama
The 180,000-acre William B. Bankhead National Forest is Alabama’s largest-and its 90 miles of trail cut through “hollers” that shelter yellow poplars, blooming bluebells, and 70-foot waterfalls that plunge into rocky basins.
From the Thompson Creek trailhead, take Trails 206 and 209 past a massive old-growth poplar to Bee Branch Canyon. Set up camp and explore hardwood forests, sandstone bluffs, and a 75-foot-long cave known as “the fat man’s squeeze.” Or embark on a full-day trek by taking Trail 204 to a network of paths where white orchids bloom in spring. (205) 489-5111