America's Best Day Hikes: South

Take is stunning rivers and waterfalls, killer views, and amazing wildlife in Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Texas with these hikes.

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Mt. Cammerer, NC/TN 12 miles (Difficult)

Head to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for one of the South’s hardest–and most rewarding–climbs. The out-and-back up 4,928-foot Mt. Cammerer gains almost 2,500 feet, ascending slopes that drop precipitously away for views of the Pigeon River Gorge and neighboring peaks, like 6,621-foot Mt. Guyot. Start on the Chestnut Branch Trail; connect with the AT.

Season March-November

West Rim Trail, GA 4.8 miles (Easy)

Want awesome views for little effort? This easy loop in Cloudland Canyon State Park offers sweeping vistas of the Cumberland Plateau’s flat-topped peaks and forests. The path hugs the cliffline of a 300-million-year-old gulch, then descends through maples, oaks, and flowering dogwoods. Bonus: A .8-mile spur leads to waterfalls on Daniel Creek.

Season Year-round

Rhododendron Trail/Mt. Rogers, VA 7.2 miles (Moderate)

Climb Virginia’s highest point, 5,729-foot Mt. Rogers, on this steep, wildly diverse round-trip. Start at Massie Gap and cross an exposed lowland bald, a dense evergreen forest, and Rhododendron Gap, which explodes with color in June. Wild ponies roam the open meadowlands.

Season March-November

Info (276) 579-7092

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North Fork Mountain Trail, WV 12 miles (Moderate) With steady thermals and a profusion of rocky promontories, this area of Monongahela National Forest draws numerous raptors, including peregrine falcons and bald eagles. Add expansive ridgetop (yes, bird’s-eye) views of the white-gray cliffs of Seneca Rocks, and you’ll feel like your head is on a swivel as you try to take in all the sights on this one-way hike.

Season March-November

Info (304) 257-4488

Red River Gorge, KY 10.6 miles (Moderate)

Score the best views of Red River Gorge’s wild geology–it boasts more than 100 natural arches–on the Koomer Ridge to Rough Trail loop. Save your lunch for the hike’s midpoint at Gray’s Arch, a 50-by-80-foot sandstone buttress. The second half includes a mix of forest hiking and rock scrambles.

Season Year-round

Info (606) 663-8100



Cascades National Recreation Trail, VA 4 miles (Easy)

Need to cool off, fast? This out-and-back hike near Blacksburg climbs 700 feet over two miles of rock- and root-studded terrain, quickly reaching a cold-water oasis at Cascades Falls. Here, Little Stoney Creek dumps 66 feet into a wide hollow; the spring-fed water remains chilly year-round, which keeps the swimming hole from getting overcrowded despite the easy access. Season Summer for swimming, winter to see the frozen falls

Info (540) 552-4641

Chinnabee Silent Trail, AL 11.8 miles (Moderate)

As the name of this trail implies, you won’t hear more than a gurgling creek and chirping cicadas on the round-trip from Lake Chinnabee to 2,005-foot Talladega Mountain. Two miles from the start you’ll pass waterfalls at Devil’s Den and Cheaha Falls–and their respective swimming holes–but save your dip for after the 1,000-foot climb up Talladega.

Season March-November

Info (256) 362-2909

Chattooga Trail, SC 13.3 miles (Difficult)

The iconic Chattooga River is the domain of solitude-loving hikers and trout-loving anglers along this rugged stretch of trail (and boat-free river). The one-way route hugs the river, save for a three-mile stretch where the water picks up some class V teeth in narrow Rock Gorge. Start at the trailhead on SC 28.

Season Year-round Info (864) 638-9569

Tallulah Gorge, SC 4 miles (Moderate)

This out-and-back dives to the bottom of a 1,000-foot gorge that shelters rare regional treasures like the green salamander–and a sweet swimming hole at Bridal Veil Falls. Season April-October Info (706) 754-7970


Best Wildlife

Long Pine Key Nature Trail, FL 13.3 miles (Moderate)

See the unique forest-and-wetlands habitat–and diverse wildlife–of Everglades National Park on this long-but-level hike. Islands of slash pines dot the marshy grassland, providing refuge for mammals like white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, and the endangered Florida panther. (The latter is rarely seen; fewer than 70 panthers remain in the wild.) The first five miles of this lollipop loop traverse a former logging grade open to hikers and bikers; then it follows a hiker-only trail through open sawgrass prairie. Pack bug repellent.

Season Winter and spring



Seven Hollows Trail, AR

More Southwest than South, this 4.5-mile loop in Petit Jean State Park features sandstone arches.

Turkey Creek Trail, TX

Big Thicket National Preserve has been called “America’s Ark” for the biodiversity of its swamp/forest/plains melange. This 15-mile hike samples it all (start near Warren on FM 1943, head south). Info