The days of making a lazy Sunday afternoon drive just for the heck of it might have vanished elsewhere, but not in the South, where miles of marshes, wetlands (and badlands!), stunning green hills, and rolling mountains regularly induce the automobile inclined to get behind the wheel. While the topography may vary the pleasure principle remains constant. Beauty rewards drivers in ways unexpected and uplifting throughout these, our favorite scenic Southern drives:
This drive winds along Ashley River Road and offers a glimpse into the erstwhile generous mansions that Charleston, S.C., is known for along with the color (in the late fall) and beauty just outside the city limits. Throughout the 11 mile drive you'll develop an imaginative eye for what the city was like centuries ago. Take a lunch and plan for a kick back day. Plantation and mansion tour opportunities are plentiful, and historic churches provide a window into the South's faith history.
The Oscar Wigington Scenic Byway straddles the South Carolina border and winds through the Blue Ridge Mountain peaks, and is another one of those drives that's best done during the change of seasons. Though only 15 miles, this drive can seem like it goes on forever. The hiking is plentiful, and the Chattooga River winds along the way. Nearby camp grounds at Oconee State Park are there for those who want to spend the night under a starlit sky.
The scenic drive along U.S. 64 here offers something for everyone. Those who want to while away the time are rewarded with stunning vistas of forests, surging rivers, waterfalls, lakes, creeks and gorges. For the same reason, dedicated outdoorsmen and women will be equally inspired, so numerous are hiking trails, rafting routes, mountain biking and climbing at a renown local outfitter (where you can also stay).
The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (and the Shenandoah National Park) to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. You can travel over 400 miles and never grow tired, so plentiful are the stunning, ever-changing landscapes that embrace you. There are stops all along to way to hike, picnic, learn about local Appalachian culture or simply stand and take in the breathtaking scope of where the earth touches the sky.
Drive along the St. Bernard Scenic Byway in St. Bernard Parish, located several miles outside of New Orleans, and you'll see a whole new side of the state. The Mississippi River winds through here, which gives way to history found in tiny fishing villages, (go with an outfitter for a guided experience) historic churches, plantations and cemeteries. There's no shortage of Southern hospitality either as roadside stands and little mom and pop cafes (serving local fresh catches!) are found throughout the route.
Scenic 7 Byway, all 300 miles, is the rock star of scenic drives. Start in Hot Springs (after a dip in a thermal spring to really assimilate an "at ease" state of mind), then head out through the Ouachita National Forest. Before you a vista opens up – mountains, valleys, lakes (great swimming in summer), flowers, mom and pop small towns, waterfall cascades – God's country. There's a delicious lunch stop along the way with a lookout to the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks.
A 50 mile drive along the Cordell Hull Highway in the southwest part of the state takes you through the heart of what is often overlooked in these parts: green valleys and the great frontier. The treasure of the drive is Mammoth Caves National Park, home to the world's longest known cave system. And for those who love to canoe or go boating, the drive ends with a trip through theOld Mulkey Meetinghouse State Historic Site – arts, atmosphere, great picnic areas and historic buildings.
The short drive along the Cheat Mountain Backway is quite rewarding. As you'll learn once you get to the top of the mountain, Civil War troops camped out here. Valley views stretch on, and there's a fun side trip waiting here for the adventurous at theMonongahela National Forest. Besides lookout points, hiking, fishing and mountain climbing can be found here.