American castles and natural wonders: A Southeast road trip

A 3,700-mile road trip through the beautiful south.

  • 18
  • 63:35
  • 3,742 mi
  • $450

Created by Holiday Inn - August 18th 2016

We've spent the past summer partnering with Holiday Inn to find the most epic road trip. To decide on the final route, we had travelers show us their favorite places to visit.

The American Southeast has an amazing cultural heritage with deep roots in the antebellum period. Southern hospitality, Southern charm, and good ol' Southern cuisine are hallmarks of this region. It's also home to quite a few notable roadside attractions and geological wonders. So, grab some fried green tomatoes and a homemade sweet tea, and prepare for an epic road trip through the South.

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4.2

New Orleans, LA

You won't find any city in America that has more soul than New Orleans. Feel the pulse of this colorful and culture-packed city as you explore its heart: the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is the main drag through the French Quarter; it's where you'll find the most famous bars, the fanciest Cajun-food eateries, and the most interesting people-watching. Grab drinks at Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, visit the Old Absinthe House, order a hurricane from Pat O'Brien's (in a to-go cup, since drinking on the street is allowed here), catch some New Orleans-style jazz at Fritzel's, and just enjoy the nonstop party vibes.

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Hot Springs National Park

After New Orleans, you'll probably want to make your next road-trip stop nice and relaxing. Recover at Hot Springs National Park, the most unique national park in the whole country. This area of geothermal goodness was mostly developed by the 1930s, and most of the 47 pools were converted into bathhouses. Many of the bathhouse buildings have been repurposed (one is a visitor center for the park and another is a totally cool brewery/ice cream parlor), but a few remain open so that you can have an old-school spa experience. A dip in the warm, mineral-rich water will set you back only about $30, and it's totally relaxing.

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4.5

Eureka Springs, AR

Thorncrown Chapel is one of those places that looks so pretty, it's hard to believe that it's real. Located in an Ozark woodland outside Eureka Springs, Arkansas, its distinctive, award-winning architecture (of mostly glass and wood) really makes this gem unique. You can visit for a service, or just stop by and do some meditating in a beautiful setting.

3
Graceland

Head a little further north to Memphis, birthplace of rock music and hometown of the blues and soul. In between live blues concerts on Beale Street and BBQ feasts at one of the city's many smokehouses, take a moment to tour Graceland, the beloved former home of Elvis Presley. The tour lets you visit the notoriously kitschy Jungle Room, the pool room, the music room, and several other spots on the property, as well as the grave of The King himself. And, while you're here, you can see his collection of private planes and cars, the archives, and tons of outfits and artifacts from his life.

4
Mammoth Cave National Park

Deep below the fields and forests of Kentucky lies an underground wonder: the world's largest system of caves. 400 miles of caverns and tunnels make up Mammoth Cave National Park, which can be explored through one of the many tours offered by the NPS rangers. Lantern tours, spelunking expeditions, and low-key history tours allow everyone to experience the truly massive cave!

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4.3

Lookout Mountain, GA

Rock City is a classic roadside attraction in Lookout Mountain. The highlight of this spot is Lover's Leap, a scenic overlook with a sweeping view into seven states. Kids will love the Fairytale Caverns and the Mother Goose Village, and adults will have a blast on the swinging bridge. Plus, you can find restaurants and little souvenir shops here as well. It's a little kitschy, but it's pure road-trip fun!

6
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the most popular national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains are a must-see for any American. Whether you're taking a dip in the river at the Sinks, learning about the past and culture of the Smokies at a historic cabin, exploring the abandoned ghost-town resort of Elkmont, going for a scenic drive around Cades Cove, or taking a hike and enjoying the view from Clingmans Dome, the Smokies are a special place where you can really reconnect with nature.

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3.8

Gatlinburg, TN

More about Elkmont... Right outside the still-active Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Elkmont Historic District. The creepiest parts of Elkmont, like the large former Wonderland Hotel, are a short hike away up a gravel road, but the area generally referred to as the Elkmont Historic District offers plenty of super creepy abandoned cabins to explore, all easily accessible from a paved road and the Appalachian Clubhouse parking lot.

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4.5

Asheville, NC

The Biltmore Estate is the biggest and most opulent home in America... and you can tour it! Built in the late nineteenth century by the wealthy George Vanderbilt, the 250 room French chateau-inspired estate and its grounds will take you most of a day to explore. You can go into 40 of the rooms, all through the extensive gardens, and into the estate's village, where you'll find a winery and some shops. It's not cheap, but it's a (comparatively) small price to pay for a taste of the ultra-rich lifestyle.

10
Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is another iconic Southern stop. If you only do one thing here, make it a mountain hike. The peaks here aren't too intense, but the views from the top are incredibly rewarding: Stony Man and Old Rag are two great climbs. You can camp out, tour the small historic towns around the valley, visit Luray Caverns, and check out the many wineries in the area as well!

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National Mall

You could spend weeks in Washington D.C. and still not scratch the surface of all of the cool things to do in our nation's capital. The National Mall is a great place to start, though: The massive green space is lined by distinctive government buildings (such as the domed Capitol Building), monuments (the Lincoln Memorial is at one end), and free Smithsonian Museums (the Natural History Museum is especially awesome).

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Colonial Williamsburg

You won't find a more detailed living-history village than Colonial Williamsburg. A visit here lets you step back in time to the American Revolution. You can walk the streets and soak in the history without paying for admission, but a ticket gets you access to the shops, reenactments, demonstrations, exhibits, and tons more. You'll want to spend at least a day here... feel free to rent costumes and really enjoy your chance to experience the past!

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4.5

Nags Head, NC

The coastal Carolinas offer some of the South's best beaches... and with beaches come lighthouses! Bodie Island's lighthouse is about as classic as they come, with a black-and-white-striped paint scheme and an incredible view from the top. The Outer Banks are a great little place to vacation!

14
Forsyth Park

Savannah is easily one of the most beautiful cities in the country: The antebellum architecture, gnarled and Spanish moss-draped oaks, and rich history give it a charming vibe that's impossible to recreate anywhere else. The highlight of the city has to be Forsyth Park: The fountains, gardens, and history have made it so iconic that it's been featured in movies such as "Forest Gump" and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

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3.7

Silver Springs, FL

Take a break from the Florida heat and cool off at one of the country's best swimming holes: Juniper Springs. The crystal-clear water and lush woodland setting make for a magical experience. Plus, there's a campground and a historic grist mill here, so you can easily make a day out of a visit here. Bring along an inner tube and take a relaxing float!

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Everglades National Park

The Everglades are a unique ecosystem that can be found only in Florida: In fact, it's the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States! Rare, endangered species call this habitat home, and you can observe them from one of the many trails, or on a boat tour of the marshy wilderness.

4.3

Marathon, FL

End your adventure by driving across the epic Seven Mile Bridge along the Overseas Highway into Key West. The bridge offers views across the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, and if you're lucky, you might spy a dolphin or two. The Florida Keys are the perfect place to unwind after a truly epic Southern road trip. Take a picture at the Southernmost Point buoy, and head into Sloppy Joe's for a daiquiri to celebrate!

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The best time for a road trip in the south: It can get very hot and humid during the summer, and there are more crowds since schools are on break. From August to November you could encounter hurricanes. A great time to travel to avoid crowds and inclement weather is March through May.

Holiday Inn

We're searching for amazing places across America to create America’s most epic road trip. Get inspired by your fellow travelers’ journeys below, use the link above to share your favorite spots with us, and you can enter to win your next epic journey!