These Are the Best Road Trips in the South
Antebellum plantations, bourbon trails, oak-lined alleys, and coastal enclaves
There's a reason so many famous films are set in the South, where you'll find scenic locations such as Savannah's manicured parks (Forrest Gump) and Seaside's postcard-perfect town square (The Truman Show). One of the best ways to see the highlight reel yourself is to embark on a road trip, where you'll find antebellum plantations, quirky beach towns, and colonial settlements as well as diverse landscapes like the vineyards of Texas Hill Country and the alpine peaks of the Appalachian Mountains. And when you're ready for a city fix, there's the country music capital of Nashville or the food metropolis of New Orleans to satisfy your appetite for the best tunes and barbecue. Without further ado, these are the most scenic routes in the South.
Key West to Amelia Island, Florida
Start: Key West, Florida
End: Amelia Island, Florida
Distance: 557 miles
In the country song "Outta Here," Kenny Chesney croons, "Come on baby let's get outta here, cruise down A1A." Florida's eastern highway hugs the Atlantic coast and stretches from Key West on the southern tip up to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, below the Georgia border. Along the way, pull over at whatever beach strikes your fancy. You might choose to learn about St. Augustine's rich history (established in 1565 by Spanish explorers), visit the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, catch some surf at Melbourne Beach, or take part in Miami's famed nightlife scene.
Bourbon Trail, Kentucky
Start: Lexington, Kentucky
End: Louisville, Kentucky
Distance: 130 miles
You can't go to Kentucky and not hit the bourbon trail (as long as you have a designated driver, of course). The top distilleries—Town Branch, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and Angel's Envy, among others—dot the rolling hills between Lexington, Elizabethtown, and Louisville. At each location, bourbon pilgrims can learn about the process and taste the fruit of master distillers' labor. Along the way, you'll also take in the state's best barbecue and bluegrass music.
Skyline Drive, Virginia
Start: Front Royal, Virginia
End: Rockfish Gap, Virginia
Distance: 105 miles
Skyline Drive slices through the center of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The 105-mile ridge road ascends some of the most stunning Appalachian peaks and snakes through a landscape of wetlands and waterfalls. Pro tip: Don't miss the 93-foot Overall Run Falls, the park's tallest cascade, which overlooks Massanutten Mountain and Shenandoah Valley.
Scenic Highway 30A, Florida
Start: Sandestin, Florida
End: Inlet Beach, Florida
Distance: 24 miles
Although most tourists associate the Sunshine State with Disney or Miami, the Florida locals know this secret hideaway in the Panhandle between Pensacola and Panama City Beach. From I-98 near Sandestin, merge onto Scenic Highway 30A, an artery that strings together a cluster of beach towns on the Gulf of Mexico. Each enclave has its own personality, from the quirky art community of Grayton Beach, the postcard-perfect Seaside (as seen in The Truman Show), and the design-forward Alys Beach, which hosts the Digital Graffiti Festival every May. Once you get to the Dutch-inspired hamlet of Rosemary Beach, drop your bags at The Pearl Hotel and end the evening over rooftop sundowners at Pescado Seafood Grill.
Houston, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana
Start: Houston, Texas
End: New Orleans, Louisiana
Distance: 347 miles
Strike out from the sprawling city of Houston, Texas, and head east along I-10. Mosey along the 347-mile drive to New Orleans, making sure to experience the region's treasures on the way. For instance, you can canoe the swampy Lake Martin, listen to toe-tapping zydeco music in Lafayette, and wander the antebellum Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie (made famous as the backdrop of Interview with the Vampire). When you do reach your final destination of New Orleans, reward yourself by indulging in beignets and bourbon in the French Quarter.
Memphis to Nashville, Tennessee
Start: Memphis, Tennessee
End: Nashville, Tennessee
Distance: 212 miles
Tennessee is the beating heart of American music. Don't believe us? Memphis alone has Elvis Presley's estate, Graceland, as well as the the Stax recording studio where Otis Redding got his start, and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. Meanwhile, up-and-coming country artists and today's top stars flock to Nashville for its dynamic music scene. Learn more at Ryman Auditorium, The Country Music Hall of Fame, and Grand Ole Opry before catching some live tunes at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, a classic honky-tonk.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
Start: Rockfish Gap, Virginia
End: Cherokee, North Carolina
Distance: 469 miles
It's not hard to see why the Blue Ridge Parkway is known as "America's Favorite Drive." The 469-mile route is a highlight reel of the Appalachian range, connecting Virginia's Shenandoah National Park with North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Start at the northern entrance in Rockfish Gap, Virginia, then drive south, passing through Roanoke before entering North Carolina. Make sure to stop in Asheville, which is home to America's largest estate, Biltmore, and the most craft breweries per capita in the country.
Savannah, Georgia to Charleston, South Carolina
Start: Savannah, Georgia
End: Charleston, South Carolina
Distance: 107 miles
Start your tour among the Spanish moss-draped oaks of Savannah, nicknamed "The Hostess City" for its legendary Southern hospitality. The historic district is a must, with its cobblestone squares, Gothic-Revival architecture, and manicured parks. Movie buffs will want to snap a shot of Chippewa Square, the iconic park bench filmed in Forrest Gump. Travel north along the coast toward Charleston, where you'll pass through quaint lowcountry communities including Bluffton and Beaufort. In Charleston, explore the Fort Sumter National Monument, soak up some sun in Folly Beach, and eat your fill of signature seafood.
Austin to San Antonio, Texas
Start: Austin, Texas
End: San Antonio, Texas
Distance: 80 miles
Think of Austin as the Brooklyn of the Lone Star State. This young, vibrant capital has it all—live music, killer eats, and a central location just an hour outside Texas Hill Country. Spend some time in the city itself and enjoy outdoor activities such as paddling on Lady Bird Lake and swimming in the Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. Then, drive west to Fredericksburg and explore the more than 20 Texas Hill Country wineries. The rest of the journey south is winding through a chain of charming German towns like Gruene and New Braunfels. End the journey in San Antonio, where the River Walk has been revived with new restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques.
Montgomery, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia
Start: Montgomery, Alabama
End: Atlanta, Georgia
Distance: 161 miles
Georgia and Alabama were two major players in the Civil Rights Movement, and both states have key monuments worth visiting. In Montgomery, Alabama, there's the Rosa Parks Museum and the six-acre National Memorial for Peace and Justice, featuring sculpture and artwork by African-American artists. Heading northeast on I-85, you'll hit Atlanta, the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Be sure to walk through the national park named in his honor, which is comprised of his birth home on Auburn Avenue, The King Center, and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was a co-pastor with his father from 1960 until his untimely death in 1968.
Williamsburg to Mount Vernon, Virginia
Start: Williamsburg, Virginia
End: Mount Vernon, Virginia
Distance: 140 miles
Although Boston is technically the birthplace of the American Revolution, Virginia had a heavy hand to play in the nation's history as it is home to some of the earliest settlements. In Williamsburg, you'll find the Governor's Palace, which served as the residence for the Royal governors and later as the home to post-colonial leaders Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Next up, visit the state's five James River Plantations, built around the country's earliest European settlement, Jamestown, established in 1619. When you get to Richmond, swing by the capitol building; designed by Jefferson in 1785, it was the first state capital after the Revolutionary War. Then, head north to check out George Washington's home, Mount Vernon.
Dallas, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas
Start: Dallas, Texas
End: Little Rock, Arkansas
Distance: 319 miles
Culture vultures will adore Dallas for its world-class Museum of Art and Nasher Sculpture while nature enthusiasts could spend an afternoon running or biking on the 3.5-mile Katy Trail. On the way to Arkansas, stretch your legs in Sulphur Springs at the quirky Southwest Dairy Museum or at Cooper Lake State Park. Kids will appreciate the Discovery Place Children's Museum in Texarkana or the Museum of Discovery in Arkadelphia. Roll into Little Rock and explore the 1,000-acre Two Rivers Park or the city's zoo, which boasts more than 600 native and exotic animals.
Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee
Start: Natchez, Mississippi
End: Nashville, Tennessee
Distance: 444 miles
The picturesque Natchez Trace Parkway is one of the longest road trips in the South, spanning 444 miles through three states (Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee). The route follows the "Old Natchez Trace," a historic trail used first by Native Americans then by early European settlers, tradesmen, and soldiers. Whether hiking, camping, horseback riding, or cycling strikes your fancy, there are near-endless opportunities here.