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Venturing away from home sounds alluring yet feels a bit edgy. TravelingMom researched some ideas for launching the family from Atlanta to nearby southern states. We keep an eye out for the vibe of outdoor activities, which are good places to distance. If you need ideas for Plan B, then we can help with that, too. If you’re looking for road trips from Atlanta Georgia, then we have many suggestions.
Crossing the Georgia state line struck me as adventure enough for road trips from Atlanta. If you are looking for day trips or longer, look to Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama. I’m hunting the less well-known places to go in this era of carefully venturing out. Family travel destinations with lots of outdoor activities are what many of us are looking for right now. We love larger cities like Nashville (AKA Music City), Asheville, Gatlinburg and Birmingham, but it’s time for road trips that offer new discoveries and smaller green spaces.
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Explore Nearby States with These Easy Road Trips from Atlanta, Georgia
Think regionally to consider a Florida road trip from Atlanta. Northwest Florida plans together so there are decisions to make. I’ll hone in on the center of the region, Washington County, in a moment because there’s so much to do there.
Expect a network of waterways considered pristine and springs that are natural, plus multiple state parks.
Accessible by Interstate 10, some outdoor options we researched include:
- Bald Point State Park
- Deer Lake State Park
- Grayton Beach State Park
- St. George Island State Park
- Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
TravelingMom Tip: Opening days and times can change at any moment. Always call or check the website before you head to a destination.
Rivers, creeks and streams are an integral part of this landscape so you’re sure to find something that appeals.
Shelling is superb on St. George Island in St. George State Park. Birdwatchers, hikers and anglers use this park too. To the west, Shell Island is part of St. Andrews State Park. This is just off the mainland near Panama City Beach. Access to this unspoiled island is available via the Shell Island Shuttle and the Shell Island Express Ferry. You can also rent a boat.
You will find undeveloped sugar-white beaches on barrier islands. Enjoy the blue Gulf waters that lead to trails, marshes and pine forests with views of the bay.
Washington County in Northwest Florida
Washington County in Northwest Florida has so much to do so I’ve given it it’s own section.
Find Washington County along I-10, midway between Pensacola and Tallahassee. This getaway mixes nature, attractions and outdoor adventure. The road trip takes four and a half hours from Atlanta.
Get up close and personal with wolves at Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley. Humans interacting with wolves is unusual and this preserve is the largest of its kind in the lower 48 states. You can also set up a VIP tour.
You can check out gators live in the Orange Hill Gator Farm. This is an educational experience because the tour details gator habits and teaches conservation. More than 200 gators reside here.
More Fun in Washington County
In addition to pristine rivers, Washington County grooms trails to explore. Hikers find wilderness at Falling Waters State Park and Pine Log State Forest. Pine Log also has miles of equestrian trails. Also check out Sunshine Riding Trails which offers riding lessons and trail rides for individuals or groups.
Chipley is a small town that can fill a day. Its South Third Street, is a designated U.S. Historic District because it has 13 historic homes. This includes Queen Anne Victorian style architecture which is unusual in Florida. A driving tour shows how history is preserved in one of the oldest church buildings in the state at Moss Hill Church.
TravelingMom Tip: Does your group include teens and adventure-loving parents? You can off-road on an obstacle course at The Swamp Off-Road Park in Chipley. Trails are dedicated to four wheelers.
West Volusia County, Florida
Between Orlando and Daytona Beach, West Volusia County wraps in 14 communities with a big range of things to do. Road trip from Atlanta: six and a half hours.
Resident gentle-giant manatees might be the reason to venture out from home. They claim 72-degree waters found at two natural springs. DeLeon Springs invites swimming and snorkeling. Blue Spring State Park is a designated manatee refuge because it’s the winter home of the West Indian manatee.
A brand new social distancing opportunity is the Bartram Gardens & Trail at Stetson University. Yes, that Bartram–the famous naturalist finding Lake Beresford in 1774. Admission is free; imaginations robust.
I love the idea of canoeing or kayaking where Bartram did. This is part of a larger River of Lakes Heritage Corridor in Seminole and Volusia counties.
Families who prefer a riverwalk can choose hiking trails that are lush and tree lined. Kiosks share Bartram pen and ink drawings, literary descriptions and paintings of his discoveries.
Ten other smaller panels share facts about trees and plants in the naturalist’s own words. Scans of Bartram’s drawings and paintings were procured from the Natural History Museum in London. This opportunity is unique because that’s not a source we usually find in a walk in the woods.
More Outdoor Activities in West Volusia County
Do you want to gain insight into fragile local ecosystems? Explore the 360-acre Lyonia Preserve scrub habitat and Environmental Center. The preserve is home to Florida’s protected scrub jays and many other native species that can be seen along its trails.
TravelingMom Tip: The little kids can touch! Hands-on exhibits tell lots about manatees and other animals native to the scrub. Isn’t scrub an amazing habitat word?
The Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 22,000 acres of migratory bird refuge. Natural habitats include marshes, swamps, creeks, hammocks and uplands. Start this journey at the visitor center in DeLeon Springs.
Butterflies thrive in the visitor center native plant garden. Little kids can access a touch table. Take a self-guided tour. Maps can be picked up whether staff or available or not. Choose roads, hiking trails, bicycle lanes and more Lake Woodruff refuge options.
TravelingMom Tip: Skydive DeLand is an exciting opportunity to watch sky divers up close. You can also choose to skydive. Adventurous teens would love this but be sure to read the fine print.
Cyclists — die-hard trail riders or casual enthusiasts – ride the Spring-to-Spring Trail and the East Central Rail Trail. Both are part of the larger St. Johns River to Sea Loop and both are still in stages of completion.
TravelingMom Tip: All six Erica Group murals turn into selfie spots, so they are very Instragrammable.
Martin County, Florida
Martin County is a longer road trip from Atlanta because it is about an about an eight-hour drive each way. If you choose to fly, Martin County is about an hour from Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport.
Nestled between Hobe Sound and Tequesta, Jonathan Dickinson State Park sprawls across 11,500 acres. It’s the largest state park in Southeast Florida. Natural habitats tout great names: sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves and river swamps. Each year, the Friends of Jonathan State Park and Club Scrub plan at least 20 mountain biking and paddle events.
Grasp more about the coastal ecosystem at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island. Aquariums, nature trails and a butterfly garden will be joined soon with the new Ocean EcoCenter. New exhibits in five different galleries will include a water play area for children.
When water parks are advisable, Stuart is home to Sailfish Splash. Among the features are a 1000-foot lazy river; a four-story tall water slide; a 253-foot speed slide; 7,326-square-foot water playground; and private cabanas.
Mural Adventures in Martin County
Hobe Sound offers a mural adventure. There are 24 murals to discover featuring local native landscapes to local marine and wildlife scenes.
You can walk to some; drive to all. Self-guided maps are available from the Hobe Sound Chamber of Commerce. Launched by professional artist Nadia Utto in 2009, this “paint-the-town” mural initiative was brought to life by 40 skilled regional artisans and hobbyists, plus 100 residents and visitors. See some here.
Accessible only by water is St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park. Road trip with kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards but you will need to take your own boat. A 4.2 mile kayak trail is available. A boardwalk leads to mangrove forests and hammocks of live oaks, cabbage palms, paradise trees and wild limes.
Martin County is home to a range of lodging from budget to luxury. This road trip might just the one to try a camping experience so check out Adventure Platform Tents at Phipps Park and Campground for just $35 per night!
TravelingMom Tip: Teens might particularly like to learn how to sail at the US Sailing Center of Martin County. Rowing lessons can be arranged with the instructors of the Treasure Coast Rowing Club in Palm City. Stand up paddle boarding is available with the Friends of Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
More Adventures in Martin County
Adventure travel could include horseback riding tours. More extreme options here are kiteboarding at Next Level Watersports or learning to hydrofoil. Deep sea fishing with Chaos Fishing Adventures could hook sailfish, mahi and wahoo. Night dives are possible with Stuart Scuba
When museum visits feel right again consider the Elliott Museum for antique automobiles, vintage boats, bicycles and a baseball collection and the Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast in Indian Riverside Park.
Did you know it is quite possible to cross out of Georgia into Alabama on a zip line? Find this in Columbus where urban whitewaters dominate the uptown business district. Of course, it’s best to zip back and return to the car to road trip into Alabama adventures.
Huntsville, Alabama means Space Camp for lots of ages, but that’s not all. With social distancing changes the U.S. Space & Rocket Center opened the end of May.
Three hours from Atlanta find plenty of Huntsville roads for making choices,
Outdoor Adventure in/near Huntsville includes:
- Lucky Duck Scavenger Hunt – locate the bronze ducks placed in various points of interest throughout Downtown Huntsville
- Trains on Main Scavenger Hunt – find the trains on Main Street in Historic Downtown Madison
- Huntsville Botanical Garden – 112 acres just off of I-565.
- Big Spring International Park – in downtown Huntsville
- Land Trust of North Alabama – trails and nature preserves throughout the city, Madison County and north Alabama region
- Self-guided walking tours through the Twickenham and Old Town Historic Districts
- Huntsville supports a series of city greenways for hiking, biking and walking
More to do in Huntsville
To consider camping as the way to overnight this road trip from Atlanta, Monte Sano State Park has a campground, trails and picnic areas. Ditto Landing & Marina on the north side of the Tennessee River offers camping and gorgeous views of the river.
Huntsville and its county opened places to visit where modification for social distancing could be made. Those include Huntsville Botanical Garden, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, Burritt on the Mountain, The Weeden House, the Huntsville Museum of Art and Stovehouse.
Mountain Lakes, Alabama
There’s a region in north Alabama that calls itself mountain lakes. Could be these hiking trails and outdoor adventures are the getaway that works for a family road trip from Atlanta.
The website is detailed. Trusted advisors tell me positive reports.
3. South Carolina
There are lots of choices in South Carolina for road trips from Atlanta.
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Pawleys Island, South Carolina considers itself one of the oldest beach resorts on the Atlantic coast because plantation owners in the 1700s fled rivers and marshes before they learned about malaria.
About six hours from Atlanta, 70 miles north of Charleston and 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Island is also a town. A little one: four miles long, one-quarter-mile wide. On Pawleys, life is laid back.
There never were lines or crowds: No ringing cash registers, not even any stores; no neon lights, only porch lights. Finding a Pawleys Island shell, the Imperial Venus Clam, is a rite of passage here and is considered a blessing.
The Lettered Olive is South Carolina’s designated State Shell and is another favored treasure.
The ocean is just the beginning of waters to explore on Pawleys. The inland waterways, with their distinct habitats and coastal wildlife welcome canoeing and kayaking, crabbing and fishing.
Opportunities change with the seasons. A feast of fish and crabs is the classic family meal on Pawleys so if you’re a foodie, you’ll want to try this.
Porch time is prime time because this is home to the famous Pawleys Island rope hammock, still handmade nearby.
Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina
This region is about two and a half hours from Atlanta. It gets its name because of a long and still active horse racing culture. Since sitting as close together in the racetrack stands as your big-brimmed fancy hat allows isn’t always the best choice, maybe consider greenways and trails and rivers for this visit. Keep in mind, though, tailgating is more controllable and is the polo-going tradition.
Community names to get familiar with in South Carolina’s Thoroughbred Country are Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell. They’re east of Augusta, Georgia, along I-20. Outdoor options abound.
In Aiken, rent an electric Pedego bike as long as everyone’s at least age 12.
Hopelands Gardens is a 14-acre park filled with gardens and three reflecting pools. 100-year-old live oaks shade the paths so you can have a picnic. The Citywide Arboretum Trail goes through the gardens on walkways bordering downtown. The trail covers a 4-mile radius. In normal times, musical or performing arts shows happen in the gardens.
Spanning across 2,100 acres of forestland with 70 miles of trails, Hitchcock Woods is one of the largest urban forests in America. Several entrances to the woods extend throughout Aiken. Pack a picnic. National forest isn’t the only title to seek.
A good starting point is the North Augusta Greeneway. Visit the butterfly garden or check out the riverwalk along the Savannah River. There are multiple entry points on this 9.2-mile trail so you can do a little, or a lot.
Great Trails and Green Spaces in Thoroughbred Country
The Living History Park near the Greenway is a spot with expansive grounds so families can stretch out. The park is open to walking but check the website to see when the buildings are open.
Silver Bluff Audubon is a 3,400-acre wooded area overlooking the Savannah River. This sanctuary is home to pine thickets and bottomland hardwood forests. You’ll also find 22 miles of horse and walking trails, 50 acres of lakes and ponds, and 100 grassland acres. There are numerous birds and other wildlife.
Trails are only open to horses during organized rides. Binoculars and comfy walking shoes recommended.
At night, Thoroughbred Country has one of three operating drive-in movie theaters in South Carolina. The Monetta Drive-In offers three screens, all with double features including new movies as well as old favorites. In mid-2020, the Big Mo season was on hold right now for a funny reason—not enough new movies!
Here’s an activity not available just anywhere. Help yourself to a drink of special water from God’s Acre Healing Springs. Bring your cup, or jug.
These legendary springs have been in use since before the 1700s. Native Americans believed in the healing properties of the springs and brought Revolutionary soldiers here to drink. After being deeded to God, the springs became available for public use.
Even More Things to Do in Thoroughbred Country
In front of the Barnwell County Courthouse find a vertical sundial which was given to the town in 1858. Legend suggests it’s the only vertical sundial in the United States. Erected two years prior to standard time, it keeps within two minutes of that.
Barnwell State Park or Aiken State Park are open to fishing with multiple lakes. All were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Rent a boat or fish from the pier.
TravelingMom Tip: If you don’t have gear, use the Tackle Loaner Program sponsored by SCDNR. Most importantly, do get a fishing license for everyone ages 16 and over before you go.
Bamberg County encourages floating the South Fork of the Edisto River.
TravelingMom Tip: No outfitters here. The Chamber of Commerce organizes bring-your-own boat floats. Stand up paddleboarding might feel adventuresome.
The Battle of Rivers Bridge state historic site is a 390-acre battlefield, interpretive trail, memorial grounds and picnic shelter. Walk the three quarter mile guided trail with interpretive panels. You can arrange in advance a ranger-guided tour of the well-preserved South Carolina Civil War site.
Cathedral Bay Heritage Preserve is an solid example of the Carolina bay phenomenon. That means many pond cypress; it’s generally the only tree species to grow in these bays. Pack rain boots, camera and binoculars.
Dozens of swallow-tailed kites perform aerial displays every July in Allendale. Bird watching expertise not required.
Visit the Thoroughbred Country website for more information.
Capital City Lake Murray Country, South Carolina
Great big Lake Murray, a state capitol city on three converging downtown rivers and a bunch of cute little towns, define this South Carolina road trip. The road trip from Atlanta is a little more than three hours.
All these are located off Interstates I-77, I-26 and I-20 including Columbia and counties named Lexington, Newberry, Richland, and Saluda.
Lake Murray holds 50,000 acres of sparkling waters brimming with striped and large-mouth bass. Bring your road trip boat or count on rentals, lessons and guided trips. This might be the trip to try paddleboarding or sailing. Dreher Island State Park at Lake Murray offers a fishing gear loaner program.
From the end of June to the beginning of August more than a million purple martins take flight at sunset.
Columbia, the Capital City is uniquely situated on three converging rivers. That means downtown land and water touring. Rent bikes at Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park and pedal through 167 acres of riverfront scenery. Park the car on Main Street and shop at the Mast General Store which is a Carolinas icon because of its vast array of modern and nostalgic items.
Sometimes a recent development sparks a family road trip and a herd of giraffe in Chattanooga could be just that. Imagine their road trip from New Orleans to Tennessee in May 2020.
Make friends with three males giraffes at the Chattanooga Zoo. George is 5, Porter is 2 and baby Hardee Star just 17 months. Calling these giraffes a herd is accurate because they’ve been living together at the McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center.
Where else should a family travel to see reticulated giraffes? Northern Kenya, Somalia or Ethiopia. In the wild, 15,780 are believed to live. Habitat deconstruction and poaching lead to their demise.
Chattanooga’s zoo is accredited by the AZA–Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Tennessee Aquarium is also spectacular.
Read More: Reasons to fall in love with Chatanooga
TravelingMom Tip: Annual membership in one AZA facility often earns free admission in others. That’s true in some museum groups too. Seems like a win/win. Guaranteed support for a fine institution and free or reduced cost admission for visits by traveling families.
Loudon County, Tennessee
This a road trip with grand views of the Great Smoky Mountains, between Knoxville and Chattanooga. Drive I-75 and I-40 east. Expect wide, meandering rivers and lots of lakes too. The drive is about three hours north from Atlanta.
Lenoir City in Loudon County is a lake retreat on Highway 321. This route to the Smokies is considered the most scenic because it is the least congested. One trademark view is the misty morning on the water.
Tennessee Valley Authority reservoirs create a lake and river highway with many recreational choices. You can go swimming or skiing. Motor or sailboating is also offered. You can go fishing, or floating, paddling or pontooning. Four lakes offer fishing: including Fort Loudoun Lake.
Interesting fact: Hydroelectric dams create differing water temperatures that support 51 species of fish from bass to stripers.
Waterside hiking is vast and varied. The Lakeshore Trail system of nine trails are designated as a National Recreational Trail. A Civil War walking/driving trail shows how men fought brother against brother in a deeply divided state.
Loudon and Lenoir City offer antiquing and walking tours. The architecture is early 1800s to the late 20th century. Sweetwater Valley Farm crafts 10 varieties of cheese, with samples and demonstrations so if you’re a foodie, you’ll want to stop in here. Check out shopping opportunities as well as art galleries. Visit this website for more information.
5. Medical Experts Speak About Road Trips
Are you wondering whether it is safe to take a road trip? Since many families are concerned about travel safety, we’ve provided info on what three epidemiologists and professors of medicine say.
- We consider road trips the preferred mode of travel this summer, but only with members of their households.
- The main risks are gas stations, convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and public bathrooms.
- Wash or sanitize hands after stops, especially after pumping gas and using public restrooms.
- Choose drive-through over sit-down restaurants to minimize contact with other people.
- Avoid restroom hand dryers because they blow air particles around. Bring your own paper towels to dry hands and use them to turn off faucets and open doors.
- Most importantly, wear face masks inside buildings.
(Excerpt from larger story in Washington Post, May 28, 2020)
6. Road Trips from Atlanta Can Include Georgia Too!
Finally, I encourage you to look inside of Georgia as well as outside the state. If you want to take an easy road trip from Atlanta then you don’t have to leave the state of Georgia. Tips for families visiting just Georgia can lead to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Chattahoochee River, Blue Ridge or Toccoa Falls. Check out Providence Canyon State Park which is also known as the little grand canyon. You can also check out Macon, Summerville, or explore one of the small towns in North Georgia. Read this story and you’ll get even more ideas.