By Cassandra Brooklyn
National Parks get all the attention. However, there are several lesser-known historic sites, trails and protected areas in the south worth a visit.
National Parks are well-deserving of the attention they get. They’re beautiful, relaxing and offer activities for every type of traveler. Just because a historic site doesn’t fall within a national park doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting. These lesser-known (and less crowded) destinations range from Civil War forts and heritage trails to national protected areas you could even mistake for national parks. Here are five of them for you to add to your road trip list!
1. Francis Marion National Forest, South Carolina
Unlike national parks, which are managed by the National Park System, national forests fall within the USDA’s Forest Service. Though Francis Marion National Forest, technically, isn’t a national park, you might never know it. The forest’s sprawling 260,000 acres, just north of Charleston, offer camping, biking, kayaking and horseback riding. There’s even a 40-mile Wambaw Cycle trail designed for mountain bikes, motorcycles and ATVs.
2. Fort Fisher, North Carolina
During the American Civil War, Fort Fisher was a Confederate fort that protected North Carolina’s port of Wilmington so supplies could reach Confederate troops inland. Only about 10 percent of the original Fort Fisher stands today. However, impressive reconstructions, guided tours along scenic trails and the recently renovated visitor center’s audiovisual programs mean there’s plenty to see. The fort also hosts family-friendly workshops and lectures led by historians and researchers so check their calendar before your visit.
3. African American Heritage Trail, Virginia
The 30-mile stretch between Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia is packed with historic sites that speak to the history, struggles and achievements of African Americans in Virginia. Along this African American Heritage Driving Trail, you’ll find Pamplin Historic Park. This park educates visitors about the lives of African Americans on Southern plantations. It also includes the Richmond Slave Trail, which visits the former slave markets of the state’s capital. While you’re in Richmond, check out the Maggie L Walker National Historic Site. This site explores the life and achievements of Ms. Walker, a black female teacher, newspaper editor and civil rights leader from Virginia. She went on to be the first woman in the United States to found and serve as president of a bank.
4. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Tennessee
This site is located about 90 minutes’ northwest of Knoxville. The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area encompasses 113,000 acres of deep gorges, rugged cliffs and lush valleys that stretch across Tennessee and into Kentucky. Bird watching, fishing, horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking are popular activities in the park. Anyone wishing to stay overnight would do well at the Charit Creek Lodge. The pet-friendly, backcountry lodge is only accessible by foot or horse and its rustic accommodations are perfect for nature lovers who appreciate chef-prepared meals but who can do without phones and electricity.
5. Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, Alabama
The 54-mile Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail traces the 1965 marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Visitors begin their journey, which is well-marked and easy to follow along Highway 80, by crossing over Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The bridge was the site of “Bloody Sunday,” an event that catapulted the Civil Rights movement into world view. About halfway between Selma and Montgomery, stop in the Lowndes Interpretive Center, a National Park Service center. Here, you’ll learn about the events that transpired along the five-day march. The trail ends at the Alabama State Capitol Building, where Dr. King gave his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech. It’s located just one block from the Civil Rights Memorial Center and Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. King was pastor.
Read on for more “sites” to see!
(Go Magazine July-August 2020)