The Best National and State Parks to Bike and Paddle in the South
The South is feeling the heat this time of year. With that in mind, head toward the water and shade to cool off, hike, bike, kick back with some food, grill, swim, paddle, and chill.
Cheoah Point campground in Nantahala National Forest is nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Cheoah Point is a 2 hour drive from Asheville, only an hour and half drive from Knoxville, and a slightly longer three and a half hour drive from Atlanta.
The campgrounds are located next to Santeetlah Lake, a gorgeous, blue, sparkling lake tucked away in the mountains. Perfect. The sites are burrowed into a thick forest with areas for hiking, picnicking, grilling, and relaxing. The dense forestry surrounding the lake and campground make for a perfect area for stringing up a slackline. Try your hand at balancing between nature’s finest while kicking back a few beers and relaxing on the lake. Paddleboards are welcome, too. How could you resist when your view consists of this:
Florida and beaches are practically synonymous; but for a spin on your typical Florida summer, head over to Everglades National Park. Water activities on inflatable objects aren’t recommended in this area, unless you’re comfortable with an unwelcome toothy guest joining you (and likely deflating) your iSUP… Non-alligator infested bike paths, however, are a hidden treasure of the Everglades.
The Shark Valley scenic loop is a 15 mile loop described with one of the best phrases known to man “no shortcuts.” The Shark Valley loop is a paved path running directly through some of the Everglades most unique features. Bobcat, otters, deer, and yes, alligators (we said “non-alligator infested,” not “alligator free”), live and thrive alongside the bike path. Unpaved hiking paths extend outward from the Shark Valley loop. Feel free to lock your bike up to a tree and explore the canopy of trees down Otter Cave Trail, or stroll down the Bobcat Boardwalk. This loop is fairly flat, but again, there are no shortcuts, so be prepared to break a sweat (especially in that Florida heat!).
If you’re still craving those beach vibes, Miami is only an hour away from the Everglades. Get your fill of white sand beaches, salty air, and miles of paved paths to longboard and bike down.
MISSISSIPPI RIVER VALLEY
The Shawnee National Forest sits nestled a few miles above where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet. In it you’ll find activities from horseback riding, hiking trails, an abundance of wildflowers, and enormous bluffs of sandstone formed 12,000 years ago. In addition to the secluded hikes and stunning scenery, fishing is a popular activity among visitors to the park. The park is a little more on the remote side being a three hour drive away from Memphis, Nashville, and Louisville.
Cedar Lake is a large forest lined lake within the Shawnee National Forest. Long hikes leading up to tall bluffs overlooking the lakes. Throughout the year, kayaking, fishing, paddling, and swimming (in designated areas) are welcomed on the lake. Try your hand at a hybrid of the two activities and find balance while fishing on your paddleboard. The flexibility and maneuverability of iSUPs make it easy to navigate fish filled areas that boats can’t get to. Stand or sit, anchor or drift, and take in the mid-summer greenery, sparkling blue water, and fresh forest smells. Summer doesn’t get much better than that.
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