The 12 Most Underrated Summer Vacation Destinations In The South

The 12 Most Underrated Summer Vacation Destinations In The South

The hallmarks of a Southern summer are well-known throughout the region. Running through sprinklers in the yard, spitting watermelon seeds off the front porch, and long days lazing by the pool are just a few of our favorite pastimes. In a season built around spending quality time with loved ones, a summer vacation is the pinnacle experience. Weekend jaunts to your nearest stretch of coast are a given, but if you’re looking to liven up your vacation plans this year, consider one of these underrated summer vacation destinations. Some of these locales are more popular in other seasons, while others are quieter versions of your favorite seasonal spots. Regardless, they’re all fabulous places to travel this summer and deserve a second look when you’re scheduling a week or weekend away. Here are 12 underrated summer vacation destinations in the South.

Red River Gorge, Kentucky

The 12 Most Underrated Summer Vacation Destinations In The SouthThe 12 Most Underrated Summer Vacation Destinations In The South


Nature enthusiasts won’t have to roam far for a summertime destination worthy of their bucket lists. Known for its world-class rock climbing and hiking, summer is as good a time as any to get familiar with this impressive geological wonder in the heart of the Bluegrass State. The impressive canyon system formed by the Red River includes high sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, sandstone arches, rock shelters, and scenic waterfalls all waiting to be explored. Lace up your hiking boots, fill up your water bottles, and get ready for an adventure to remember. Want to make your stay a touch more memorable? Book a few nights with Canopy Crew, a rental company with one-of-a-kind tree house stays across the Gorge.

Lake Lanier, Georgia

<p>Getty Images</p><p>Getty Images</p>

Nothing says summer like a day on the lake. If you’re lucky enough to have your own lake house (or a very generous friend with one), you may have your summer plans set, but the rest of us are on our own. Luckily, the South has been blessed with dozens of recreational lakes that are perfect for a weekend on the water. Just 30 minutes outside the Atlanta metro, Lake Lanier’s sparkling 38,000 acres of fresh water are just begging for a pontoon boat and a good country playlist. Waterfront houses and cabins to suit any size group are readily available, as is the Lanier Islands Resort, an all-in-one lakeside retreat where stay options include the lodge, luxury villas, cottages, RV sites, and even glamping tents at an attached Margaritaville Resort.

Richmond, Virginia

<p>Thomas McConnel</p><p>Thomas McConnel</p>

A summer in the city can be just as magical as one in the wilderness, if you know how to do it right. In Richmond, you’ll get the best of both worlds. The state’s capital is more enticing than ever thanks to a dedicated group of locals who have worked hard to keep Richmond a beautiful place to live and visit. Summer is the best time to experience the James River, which runs through the center of downtown, on white water rafting tour. Yes, you heard us right. This the only place in the country where you can find Class IV rapids running through a city. After you’ve had your outdoor thrills, take the evening to explore Richmond’s excellent culinary scene, then round out your night with a pint and live music at one of the city’s many breweries in the hip Scott’s Addition neighborhood.

Blue Ridge, Georgia

<p>Courtesy Mercier Orchards</p><p>Courtesy Mercier Orchards</p>

Courtesy Mercier Orchards

If you think of the mountains solely as an autumn destination, think again. Blue Ridge may beloved for its scenic train rides and apple picking in the fall, but summer is an equally wonderful time to explore this part of the Peach State. All the outdoor recreation opportunities—from hiking to camping to fishing to kayaking—make this a popular hangout for families. But don’t let the downtown crowds phase you, there’s plenty of room to roam on the many hiking trails the crisscross the area, as well as on Lake Blue Ridge. For a quintessential summer experience, visit Mercier Orchards, an 80-year-old, family-owned operation where you can pick strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries from May through July, respectively.

Mercer County, West Virginia

<p>Courtesy of Visit Mercer County</p><p>Courtesy of Visit Mercer County</p>

Courtesy of Visit Mercer County

Roll down the windows and turn up the radio as you cruise through the rolling farmland and dense forests of Mercer County on the southern border of West Virginia. Temperatures ever climb higher than the low 80s and when the sun goes down, there’s a pleasant nip in the air that’s only a distant memory to most of the South. Summertime activities range from hiking in the area’s three state parks to blueberry picking at nearby farms to cheering on the hometown team in a Iocal baseball game. Consider aligning your trip with the Bramwell Tour of Homes, held on the second Saturday of each June, where guests get to see inside stunning Victorian homes on Millionaire Row. Did we mention this is one of the best places in the country to see the Milky Way from May through September?

Navarre, Florida

<p>Dan Reynolds Photography/Getty Images</p><p>Dan Reynolds Photography/Getty Images</p>

Dan Reynolds Photography/Getty Images

For some Southerners (read: most), summer’s simply not summer without a classic beach trip. If you can’t resist the call of the ocean, follow its siren song to Navarre, a tiny community on the western portion of the Florida panhandle. Tucked between the more popular Gulf Coast destinations of Pensacola and Destin, Navarre has been heralded as “Florida’s Most Relaxing Place” thanks to its relatively low tourist traffic and lowkey appeal. Lay out a towel on the white sand beaches, train your eyes on the emerald-green waves, and take a deep breath. The Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, which holds the title as the longest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico, is a great place to drop a line or grab dinner al fresco. With direct beach access, Windjammers on the Pier considers sandy feet and a hastily thrown on cover-up exemplary dinner attire.

Crystal Coast, North Carolina

Peter Frank EdwardsPeter Frank Edwards

Peter Frank Edwards

The Outer Banks may be first to come to mind when daydreaming about a North Carolina beach trip, but the Crystal Coast has all the same natural beauty and laidback beach town swagger with far fewer crowds. Also known as the Southern Outer Banks, this 85-mile stretch of shoreline starts at Cape Lookout and Harkers Island in the east and traverses across the barrier island and mainland until reaching its terminus at Cape Carteret in the west. Consisting of 12 distinct communities, travelers will have their pick of places to plan a trip around. The historic fishing village of Beaufort is a great spot for those who love a charming downtown, easy access to the water, and cozy inns. Meanwhile, Emerald Isle is exactly the type of uncommercialized beach town that inspires nostalgia. There are 12 miles of public beaches, plentiful bicycle trails, and oceanfront houses in all sizes waiting to host your crew

St. Michaels, Maryland

ymn / Getty Imagesymn / Getty Images

ymn / Getty Images

Coastal towns are a given in the summertime, and Maryland’s Eastern Shore has some of the best bayside villages anywhere. Just an hour and a half’s drive from Washington D.C. is St. Michaels, a favorite weekend escape for city dwellers hoping for a slower pace. Stroll the walkable and historic downtown that’s lined with Victorian-era buildings that now house boutiques, restaurants, and cozy inns. There’s lots to do in this busy, buzzy community on the Chesapeake Bay, but two not to miss are a sunset sail and a crab dinner. Crab season runs from April through September and sailing season starts at the same time and goes until November, so summer is high season for both.

St. Louis, Missouri

joe daniel price / Getty Imagesjoe daniel price / Getty Images

joe daniel price / Getty Images

Make your “Meet Me in St. Louis” dreams come true with a trip to the Gateway of the West. St. Louis may seem a surprising choice for a summertime trip, but when you consider its range of amenities and activities (many of which are free), as well as its excellent if not underestimated dining scene, it’s easy to jump on the train. Outdoor spaces are gorgeous and plentiful in this city. Citygarden combines lush greenspace with internationally acclaimed sculptures while Forest Park serves as the city’s gigantic backyard. (Did you know it’s actually 500 acres larger than Central Park?) Some of its highlights include the Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Science Center, and the Saint Louis Zoo—all of which are entirely free to guests.

Norfolk, Virginia

<p>Getty Images</p><p>Getty Images</p>

Go the opposite direction of traffic by heading away from the coast and popular Virginia Beach and toward Norfolk, located just 25 minutes inland. The historic waterfront town is home to the world’s largest naval base and that influence has created an incredibly diverse and multicultural scene in everything from food to art. After touring the USS Wisconsin, the largest battleship ever built by the US Navy, explore some of the town’s other gems, including the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Hermitage Museum & Gardens, and the up-and-coming NEON District, known for its vibrant murals and street art.

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