Off the beaten path: The places in the South you didn’t know you needed to visit

Photo Credit: West Virginia Tourism Office
Photo Credit: West Virginia Tourism Office

This article is brought to you by Travel South, USA. However, all opinions are genuinely held by the Yahoo Lifestyle Editorial Team.

In non-COVID times, us Aussies love nothing more than visiting places that aren’t part of the tried and tested tourist trail. For the ultimate insta-shots (to take once we can travel) that aren’t the same as everyone else’s, look no further than West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Heading out of D.C. – it is just an 107 km to Harpers Ferry, which sits at the junction of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland, and is a quaint, historic community with picturesque streets and museums. Looking for natural beauty and preserved historical sites? Head to the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where you can explore museums and exhibits, hike to outlooks either on your own or as part of a guided tour with a ranger, join in a living history workshop, or shop at the bookshop for local postcards, books and artworks.

Find a 150-year old site of John Brown’s famous raid on a federal armory that sparked the start of the U.S. Civil War, and explore the ruins of the 1851 St. John’s Episcopal Church. Harper’s Ferry marks the middle of the Appalachian Trail, and there are 32km of hiking trails you can walk either alone or with a ranger. Camp or stay at the neighbouring Shepherdstown, where you can also get active on kayaks, tubes and bikes.

Continue two and a half hours south, into the scenic Monongahela National Forest. Explore scenic vistas, country roads and abundant plant and animal life. Be sure to visit awe-inspiring destinations within the forest, like Seneca Rocks, located 900 feet above the confluence of the Seneca Creek and the North Fork of the South Brand of the Potomac River. You can fish, cycle, rock climb, horse ride and camp in the West Virginia wilderness.

Drive 250 km further on the mountain roads of West Virginia and experience the Mountain State’s newest national park featuring one of the oldest rivers on the continent. The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve encompasses more than 70,000 acres of scenic overlooks and recreational opportunities, including hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and rock climbing. The 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge is one of the longest single-span arch bridges in the world. If you visit the bridge (and you’re not afraid of heights) check out a bird’s eye view of the river with a catwalk tour beneath the bridge with Bridge Walk.

Only an hour and a half drive South East is White Sulphur Springs. The town boasts mineral rich springs, which lures locals to “take to the waters” and experience the benefits of the enriching minerals. It also is home to The Greenbrier – one of America’s oldest resorts, that’s been around since 1778. Sprawling over 11,000 acres, the luxury retreat has a spa which bases its treatments around the mineral rich spring, as well as a meditation and healing expert. It’s a perfect end to your West Virginia adventure – and a place that you’ll be telling people about forever.

Head south for three and a half hours and you’ll hit Winston-Salem in North Carolina. This hip college town might not be on the usual tourist route, but it is well worth a stop to see the lush Reynolda Gardens that boasts several impressive greenhouses, a museum and a conservatory. Winston-Salem is also the birth place of Krispy Kreme doughnuts; visit the original shop and have a tour – and a taste of course. If you’re not too full, don’t leave town without trying the thin, crispy Moravian cookies, first made by Moravian settlers when they arrived in Winston-Salem in 1750, and now a mainstay in cafes.

Drive East for an hour and a half and you’ll reach Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina. Bursting with hidden gems that are off the beaten path, head to the Neuse River Greenway Trail, where you can walk or cycle through an uninterrupted 27.5 mile greenway, where you’ll spot historical sites, wildlife and have plenty of scenic photo opportunities. Don’t miss the beautiful Cloud Chamber for Trees and Sky at the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art – a unique artwork that mixes old tech with a fairy tale imagination. Step inside the building to see an upside-down view of the world through a camera obscura. Well worth a visit.

Drive another three hours in to South Carolina and you’ll reach Myrtle Beach. A playground with museums, art galleries, landscaped gardens, theatre – and of course a beautiful beach – there’s plenty for everyone. Brookgreen Gardens boasts over 900 sculptures by American artists, past and present, as well as botanical gardens and low-country zoo. If you fancy a concert, get tickets to Long Bay Symphony, a symphony orchestra who perform classical and contemporary music to a beach crowd.

From here, drive two hours south to Charleston and its plantations. Their stately homes and gardens have European heritage and are the beginnings of South Carolina’s multi-cultural roots. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens has gardens over 300 years old, that come to life in late spring with calla lilies, dogwoods, hydrangeas, azaleas. Middleton Place is home to one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the US, showing the symmetry of classical European gardens.

Finish your trip with a visit to some of Charleston’s best restaurants. The city is known for fresh, local ingredients, with many menus noting the local supplier their produce is from. Don’t miss Husk, where only Southern produce is used throughout the whole restaurant. Expect twists on traditional dishes, such as South Carolina Shrimp and Choppee Okra Stew. Must-try oyster hall and restaurant The Ordinary delivers the freshest fish in the city and is great for lunch or dinner. Still not satiated? Book on to Charleston Culinary Tours and take a walking tour of some of the city’s historical culinary hotspots – with plenty of taste tests along the way of course.