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Southern United States

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Travel Guide North America USA Southern United States

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Introduction

New Orleans Riverboat

New Orleans Riverboat

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The Southern United States encompasses a huge breadth of land, from the Atlantic coast south to the Gulf of Mexico and west to the "Deep South". The South, as it is colloquially known, is not merely a geographic region: It also has historical and cultural significance, particularly relating to the polarizing American Civil War.

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Geography

As defined by the United States Census Bureau, the Southern region of the United States includes sixteen states. As of 2010, an estimated 114,555,744 people, or thirty-seven percent of all U.S. residents, lived in the South, the nation's most populous region.

Landscapes, particularly in the Southeast, are characterized by live oaks, magnolia trees, yellow jessamine vines, Spanish moss, cabbage palms and flowering dogwoods. Another common environment is found in the bayous and swamplands of the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana and Texas. Parts of the rural South have been overrun by Kudzu, an invasive, fast-growing, leafy vine that can spread over trees, land, roads, and buildings, choking and killing indigenous plants. Kudzu is a particularly big problem in the Piedmont regions of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

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Cities

Tampa, FL - USA

Tampa, FL - USA

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Sights and Activities

Alamo

The Alamo by night, San Antonio, Texas

The Alamo by night, San Antonio, Texas

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

This building in San Antonio is famous for tha battle that took place here. The battle is the most well known battle that took place during the Texan Revolution. On the first day of the battle (February 23, 1836) 2,400 mexicans attacked the Alamo, where between 180 and 250 Texan soldiers where housed. After a couple of attacks on the building the Texans ran out of possibilities to fend off the attacks. On March 6, 1836 the Mexicans launched the final assault, resulting in killing all the Texans. After the battle the Alamo gradually became known as a battle site rather than a former mission. The Texas Legislature purchased the land and buildings in the early part of the 20th century and designated the Alamo chapel as an official Texas State Shrine. The Alamo is open every day of the year except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Hours of operation are 9:00am to 5:30pm Monday through Saturday and 10:00am to 5:30pm on Sunday. The Alamo remains open on Fridays and Saturdays until 7:00pm during the months of June, July and August. Admission to the Alamo is free.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, also known as the Appalachian Trail or the A.T., is a 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometres) long hiking trail that has one of its terminus points in Georgia and the other in Maine. This trail attracts countless thru hikers, people that do the hike in one trip, and section hikers, people that hike different parts of the trail at different times in order to do the whole trail, every year. This trail goes into some of the best preserved wilderness in all of the East Coast.

Big Bend National Park

Great sunset in Big Bend NP, Texas

Great sunset in Big Bend NP, Texas

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Big Bend National Park is one of the natural beauties of Texas. The park covers about 1,250 square miles and is located in the western part of the Lone Star State, bordering Mexico where the Rio Grande bends, hence its name. Most of the people visit the Chisos Mountains and Basin, where you will also find the only accommodation within the park proper. There are also campgrounds in other places of interest like the Santa Elena and Boquillas Canyon and Rio Grande Village.

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. Located in South Carolina, the 107.43 km2 national park received that designation in 2003 as the culmination of a grassroots campaign which had started in 1969. The lush trees growing in this floodplain forest are some of the tallest in the Eastern U.S., forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world. The Congaree River flows through the park. About 57 percent (61 km2) of the park is designated wilderness area.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is a national park about 110 kilometres west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The park preserves Fort Jefferson and the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the westernmost and most isolated of the Florida Keys. The archipelago's coral reefs are the least disturbed of the Florida Keys reefs. Fort Jefferson and birdwatching are the highlights here, although there is good snorkelling as well. Visiting the park by private boat is difficult because of its distance, so most visitors come by boat or seaplane from Key West, Florida. Official ferry and transportation services to the Dry Tortugas includes the Yankee Freedom III catamaran and seaplane services. They offer daytrips for US$165 ($120 children), including breakfast, lunch, a tour of Fort Jefferson, snorkelling gear and a great boat trip (usually good weather). Key West Seaplan Charters offers half day and daytrips at (much) higher prices. You can camp at the island for $3 a night but you have to reserve space beforehand, also making sure you book the boatride back.

Everglades National Park

Everglades Gatorade

Everglades Gatorade

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The Everglades encompasses an area of marshland taking up most of the south of Florida. It is a popular tourist destination and the park plays a unique part in local folklore, with legends of moon shiners, smugglers and alligators. The Everglades National Park takes up much of the region. It protects the southern 20% of the original Everglades. In the United States, it is the largest subtropical wilderness, the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River, and is visited on average by one million people each year. It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone. It has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, one of only three locations in the world to appear on all three lists. There are many things to do, including a tram tour at Shark Valley, boat trips from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center (10,000 islands reserve) and Flamingo and beautiful hikes, including the Anhinga Trail.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2009. Over 9 million people visit the park each year, making it the most visited park in the United States. There are 78 historic buildings in the Park, which is open year round. Spanning the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Park is a popular destination for hikers. The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a lot to do and see in the park. The Appalachian Trail is a 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometres) long hiking trail with a section in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is home to 1,500 black bears who can often been seen in open areas such as Catalooche Valley and Cades Cove. Deer, wild turkeys and foxes are found at Cades Cove. Over 10,000 species have been identified as living in the Park, with the expectation that another 90,000 remain to be found.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains in the west of Texas and contains the highest peak of the state: Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet (2,667 metres).

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is a United States National Park in central Garland County, Arkansas, adjacent to the city of Hot Springs, the county seat. Hot Springs Reservation was initially created by an act of the United States Congress on April 20, 1832 to be preserved for future recreation. Established before the concept of a national park existed, it was the first time that a piece of land had been set aside by the federal government to preserve its use as an area for recreation. It is the smallest national park by area in the United States. Since Hot Springs National Park is the oldest park maintained by the National Park Service, it was rightfully the first to receive its own US quarter in April 2010 as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters coin series.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park is a United States National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kentucky's Caves and Lakes region. It preserves the world's longest known cave system, with over 392 miles of caves. The park was established in 1941 and currently draws nearly two million visitors annually. Mammoth Cave National Park is home to over 70 threatened, endangered or state listed species. More than 130 species are regular inhabitants of the caves. These species are divided almost equally among three classes of cave life: obligate cave dwellers known as troglobites, facultative species which can complete their life cycle in or out of caves (troglophiles), and those that use caves for refuge (trogloxenes). The Park has cave species and biotic cave communities that are among the most diverse in the world. Because of its diverse array of landscapes and habitats, the Park contains an extraordinary 1,300 species of plants.

Manatees

Big Beautiful Manatee

Big Beautiful Manatee

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Florida is one of the best places in the world to see manatees without too much effort. There are dozens of places along the coast (mainly the southern half of the state) where you will see this big beautiful creatures of nature. Several of them are difficult to get to or are forbidden to enter by travellers. Others can only be reached independently for example by kayaking or walking a bit to a place you can spot them. But the Manatee Capital of the world is Crystal River, about midway along the west coast. The main season is winter, from December till April, with peaks in January and February when the weather is at its coldest. Especially after brief cold spells when temperatures can drop to around zero, the manatees will flock here in the hundreds at least. But even on a normal day there are at least a dozen or so of these fantastic animals that you can spot. There are loads of tour operators in the area, so it's best to check Tripadvisor's Activities in Crystal River to decide which one is perfect for you. There won't be any major differences, but one tip is to go as early as possible. Some of them leave just after 6:00am which is recommended.

Natchez Trace Parkway

Early morning camp site in Natchez Trace, Mississippi

Early morning camp site in Natchez Trace, Mississippi

© All Rights Reserved Darell

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile (about 700 kilometres) scenic road spanning across Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, passing through numerous historic sites and offering a glimpse of life along an overland trail used for thousands of years through the early 1800's as a connection from the southern Mississippi River to the Tennessee River. The Natchez Trace Parkway headquarters and vistor's center are located in Tupelo, Mississippi. Other visitor's centers are the Information Center at Kosciusko, Mississippi and the Mississippi Crafts Center in Jackson, Mississippi.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the U.S. state of Virginia. The Park headquarters are located in Luray. This national park is long and narrow, with the broad Shenandoah River and Valley on the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east. Although the scenic Skyline Drive is likely the most prominent feature of the Park, almost 40% of the land area has been designated as wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

One fork of Shenandoah River.

One fork of Shenandoah River.

© All Rights Reserved jcorilio


The highest peak is Hawksbill Mountain at 1,235 metres. The park is best known for Skyline Drive, that runs the entire length of the park along the ridge of the mountains. The drive is particularly popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. Over 160 kilometres of the Appalachian Trail are also in the park. In total, there are over 800 kilometres of trails within the park. Of the trails, one of the most popular is Old Rag Mountain, which offers a thrilling rock scramble and some of the most breathtaking views in Virginia. There is also horseback riding, camping, bicycling, and many waterfalls. The Skyline Drive is the first National Park Service road east of the Mississippi River listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also designated as a National Scenic Byway.

Other Sights and Activities

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Events and Festivals

Daytona 500

The Daytona 500 is the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the most prestigious one of them all. It is held on a Sunday during the second half of February and attracts over 150,000 visitors every year. Tickets vary from just about US$50 to hundreds of dollars for VIP tickets, usually sold in combination with tickets for other events or as a package for the whole weekend.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras basically is the celebration prior to the fasting season of Lent. Although it refers to the events of the Carnival celebrations, Mardi Gras itself typically culminates on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday), referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Popular festival events are wearing masks and costumes, dancing and parades. Mardi Gras is celebrated mainly in South and North America, and probably the best known is the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Other famous ones include those in Rio de Janeiro, Barranquilla, Port of Spain, Quebec City and Mazatlán.

  • The Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race in North America and is held in Kentucky every year. No matter what your plan is open your hand and prepare your liver for a Mint Julep and some intense betting.
  • South by Southwest Music and Media Conference (SXSW) showcases hundreds of acts from around the world in Austin, Texas and is considered one of the best music festival in the USA.

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Weather

Such a huge areas has different climates. While it rarely gets cold in southern Florida, winter temperatures can drop significantly below zero more to the north, for example in Kentucky. Generally though, winters, lasting from December to March are not as cold as in the northern parts of the United States. During this time, temperatures decrease from south to north. Miami has winter temperatures just below 25 °C, New Orleans and Houston just under 20 °C, while more to the north Washington, D.C. is below 10 °C most of the time and below zero at night. Some nights in the north can drop to around -30 °C although this is quite rare.

Summers last from late May to September with almost everywhere warm to hot conditions. Temperatures can rise up to 40 °C, even in the northern parts and Texas is probably one of the hottest states in the southern region during this time, with occasionally 45 °C. Nights are fairly warm everywhere. Florida experiences smaller differences as temperatures are mainly around 30 °C with not that much variation throughout the months. The southern coastline can feel hot and sticky, from southern Florida all the way to Texas.

In general, April and May and September and October are good months almost anywhere, though bear in mind that the southern parts have a chance of hurricanes mainly hitting the coastal areas during the latter months.

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Getting There

By Plane

By Boat

Discovery Cruise Line operates a daily (except Wednesdays) cruise ferry between Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale in Florida and Freeport on Grand Bahama. It leaves at 9:30am from Fort Lauderdale, arriving in Freeport around 1:30pm, and returns from Freeport at 5:15pm, arriving in Fort Lauderdale around 10:30pm. So a one-way trip takes around 4 hours to the Bahamas, and about 5 hours back, which barely leaves you 4 hours at Grand Bahama Island. There are options to spend the night though and take a ferry the next day back to Florida. Services on board include three buffet meals and a Las Vegas style casino! A return ticket costs around US$140.

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Getting Around

By Car

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

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Eat

The South is well known for its wide variety of regional cuisine. At the core of the diet is "standard" Southern food - often known as "soul food" in other regions of the country. This typically includes local signatures such as collard greens, sweet potatoes (called yams), black-eyed peas, okra, watermelon, and corn bread. Grits, a corn meal or hominy paste, is a popular breakfast side. Note: grits are intended to be served with seasonings, especially salt, pepper, hot sauce, and butter. Plain grits are virtually tasteless, so ordering them that way will not give you a good impression and further draw attention to the fact that you are an outsider.

Due to its cultural diversity (especially at the coasts), the South is home to a number of unique culinary traditions. Perhaps the most famous is Cajun food, a zesty diet found in the Acadiana region of Louisiana. The crawfish, a shrimp-like shellfish, is a hallmark of this style of cooking. You may also encounter Low-country cuisine, which hails from the coastal area of South Carolina and focuses on seafood, particularly shrimp, crab, fish, and oysters. A more recent addition to the Southern palate is the advent of Latin food, especially in Florida and the region's larger cities. Barbecued pork is a staple on many Carolina dinner tables, often served with vinegar and cole slaw.

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Drink

For the most part, beverages in the South are the same as in any other American region. There are a few distinctions:

  • Sweet iced tea is common in most parts of the region. In fact, in some areas a restaurant order for "tea" will be assumed to mean "sweet tea"; if you would like hot or unsweetened tea, you may need to ask for it specifically. The sugar content of a glass of sweet tea is about the same as a glass of soda, and it has a similarly sugary taste. It is also sometimes served with lemons or other flavoring agents.
  • Many soft drinks originated in the South. Most notable is the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, including the Coke Museum associated with it. Coca-Cola's main rival, Pepsi-Cola, was originally produced in North Carolina, though it has since moved its headquarters to New York. Mountain Dew originated in Tennessee. Most dark soft drinks are generally referred to as "coke," and are rarely, if ever, called "soda" or "pop."
  • The South is largely conservative by American standards, and many areas still retain blue laws – longstanding ordinances against alcohol consumption. These vary widely from one community or county to the next, and range from a universal tolerance to an outright ban on alcohol sales. It is worth researching in advance to see if there are restrictions in the area you will visit. Not all members of the communities actually follow those blue laws, and the stated goals of these laws may be inconsistently applied with bootleggers and mail-order wine sales bypassing local laws. A telling innovation is the beer barn where drivers - presumably from 'dry' towns and counties - can drive into a large structure, out of public view, and fill their cars' trunks with beer and other forms of alcohol. Nonetheless, it is unwise to presume that in an area or at a time of day where liquor sales are prohibited, that a local will violate those laws for you or notify you of any people willing to do so.

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Sleep

Hotel and Motel Chains

There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:

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This is version 67. Last edited at 8:01 on Apr 22, 16 by Utrecht. 24 articles link to this page.

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