33 Hidden Gems Only Southerners Know About

Chapel of Ease
Photo: Discover South Carolina

Some secrets are best kept quiet (like when your "homemade" dessert is actually Betty Crocker), but some are made for sharing. When it comes to little-known spots for summer getaways, we can't zip our lips any longer, because it just wouldn't be right to withhold these hidden gems. Summer in the South is the ideal time to pack your bags, hit the road, and acquaint yourself with the best that the region has to offer. That's why we're giving you the scoop on our favorite secret hideaways, just in time for you to add them to your summer itinerary. From the back roads of Florida to the mountaintops of Virginia, these destinations are the off-the-beaten-path places that our editors return to year after year. We're confident you'll love these undiscovered places as much as we do. Just promise you'll share them with a friend.

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Bay Bluffs Preserve

Bay Bluff Park
Visit Pensacola

Pensacola, Florida

As you cruise down Pensacola's Scenic Highway, don't go too fast or you'll probably miss the parking lot for Bay Bluffs Preserve. The nondescript entrance might lead you to believe what lies beyond is nothing special, but trust us, the hidden beach tucked just beyond the oaks is worth a visit. Follow the winding boardwalk down the bluff to discover what might be one of the Florida panhandle's quietest little beaches. Railroad tracks frame the Escambia Bay shoreline, summoning an old-Florida nostalgia that just begs you to sit and stay awhile.

3400 Scenic Highway, Pensacola, FL 32503, cityofpensacola.com

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Grayson Highlands State Park

Shetland Pony in the landscape on Grayson Highlands State Park.
Getty Images

Mouth of Wilson, Virginia

Southwest Virginia is home to several beautiful routes along the Appalachian Trail, but it's hard to beat Grayson Highlands State Park with its 5,000-foot peaks and stunning waterfalls. As you hike the trails (there are 13 to choose from), watch for wild horses and stop for views of Mount Rogers, the tallest summit in the state. Nature enthusiasts will be delighted to explore a range of habitats from grazed pastures and red spruce forests to mossy bogs, while adventurous types will enjoy the bouldering, which locals say is the best in Virginia.

829 Grayson Highlands Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363, dcr.virginia.gov

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Robert Is Here Fruit Stand

Robert Is Here Fruit Stand Today
Robbie Caponetto

Homestead, Florida

Just east of the Everglades National Park and west of Florida City sits a large barn-like structure in the town of Homestead. With the words "Robert Is Here" screaming from the rooftop, you can't miss it. You shouldn't miss it. Stop by for the usual in-season ingredients (tomatoes, mangoes, squash), and discover new and exotic fruit like jackfruit, sugar apples, and guanabana. Make a stop if you're passing through, take a worthwhile detour if you're not, and be sure to order a milkshake for the road.

19200 SW 344th Street, Homestead, FL 33034, robertishere.com

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St. Helena Parish Chapel of Ease Ruins

Chapel of Ease
Discover South Carolina

Saint Helena Island, South Carolina

During colonial times, "chapels of ease" were sometimes constructed to enable planters who lived far from a parish church to attend services. This Anglican example near Beaufort, South Carolina, was built in the 1740s, but was largely destroyed by a forest fire in 1886. Its cemetery and ruins remain, displaying the durability of tabby (also known as coastal concrete), which includes a regional addition: oyster shells.

17 Lands End Road, Saint Helena Island, SC 29920, beaufortsc.org

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Unclaimed Baggage

Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, AL
Photo: Joe De Sciose

Scottsboro, Alabama

Scottsboro isn't a big place, with a population hovering around 15,000. But visitors to the tiny North Alabama town routinely exceed a million each year, largely due to Unclaimed Baggage. The massive retail store spans more than a city block and is stocked with 7,000-plus items each day—all recovered from luggage that was never retrieved from the airport. Find everything from designer Italian shoes and couture fashion to camera equipment and golf clubs at heavily discounted prices. You never know what treasures you'll turn up!

509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, AL 35768, unclaimedbaggage.com

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Cashiers, North Carolina

Whitewater Falls (North Carolina)

A short drive from the more well-known Highlands, this tiny town is perched on a plateau roughly 3,500 feet above sea level, amidst the Nantahala National Forest. If you're visiting in the summer, rent a boat on Lake Glenville—the highest elevation lake east of the Mississippi—for the afternoon or take an early-morning hike on Whiteside Mountain. In town, grab lunch at Cornucopia (also known as "Cashier's Favorite Porch"), sip a beer at The Ugly Dog Pub, or peruse the Farmer's Market for fresh flowers, homemade pies, and jam.

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Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Spring Hill, FL
Courtesy of Jenna Sims

Spring Hill, Florida

Located about an hour north of Tampa, Weeki Wachee is perhaps best known for its live mermaid shows. But there's more to see here than an underwater rendition of The Little Mermaid. Pictures can't capture the breathtaking scenery of the Weeki Wachee River, which is best enjoyed by kayak. As you traverse the 5.5 miles of crystal-clear waters, surrounded by palm, cypress, and oak trees, you may be lucky enough to find yourself floating alongside manatees, turtles, and otters. You can rent kayaks and paddleboards or bring your own vessel; either way, reservations are required through Weeki Fresh Water Adventures.

6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606, floridastateparks.org

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Scott's Antique Market

Scott’s Antique Market
Racehl Ellis

Atlanta, Georgia

For four days a month, you have the opportunity to rifle through 366,000 square feet of antiques, art, furniture, rugs, jewelry, and who knows what else at Scott's Antique Market. (And that's not even considering the outdoor space!) Mark your calendar for the second weekend of every month, from Thursday to Sunday, and clear out your trunk so you can haul home your finds. As you shop, you may find yourself mingling with interior designers, but they're probably there for the same reason you are: The prices are great, and the experience is even better. P.S. Don't miss the veggie stand outside the North Building!

3650-3850 Jonesboro Road, Atlanta, GA 30354, scottsantiquemarket.com

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Prince's Hot Chicken

Prince's Hot Chicken Restaurant
Getty Images / The Washington Post / Contributor

Nashville, Tennessee

No trip to Nashville (or anywhere near it, for that matter) is complete without a stop at Prince's Hot Chicken. The debate over where spicy fried chicken originated may never be settled, but many insist Prince's was the first to make it more than 100 years ago. Originally located in North Nashville, the hot spot has since moved south to a bigger building; you can also get your fix at the Prince's stand at the Assembly Food Hall (with sweeping rooftop views to boot).

5814 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, TN 37211, princeshotchicken.com

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Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Rip Van Winkle Gardens Jefferson Island
Courtesy of Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Jefferson Island, New Iberia, Louisiana

If your kids insist a garden tour will put them to sleep, pull up a photo of Rip Van Winkle Gardens. With towering 350-year-old live oaks, semi-tropical plants, and waterfront views, this place is nothing short of otherworldly. It began in the 1800s as a hunting lodge, built by Joseph Jefferson, a theater actor who played Rip Van Winkle many times. After walking the gardens, tour his mansion and rookery, and if you're up for an overnight stay, book a room in the Cook's Cottage or Servant's Quarters.

5505 Rip Van Winkle Road, New Iberia, LA 70560, ripvanwinklegardens.com

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Dauphin Island, Alabama

Dauphin Island Teal Beach House
Robbie Caponetto

If you're looking for a posh vacation spot fit for the stars, we'll be honest: This tiny island isn't it. But from its East to West End, Dauphin Island is marvelously colorful and full of personality. Vibrant beach houses hover on stilts, Ship & Shore peddles brightly-hued trinkets, and Island Rainbow serves old-school snow cones. Even though the whole thing spans less than two miles at its widest point, you'll find plenty to do, whether you wander the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, observe coastal creatures at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, or visit the pre-Civil War Historic Fort Gaines ("Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"). This place has never tried to be a tourist attraction, because those who know it love it exactly as it is.

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Lake Maurepas

Lake Maurepas
Andy Crawford Photography

Livingston Parish, Louisiana

You probably won't see hordes of fishermen throwing a line into these waters. You definitely won't see bustling towns dotting the lake's shores. Although the quiet might lead you to call it quaint, Lake Maurepas is actually one of the biggest lakes in Louisiana, situated directly west of its even bigger brother, Lake Pontchartrain. Lined with cypress trees and swampy vegetation, it's a hidden oasis, offering a serene spot for bass fishing or the perfect backdrop for an unruly summer party—it's whatever you want it to be.

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Coosa River Adventures

Kayak the Coosa River, Wetumpka, AL
Tara Massouleh McCay

Wetumpka, Alabama

Did you know you could kayak over whitewater rapids in Wetumpka, Alabama? Have you ever even heard of Wetumpka? Before it was featured on Ben and Erin Napier's Home Town Takeover on HGTV, the town's biggest claim to fame was as the home of the Big Fish movie house. But there's a reason the place was given a name that means "rumbling waters." The Coosa River, full of adrenaline-pumping rapids, snakes through Wetumpka; rent kayaks and paddle boards to traverse it from local outfitter Coosa River Adventures. From the drop point, even novices can safely kayak down a seven-mile portion of the river over Class II rapids. Pack a picnic lunch in a cooler and stop at one of the many islands for lunch.

415 Company Street, Wetumpka, AL 36092, coosariveradventures.com

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Manteo, North Carolina

Manteo, North Carolina
John Greim/Getty Images

Often called the "gateway to the Outer Banks," this picturesque town is perched on Roanoke Island's Shallowbag Bay. Think of it as a Southern cousin to Nantucket, with historic architecture, local shops and restaurants, pretty inns, and the lighthouse of your Instagram dreams. Visit the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum to learn about the only all-Black lifesaving crew in the U.S., or try your hand at hoisting sails at Roanoke Island Festival Park.

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Oak Mountain State Park

Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham, AL
Nellah Bailey McGough

Pelham, Alabama

Just 25 minutes from Birmingham (the hometown of this magazine!) is the nearly 10,000-acre Oak Mountain State Park. As Alabama's biggest state park, it offers 50 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, and a rehab center for injured birds, among other outdoor staples, like boat rentals and a swimming area. You could easily spend the whole day in the park, or if you want to explore the city too, split your time between Oak Mountain and Birmingham.

200 Terrace Drive, Pelham, AL 35124, alapark.com

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Eudora Welty's Camellia Garden

Jacky Parker Photography/Getty Images

Jackson, Mississippi

Many Southerners are familiar with legendary Mississippi writer Eudora Welty, perhaps best known for her short stories. But not as many are aware you can tour her home and the gorgeous gardens she designed with her mother in 1925. Her impressive collection of more than 30 varieties of camellias, her favorite flower, flaunt their colors from November through March, but they're at their best in February.

1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson, MS 39202, welty.mdah.ms.gov

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Cumberland Caverns

Cumberland Caverns, McMinnville, TN
Cumberland Caverns

McMinnville, Tennessee

Who needs a sprinkler when you can go spelunking to escape the heat? Cumberland Caverns stays a cool 56 degrees year round. Venture down for an afternoon-long walking tour to enjoy an up-close view of the incredible rock formations and waterfalls. Or camp out overnight for more time exploring the caverns—and the chance to eat breakfast down below. For a one-of-a kind musical experience, catch a concert in the Volcano Room. At 333 feet below the surface, this venue has phenomenal acoustics.

1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville, TN 37110, cumberlandcaverns.com

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Red Mountain Park

Red Mountain Park

Birmingham, Alabama

With 1,500 acres of sprawling green space along the Red Mountain Ridge in central Alabama, Red Mountain Park offers breathtaking overlooks that alone are worth the trip. What really sets apart the park, though, is its history: Red Mountain occupies the former site of the area's earliest iron-ore mining community. Though the last mine on the property closed in 1962, the remnants and artifacts of this remarkable part of Birmingham's history can still be seen and explored along the trails. Don't miss the Redding Hoist House, which once housed the gear needed to pull loads (and miners) up from below.

Southern Entrance: 2011 Frankfurt Drive, Birmingham, AL 35211, redmountainpark.org

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Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Wynn Myers

It's easy to overlook Daufuskie Island. Not because it isn't worth visiting, but because its sister island is a famous one: Hilton Head. You'll have to take a 30-minute ferry ride or 10-minute water taxi from Hilton Head to reach this tiny barrier island, only five miles from end to end. What awaits is a nearly untouched paradise. Think dense forests of giant live oaks, palmettos, and sun-drenched Spanish moss, leading out to pristine coastlines speckled with driftwood and shells. Rent a golf cart so you can easily navigate the dirt roads between stops like Silver Dew Winery, the Daufuskie Blues indigo-dyeing studio, and the island's quaint history museum.

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Blood Mountain, Chattahoochee National Forest

Blood Mountain, Chattahoochee National Forest, GA
SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

Blairsville, Georgia

Legend has it that this mountain—the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail—got its name from a bloody battle long ago between the Cherokee and Creek Indians. Others say it was inspired by the red lichen that spreads around its summit. But we like to think there may be a more beautiful explanation for Blood Mountain's name, one that also explains its popularity amongst locals: This spot has gorgeous, deep-orangey-red sunsets, best observed from the top. For an extra dose of red, head up in the fall, when the leaves of the hardwood trees are ablaze with color.

Byron Reece Trailhead, Blairsville GA 30512, atlantatrails.com

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Cypress Creek

Cypress Creek, Florence, AL
Hannah Hayes

Florence, Alabama

In Alabama, summer is floating season. Prime locations, like the Cahaba River, Smith Lake, and Little River Canyon, often involve a short hike and/or a pick-up truck ride to the banks, but Cypress Creek is super-accessible. After a quick drive from downtown Florence, park your car at Wildwood Park and walk around the bend, where you'll encounter a carved-out cliff towering over quiet turquoise water. Pro tip: Bring two inner tubes (one for you and one for your cooler) and a few slaw dogs from Bunyan's Bar-B-Q. You won't want to leave the water, although we do suggest picking through the pebbles on the shore for tumbled pieces of creek glass.

Wildwood Park Road, Florence, AL 35630, florenceal.org

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Nick's Original Filet House

Filet Mignon cooked still with the toothpicks
Getty Images / anamejia18

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

There's nothing fancy about this steakhouse on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. Its nickname is Nick's in the Sticks because the minuscule red-brick building is truly in the middle of nowhere. But it's hardly desolate: There's a near-constant crowd of diners waiting outside its doors. The trick is to bring a group of friends and forget about being in a hurry. While you wait, order a Nicodemus (the restaurant's signature drink made with a mix of spirits, punch, and Gatorade powder), and think about the juicy bacon-wrapped filet you're about to enjoy. Douse your side salad in the house blue cheese-ranch dressing, then mix it into your baked potato, too. The fried chicken gizzards are also a must.

4018 Culver Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401, nicks-in-the-sticks.com

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Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Clara Haslam/Getty Images

The island's gorgeous beaches (and spectacular golf courses) are no great mystery, but if you stay on the beach past 5 o'clock or so, when the umbrellas have been ferried away and everybody else is gone? Well, that empty stretch of unoccupied beach at sundown sure feels like your own little secret. You can even take your bike for a spin on the sand.

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Peach Park

Peach Park
Mandy Baughn Photography

Clanton, Alabama

The giant water tower painted to look like a peach is a dead giveaway that Clanton peddles the fruit, but don't you dare dismiss Peach Park as just another roadside attraction. Nor is it your average fruit stand. Smack dab in the middle of Alabama's peach country off I-65, this nondescript building is a humble playground of fruit flavors. Everything from peach butter and cider to fresh produce is prime for purchase, and you can't leave without a scoop of fresh peach ice cream or a fried peach pie. We'd venture to say it's not a trip down to the beach without it.

2300 7th Street S, Clanton, AL 35046, facebook.com/peachparkclanton

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Biloxi Bay Bridge

Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge (Coastal Mississippi)
Ryheen Brown

Biloxi, Mississippi

Take the morning walk of your life between two Gulf Coast towns, Biloxi and Ocean Springs. After Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi took a "let's make it even better" approach to rebuilding, so the severely damaged Biloxi Bay Bridge was replaced with a pedestrian walkway, designed to endure hurricane-force winds. The view of water and sky will make you forget all about your FitBit.

158 Howard Avenue, Biloxi, MS 39530, biloxi.ms.us

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Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens

Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, West Palm Beach, FL
Lisa Cericola

West Palm Beach, Florida

Directly across from Palm Beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens is a lush tropical hideaway filled with rare palm trees, colorful orchids, and incredible monolithic sculptures by the late artist Ann Weaver Norton. (It also regularly plays host to traveling exhibits.) When you're done wandering through the peaceful, shady grounds, explore the artist's beautiful 1920s home and studio, which are also filled with her works.

253 Barcelona Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33401, ansg.org

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U.S. National Whitewater Center

U.S. National Whitewater Center
U.S. National Whitewater Center

Charlotte, North Carolina

Don't let the name mislead you. The U.S. National Whitewater Center offers much more than whitewater rafting (although we highly suggest you try its namesake activity). This non-profit spot is a veritable oasis of outdoor activity, spread across 1,300 acres just outside downtown Charlotte. It offers everything from whitewater rafting to kayaking (on a course used to train Olympians!), mountain biking, climbing, and more. Purchase an all-access pass for the day, or go à la carte and choose only the activities you want to try. During the warmer months, stop by for free concerts or no-cost outdoor yoga classes.

5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte, NC 28214, center.whitewater.org

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Georgia Wine Country

Vineyard View In Georgia
Getty Images / chadscc

Dahlonega, Georgia

You don't have to travel to Napa to see row after row of leafy vineyards. A little over an hour from Atlanta, the tiny town of Dahlonega is the heart of Georgia's very own wine country. The charming hamlet holds its own against more well-known locales with 12 tasting rooms and eight wineries, many of which offer gorgeous views of the North Georgia mountains while you sip a glass. If you visit during the holiday season, you'll want to stroll the decked-out downtown, which has been used as a filming location for several Hallmark movies.

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Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center

Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center
Courtesy Caroline Rogers

Pine Mountain, Georgia

Tucked inside Callaway Gardens is the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, a glass-enclosed conservatory filled with over a thousand butterflies flitting amongst the waterfalls and tropical plants. Although watching the butterflies in action is the main draw, don't skip the education stations, where you can learn about the life cycle of butterflies and even watch them break out of their chrysalides and learn to fly. Outside the center, you'll find walking paths, bike trails, and wildflower gardens to cap off your visit. Who knows, maybe you'll spot some butterflies in the wild, too!

17617 US-27, Pine Mountain, GA 31822, callawaygardens.com

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Glacier Chocolate

Glacier Confection, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Glacier Confection

Tulsa, Oklahoma

You might come to the Brady Arts District in Tulsa to catch a concert, but don't be surprised if you're enticed into Glacier Chocolate. You won't regret the detour once you taste the truffles, artisan chocolates, and caramels, which are made with ingredients from all over the world. Take home the Tulsa Flag Caramel Box as a tasty souvenir.

1902 Utica Square, Tulsa, OK 74114, glacierchocolate.com

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Pascagoula River Audubon Center


Moss Point, Mississippi

As the gateway to a 70,000-acre preserve along the Pascagoula River, this center is a prime place to learn about all things outdoors, from landscaping with native plants to birding. Introduce yourself to the local critters living in the tanks inside, then stroll the gorgeous bayou walkways or take your little ones to the nature play garden. With the largest free-flowing river system in the lower 48, this preserve is home to some species that don't exist anywhere else, so keep your eye out for wildlife, too.

5107 Arthur Street, Moss Point, MS 39563, pascagoula.audubon.org

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Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park
Photo by Billy Pope via Flickr/Outdoor Alabama

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Alabama may not be home to any national parks, but the abundance of first-rate state parks more than makes up for it. One of the most unique is Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, which spans across 6,150 acres and includes nine different ecosystems. Plant yourself along the two miles of pristine white sand beaches, bask in the butterfly garden, or explore the 28 miles of trails and the nature center. You can make a weekend of it with a stay in the park's eco-friendly cottages or The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

20115 State Park Road, Gulf Shores, AL 36542, alapark.com

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Sliding Rock

Sliding Rock in Psgah National Forest
Photo: Gary Clark

Pisgah Forest, North Carolina

Forget water parks this summer, and head to Sliding Rock, a 60-foot-long natural water slide plunging into an eight-foot pool. Since the water hovers between 50 and 60 degrees, prepare for an icy jolt—and an adrenaline rush as you fly down the slope, along with the 11,000 gallons of water that pass over the rock every minute. The stunning scenery of Pisgah National Forest surrounds this natural wonder, so you'll want to take in other sights while you're here, like Looking Glass Falls and the Pink Beds loop.

7851 Pisgah Highway, Pisgah Forest, NC 28768, fs.usda.gov

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