By Eliza Myers
You take a running start across the sand and then feel yourself being lifted from the ground. Suddenly, you are flying like you’ve only imagined in dreams. The thrill of hang gliding at North Carolina’s Jockey’s Ridge State Park is just one way visitors can tap into their inner child and taste adventure in the South.
From rolling down a hill in a giant ball to zip lining inside a cave, there is no end to the adrenaline-pumping activities in each of the Southern states. Adventurous travel opportunities for young and old alike are easy to find in a region filled with incredible natural formations, outdoor scenery and a love of life.
Instead of opting for a tour that stays on historic homes’ verandas, try one that bikes or canoes past the plantations for a memorable experience not soon forgotten.
Southern adventure awaits. Just go for it.
Biking the Natchez Trace
Created by the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, the Old Natchez Trace was a 500-mile footpath that connected Natchez, Miss., to Nashville, Tenn. Now the route is an All-American Road with no commercial traffic and speeds limited to 50 mph.
Bikers love this road for its pastoral beauty and historic stops, which is why many tour operators like VBT offer guided bike tours. VBT’s Mississippi: The Natchez Trace takes guests along a piece of the Natchez Trace Parkway by bike, as well as to other stops nearby.
“The trace is like a paved hiking trail because it’s very scenic, and the parkway doesn’t go through many urban environments,” said Nicols Torrence, VBT guide. “It’s a good chance to connect with nature. The ride allows folks to decompress and not worry about traffic.”
The trip is rated easy to moderate, with few hills, and allows riders to decide how much they would like to bike and how much they would like to ride in the shuttle van.
The tour company handles the accommodations, food and sightseeing details so guests can focus their energy on biking.
Along the Natchez Trace route from Rocky Springs, Miss., to Natchez, participants can take a breather at historic stops that relate to Native Americans, natural history and Civil War sites. During a stop at Port Gibson, Miss., participants can see for themselves why Ulysses S. Grant declared the town “too beautiful to burn.”
With the help of shuttle vans, the tours also explore other Mississippi attractions, such as Vicksburg National Park;, the capital of Mississippi, Jackson; and the historic mansions of Natchez. Guests also get to prop their feet up after a day of biking during overnights in three antebellum inns.
“We focus on the Natchez Trace, but we see so much more than the trace,” said Torrence. “People leave with a better understanding of Southern culture. It’s really a wide-ranging tour among history, culture, cuisine and the people of the South.”
Zip lining at Mega Caverns
More than 17 miles of underground passageways lie beneath the city of Louisville. Since July, visitors can explore these forgotten man-made caverns on subterranean zip lines.
Mega Zips take guests on an exhilarating two-hour tour of the caves while guides relate information about the geology and history of the underground lair.
From the 1930s to 1970s, miners expanded the limestone cave to its current 100-acre size. The cave’s expansive size allows zip lines to zoom through the tunnels at up to 70 feet above the cavern floor and 165 feet below the city’s street level.
“We are the world’s only underground zip line, so there are no other tours like ours,” said Trey Moreau, director of sales and marketing for the Mega Caverns. “If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, this is definitely the place. Anyone can do it. We’ve even had an 87-year-old lady ride on it.”
While double-clipped to a steel cable, participants can tackle three challenge bridges and five zip lines, including one dual racing zip. With the dimly lit interiors, guests’ depth of perception can be tested, since what looks close by can actually be very far away.
Since only 12 people can zip line on a tour at once, larger groups can divide and include the one-hour historic tram-ride tour while waiting. The much calmer ride gives participants more information about the previously forgotten cavern complex.
White-water rafting the Coosa River
Whether you are looking to try out paddling white-water rapids for the first time or looking for a gentle float down the river, the Coosa Outdoor Center can help with boat rentals and safety concerns.
The popular rapids on the Coosa River begin between the Jordan Dam and a 70-foot-high rock outcropping that some deem the end of the Appalachian Mountains.
“On the Coosa, the rock formations are very beautiful,” said Lonnie Carden, president of the Coosa Outdoor Center. “It’s pretty remote. The lack of urbanization is a nice relief. So often, rivers are covered on both sides with towns.”
Beginning paddlers on either kayaks or canoes listen to a talk about how to read rapids and stay safe during the trip. The center does not supply guides but can contact one if requested.
Since the dam’s scheduled water releases ensure the river’s Class I, II and III rapids, participants never have to worry about the lack of rain preventing their rafting trip.
“The bird life is outstanding,” said Carden. “You can see eagles, osprey and great blue herons. In the spring when the martins are migrating, sometimes they are coming through in the thousands. It’s like the river was their highway.”
The center also caters to groups looking for a relaxing ride where they can focus on the scenery on the Tallapoosa River. This stretch of river stays at Class I, with beautiful sand bars and signs of Native American history. A close look at the banks along the way might reveal arrowheads or other historical artifacts.
Next: Hang gliding
Escape to Capers Island
Home-cooked meals and desert camping in Morocco
Arkansas is the canvas for 2013 Travel South Showcase
Unique to Southern states
Travel South: Shopping
More Experience This
Where in the World: American statues
Home-cooked meals and desert camping in Morocco
Group Game: Famous Triplets
Pioneer attractions in the U.S.
America's living-history sites