ATLANTA — Whether you’re trying to save a little money or just trying to find someplace close to home for a quick day trip, the Southeast offers many beautiful places that you can get to just by hopping in the car.
Here are 5 day trips you can take with your family that won’t impact your wallet and will take you to some pretty amazing places — all within a couple hours of Atlanta.
DeSoto Falls and Little River Canyon National Preserve
Just a short distance across the state line into Alabama are DeSoto Falls and Little River Canyon National Preserve.
DeSoto Falls is one of the tallest and most visited waterfalls in Alabama, according to the state park’s website.
The waterfall lies just off Lookout Mountain Parkway and can be reached by a paved pathway from a parking lot. There is a small fee to park.
DeSoto Falls drops 107 feet and is fueled by the historic A. A. Miller Dam.
The falls is a short distance from DeSoto State Park, which offers several hiking trails and camping. There are also several smaller waterfalls along the park’s trails.
When it comes to the difficulty of the hiking trails, most are fairly moderate and nothing really strenuous.
About 10 miles south of DeSoto Falls is Little River Canyon National Preserve, which features Little River Falls.
The falls is located off Alabama Highway 35 in Fort Payne, Alabama, and there is a large parking lot. When you park, you will see the paved paths that will take you alongside the falls and river.
In the back of the parking lot, there is another trail that takes you to an area down the river where many people like to swim. The trail is about a mile long and is fairly easy to walk until you get to the part where you go down to the edge of the river.
There is a staircase made of rocks to take you down to the water once you get to the end of path. The steps are steep in spots, so you need to watch your footing going down the stairs.
Noccalula Falls Park
About 2 hours and 15 minutes away from Atlanta in Gadsen, Alabama, is a really cool park where you can hike behind a waterfall and learn some of the area’s history at the same time.
Noccalula Falls Park features “beautiful rocks and gardens with an array of shrubs and flowers that may be viewed as you walk the park’s paved trail system or rest your feet as you ride on the authentic Huntington miniature train.”
There is also a petting zoo, a playground for children, a miniature golf course, and a campground.
You can also learn about life in the past in the park’s Pioneer Village, which includes an old mill and covered bridge.
The biggest feature of the park is Noccalula Falls, which cascades over 90 feet into the Black Creek ravine. You can enjoy the falls from above without having to pay entry into the park, but the best view of the falls is from below in the gorge.
When you get into the park, grab a map and follow the paved pathways to the back of the park to the Gorge Trail.
The trail is a relatively easy hike, but there are lots of rocks you have to maneuver over and around. Follow the signs to the falls. You hike through the gorge that contains massive boulders that line the creek.
About a mile down the trail, you finally come to the base of Noccalula Falls. There is a large cavern behind the falls that allows you to walk behind the cascading water and around to the other side of the gorge. The path on the other side of the falls takes you along the gorge and up to the park’s campgrounds.
At the top of the falls you will see a statue of a Native American woman, Princess Noccalula.
Noccalula was the daughter of a Cherokee chief and had been promised to another sub-chief to keep peace between the two nations.
On the day of her wedding, Noccalula went to the edge of the falls and jumped to her death instead of marrying.
The statue was built to honor the Native Americans who lived in the area.
Dry Falls is located in Highlands, North Carolina, about two hours from Atlanta.
The waterfall is actually part of a series of waterfalls that follow the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway in the Cullasaja Gorge.
There are small pull-offs along the byway where you can stop to see the other falls.
Once you get to Dry Falls, there is a decently sized parking area. There is a fee to park there. You will see the drop boxes to get your parking pass and deposit your money.
At the edge of the parking lot you will see the paved pathway that takes you down to the falls. It’s an easy hike that will take you about midway down the falls.
The path also takes you behind the falls. It’s a perfect place to go on a warm day.
The Stumphouse Tunnel, Yellow Branch & Issaqueena Falls
Head up just across the state line into South Carolina to check out the Stumphouse Tunnel.
According to a historical marker outside it, the Stumphouse Tunnel was the largest of three tunnels that were started before the Civil War for the Blue Ridge Railroad.
The rail line was supposed to connect Anderson, South Carolina to Knoxville, Tennessee, but was never completed.
The tunnel is wide open so you can walk in and check it out. The tunnel is 25 feet high, 17 feet wide and extends just over 1,600 feet into the mountain.
Just down the road are two incredible waterfalls.
Yellow Branch Falls is a 50-foot vertical cascade that flows over a series of ledges. Many people use this waterfall as a place to cool down and swim on a hot day.
It is also pet-friendly.
You will walk about 1.3 miles from the parking area to get to the falls, but the path is relatively easy to hike.
Issaqueena Falls is just up the road from Yellow Branch Falls.
Follow the signs to the parking area. From there you will see the path that takes you down to an observation deck to look at the falls.
The 100-foot cascade is among the most popular places in the area and among the most beautiful, according to the state’s website.
Providence Canyon State Park
Hailed as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon,” Providence Canyon State Park is about two hours southwest of Atlanta and makes for the perfect day trip to see something really extraordinary.
The canyon was formed by bad farming practices that caused the ground to erode away and form the massive gullies that now make up the canyon.
The park includes more than 10 miles of hiking trails along the canyon floor and around the rim of the canyon itself; there are spectacular views of the red, white and orangish soils that make up the canyon walls.
“The rare Plumleaf Azalea grows only in this region and blooms during July and August when most azaleas have lost their color,” the park’s website says.
There is $5 parking fee.
Also remember, when you go down, you’re going to have to go back up again.
Cox Media Group