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Long Trails of the Southeast

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Eight states, over 600 miles of long-distance hiking

This article profiles over 600 varied miles of long trails, from the cypress swamps of South Florida to the high mountains of North Carolina. Each offers its own beauty and challenges. The Wild Azalea Trail, the shortest of the trails at 26 miles, is Louisiana’s longest footpath. It will surprise visitors as it rambles over pine-covered hills into lush bottomlands where clear, sand-bottomed streams flow. Wetlands abound in these creek bottoms, locally known as bayous, where the cypress trees grow tall. The 41-mile Black Creek Trail of Mississippi runs along the course of the federally designated Wild and Scenic Black Creek, amid cypress swamps, by sugar-white sandbars, and through hardwood forests with amazingly large trees.

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

The Natchez Trace National Scenic TrailThe Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail lies within the boundaries of the Natchez Trace Parkway, extending for 450 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. The most historic in nature of the National Scenic Trails, the Parkway commemorates the historic Natchez Trace, an ancient path that began as a Native American trail.

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No-Snow Zones – Leaving the Cold Behind

What have you been doing this winter?

Not-a-snowflake-in-sightIf your answer has anything to do with shoveling snow, digging out a stuck car, recharging a dead battery, or paying a fuel bill that is higher than your food bill, you’ve probably had it up to the snow line with storms rolling in and newscasters screaming about another winter snow frenzy on the radar. Not to mention that feeling that if just one more snowplow walls in your car (again!) you will go stark, raving mad.

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Sipsey Wilderness – Albama

Water and rock: Irresistible force, immovable object. What happens after millions of years of combat between equal adversaries? In the William Bankhead National Forest, the rock holds its ground, the water carves a twisting way through. The result: gorges and bluffs and waterfalls where you can hear the battle continue even now, drop by persistent drop.

Located in northwestern Alabama, the 180,000-acre Bankhead National Forest features a uniquely southern forest ecosystem of yellow pine, hemlock, and magnolia trees watered by the Wild and Scenic West Fork of the Sipsey River. The northeastern part of the Forest features 27 miles of brand-new, multiple-use loop trails open to equestrians, mountain bikes, and foot traffic, along with established primitive campgrounds. The three paths—the Pine Torch Loop, Brushy Loop, and the Key Mill Loop—meander through scenic hardwood forests and along the area’s many streams.

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Kayaking Little River Canyon – Albama

Kayaking-Little-River-CanyonTo allay your doubts: Yes, Alabama does have whitewater. I know this for a fact because I’m standing at the bottom of the Little River Canyon in the northeastern part of the state, staring across the spraying waters of the Little River. In front of me is a long tongue of pounding water pouring between two house-size boulders and tumbling into a curling hydraulic below. As far as I can see downstream, the Little River shows splashes of white where the rushing current glances and caroms off boulders and rocks.

Admittedly, Alabama is not high on the lists of destinations for whitewater enthusiasts. You want to see crowds of kayakers, canoeists, and rafters playing in the waves? Go to the nearby mountain rivers of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina where whitewater enthusiasts congregate in huge numbers. But tucked up in this out-of-the-way part of the state, the exciting whitewater runs of the Little River Canyon attract knowledgeable southeastern river rats who have discovered this well-kept secret. You won’t fight the crowds here to play in your favorite hole. On a”busy” weekend, maybe thirty kayaks ply the whitewater here.

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Little River Canyon National Preserve – Albama

River-CanyonTucked away in the northeast corner of Alabama near the Georgia border, Little River Canyon is an isolated oasis carved into a mountain. During the spring runoff, a handful of daredevil kayakers descend the canyon’s steep walls into a cauldron of class V whitewater. The wild serpent that rages within the gorge is occasionally tamed, easing into calm stretches of stream riffles and calm pools that lure seekers of solitude.

Above the canyon rim, hardwood trees nestle atop bluffs in the forested uplands of the Appalachian Plateau. Little River Falls blasts water onto the rocks like a steam furnace, creating a hovering vapor cloud of mist. Rock climbers, hikers, and nature photographers will find mountain nirvana in the heart of Dixie.

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William B. Bankhead National Forest

William-B-Bankhead-National-ForestOne of the Deep South’s finest pockets of deep woods, Alabama’s William B. Bankhead National Forest has a potential for adventure and natural beauty you’d expect of a bigger, wilder place. The forest’s 180,000 acres encompass pine-clad and hardwood forest, burbling streams, deep gorges, and an arkful of wildlife. Bankhead is part of the Warrior Mountains, the western terminus of the Appalachian Mountains; before Europeans arrived, the forests here had been hunted for some 12,000 years by the Choctaw and Cherokee peoples.