The Very Best Southern US National Parks

These southern national parks are sure to delight

If you’re looking for an unforgettable outdoor adventure, be sure to check out one of the best southern U.S. national parks.

These parks are some of the most beautiful and diverse in the country, with plenty of activities and sights to see.

So pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable trip!  

Please note that I’ve listed the parks in this article in alphabetical order; they aren’t ranked in any way. 

I’ll leave it to you to decide which is the best southern park in the U.S.

Plan the perfect southern national parks trip with this free travel planner.

quiet river flowing through a canyon in Bend Bend National Park
Big Bend is one of the best southern U.S. National Parks.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is in Texas, and it spans 801,163 acres. This national park is perfect for visitors that love hiking, backpacking, fishing, scenic driving, bird watching, horseback riding, and more.

The Rio Grande borders the park, stretching 118 miles, which makes it a great place for rafting, kayaking, or canoeing.

If you would like to discover Big Bend National Park’s rich history as well as learn more about the nature, science, and culture of the park, Check out their guided programs led by park rangers.

There is so much to do in Big Bend National Park that you could easily spend a week there and still not see everything.

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Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is located in Florida, and it spans 172,971 acres. This national park is 95% water, so it is perfect for exploring by boat. This park also protects one of the largest reef systems in the entire world.

There are many fun things to do in Biscayne National Park, including walking the Convoy Point Jetty Trail, visiting the Boca Chita Key’s beautiful lighthouse, visiting Adams Key, and more.

vegetation growing in shallow water in Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park in Florida is 95% water.

If you love being on the water, you won’t want to miss out on kayaking or paddle boarding in Jones Lagoon.

There are also plenty of opportunities to go fishing, snorkeling, and diving in Biscayne National Park.

Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway

paved two-lane highway through the Blue Ridge Mountains
Although not officially a “National Park” the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Park Service unit.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive that stretches 469 miles from Virginia to North Carolina. This national park is perfect for visitors that love stunning mountain views, hiking, camping, picnicking, and more.

There are many overlooks along the parkway where you can stop and take in the incredible views. Some of these overlooks include The Great Valley Overlook, Grandfather Mountain Overlook, and Elk Mountain Overlook.

If you would rather hike than drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will love its many beautiful trails. Some of the trails you will not want to miss include the Linville Falls West Rim Trail, the Trail of Trees Trail, and the Apple Orchard Falls Trail.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is also home to many beautiful waterfalls, including Overall Run Falls, Whiteoak Canyon Falls, Cedar Run Falls, and more.

There is so much to see and do on the Blue Ridge Parkway! You could easily spend a week or more exploring this stunning national park.

The speed limit along the parkway is 45 miles per hour or less, so plan to take your time. 

Congaree National Park

Entrance Sign in Congaree National Park in South Carolina

Congaree National Park is located in South Carolina, and it spans over 20,000 acres. This national park is best known for its old-growth hardwood forest, which is the largest in the United States!

There are plenty of things to do at Congaree National Park, including hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, camping, and ranger-led programs.

If you love to hike, you will be able to explore many miles of trails at Congaree National Park. Some of these trails include the Boardwalk Trail, Weston Lake Loop Trail, Oakridge Trail, River Trail, and more.

You can also go camping at Congaree National Park. You can choose from two designated campgrounds, including the Longleaf Campground and the Bluff Campground.

Or enter the lottery each spring to see the synchronous fireflies. You can read more about Congaree’s firefly viewing lottery at Recreation.gov.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida

Located 70 miles off the coast of Key West, Florida, the remote Dry Tortugas National Park is mostly water.

An astonishing <1% of this national park is dry land. It’s accessible only by boat or seaplane.

The island is dominated by 19th Century Fort Jefferson and is one of the largest in the U.S. It’s also where the park’s headquarters and visitor’s center are located. According to the National Park Service, Fort Jefferson once defended “one of the most strategic deep water anchorages in North America.”

You can explore the third largest coral reef system in the world during your visit to Dry Tortugas National Park. As you explore the reefs, be mindful of the NPS guidelines and remember not to touch the coral and other protected wildlife.

Camping at Dry Tortugas is available, although campers will need to bring all their own supplies including fresh water. No public showers are available for campers at Dry Tortugas.

You can book your ferry to Dry Tortugas here. Be advised that ferries to Dry Tortugas can book up well in advance, so make sure to plan for your visit ahead of your trip to Florida.

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Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is in Florida, and it spans 2,357 miles. This national park is perfect for visitors that love kayaking, biking, fresh and saltwater fishing, hiking, canoeing, and camping in the wilderness.

If you are looking for a great place to set up camp in the Everglades National Park, you have plenty of options. The Everglades offers front country camping and wilderness camping.

The Long Pine Key and Flamingo campgrounds offer restrooms, tent and trailer sites, drinking water, picnic tables, showers, and grills.

If camping isn’t really your thing however, there are plenty of other things to do in the Everglades National Park. You can go alligator and crocodile spotting, take a boat ride, or try your hand at saltwater fishing.

There is also an abundance of wildlife to see in the Everglades National Park including birds, manatees, snakes, turtles, and more.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

view of the mountains at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The main attraction for most people when visiting The Great Smoky Mountains is the beautiful scenery. With its lush, green forests, misty blue mountains, cascading waterfalls, and idyllic meadows.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is perfect for a weekend getaway.

This park is located in both North Carolina and Tennessee. Two of the most popular areas of this national park are Cades Cove and Smokemont Campground, which has over 100 campsites.

Every year, millions of people visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park covers a wide expanse of land, with the highest peak being Clingmans Dome at an elevation of 6,643 feet.

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is located in Arkansas, and it spans 5,500 acres. The geothermal spring water and associated territory in Arkansas’s Ouachita Mountains are protected by this national park.

The hot springs at Hot Springs National Park have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. Today, you can still enjoy soaking in these therapeutic waters at Bathhouse Row.

There are also plenty of other things to do at Hot Springs National Park, including hiking, biking, bird-watching, and exploring.

If you love history, be sure to check out the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum and Visitor Center. Also, be sure to visit the nine historic bath houses during your stay.

No matter what your interests are, you are sure to find something to do at Hot Springs National Park.

Mammoth Cave National Park

cave opening with a walkway area

Mammoth Cave National Park is located in Kentucky, and it spans almost 53,000 acres. This national park is best known for its massive cave system, which is the largest in the world!

The Mammoth Cave offers many different tours that range from easy to strenuous. Some of the popular tours include the Extended Historic Tour, the Grand Adventure Tour, and the Star Chamber Lantern Tour.

If touring a cave does not sound like a fun time to you, there are plenty of other activities for you to enjoy at Mammoth Cave National Park. Some of these activities include bicycling, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and ranger-led programs.

Shenandoah National Park

This scenic national park is located within the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Shenandoah National Park features beautiful tree-lined hills, enchanting wooded hollows, breathtaking waterfalls, and a variety of wildlife.

Shenandoah National Park was founded in 1935. The park was completed around the time of WWII, and by 1976, half of the park was proclaimed as protected wilderness.

The 105-mile Skyline Drive winds itself around the center of Shenandoah National Park and connects to the Blue Ridge Parkway (see above). The road is often closed during the winter months due to heavy snowfall at higher elevations. The road is also one of the most frequently traveled in The National Park System, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Virgin Islands National Park

tropical bay with clear blue water and lush greenery at Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park is located in the US Virgin Islands, and it spans 14,737 acres. This national park is best known for its white-sand beaches, lush green tropical rainforest, and turquoise waters.

The Virgin Islands National Park offers many different activities for visitors to enjoy, including visiting the historic ruins, taking in the beauty of the coral reefs, snorkeling at Cinnamon Bay Beach, and much more.

If you love hiking, you will be in awe of all of the beautiful hiking trails that the Virgin Islands National Park has to offer. You can spend the day hiking on the Cinnamon Bay Nature Loop and Accessible Trail, Francis Bay Trail, Johnny Horn Trail, and many more.

There is something for everyone at Virgin Islands National Park, whether it’s history, the beach, or wildlife viewing.

Final thoughts on southern parks in the US

If you’re looking for an amazing outdoor adventure, be sure to check out one of the best southern US national parks.

These parks are some of the most beautiful and diverse in the country, with plenty of activities and sights to see.

So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip today! 

More articles to help you plan your US National Parks trip

Need help planning your Southern US National parks trip? Check out our list of the essential travel planning resources.  

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The Best Southern US National Parks

The Very Best Southern US National Parks

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