The regional US Travel South International Showcase event is on right now in St Louis, Missouri. Discover what’s hot (and spicy) in the Southern states. Zoe Macfarlane discovers why you need to add the South to your 2020 travel to-do list.
A whopping 7.2 million visitors explored the Southern USA states in 2018, experiencing what the residents here consider the grassroots, ‘real America’.
While Australian visitor numbers are growing to this vibrant region, the state tourism boards at the 38th annual Travel South International Showcase revealed that there are a ton of unexplored destinations still to discover.
Here is the low-down and high-lights on why you should travel South.
Vibes: Natural wonderland
Alabama’s 2020 theme is the Year of Natural Wonders. A trip through the state is one of wonder, thanks to Alabama’s mountains, rivers, caves, and the stunning Gulf Coast. You can even discover a river on top of a mountain at the Little River Canyon National Preserve. The eco-focus (and turtle conservation) at The Lodge at the Gulf State Park is worthy of a visit to Alabama alone.
Vibes: Bling it on
Did you know you can score a free diamond in Arkansas? Nope, it’s not a gimmick. At the (free) Craters of Diamond State Park – the world’s only public diamond mine – you are allowed to dig for – and keep – diamonds.
Other ‘gems’ in Arkansas include the state’s 52 stunning national parks, the quirky towns and attractions in Arkansas’s northwest, and the popular Northwoods mountain biking trail.
Vibes: As good as gold
You may not know much about Georgia, but you know Georgia. Well, if you’ve ever watched Stranger Things or the Hunger Games, you do. The natural diversity across the state has made it a desirable background for a ton of screen moments.
Vibes: Bourbon & bluegrass
2020 is the Year of Music in Kentucky, with a whole plethora of activities to showcase the bluegrass roots of the state. The weekend festival trifecta of the Hometown Rising (country music), Bourbon and Beyond (rock), and Louder than Life (heavy metal) have already begun drawing Australian visitors, with many more welcome.
Bonus fact: Kentucky is also the house boating capital of the world! Surprising, huh?
Vibes: Festival central
It isn’t all New Orleans Mardi Gras in Louisiana, y’ know? The state offers a whopping 400+ festivals a year that demonstrate the work-hard, play-hard attitude of the Louisianans. And plenty are family-friendly, too! Bring stretchy (party) pants, and comfy shoes as you’re going to eat, drink, dance, and laugh your way around Louisiana.
If you’re road-tripping the state, stop at the grand Houmas House plantation for a glimpse of the region’s antebellum period.
Vibes: They call it the blues
They may call it the blues, but a trip through Mississippi will be anything but a downer. Neatly located between the popular destinations of New Orleans and Memphis, Mississippi is a road-trippers dream.
Take the Blues Trail through the state, see the delta in Greenville, learn about the civil rights history in Jackson, and explore the unexpected Cajun Coast. You can even stop at Morgan Freeman’s bar.
Vibes: Speakeasy jazz
The Kansas City vibes are more West Coast than Mid West, perhaps due to the city being a rule breaker during the prohibition era. Jazz is said to have grown up in Kansas City, and speakeasy joints are the KC-go-to for a spot of decadence, along with the new-old J Reiger Distillery.
No Missouri trip is complete without a stop underground. Missouri is known as the ‘cave state’, with over 6,000!
Vibes: Outdoorsy adventures
North Carolina’s underdeveloped coast (320 miles of it), and 41 state parks make it an outdoor lovers paradise to road trip around. You can hike, bike, raft, and kayak across the state, all while receiving a warm welcome from the local residents along the way.
Vibes: Unexplored beaches
A fab state for road tripping, South Carolina is diverse, with vibrant mountains, charming towns, farmland, and quirky coastal gems to discover. All served with a big ol’ dollop of Southern hospitality.
Apart from the bustling Myrtle Beach, the chill fishing-town vibes of the 60-mile stretch of Grand Strand coastline make for a great alternative to a Florida beach stay.
Vibes: Hit the high notes
In Tennessee, you may come for the music, but you’ll stay for the outdoors. After you’ve found your own country rhythm in Nashville and sung the blues in Memphis, it’s time to hit a new note. Think hiking, kayaking, rafting, biking, and more across the state’s 56 national parks, rivers and waterfalls.
You can also drive three hours to access the Great Smoky Mountains, America’s most visited (and free) national park.
Vibes: Blaze a trail
Get off-the-beaten-track in West Virginia. With only 50,000 residents in Charleston, the state’s largest city, West Virginia is an all-natural, underdeveloped destination. It’s an easy hour’s drive from Washington D.C., affording a change of pace after touring the capital.
Outdoor recreation is a must in West Virginia. Explore Canaan Valley and its charming towns, as well as the epic mountain bike trails and ski runs at the Snowshoe Resort.
From Australia, Houston and Dallas are the western gateways to the South, with direct flights with Qantas and United.
New for 2020, in April Qantas, is scheduled to commence Brisbane to Chicago O’Hare flights, woohoo!
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