EDITOR’S NOTE: While today’s article has timely information on restrictions and hours due to COVID-19, protocols can change quickly. Before you start planning, please keep in mind that the hours and operations of these destinations may be abbreviated or amended, so confirm the information presented here and that they are open before you go.
There is nothing quite like time spent on the water, especially during these sweltering summer months. Luckily, the South is filled with unique bodies of water, allowing you to escape the heat while still enjoying the great outdoors. Here are five magical Southern water destinations to help you plan your late-summer escape.
5 Magical Places to Cool Off This Summer
One of Florida’s Best-Kept Secrets: Wakulla Springs
Just a couple hours east of 30A and 30 minutes south of Tallahassee, is a magical spot nestled in the Florida forest. Wakulla Springs is one of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs. Its crystal-clear blue water is lined with Spanish moss-draped trees, and home to vibrant and diverse Florida wildlife, including manatees, which can often be spotted hanging out under the Spring’s diving tower.
Wakulla Springs has a public swimming area, offering plentiful opportunities for swimming and snorkeling. Currently, the swim area is operating at limited capacity, so it is recommended that visitors arrive early. A grassy beach area and spacious tables are available for picnicking. You can also grab a bite to eat at the Wakulla Springs Lodge, which offers a full-service dining room, as well as a soda shack, and visitors are asked to maintain a distance of at least six feet apart while dining.
The park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown, all year long. Admission is $6 per vehicle. Visit the website for more details.
Knoxville’s Hidden Oasis: Fort Dickerson Quarry
Minutes away from downtown Knoxville is a 350-foot-deep quarry surrounded by rocky cliffs and woodlands. The stunning turquoise quarry is just a 5-minute drive from UT’s campus. Bring floats and relax in the quarry’s calm waters; paddleboards, kayaks and canoes are also permitted. More adventurous visitors can take turns jumping into the water from the overhanging bluff. The quarry is part of Fort Dickerson Park, a recreational area that showcases one of the most well-preserved earthen forts from the Civil War era.
Fort Dickerson Park is taking social distancing protocols, with visitors being asked to maintain a distance of at least six feet at all times. City staff will be present at the quarry each day to remind swimmers of the rules.
There is no admission fee, and the quarry is open from sunrise to sunset. Parking for the quarry is located on Augusta Avenue. Park in the gravel lot and continue past the gate.
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A Must-See Alabama Waterfall: Little River Falls
One of the most accessible waterfalls in the state, Little River Falls is a beloved water destination in the Little River National Preserve. The 45-foot falls are located right outside of Fort Payne, Alabama, just a few hours from Atlanta and 1 hour, 40 minutes from Birmingham. The falls lead down to an accessible swimming area, and the river itself is a popular spot for expert-level kayakers.
There are no picnic tables in the area, but visitors are still welcome to picnic on the surrounding grounds. And the Little River Canyon Center is currently closed to visitors, but preserve lands and trails are open.
Parking is available off Highway 35, near Road 861. The trail from the parking area is almost a mile and can be rough and uneven at times, so use caution. There is no admission fee, and the falls are normally open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A Gorgeous Natural Pool in the Smokies: Midnight Hole
Make plans to visit Midnight Hole, a secluded natural pool off the Big Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The emerald green swimming hole sits beneath a 6-foot waterfall and is surrounded by large boulders that visitors often jump from into the cool water below.
To get there, start at Big Creek Trail, where a 1.5-mile hike will lead you to the pool. The trailhead begins on the road, just before the parking area. Keep in mind that the swimming hole may be busier than usual during the summer months, and social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions are recommended.
Parking can be limited, so make sure to arrive early if possible.
Louisiana’s Aquatic Gem: Bogue Chitto River
About an hour’s drive from New Orleans, South Louisiana’s hill country is home to the Bogue Chitto River, a scenic waterway that flows through carved canyons, hardwood forests, and cypress and tupelo swamps. The slow-moving river is an absolute must for a day of leisurely floating, whether it be via tube, kayak or canoe. Pebbled beaches along the river’s edge offer lovely spots to pull off and picnic, and there are also picnic pavilions scattered throughout the Bogue Chitto State Park.
Bogue Chitto State Park is open Sunday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The entrance fee is $3 per person. Seniors and children are free.
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