With incredible destinations such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Savannah, GA, Walt Disney World, etc. there are so many reasons to take a Southern USA road trip with your kids.
Our Southern USA road trip started to take shape when our 5-year old daughter was going through a huge Disney princess phase. As we started to plan a family vacation to Disney World Orlando, we began to look at potential road trip options. The possibilities for a Southern USA road trip were endless – places I’d always wanted to go were all so close by!
We knew we had to take our kids on an epic road trip through the Southern USA during their summer vacation.
Below we share the details of our 28-day Southern USA road trip with kids itinerary. We developed a well-balanced family road trip with stops for the kids (Disney World) and destinations for us (Charleston, SC, the Smokies, etc.).
The possibilities for an amazing Southern USA road trip are nearly endless. We hope you find inspiration within our family road trip itinerary and use it as a launching pad for your Southern USA road trip with kids!
Southern USA Road Trip with Kids
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Planning a Holiday in the Southern USA with Kids
When to do a Southern USA Road Trip with Kids
The Southern USA is a huge place, ranging from Delaware all the way down to Texas. With such a large land mass, it’s a bit hard to give generic advice on the best time to do a Southern USA road trip with kids.
High season for Southern USA road trips tends to be in July and August, with warm sunny days across the region. Being high season, it generally means that places will be busier and hotel prices higher.
The Southern USA road trip we describe below was mostly in August – the heart of high season. We enjoyed hot, sunny weather nearly the whole time, with the exception of a few rainy days here and there. We sometimes found it difficult to find affordable accommodation in the Southern USA during high season, so book your hotels and vacation home rentals as early as you can.
Shoulder season for a Southern USA road trip tends to be April & May or September & October. If you can schedule your Southern USA road trip during the shoulder season, you will be treated to milder weather, less crowds and more affordable accommodations. You’ll enjoy wildflowers in the spring or beautiful fall foliage in the fall.
Once you narrow down where you’d like to go on your Southern USA road trip, we recommend a little extra research to ensure the weather is suitable for your family vacation.
How Long to Travel in Southern USA
Coming up with the best Southern USA road trip itinerary will depend entirely on how much time you have. We created our 28-day Southern USA road trip itinerary considering driving distances and using those times strategically. We wanted to limit our driving time in the car or use it strategically to give our kids some down time.
With 4 weeks for our Southern USA road trip itinerary, we tried to fit in destinations which appealed to the adults plus find plenty of destinations and attractions for the kids.
If you’d prefer a 2-week Southern USA road trip itinerary, we offer some suggestions below on how to reduce our four week Southern USA itinerary to a two week Southern USA. Below we offer a 2-Week Coastal Southeastern USA Road Trip Itinerary as well as a 2-Week Appalachian Mountains Road Trip Itinerary.
Where to Stay on your Southern USA Road Trip with Kids
On our Southern USA road trip, we tried to alternate staying in hotels and vacation rentals.
When traveling with kids, we have a strong preference for staying in a vacation home rental. We find that the kids sleep better when they have their own bedrooms, and it’s nice to have laundry facilities to wash our clothes.
Another big benefit of getting a vacation rental is having a kitchen to cook some of your own meals. We like to have a healthy breakfast at home, pack a good lunch, then reward ourselves to a great meal at a restaurant in the evening.
Related: 7 Tips to Find the Best Airbnb with Kids
On our Southern USA road trip, we rented hotel rooms for a variety of purposes. If we only have a 1-night stay somewhere, it’s just easier to sleep at a hotel, enjoy their free breakfast and get back on the road. We also stayed at a Disney Resort Hotel for four nights to help make our kids visit to Walt Disney World more special.
When booking hotels for our family, we always start with Booking.com and their excellent “Top Picks for Families“.
Southern USA Road Trip Itinerary
Here is our Southern USA road trip with kids itinerary with kids. This was a self-drive road trip itinerary for Southern USA with no multi-day tours.
Southern USA Road Trip – 4 Week Itinerary Overview
- Day 1 – Nashville arrival
- Days 2-5 – Orlando, FL – Walt Disney World
- Days 6-7 – Savannah, GA
- Days 8-9 – Charleston, SC
- Days 10-11 – Wilmington, NC
- Days 12-15: Shenandoah National Park
- Days 16-19: Blue Ridge Parkway
- Days 20-22: Asheville, NC
- Days 23-26: Gatlinburg, TN
- Days 27-28: Nashville, TN
4 Week Southern USA Road Trip Itinerary
We loved our time in the Southern USA with kids and couldn’t be happier with spending a full 4 weeks on a family road trip. Our road trip to the American South gave us sufficient time to explore each area and find some of the best things to do in the Southern USA with kids.
Day 1: Arrival in Nashville with Kids
We chose to begin and end our 28-day Southern USA road trip in Nashville due to its convenient central location to many of the destinations we wanted to visit on our family road trip.
Our flight from Canada into Nashville was delayed and we landed several hours late. We grabbed our Nashville rental car and were on the road by 3:45PM. Our destination? Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL!
The drive from Nashville, TN to Orlando, FL is an epic 689 miles, which would take roughly 10.5 hours. It made sense to break up this long drive, so we booked a night at the Sleep Inn and Suites in Valdosta, GA. Not the fanciest hotel in the Southern USA, but we don’t believe in paying a lot for a hotel when we are there for just a few hours.
Days 2-5: Walt Disney World & Orlando, FL
Day 2: Walt Disney Resort Hotel
It was a short 3-hour drive from our Valdosta, GA hotel to our Walt Disney Resort hotel. We checked into our Little Mermaid room at the Disney Art of Animation hotel. We chose this Disney Resort hotel in Orlando as it was affordable (by Disney standards anyway) and it was themed on some of our kids favorite Disney movies such as Little Mermaid, the Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars. Plus, the Art of Animation has the biggest swimming pool of any Walt Disney Resort hotel in Orlando!
After a long couple of days traveling from Banff, Canada to Orlando we treated ourselves to a fun & relaxing afternoon at the Art of Animation pool before heading out for a feast at a nearby Mexican restaurant – one of the many kid-friendly Orlando restaurants we discovered.
Day 3 & 5: Magic Kingdom Orlando
We spent days 3 & 5 of our Southern USA road trip at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Our daughter had just turned 5 years old and was in the middle of a huge Disney princess phase. At home, she’d wear her Disney princess dresses for days on end. Our desire to take her to Magic Kingdom Orlando to have a Disney Princess Experience was one of the catalysts for our entire Southern USA road trip.
We had an amazing two days with our kids at the Disney Magic Kingdom park. In addition to the Disney princess themed activities (such as Cinderella’s Royal Table and meeting Belle), we also found a ton of Disney activities for our 2-year old son to enjoy. During our 2-day visit, we learned the best gear to bring to Disney World as well as a bunch of useful Magic Kingdom tips and tricks.
Day 4 – Everglades Airboat Tour
During our off day from Disney World, we spent an incredible day in nature to restore our spirits and recharge our batteries. Wild Florida operates Everglades airboat tours on Lake Cyprus, just 50 minutes south of Disney World.
The Everglades airboat tour was a ton of fun and was the perfect antidote to the wonderful madness of the Magic Kingdom theme park. Lake Cyprus was beautiful, and we saw tons of wildlife, including a bald eagle, a great blue heron and plenty of alligators.
After our Everglades airboat tour, we visited the Wild Florida exotic animal zoo. The kids loved it – especially the petting zoo which had baby cows, baby goats and even baby ostriches! There were all kinds of exotic animals there, including lemurs, longhorn cattle, zebras, parrots, raccoons, giant tortoises, porcupines, sloths, etc.
Days 6-7: Savannah, GA
Day 6 – Wormsloe Historic Site
After a wonderfully exhausting 3 days in Orlando with kids we checked out of our Disney hotel early and drove 4 hours north to Savannah, GA. We arrived early afternoon, went grocery shopping, checked into our Savannah vacation rental house and threw a much-needed load of laundry in the wash.
After so much time at the Disney Magic Kingdom and Downtown Disney, we drove to the Wormsloe Historic Site for a healthy dose of nature.
Chances are that if you’ve looked into visiting Savannah, GA, you’ve seen pictures of the majestic row of towering oak trees found at the Wormsloe Historic Site. The visual effect of these ancient oak trees, whose massive limbs stretch over and cover the roadway for as far as you can see is incredibly special.
After taking tons of pictures of the famous Savannah oak trees, we went hiking with the kids around the Wormsloe Historic Site. Our kids love exploring new forest environments, especially Southern USA forests which have more exotic plants than we have back home in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Day 7 – Savannah Walking Tour
Day 7 of our Southern USA road trip with kids began with a self-guided walking tour of historic Savannah. We walked through beautiful Forsyth Park, enjoying the towering majesty of the large oak trees. The kids had fun running around Forsyth Park, talking to friendly locals and petting their dogs, while we enjoyed the beauty of the park and its amazing fountain.
After leaving Forsyth Park we traveled north on Bull Street, enjoying the historic Savannah architecture and the five amazing public squares along the way to the waterfront. Each Savannah public square is well-treed with a statue or monument. Bull Street in Savannah I one of the nicest city streets I have ever seen.
Upon reaching the Savannah River, we stopped in the Visitor Center to ask for some local hiking recommendations. We walked along the riverfront until we could no longer resist the tempting smells wafting from the many candy shops. We stopped in River Street Sweets for some freshly made Pecan Praline. So delicious!
We finished our Savannah walking tour with a visit to the City Market. Our kids loved running free on this pedestrian-only street. We stumbled across a splash park in Ellis Square, so we let the kids strip down to their underwear and run free in the water. They walked nearly 5km in the Georgia heat, so they deserved the opportunity to cool down while having a ton of fun.
Day 7 – Skidaway State Park Hike
For our last afternoon in Savannah with kids we went hiking at Skidaway State Park. The Sandpiper Trail was a fun Savannah hike for kids.
It begins with a long wooden boardwalk over a long stretch of salt flats, where you can see lots of little Fiddler Crabs scurrying about – you’d better be quiet though as the crabs are skittish and will scurry down their hole if they hear a loud noise. The kids made a ton of noise, scaring the crabs, which the kids thought was hilarious!
The Sandpiper Trail continues alongside tidal creeks with a wide variety of trees and lots of Spanish Moss flowing in the wind. The kids loved all the beautiful butterflies, dragonflies and bugs along the hiking trail.
The Avian Loop hiking trail is short, but is a good chance to see an Osprey and perhaps even a dolphin. We saw a huge bird of prey, which we think was an Osprey – but can’t confirm.
Incredibly, we saw a dolphin swim past us as the hiking trail neared the Skidaway Narrows River. The dolphin surfaced several times as it slowly swam upstream. It was going slow enough and staying up long enough that even our 5-year old saw the dolphin – a very exciting moment for her!
Day 8 – Bonaventure Cemetery
We began Day 8 of our Southern USA road trip with kids with a walk around the famous Savannah Bonaventure Cemetery – featured in the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
We were immediately impressed by the stately oak trees and Spanish Moss, but without knowing where to go in the Bonaventure Cemetery, we got bored and left. If a visit to the Bonaventure Cemetery intrigues you, we highly recommend joining a tour.
Read more on our time in Savannah with kids in this post.
Days 8-9: Charleston, SC
Day 8 – Walking Tour of Charleston, SC
We’ve had some long drives on our Southern USA road trip so far, so the short 2-hour drive from Savannah to Charleston was a pleasure. We checked into the Homewood Suites by Hilton around noon and grabbed lunch at a nearby southern food restaurant. A shrimp po’ boy sandwich, deep fried shrimp, pecan pie… Mmmmm!
After lunch we went on a self-guided walking tour of Charleston, SC. We began with a stop at the indoor/outdoor Charleston City Market where the kids had a great time looking at all the fun toys, colorful clothes & hats and souvenirs for sale.
Our next stop was Waterfront Park, which is filled with beautiful trees and fountains. There is a large fountain at the entrance of the Waterfront Park which kids can run and splash around in. The kids ran wild in the nearby lawn on their way to another beautiful fountain.
Day 8 – Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
Our final activity of the afternoon was the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. This Charleston attraction is probably called a “museum” as there is an educational bent to it, but it’s really just a super fun play place for kids.
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry has 5 different playrooms, play areas outside, plus one additional room especially for kids aged 0-3. Our kids loved the play room full of water tables, the huge pirate ship, and the realistic grocery store (where they could play as a shopper or cashier).
Day 9 – Walking Tour of Charleston, SC – Part 2
For our second morning in Charleston with kids, we continued our walking tour in the residential neighborhood south of Broad Street. We both agreed that it was one of the nicest neighborhoods we have seen anywhere in the world.
We finished our self-guided walking tour of Charleston with a stop at Rainbow Row, a strip of brightly colored homes, before returning to Waterfront Park. This time the kids had bathing suits and had a ball playing in the Pineapple Fountain and the splash park. Charleston got this one right – a splash park doesn’t have to be just for kids, it can be beautiful and fun!
South Carolina Aquarium
We finished our morning with a quick visit to the South Carolina Aquarium. It’s not a huge aquarium, but they pack a whole lot of fun into it. The kids loved the playful sea otters, the jellyfish, the seahorses, the frogs and most of all the touch pool where they picked up starfish, sea urchins and petted a few small striped sharks.
No visit to Charleston, SC is complete without a visit to the Magnolia Plantation, a beautiful place for a family walk. The Magnolia Plantation walking trail winds through stately, magnificent trees, past lakes, across charming bridges and along the river. Our kids were super excited when we spotted an alligator swimming ever so slowly down the river.
After our family walk, the kids loved the Magnolia Plantation zoo. The zoo houses a surprising number of animals, many of which are found naturally in the plantation but are sometimes hard to see in the wild.
Southern BBQ Feast
We LOVE southern barbeque food! After such a busy day in Charleston, we rewarded ourselves with dinner at the Swig & Swine. It was incredibly good, especially the ribs! For dessert, we devoured orders of bourbon chocolate pecan pie and peanut butter pie. The food at Swig & Swine was among the best meals we had on our Southern USA road trip!
Day 10 – Charleston Kayaking
Before leaving Charleston on Day 10 of our Southern USA road trip, we joined a kid-friendly 2-hour kayak tour with Charleston Outdoor Adventures. We were really hoping to see dolphins on our Charleston kayak tour, and our wish was granted within minutes when a pair of dolphins swam right past our kayaks!
Our Charleston kayak tour guide was knowledgeable about the local sea and land-based wildlife and gave us a great appreciation for how this amazing, delicate ecosystem works. In addition to the dolphins, we also were lucky enough to see a wide variety of birds including osprey, wood storks and great blue herons.
Read more on our time in Charleston with kids in this post.
Days 10-11: Wilmington, NC
After the Charleston kayak tour, we immediately drove 4 hours to Wilmington, NC. After settling into our Wilmington vacation rental house, we enjoyed a delicious southern meal at The Basics. Our entrees were delicious, but the star of the show was the Hummingbird Cake – a three-layer spiced cake with very generous cream cheese icing.
Day 11 – Venus Flytraps at Carolina Beach State Park
We had one full day in Wilmington, NC on our Southern USA road trip. We began with a visit to Carolina Beach State Park, where Venus flytrap plants grow in the wild. I always thought Venus flytraps were some exotic Asian plant, but in fact they only grow in the wild within a 75-mile radius of Wilmington, NC!
The Carolina State Beach Park has an easy walk called the Venus Flytrap Trail where, if you know where to look, you can see these special carnivorous plants in the wild. Venus flytraps like to grow in the transition zones between dry land and wet land, so watch for these areas and you’ll improve your chances.
Venus flytraps are typically quite small making them a little hard to see, but I found it was helpful to look for the “teeth” – they are a pattern which stands out in the randomness of the wild plants.
Fort Fischer Recreational Area Beach
There was a heat advisory in effect for Wilmington, so we decided to skip the highly rated aquarium and spend the whole afternoon playing at the Fort Fischer Recreational Area beach, recommended by our vacation rental host. This Wilmington beach was very beautiful – it’s deep and wide with super soft sand. Our kids loved looking at all the pretty seashells scattered amongst the waves.
Day 12 – Masonboro Island Eco Tour
Before leaving Wilmington, NC we joined a kid-friendly Eco Tour with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours. Our catamaran boat tour took us to nearby Masonboro Island, a protected nature preserve. Our guides took us for a short, informative walk through Masonboro Island on our way to a beautiful beach. We were given 90 minutes of free time to enjoy the natural beauty of this North Carolina island.
The Masonboro Island beach was very beautiful and stretched for as far as the eye could see in both directions. There are not many visitors to this island, so there was an abundance of treasures on the beach for the kids to find like seashells, etc.
Read more on our time in Wilmington with kids in this post.
Days 12-15: Shenandoah National Park
Our time on Masonboro Island went too quickly and soon we were continuing our Southern USA road trip with kids. It was a very long 6-hour drive from Wilmington to our vacation rental house in Syria, VA.
Day 13 – Stony Man Hike
Our first hike of our 4 days in Shenandoah National Park with kids was the Stony Man Trail, which begins along the Appalachian Trail. The kid-friendly Stoney Man hiking trail begins through a dense forest, before leading to a stunning viewpoint where you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains for as far as the eye can see.
On our way back down Stoney Man Trail we encountered a mother black bear and her small cub about 30 feet from the hiking path. We stayed and watched the magnificent black bears for a while as we had the safety of a large group and that the mother bear did not seem disturbed by our presence at all. A good reminder to bring bear spray in a holster on all your family hikes in Shenandoah National Park!
Dark Hollow Falls Trail
Our next kid-friendly hike in Shenandoah National Park was the Dark Hollow Falls Trail. This is a short, but very popular family hike which leads to a beautiful, tall waterfall.
Day 14 – Whiteoak Canyon Trail
We began our second day with a hike on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park. The beautiful Whiteoak Canyon hiking trail follows the Robinson River, passing several large waterfalls. Your kids will enjoy a dip in one of the many little swimming holes along the hiking trail.
Our kids were extremely interested in all the acorns, mushrooms, butterflies, daddy long legs, tiny lizards along the hiking trail. They also picked up every single caterpillar they found as well and wouldn’t start hiking again until they made it a nice little home made out of leaves and twigs on the side of the trail – haha! It’s sometimes frustrating waiting for the kids when we want to finish a hike, but it’s also gratifying to see kids learn to love nature so much.
Day 15 – Millers Head Trail
We were grateful that we dedicated 4 days to Shenandoah National Park on our Southern USA road trip as it had so many enjoyable kid-friendly hikes, including the Millers Head Trail.
This easy Shenandoah hike begins in a meadow of wildflowers, before transitioning to a forest, where the kids found tons of millipedes, caterpillars, butterflies and even a little brown tree frog. The Millers Head Trail ends at a lookout with breathtaking views of the distant mountains and the valley below.
The 1.3 mile Limberlost trail is one of the easiest hikes in Shenandoah National Park. The gravel pathway through a well-treed, flat section of the national park is also a good, short stroller-friendly hike in Shenandoah.
On the drive home we saw four black bears – two adults and two cubs!! We got a great view from within our car on the side of the road. The bear cubs were climbing up and down trees, while momma bear led them through the forest. A second adult, presumably the male, just sat there and looked at all the humans staring at him.
Day 16 – Blackrock Summit Hike
Our last kid-friendly hike in Shenandoah National Park was through dense fog on the Blackrock Summit Trail. Hiking in the fog in the forest is one of my favorite things – it’s so spooky!
The Blackrock Summit hike is an easy Shenandoah National Park hike which follows a portion of the Appalachian Trail. At the Blackrock Summit, climb the big pile of rocks to get the best views of the valley and surrounding mountains. We feared we would lose our view due to the fog, but it miraculously lifted as we reached the summit!
Read more on these kid-friendly hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
Days 16-19: Blue Ridge Parkway
Sadly, we left Shenandoah National Park, we entered the George Washington National Forest via the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway feels a lot like driving the Skyline Trail in Shenandoah National Park – the road follows along the top of the mountains, mostly through tall trees, with periodic breaks offering excellent views.
Fallingwater Cascades Hike
After an hour driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we stopped to hike Fallingwater Cascades, a well-treed, short hiking trail to a very nice cascading waterfall. Fallingwater Cascades trail is a kid-friendly hike with a small natural pool for kids to splash around in.
If your kids are like ours, they’ll mostly love looking at all the forest critters like caterpillars, millipedes, daddy long legs, butterflies, etc. By this time of our Southern USA road trip with kids, we had bought our daughter a bug viewing kit.
We checked into our Super 8 hotel in Bedford, VA late afternoon. Again, with only a single night’s stay we didn’t feel the need to shell out for anything too fancy. Just a nice clean hotel works for us on a 1-night stay.
Day 17 – Gully Creek Trail
Located at mile 217.5 in the Cumberland Knob Recreation Area, the Gully Creek Trail was one of our favorite hikes on our entire Southern USA road trip. The Gully Creek Trail is a short 2 mile hike, but it has difficult sections. If your kids are little, we’d recommend using a hiking carrier to get them through some of the tougher spots.
The Gully Creek Trail immediately descends through a dense forest to the bottom of a very lush gully, where it almost feels tropical! The trail then follows Gully Creek with lots of creek crossing to manage. If you are not wearing sports sandals, you may need to take off your hiking shoes several times.
The kids loved hopping on the stepping stones across Gully Creek and we enjoyed the beautiful waterfalls along the way.
We had been hiking with our kids pretty quite a bit over the past two weeks on our Southern USA road trip, so we treated ourselves to a quiet morning at our awesome cabin rental in Boone, NC.
Price Lake Hike
Our ‘easy day’ continued in the afternoon with a kid-friendly Blue Ridge Parkway hike around Price Lake. Most of the Price Lake hike is along the shoreline through a dense rhododendron forest. The Price Lake rhododendrons apparently bloom in early July – I imagine this Blue Ridge Parkway hike would be incredibly beautiful during this time.
Day 19 – Rough Ridge Hike
Rough Ridge Trail is a very popular Blue Ridge Parkway hike to an amazing Blue Ridge Mountains viewpoint. It’s only 0.3 miles to the Rough Ridge viewpoint, but it’s steep and the path has lots of rocks and tree roots.
The views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Rough Ridge hike were some of the best we found along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our vacation rental host said the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains would make us weep – we’d didn’t quite cry at Rough Ridge, but the views were amazing!
Mount Mitchell State Park
Our final stop on our Blue Ridge Parkway drive was the Mount Mitchell State Park. At 6,684 feet above sea level, Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the USA east of the Mississippi River. It’s amazing that you can drive all the way to the Mount Mitchell summit, but we recommend parking halfway up and hiking to the top.
It’s hard to find a moderate hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway are very short and easy, or they are super long and hard. If you are looking for a fun, scenic and rewarding moderate hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway, try the Mount Mitchell hike.
After hiking Mount Mitchell, we left the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove to our amazing A-Frame cabin rental in Mills River, NC, just outside of Asheville.
Read more on these kid-friendly hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Days 20-22: Asheville, NC
Day 20 – Chimney Rock State Park
Our Southern USA road trip with kids took us to Asheville, NC for the many amazing kid-friendly outdoor activities nearby. We started our family visit to Asheville with a full day visit to Chimney Rock State Park.
Chimney Rock has a little bit of everything for an outdoorsy family. There’s plenty of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties, amazing viewpoints, a towering waterfall and even an animal exhibit featuring the fauna of the park.
During our family visit to Chimney Rock State Park, we hiked the Four Seasons Trail, The Hickory Nut Falls Trail (with a 400’ waterfall that was featured in the Daniel Day Lewis film “The Last of the Mohicans”), and climbed 500 steps on the Outcroppings Trail to the Chimney Rock Lookout.
Chimney Rock is the state park’s signature granite outcropping. It’s a massive, vertical circular slab that rises dramatically into the sky. Chimney Rock formed with a reasonably flat top, so it made sense for someone to build stairs up there to use as an amazing viewpoint.
From the top of Chimney Rock, you will enjoy majestic views of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. Soaking in the beautiful North Carolina views with the kids made all the effort feel worthwhile.
If you visit Chimney Rock State Park with kids, don’t miss the Great Woodland Adventure hike, a super short 0.4 mile trail which has many fun and educational stops along the way.
Day 21 – Triple Falls Trail
On Day 21, our Southern USA road trip with kids took us to Dupont State Forest, just south of Asheville, to hike the very popular Triple Falls Trail.
A beautiful kid-friendly hike, the Triple Falls Trail winds through a mixed forest to several impressive waterfalls. The first waterfall is Triple Falls, which is a 120′ tall, beautiful, three-tiered waterfall.
Further up the trail is High Falls, which is also 120′ tall but is a single fall. Both waterfalls offer viewing areas viewing areas above and below the waterfall.
Day 22 – Looking Glass Falls
Our second day in Asheville with kids began with a stop at Looking Glass Falls in the Pisgah National Forest. It’s a short walk down a flight of stairs to these beautiful 60′ waterfalls.
Beyond the viewing platform are some shallow pools at the base of the Looking Glass Falls where you can get into the water. Lots of kids and adults alike were playing in the fresh water. Our kids had a great time exploring, throwing rocks, sticks and leaves and just being silly kids. A great stop!
Graveyard Fields Hiking
From the Looking Glass Falls, we jumped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the popular family friendly Graveyard Fields hiking area near milepost 418. This popular hiking area boasts several modest waterfalls and a nice hike through a river valley. There are several trails in the area which give a variety of options for lengths and difficulty.
The Graveyard Fields hike had a few waterfalls and was a nice enough in its own right, but what made this hike special was the ripe wild blueberries and blackberries! In late August every year, the bushes around Graveyard Fields explode with massive amounts of wild blueberries and blackberries which ripen in late August.
We were there just a little too early, but we still found plenty of wild berries to fill our tummies! Hiking Graveyard Fields was our favorite thing to do in Asheville with kids!
Day 23 – Asheville, NC
Our Southern USA road trip with kids had brought us to Asheville, NC but so far we hadn’t actually seen the town, so we spent our final morning finding kid-friendly activities.
We started with some awesome donuts at Vortex Donuts before walking to Pack Square Park in trendy downtown Asheville. We brought the kids here for “Splashville”, an interactive water fountain where kids are free to run and splash and play. Splashville is a large circle with many jets of water which spray water into the air in a seemingly random fashion.
The unpredictable nature of the water spray kept our kids running from stream to stream, giggling and laughing all the way. If you can, bring water shoes as there are clear glass tiles over the water jets (presumably to light it up at night?) which are very slippery. Our little guy nearly brained himself twice in the first minute!
Read more on these kid-friendly hikes near Asheville, NC.
Days 23-26: Gatlinburg, TN
Day 23 – Gatlinburg Cabin – Black Bears
Our kids have worked hard on our Southern USA road trip, so when we arrived at our charming cabin rental just outside Gatlinburg, TN we all hopped into the hot tub and just relaxed, taking in the amazing nature all around us. Ahhhh….
Early in the evening two black bears walked in front of our cabin, then to the side, then to the back. At one point we were looking out a side door, the black bear was 6 feet below us, with the only deck railing between us. The black bear stood on his hind legs and was looking into our cabin. His face was no more than a few feet from us! Frightening!
Even more scary is the fact the bears seemed so used to and unafraid of humans. They acted like bears which are used to being fed by humans. Sadly, this never ends well for the bears… Please help keep these magnificent creatures alive by keeping them wild and not feeding them human food.
Day 24 – Clingmans Dome
I woke up excited on Day 24! The part of our Southern USA road trip I was looking forward to most was taking our kids to the Great Smoky Mountains! The weather forecast looked great, so we hopped in our car and drove to Clingmans Dome.
It didn’t take long until the rain started. We saw a momma bear and one cub as we pulled onto the Clingmans Dome road, so that was worth the drive in-of-itself. The rain actually stopped as we pulled into the Clingmans Dome parking lot. We optimistically started walking up the easy paved trail to the summit.
Despite being up in the clouds and having absolutely no views, we had a great time on the short walk to the Clingmans Dome viewing platform. As luck would have it, there were lots of ripe raspberries along the trail, so our daughter had a ball running along picking all she could eat.
It started POURING rain on us at the top of Clingmans Dome – no views for us today. Oh well, the only way to guarantee failure is to not try. Nature got the best of us today, but I’m happy we tried.
After drying off in our Gatlinburg cabin rental, we decided to give nature another try and drove back to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to go for a short walk on the Gatlinburg Trail. This interesting kid-friendly Great Smokies hike runs through a dense forest alongside a very charming little river.
The Gatlinburg Trail also goes through a section of recently burned forest, but you’d hardly know it with all the robust regeneration of the forest plants.
It’s often hard to find a level ground, medium length, kid-friendly hike in a mountain setting, so we were happy to discover this Great Smoky Mountain hike.
Day 25 – Porters Creek Trail
The forecast was for light rain all day, so rather than seek out some views of the Great Smoky Mountains, we elected to do a family-friendly hike in the forest. The Porters Creek Trail follows Porters Creek through a gorgeous thick forest. The kids loved crossing Porters Creek on the little trail bridges.
For American history buffs, the first few miles of the Porters Creek Trail is home to some remnants of 19th century settlers. There’s old stairs, stone fences, and a cemetery to explore.
Day 26 – Anakeesta
We began day 26 of our Southern USA road trip with kids with a visit to Anakeesta, a family theme park in the heart of Gatlinburg, TN.
Your visit to Anakeesta starts off with a chairlift ride to the top of Anakeesta Mountain. It’s a great family experience from the moment you get off the chairlift. We began our visit with the Tree Canopy Walk; a beautiful walk over 16 connected sky bridges through the forest at heights of 40-60′.
After a picnic lunch, the kids quickly made new friends at the Treehouse Village Playground. A mini version of the Anakeesta canopy walk, with many platforms connected by small, sturdy bridges. They were having so much fun, we let them play a long time.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Next up was a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which despite its distance from the ocean, has been named among the best aquariums in the USA. What I liked best about Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was that it was chock-a-block full of crowd pleasers. The Ripley’s Aquarium has sharks, stingrays, hundreds of clown fish (“Little Nemo”), penguins, octopuses, sea horses, and so much more.
From the moment you enter the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies you can see how child friendly it is. There are fish tanks the kids can climb inside of, two giant playgrounds, an area where they can touch jelly fish and horseshoe crabs, many hands on exhibits for the kids to tinker with and much, much more.
Read more on the many things to do in Gatlinburg with kids.
Days 27-28: Nashville, TN
Day 27 – Nashville Glamping
Our final leg of driving on our Southern USA road trip with kids took us from Gatlinburg to Nashville. To break up the drive, we stopped for a quick walk through the Ijams Nature Center, just east of downtown Knoxville, TN. They have a nice walking trail split between a forest walk and an elevated boardwalk over the Tennessee River.
Taylor Swift was performing at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on this night, driving the price of Nashville hotels through the roof. We ended up glamping at a farm just outside Nashville. Our host was amazing with the kids, giving them feed for the chickens and some carrots for the horses. She even let our daughter go into the chicken coop to retrieve the eggs!
Day 28 – Country Music Hall of Fame
We’re not country music fans, but hey… when in Rome… We were pleasantly surprised with the Country Music Hall of Fame! Our daughter loved all the beautiful dresses on display, while our son loved the cool cars (Elvis’ Cadillac, a white one with longhorns and guns all over and Smokey & the Bandit).
One last BBQ Feast
Staff at the Country Music Hall of Fame recommended Martin’s Bar-B-Que as the best BBQ place in Nashville. It was great!
Martin’s Bar-B-Que is one of those joints where you order up front and they bring your food to the table. I had one last ribs feast, while Celine finally had a pulled pork sandwich. We each had a slice of pecan pie for dessert. It was a fine way to say goodbye to our Southern USA road trip with some good cookin’!
Yup – you read that right… the Nashville Parthenon! Nashville built a full-size replica of the Parthenon in the late 1800’s for their centennial celebration.
Inside the Nashville Parthenon is a 42 foot tall full-size replica of Athena, just as it is in the real Parthenon in Athens. Both of us have seen the real Parthenon in Athens, so this was just a fun stop for the kids prior to returning our rental car to the airport.
2-Week Southern USA Road Trip Itineraries
If you don’t have four full weeks to spend on a family road trip, here are a few alternate 2-week Southern USA road trip itineraries.
2-Week Coastal Southeastern USA Road Trip Itinerary
A fun family road trip you can pull out of our 4-week Southern USA road trip is the Coastal Southeastern USA portion of the road trip.
Your 14 Day Southeastern USA road trip itinerary might look something like this:
- Day 1 – Orlando, FL arrival
- Day 2 – Orlando, FL – Walt Disney World
- Day 3 – Orlando, FL – Everglades airboat tour
- Day 4 – Orlando, FL – Walt Disney World
- Day 5 – Savannah, GA – Wormsloe Historic Site
- Day 6 – Savannah, GA – Bonaventure Cemetery, Skidaway State Park Hike
- Day 7 – Hilton Head Island – Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Day 8 – Hilton Head Island – Beach time!
- Day 9 – Charleston, SC – Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
- Day 10 – Charleston, SC – Magnolia Plantation
- Day 11 – Charleston, SC – Kayaking Tour
- Day 12 – Wilmington, NC – Venus flytraps at Carolina Beach State Park
- Day 13 – Wilmington, NC – Fort Fischer Recreational Area Beach
- Day 14 – Return to Orlando, FL
2-Week Appalachian Mountains Road Trip Itinerary
Another great 2-week family road trip you can take from our 4-week Southern USA road trip is to focus on the national parks along the Appalachian Mountains.
Your 14 Day Appalachian Mountains road trip itinerary might look something like this:
- Day 1 – Gatlinburg, TN arrival
- Day 2 – Gatlinburg, TN – Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Day 3 – Gatlinburg, TN – Anakeesta and Ripley’s Aquarium
- Day 4 – Gatlinburg, TN – Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Day 5 – Asheville, NC – Chimney Rock State Park
- Day 6 – Asheville, NC – Hiking Triple Falls Trail
- Day 7 – Asheville, NC – Hiking Graveyard Fields Trail
- Day 8 – Blue Ridge Parkway – Mount Mitchell State Park and Rough Ridge Lookout
- Day 9 – Blue Ridge Parkway – Blue Ridge Mountains sightseeing
- Day 10 – Blue Ridge Parkway – Hiking Fallingwater Cascades Trail and Gully Creek Trail
- Day 11 – Shenandoah National Park – Blackrock Summit Hike
- Day 12 – Shenandoah National Park – Hike Whiteoak Canyon Trail
- Day 13 – Shenandoah National Park – Hike Stony Man Trail and Dark Hollow Falls
- Day 14 – Return to Gatlinburg, TN
Looking for more family road trip ideas? Try a family road trip to Utah!
What to Pack for a Southern USA Road Trip with Kids
We are minimalists when it comes to packing for family road trips, but here’s our must-haves for a road trip to the Southern USA with kids:
- For your driving days, you simply can’t beat giving your kids an iPad or tablet for entertainment. If you are on a highly scenic road like the Blue Ridge Parkway, then I’d probably force them to look out the window, but for the most part you’ll likely be on an interstate where the only scenery is Waffle Hut billboards.
Downloading TV shows and movies on the Netflix app is always good to keep the kids entertained, but if you are looking for something a little more cerebral, we are huge fans of giving our kids the Epic! reading app on travel days. Find out why we love the Epic reading app for travel, or at a minimum, we recommend you sign up for a free account with Epic to access a reduced library of online kids books for your Southern USA road trip.
- The days in the Southern USA can get quite hot, so we recommend staying well protected from the sun. Sun hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and plenty of water are a must for a Southern USA road trip with kids.
- Our Southern USA road trip with kids was in August, so it was mostly hot during the day, but we did have some cool mornings and rainy days. It was easiest to bring packable rain jackets that didn’t take a lot of space, especially since we only used them on occasion.
- We knew we’d be spending most of our time in the Southern USA hiking, so we had proper hiking boots for us and for the kids. We’ve summarized our favorite hiking gear for kids in this post.
- The other must-haves for us were hiking day packs for carrying everything we needed for the day, complete with hydration packs for the adults and kids.
- We also packed two toddler carriers with us. These were so useful if we wanted to do an extra-long hike or if one of our kids needed a small break from hiking.
- If you are traveling with a potty training toddler (like we were), those emergency pee breaks might have you worried. One of these toddler travel potties can easily be stowed in the car!
If you are traveling the Southern USA with a toddler (or a baby), one solution is to travel with a Slumberpod. This ingenious product will create a dark sleeping area for your toddler and it even works with the popular toddler travel beds like the Shrunks Junior.
You can buy a Slumberpod on Amazon or use code BABYCANTRAVEL10 to get $10USD off the SlumberPod when you buy direct from Slumberpod!
We hope you found some inspiration for a Southern USA road trip with kids! Have a great time!!
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