Ancient mountain ranges. Cool coastal marshes. Secluded swamps. Intriguing islands. This is just a sample of the biomes you can trek in the southeastern U.S. Whether you're looking for the views from rocky mountaintops or some peace in a boggy lowland forest, you're sure to find something to suit your fancy here. Browse our list of the best backpacking hikes in this region below and start planning your next adventure!
Featured Photo: Rabun Bald (photo by Cody Wellons)
Skyway Loop Trail
This 18-mile loop is perhaps the most-beloved backpacking trail in Alabama. Located in the dense Talladega National Forest, it is rated as moderate. It's also known by several other names: Skyway, Chinnabee, Pinhoti Loop or, even shorter, Pin-Chin-Sky Loop. (That should help when it comes to researching more!)
If you're looking for a leisurely hike, heading clockwise is easier. Many people like starting from the Adam's Gap trailhead. Whichever way you choose, you can look forward to several waterfalls (including Devil's Den and Cheaha Falls), scenic overlooks, towering old-growth forests, and Lake Chinnabee.
There are lots of creek crossings. Some of these may be tricky after heavy rains. Other than that, the trail is mostly easy to follow. Plenty of established campsites are available throughout.
Black Creek Trail
For some southern seclusion, head out on Mississippi's longest trail. The Black Creek Trail comes in at 40 miles and is rated as moderate. It's a point-to-point, so you'll need to arrange a shuttle.
The path cuts through DeSoto National Forest through rolling hills, flat flood plain, and piney groves. Lots of little creeks flow into the bigger one, so water shouldn't be too hard to find. With all of the streams and ponds, over 100 bridges and boardwalks dot the route to make your hike a bit more pleasant. Keep a lookout for beavers, blue herons, wood ducks, and even some wild hogs. (Be sure to read our Wildlife Safety Tips article if you haven't already.)
You should always have a reliable backup map, GPS, etc when hiking. The white blazes on this trail can sometimes be hard to find, so it's especially important here. Dispersed camping and campfires are allowed, so you can find the perfect spot under the stars.
Myakka Hiking Trail
The Florida Trail is arguably the most popular backpacking route in the state of Florida. Many of its sections fall in close behind as top hiking destinations in the Sunshine state. But, the Myakka Hiking Trail also comes in near the top of the list for its surprising diversity of terrain.
Located in the southwestern part of the state in Myakka River State Park, you'll find 34 miles worth of trails. All of the trails are rated easy due to their levelness. You can expect lots of exposure in the expansive central Florida grasslands. But, you will find some relief in the mossy oak woods. Saw palmetto and palm trees are a novelty if you're not from the region. The lush ferns add to the subtropical paradise. Fall is a great time to visit for wildflowers. The route also offers marshlands, scrubby flatwoods, and remnants from an old ranch. Alligators, burrowing owls, and many other rare species of birds call this area home.
There are six established campsites. Some of these can be very wet depending on the time of year. The blackwater stream is capable of flooding large sections of the trail during the wet season, so check ahead. With four loops in the area, you can extend your hike or make this a base camp-type trip.
Palmetto Trail-Swamp Fox Passage
Part of the 500-mile long Palmetto Trail of South Carolina, Swamp Fox Passage is one of its most popular section hikes. It is much more manageable at 47 miles, which are rated as moderate. This makes it a great option for a long weekend. Its point-to-point route takes you through a variety of terrain, including peaceful savannas, towering pine forests, and secluded swamps. In other words, everything you would expect from a hike in a southern state! If you're into history, you might find it interesting that these swamps served as hideouts for Francis Marion during the Revolutionary War. There is also plenty of wildlife to be seen along the way, especially if you're into bird watching.
Although there is plenty of water, as evidenced by the many boardwalks on the trail, most of it is brackish. Seriously consider some water caches. Camping is only allowed at designated sites.
Looking for the magnificent views the Great Smoky Mountains offer? But don't like the hustle and bustle of its national park near Gatlinburg and Cherokee? Head to Roan Mountain State Park instead! It's located much farther north. In fact, you can view the tallest peaks in both North Carolina and Virginia from the summit of the balds.
The area features a series of 5 summits along the Tennessee-North Carolina state border. This is actually the longest stretch of balds in the Appalachian Mountains, so you know the views are going to be awesome! You'll also find quiet spruce-fir forests. Be sure to plan your trip in June for the best of the wildflowers.
There are several ways to go about hiking the Roan Highlands. One option is a 19-mile loop from Carver's Gap to Hump Mountain. This makes for a 2-3 day trip, rated difficult. You'll find several shelters along the way since it follows the Appalachian Trail for much of the route.
With so many options in the area, we'll let you decide what route to take! Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area boasts 25+miles of trails. This makes it a great place to get away in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains for a quick overnight or the whole weekend.
Known by locals as “the Yosemite of the East”, it offers some stunning and unique scenery. Granite domes are the main feature, hence its nickname. You'll find tons of other beauty too in the form of sweeping valleys, deep gorges, mountain bogs, babbling brooks, and lively waterfalls. It is also home to rare plant species and the Panthertown-Bonas Defeat bear sanctuary.
Dispersed camping is allowed and no permits are required, so no need to plan for months in advance. One thing to keep in mind is that the trails are not marked, so take a good map and be comfortable with your ability to follow them!
Davenport Gap to Max Patch
This route is arguably one of the most popular hikes on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. At 14 miles, you can easily make this an overnight trip. But, don't let that fool you. It's straight up the whole way!
It also follows the AT, so the trail is hard to lose. You get your first great views atop Snowbird Mountain. (You can get some nice views through the trees on the way up too if you go in the off-season.) Other than that, enjoy the shady walk through the forest and fern-covered undergrowth. The breathtaking 360° views atop Max Patch make the work worthwhile.
For more details on this trip, check out our full write-up.
Bartram Trail-Georgia Section
The Bartram Trail is another popular long-distance hike in the Southeast. It meanders through Georgia and North Carolina for 115 miles. If you don't have time for all that, try starting with the 35-mile Georgia section.
It offers all of the scenic beauty you would expect of the southern Appalachians, including waterfalls, knobs, sweeping lookouts, and secluded forests. Speaking of which, this trail is known for being one of the most secluded long-distance trails in the whole country. Some other highlights include a hike to the top of Rabun Bald, Georgia's second-highest point, and a walk along the Chattooga River. Be sure to take advantage of two short side trips to Pinnacle Knob and Dick's Creek Falls.
Get more logistics on this trail in our full article.
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our "Best Backpacking Trips in the Eastern U.S." roundup post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other segments of the Appalachian Trail.
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.