| Driving
Natural Wonders of the Southern USA

There are various “Wonders of the World” lists. You may remember the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Great Pyramids of Giza if you studied the ancient wonders of the world in school. You may have also seen Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon, and the Great Barrier Reef on CNN’s 7 natural wonders of the world list. While, yes, they’re all amazing, we also think there are some pretty awe-inspiring, beautiful, natural wonders in the Southern United States too. Add the following natural beauties to your bucket list and follow along as we take you through our top recommendations below.

  1. Big Bend National Park, Texas 

Man standing in mountains at Big Bend National Park, Texas

On the Far West Texas and Mexico border sits Big Bend National Park in all its glory. A mixture of mountain (Chisos mountain range), desert and sand (Chihuahuan Desert), river (Rio Grande), limestone canyon, and forest scenery spans across over 800 thousand acres. Clearly, there’s much to explore! Choose from more than 150 miles of trails to hike, canoe the Rio Grande River (Big Bend got its name from the big “bend” in this river), hire a guide, take a vehicle tour, stargaze at night, or bring your passport to visit boquillas on the other side of the border, and more. Note: The park requires a $30 parking/entrance fee per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, or an annual park pass for $55.

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina 

View from the top of mountain overlooking landscape at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Out of all 60 designated national parks in the U.S., the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the number one most visited national park. It is that popular — and for good reason. Wildflowers, wildlife, waterfalls, wooded trails, and historic structures are all around. From the challenging Mount Le Conte trail that takes you high into the sky with amazing views to the easy, yet gorgeous walk along Porters Creek’s cascading stream, there’s something for everyone. If you’re not sure where to start, the Sugarland’s Visitor Center can help provide trail maps and information on the right trail for your skill level and interest. Aaand — it’s free!

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

One of the most remarkable, scenic drives in the world is the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Appalachian Mountains. Touted as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the parkway was established in 1936 to link the edges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It’s easy to enjoy the 469 miles of incredible views and hiking trails from the comfort of your car as your cruise the open road any time of year, but note that it’s a particularly popular destination when the leaves change colors in Autumn. Some tips before you get on the parkway: Fill up your tank since gas is only available at access points off the parkway; cell phone reception is spotty so bring a paper map or grab one from a nearby visitor center; and if you’re hungry, consider dining at over 5,000 feet (yep, some amazing views) at the affordable Pisgah Inn Restaurant on Mt. Pisgah. Whether you do the entire drive or a partial drive, it’ll be an experience to remember.

  1. The Everglades, Florida

Just outside of Miami is the Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. The 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical diverse ecosystems and wetlands, or swampland, has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance — meaning it’s a pretty big deal. Start your exploration of South Florida’s treasure with a visit to the Ernest Coe Visitor Center to pick up informational brochures and learn about the surrounding area before you head out. Plan a stop at the Observation Tower at Shark Valley to see views for miles around, and no trip to the Everglades is complete without an Airboat tour and alligator sighting. Don’t forget the sunscreen and bug repellent!

  1. The Mississippi River

Ariel view of the the Mississippi River and road alongside it

Running 2,340 miles through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and out through Louisiana, the Mississippi River is the largest river in the U.S. and the fourth-longest in the world. How does one experience the Mississippi River Region? The Great River Road National Scenic Byway (created in 1938) is one option that follows the course of the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. However, the Mighty Mississippi can also be appreciated for the wonder it is, one of the most important rivers in the United States with an important impact on human history and home to 360 species of fish, 326 species of birds, 145 species of amphibians and 50 species of mammals, according to the MRPC.

You know what else? Within a few hours’ drive of these natural wonders, there’s a Direct Auto Insurance agent available to help you in-store. Before you hit the road, make sure you’re covered with a car insurance policy. Call, click, or come in to talk to a friendly agent about your coverage options.