How to Make the Most of the Last Days of Summer in the Southeast

Cool off at Abrams Falls, a stunner of a waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Cool off at Abrams Falls, a stunner of a waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Patrick Mueller
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Many residents of the Southeast have a love-hate relationship with summer. In the frigid winter months, we dream of sultry summer days on the river; in the dregs of August, we long for the first cool breeze of fall. Feelings about this sweat-inducing season truly run hot and cold. However, it never fails that the last few weeks of summer find everyone scrambling to squeeze in as many beloved last-minute summer activities as possible before attention turns to flannels and football. Here are a few ideas for awesome end-of-summer adventures to have in the Southeast.

1. Get in Last Laps on the Ocoee River

From April to October, the dam-controlled Ocoee River offers over five miles of world-class whitewater kayaking and rafting. Located about an hour east of Chattanooga, the river gained fame after hosting the 1996 Olympics and now draws thousands of paddlers to its Class III and IV rapids. At the height of the summer, the river runs five days each week, but dwindles to only weekends as the summer draws to a close. These last few weeks are precious for local paddlers for squeezing in as many Ocoee runs as possible before the season ends. Several excellent rafting companies offer guided trips, but however you get there, make sure to do it: A Southeastern summer just isn’t complete without a trip down the Ocoee.

2. Hike to the Top of Mt. LeConte

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The 11-mile round-trip hike up the Alum Cave Trail offers excellent views, and in late summer, not-quite-so-hot temps. Stewart Photography

At 6,593 feet, Mt. LeConte is the highest point in Tennessee. It attracts thousands of challenge-seekers each year, and while there are several trails to the summit, the most popular (and arguably most scenic) is an 11-mile round trip on the Alum Cave Trail. Late summer temperatures drop into the 60s and 70s during the day, making it the perfect season to bag the summit of Mt. LeConte. Snowfall is possible in autumn and common in winter, so that end-of-summer window is an ideal time to experience the beauty of this trail.

3. Spend a Week at AmericanaFest

For nearly a full week each September, AmericanaFest takes over Nashville’s venues and features more than 500 musical performances throughout the city. By day the festival offers seminars and networking events for music industry professionals (though anyone is welcome to purchase a conference pass), and by night it becomes the South’s best showcase of roots, folk, country, blues, and other all-American music. For music lovers, there’s no better way to wind down the summer than by enjoying the soulful sounds of AmericanaFest.

4. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail

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Get into the saddle for a late-summer ride along the popular Virginia Creeper Trail. Perry Smyre

As one of the country’s premier rail trails, this gorgeous 34-mile path winds through the rolling mountains of Southwest Virginia and offers visitors myriad opportunities for one-of-a-kind adventures. The most common way to experience the trail is to rent a bike from a local outfitter and take a shuttle to the Virginia Creeper Trail’s highest point at Whitetop Station. From there, it’s a fun and easy 17-mile coast downhill through forests and over streams to the quaint town of Damascus. You can end your journey here or continue to Abingdon to complete the entire trail. While fall is the most popular time to visit for prime leaf peeping, a late summer trip offers a less-crowded experience to enjoy this charming corner of the Southeast.

5. Go Swimming at Cumberland Island

Wild ponies, American history, and serene seashores make Cumberland Island one of Georgia’s most unique and exotic experiences. Each season on the island has its merits, but the end of summer is prime time for beachgoers. The island’s pristine shoreline is always lovely to look at, but the waters can be uncomfortably chilly throughout spring and early summer. As summer wraps up, however, the ocean warms to temps that offer a wonderful respite from the hot sun. From St. Mary’s, it’s only a 45-minute ferry ride and a half-mile walk to the island’s nearest beach, making this an adventure that can easily be completed in a single day.

6. Sample the Summer Seasonals at Asheville Breweries

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New Belgium Brewery is one of many favorite spots for a pint or two in Asheville. Kevin Stewart Photography

Frequently referred to as Beer City, USA, this North Carolina town is overflowing with local craft beer. While the area’s natural and cultural attractions are top-notch, more beer enthusiasts are venturing to Asheville specifically for its thriving brewery scene. And at the end of summer, brewers are beginning to phase out their airy pilsners and goses in favor of darker, heavier beers. Make the most of the last summer days in Asheville by sampling the soon-to-be-gone summer seasonals at some of the city’s best breweries, like Highland Brewing Company, Green Man, New Belgium, Burial, and Wicked Weed.

7. Mountain Bike at Oak Mountain

Considered by many as Alabama’s best mountain biking area, Oak Mountain State Park offers more than 20 miles of singletrack tucked into nearly 10,000 acres of wilderness. Summer is peak riding season, and the approach of cooler weather means it’s time to get in as much riding as possible. Whether you’re an experienced biker or a beginner, you’ll find something to love at Oak Mountain. Choose to knock out the entire 22-mile loop or create an out-and-back ride to suit your adventure. And since the park is only a few minutes outside of Birmingham, you’ll have plenty of great options for post-ride brews and food.

8. Visit Cade’s Cove

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Soak up serene views in Cade’s Cove, a favorite spot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Kevin Stewart

Another iconic destination in the Great Smoky Mountains, Cade’s Cove is an oasis of wildlife and history tucked into the heart of America’s most-visited national park. The 11-mile driving loop winds through meadows and forests where deer, bears, and turkeys are often spotted. While many people choose to enjoy the scenery only from the car, Cade’s Cove offers some lovely hiking as well, such as the Abram’s Falls trail. This area is gorgeous and lively in any season, but late summer brings rare wildflowers like the yellow-fringed orchid. It’s also a great time of year for wildlife viewing, as white-tailed deer begin their mating season and bears become more active as fall approaches.

Written by Madison Eubanks for RootsRated Media in partnership with RootsRated.

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