Three-day weekends don’t come around often enough. But when they do, it’s important to make the most of them. Although a mere few days may seem like a small stint compared to a traditional two-week vacation, it’s actually just enough time to escape normalcy and treat yourself to a well-deserved mini-vacation. Given a three-day pocket, you can see a lot and participate in a variety of activities, and still make it back to the real world without any sort of vacation hang over.
To do so properly, it’s important to research potential destinations and plan ahead. Luckily, in the Southeast offers up plenty of sweet spots to choose from. Whether you want sandy shores or breezy Blue Ridge Mountains, this Memorial Day weekend (or any long weekend, really), treat yourself to an incredible getaway to any of the following Southeastern getaways:
1. Blowing Rock and Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
With far-reaching views of indigo mountains extending into the horizon, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s favorite destinations.
Regardless if you transport by bike or car, riding along this 469-mile route provides ample opportunities for stunning overlooks and easy access to outdoor adventure. There are over 100 diverse trails stemming off the road in the North Carolina segment alone, ranging in difficulty and purpose. Whether you’re interested in bicycling, hiking, trail running, or rock climbing, the Parkway is sure to deliver.
Taking time to wander off-road is mandatory. (Devil’s Courthouse and Craggy Gardens are just a couple of world-class options near Asheville.) Enjoy scenic views of misty mountains, cascading waterfalls, towering geological features, and deep gorges, blossoming with wildflowers. If you’re lucky, you may even come across a Western Carolina swimming hole.
The charming mountain town of Blowing Rock, NC is an oasis in itself, located just five minutes from the Parkway. Blowing Rock is home to family-friendly attractions, such as the Tweetsie Railroad and “The Blowing Rock”—a neat geological formation, in which erosion forced a series of jagged rocks to point upwards, at a steep slant.
While there is much to offer in terms of outdoor activities and sport, Blowing Rock is also a place of superlative relaxation. Here, you can indulge in spa treatment, feast at award-winning local restaurants, and revel in the locals’ fantastic hospitality. Treat yourself to a quality foot massage; and retreat to a fancy resort, quaint bed and breakfast, or simple cabin the woods.
What to pack: Hiking shoes are a must.
If you plan to ride your bike, be sure to bring rear and front lights, since you’ll venture through multiple dark tunnels along the Parkway. (We recommend heading south from Blowing Rock.)
Also, be prepared for unexpected weather changes. Weather in Western Carolina can be unpredictable, where things can change dramatically and quickly. Pack rain gear and clothing appropriate for diverse temperatures, just in case.
What not to miss: We recommend heading southwest from Blowing Rock, towards Grandfather Mountain. Grandfather Mountain hosts 11 quality trail systems, ranging form short .25 mile hikes to 10-mile journeys and longer. The Profile Trail is a classic local favorite. Additionally, Grandfather Mountain is home to the iconic Mile High Swinging Bridge—America’s highest suspension footbridge, 228-feet in height and spanning an 80-foot chasm. The bridge was originally built to provide visitors access to the breathtaking vistas of Linville Peak and continue to inspire passers-by today.
Linville Gorge—nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians”—will take you to Linville Falls, a three-tiered waterfall that plunges into the gorge. The Falls Trail is an easy 1.6 mile round trip, while the Gorge Trail distance is 1.4 miles, but more strenuous. Plunge Basic Trail is a 1-mile moderate journey.
Where to stay: Blowing Rock provides more of a “glamping” scene than a rugged, camping experience. Even though camping options exist, none of the grounds are necessarily A-grade. And with several higher-end options, you might as well optimize on your experience and get a solid night’s rest somewhere peaceful.
Although the Julian Price Campground is a B-grade campsite, it is excellently located on the Parkway and offers impressively beautiful views—not to mention excellent nearby hiking!
2. St. George Island, Florida
Located just off the Gulf Coast and Apalachicola Bay, this North Florida barrier island is anything but stereotypical Florida. In fact, St. George—one of Florida’s few remaining unspoiled islands—is like a photo negative of seaside segments like Destin or Panama City Beach.
With pristine white-sand beaches, rolling ocean waves, and faultless natural beauty—all free of tourist congestion—St. George is truly an oasis, offering a mix of relaxation and outstanding adventure. Rated one of the top beaches in the United States, this paradise is mainly known for its serene ocean views and well-kept state park.
The St. George Island State Park, located on the far eastern side of the island, hosts nine miles of fantastic shoreline, impressive dunes, forests, and marshes. Diverse wildlife, unbeatable seafood, a paved scenic bike path, flat-water seas for kayaking, dolphin-spotting day trips, and excursions to nearby uninhabited islands are just a handful of St. George highlights. Whether you’re sunbathing near the crashing waves, beach combing along the coast, fishing in a nearby bay, observing migrating birds, kayaking the marshes, bicycling around the island, or swimming in the Gulf’s surrounding crystal clear waters, you are guaranteed a fun, tranquil vacation.
Hike along the beaches, star gaze beneath the brilliant skies, and camp near nesting sea turtles that gather ashore to lay eggs. Make a visit to the newly reconstructed 80-foot lighthouse, propped proudly in the island’s center, and meander your way around the area’s unique art galleries and boutiques.
One of the best parts about St. George is its focus on preservation. “Leave No Trace” and strict building codes are in place to protect the island, allowing St. George to remain free of high-rise towers and conglomerate chains. And just as the industrial side of things are kept low key, the nature itself is well-maintained and guarded. “Leave No Trace” policies protect the State Park’s diverse wildlife, as well as preserve the region’s natural beauty.
At night, head to one of the island’s late night bars or restaurants to listen to live music or participate in karaoke. If darts and billiards aren’t your thing, head down to the beach and watch crabs shuffle their way across the dunes. Hang a hammock beneath the rising moon, listen to the crashing waves, breathe in the salty breeze, and fall asleep beneath the stars.
What to pack: Bring a kayak or paddleboard, fishing gear, and multi-use shoes that can be utilized for boating and hiking. Terrain varies on the island, and you’ll want to be prepared for sandy, wet feet.
Oh, and don’t forget your dog! Since St. George is one of Florida’s only pet-friendly spots, you won’t have to worry about leaving your furry friend behind. Pets are allowed in the campground, on trails, throughout the park, on most public beaches, and inside many of the island’s rental homes—as long as they’re kept on a leash and under the owner’s control.
What not to miss: St. George is a fishermen’s dream. Stock bait at nearby tackle shops and cast your rods. With diverse species—from speckled trout, mahi-mahi, snapper, and some species of sharks; to grouper, redfish, flounder, mackerel, and more—you’re certain to make a solid catch, as well as provide yourself a super fresh meal.
Even if you opt out of fishing, you definitely won’t want to miss the seafood feast afterwards. St. George prides itself on serving up some of the best oysters in the world. Most restaurants on the island prepare these ocean critters steamed, grilled, in bisques, or simply in the shell. Thus is also true with shrimp: fried, grilled, in soups and chowders.
Sailboats and powerboats are available for rent, as are kayaks and canoes. It’s worth exploring remote bays and inlets by kayak—be it for a peaceful excursion or a mild workout. Who knows, you may even site a glimpse of a soaring bald eagle!
Where to stay: Going out of Apalachicola Bay, you can camp at the lovely state park. Or, rent a quaint cottage, spacious villa or a multi-story luxury house.
3. Chattooga and Clayton, Georgia
The quaint mountain community of Clayton, GA is comprised of a lovely downtown area with antique crafts and collectables, a museum, great restaurants, and a cultural center. But the main attraction? The Chattooga River.
The Chattooga River is a nationally-renowned river and undoubtedly one of the Southeast’s premier whitewater rafting locations. According to Southern Living, rafting the Chattooga is “The #1 Thing Every Southerner Ought to Do”. Rafting along the waterway’s intense rapids is the closest you’ll get to a western river canyon experience.
In 1974, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act federally protected the Chattooga, promising to keep the area’s rugged river gorge clear of industrial development; and to this day, the Chattooga flaunts well-kept, mesmerizing scenery and unmatched whitewater rapids.
While there are several options for rafting, Sections 3 and 4 are arguably the best. Section 3, called “Wild and Scenic” provides Class II and III rapids, as well as a Class IV grand finale at the famed Bull Sluice rapid. With numerous swimming holes along the way, and the concluding thrill, this section is a true favorite.
Further downstream, Section IV picks up the pace. Seven Foot Falls kicks off the action, and the hype only intensifies from there, eventually reaching Five Falls—a series of adrenaline-pumping Class IV rapids that flow in immediate succession. Section IV is generally recommended for more experienced crowds.
The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)—which has been the area’s premier river guide since its inception in 1972, with elite whitewater guides—offers full-day trips for both sections and provides riverside lunch meals as part of their package.
What to pack: Don’t forget your swimsuit. After all, the whole point is whitewater rafting! You’ll get wet… Also, if horseback riding is your thing, bring some long pants and sturdy shoes.
What not to miss: The Chattahoochee National Forest offers a wide range of recreational activity, especially in Willis Knob, where families regularly take part in horseback riding, via stunning trails that pass by waterfalls and overwhelming vistas.
Whitewater rafting Sections 3 and 4 of the Chattooga is an absolute must! This premium trip displays Southern beauty, while providing a taste of thrill for adrenaline-thirsty folks.
While in downtown Clayton, don’t miss the soda fountain at Clayton Drug Store, or the local photography shop, which displays historic photos of surrounding Georgia areas. For more eclectic shopping, venture to the Timpson Creek Gallery, an art gallery full of handcrafted, rustic furniture. Also, make sure to stop by the Tiger Mountain Winery, as well as the Tiger Drive-In, located in Tiger, GA.
Where to stay: Two of the area’s best accommodations include Beechwood Inn and the Dillard House Inn. Beechwood is noted for its farm-to-table dining, while the Dillard House if famous for family-style down-home southern cooking.
If you stay in Tiger, GA, you can crash at the Lake Rabun Hotel, demonstrating true Tiger charm. While in Tiger, you can visit the Tiger Mountain Vineyard or local orchard. Here, you can participate in wine tasting or berry picking, and enjoy a drive-in theater. Close by is the beautiful Lake Rabun, Lake Burton, and Lake Seed—all wonderful for boating, fishing, and swimming.
Regardless of destination, researching diverse accommodation options, activities, and local flare will make any short getaway a memorable experience! Make this Memorial Day weekend your best yet, by planning ahead and optimizing your three-days with a well-balanced mix of extreme adventure and soothing peacefulness.
Written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek
Featured image provided by Mike
Rock/Creek’s recommended 3 day weekend kit ideas:
- Take some comfy travel clothing for the trip. Toad & Co. make some really nice casual clothing that is inspired by adventure travel. It’s easy to wear and wash — which is why they’re great for traveling when you’ll be doing a variety of activities.
- For guys, Patagonia makes some great swim shorts that can also be used as a hiking short or something comfy to wear around the bed and breakfast.
- The Rock/Creek ladies are all raving about the Carve Designs swimwear because it actually fits! PLUS, it’s made in the USA. They also make some great sun cover-ups that are a great idea if you don’t want to keep re-applying sunscreen.
- Versatile footwear is they key to being prepared for anything. Chaco Sandals are great for rafting, hiking, and just kicking around. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better adventure sandal.
- If you’re taking bikes, check out the Yakima Hold Up 2. It is super easy to use, and has integrated lock cables, so that you can eat at an impromptu pull-off without worrying about someone lifting your bikes. It also comes with a +2 attachment if you need to take more 2 bikes. fitting and pricing available at Rock/Creek Riverside.
- Cargo boxes are a fun way to get your gear out of the car so that the rest of your family/friends can ride with you.
- We’re still in love with the Patagonia Black Hole Duffles. They’re sturdy, but not too heavy. They also make some great color combinations that help you differentiate which bag has what gear.
- If you need rolling luggage, you definitely want to check out Osprey. Not only do they make great backpacking packs, but their luggage is some of our favorite.