11 small towns, beaches + natural areas to visit within a day’s drive from Birmingham

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Pretty as a painting. Gulf State Park | Gulf Shores, AL Photo via @picturesbyparnell on Instagram

I don’t know about you, but after months of quarantine, a road trip has never sounded SO. GOOD. Luckily, Birmingham is only a day’s drive from some of the country’s most stunning sights. Here are 11 places within a 6-hour drive from Birmingham to consider exploring if you’re planning a summer + fall adventure.

Opening up to Travel + Tourism

As states are slowly beginning to reopen, travel is back on the table. But for many, big cities and metro areas aren’t as appealing as they used to be. Considering the risks with COVID-19, it makes sense that people would rather travel by car and explore smaller towns and natural destinations—and studies are confirming this idea.

According to a survey conducted by RentCafe, results show that “travel searches for all popular U.S. vacation destinations were down 64% in March and April 2020 compared to the same time last year.” But some searches were less affected than others including small towns, beaches and natural areas.

If you’re ready for a summer adventure here are 11 quaint towns, white-sand beaches and mountain views all less than 6 hours from Birmingham to explore—with plenty of outdoor and social-distance-friendly options.

*NOTE: Some of these attractions and destinations may be closed to visitors at the moment. Before making any travel plans, make sure to confirm attractions are open and welcoming visitors.

1. Memphis, TN 

  • Driving Distance: 3.5-hour drive (238 mi)
  • Where to Eat: Memphis BBQ is a must. We recommend The Rendevouz or Central BBQ.
  • Most Instagrammable Spots: With so many iconic attractions, most of Memphis would make a good Insta post. A few of our favorite photogenic spots are Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Mud Island Park and of course the Beale Street District.
  • Fun Fact: Memphis, Tennessee is named after the ancient Egyptian capital bearing the same name. And if you visit, keep an eye out for the Memphis Pyramid (now a Bass Pro Shops megastore) for a fun photo-op.

2. Blue Ridge, GA 

  • Driving Distance: 3.5-hour drive (232 mi)
  • Where to Eat: Indulge in local eats with Southern flair at The Black Sheep. Located in Blue Ridge’s Historic Butt House downtown, you’ll get a delicious meal with lots of character.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: Take a hike with a view Benton Falls. The 1.5-mile trail (each way) is an easy hike, and the 65-foot high waterfall is picture-perfect.
  • Fun Fact: The Blue Ridge Mountains cross six different states including: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

3. Vicksburg, MS 

  • Driving Distance: 4-hour drive (278 mi)
  • Where to Eat: Get views + good eats all in one place at 10South, a rooftop bar atop the First National Building in downtown Vicksburg.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: The Vicksburg Bridge provides stunning views of the Mississippi River—It’s a must-see.
  • Fun Fact: During the Civil War, Vicksburg was a key Confederate river-port. Its surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in July 1863 marked the turning-point of the war.

4. Calhoun Falls, SC 

  • Driving Distance: 4-hour drive (272 mi)
  • Where to Eat: Grab a dog, bag of chips, soda and homemade ice cream at The Rough House, a hot dog joint in nearby Abbeville that’s been around for 85+ years.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: Camp under the stars at Calhoun Falls State Park. The 318-acre oasis is situated around Lake Russell and offers all kinds of outdoor fun including camping, kayaking, boating, swimming, hiking and fishing. 
  • Fun Fact: Abbeville, west of Calhoun Falls, is the location of the tallest building in South Carolina—the Prysmian Copper Wire Tower. It was built in 2009 and stands 373 ft tall with 30 floors.

5. Grayton Beach, FL

  • Driving Distance: 4-hour drive (246 mi)
  • Where to Eat: Along 30A, you’ll have no trouble finding good eats. One of our favorites is The Red Bar, an iconic spot in Grayton Beach that’s currently being rebuilt after a fire last year. If you’re making plans to visit sooner, the Hibiscus Cafe is a must-try.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: Bring the ~summer vibes~ to your Insta feed with photos of Grayton Beach’s sugar-white sand and emerald green waves.
  • Fun Fact: Grayton Beach was recently named the number one beach in America by Stephen P. Leatherman, or “Dr. Beach”— a coastal scientist known for his annual beach rankings.

8. Ocean Springs, MS 

  • Driving Distance: 4.5-hour drive (312 mi)
  • Where to Eat: Chow down on fresh oysters and delicious steak at Charred, and make sure to stop by The Tato-Nut Donut Shop to try their popular Katrina Pieces.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: You can’t visit Ocean Springs without spending a day at Front Beach. Catch some rays, and stay for a stunning sunset over Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. 
  • Fun Fact: Rumored to be a hideout for Al Capone and a summer haven for Elvis Presley, the Gulf Hills Hotel is an iconic spot in Ocean Springs.

7. Land Between the Lakes, KY

  • Driving Distance: 4-hour drive (287 mi)
  • Where to Eat: Dine on the water at Cindy’s on the Barge—a marina diner with lots of Kentucky charm.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Fish, swim, and boat around Kentucky Lake and explore the 360-square-mile peninsula—the second-largest inland peninsula in America.
  • Fun Fact: The national recreation area includes a 700-acre Elk & Bison Prairie where visitors can explore by driving a 3.5-mile paved loop road.

8. Gatlinburg, TN

View this post on Instagram

#IGTakeover – Welcome everybody to day 3! @upnadamadventures here! We are talking all things hiking and all things Smokies. We hope you have enjoyed our post so far and Happy Easter! If you have not noticed we are known in these parts for being sunrise chasers. Our previous post highlighted our 2 favorite spots for chasing sunrises. The problem for most is these spots require some night hiking, which we only recommend if you're experienced and know the trail very well. Therefore, our motto is if you cannot hike to a sunrise then always start your hike with one. This brings us to today's #VirtualHiketheSmokies at Clingmans Dome. Clingmans Dome is the highest spot in the mountains. The observation tower offers 360° views of the Smokies and is just a 1/2 mile hike, which can easily be done in time to see the sunrise. However, be warned, this 1/2 mile is steep. To get here, just take 441 to the top of the mountain. Just past newfound gap at the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, you will turn right on Clingmans Dome Road. 7 miles later, it dead-ends at the parking lot. On most mornings the observation tower can be crowded so we prefer to remain at the parking lot as it also provides outstanding views of the sunrise. However, this isn't the only reason we prefer the parking lot. We have a buddy who lives here we like to visit. He live just as you enter the parking lot on your left. His name is The Dome Comb Tree and is our favorite tree inside the Smokies. #TheDomeCombTree is a Frasier fur that was killed by the invasive beetles. Its unique outline and prominence to the horizon makes it a popular subject for photographers. Therefore, the next time your up there, pay a visit to our good friend The Dome Comb Tree and tell him we said hi. One more thing it is hands down the best place in the Smokies to view the Milky Way. Thanks again for Virtual Hiking the Smokies and come back tomorrow for some more adventures.

A post shared by Gatlinburg, Tennessee (@visitgatlinburg) on

  • Driving Distance: 5-hour drive (299 mi)
  • Where to Eat: For a sweet treat, visit The Donut Friar in downtown Gatlinburg. The quaint donut shop has been serving up delicious desserts since 1969. 
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: For some of the most breathtaking views head to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail to the top is 1-mile roundtrip, and on a clear day, you can see up to 100 miles in every direction. 
  • Fun Fact: Gatlinburg, originally named White Oak Flats, got its name from Radford Gatlin—a man who moved to the area and opened a general store with a post office inside. Also, he may or may not have been hated by his neighbors and chased out of town.

9. Fort Morgan, AL 

  • Driving Distance: 5-hour drive (298 mi)
  • Where to Eat: Enjoy a colorful meal at Tacky Jacks where you can fill up on fresh seafood, catch stunning sunsets and live like a local for a bit.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: Located at the end of the Fort Morgan Peninsula, the Fort Morgan Historic Site was built in the early 1800s and is a must-see if you visit. Bonus points if you own a drone because the aerial view is pretty dang cool.
  • Fun Fact: The fort played a significant role in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, and was used intermittently through the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II.

10. Asheville, NC

  • Driving Distance: 5.5-hour drive (372 mi)
  • Where to Eat: You won’t have any trouble finding impressive eats in Asheville. Their food scene, dubbed “Foodtopia” is extremely diverse and unique. Curate, Plant and Chai Pani are just a few favorites.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: Did you really visit Asheville if you didn’t visit the Biltmore? The iconic mansion is a must-see. But if an 8,000-acre mountain oasis isn’t really you’re thing, the Blue Ridge Mountain scenic drives are just as Instagram worthy—and they’re free.
  • Fun Fact: Don’t forget your wine glass because there are 15 wineries within 50 miles of Asheville.

11. Savannah, GA 

  • Driving Distance: 5.5-hour drive (394 mi)
  • Where to Eat: A few of our favorites include Vic’s on the River, brunch at Gryphon, and The Olde Pink House.
  • Most Instagrammable Spot: How can we pick? Every inch is Instagrammable—from the downtown streets all the way to the Tybee Island lighthouse. There’s so much to explore here and we’re sure your Instagram followers won’t mind the Savannah spam.
  • Fun Fact: Remember that scene in Forrest Gump where Tom Hanks’ character talks about how “life was like a box of chocolates?” That was filmed in Savannah!

Have summer travel plans already locked in? We want to know where you’re heading! Tag us in all your adventures at @bhamnow on Facebook + Instagram or @now_bham on Twitter!

  • Most likely Instagrammin’ the Birmingham skyline, behind the camera shooting photos or writing stories (with too many puns) for Bham Now.