You know you’ve got them on your bucket list, and there couldn’t be a better time than now to plan your visit to a national park. Atlanta families are just a stone’s throw away from mountains, wild rivers, beaches and historic monuments to explore. National Parks Week falls on April 17-25 this year and it’s a great time to visit with special events in the parks (and digital experiences if you want to learn from home). Scroll through for some major outdoor inspo!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The 500,000-acre park sits in the mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. Cades Cove recalls the culture of the Appalachian mountain people. The park was home to the Cherokee Indians, still living in the area. Diverse plant and animal life and rich cultural heritage earned the park designations as an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

Airbnb Nearby: This gorgeous cabin near GSMNP has everything a family would want to entertain themselves in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. The cabin is well-appointed, the property is yours to explore, and you'll be minutes from the park (and fun family entertainment in Pigeon Forge, including Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country). 

Cumberland Gap National Park

At the Cumberland Gap, visitors can experience the first gateway to westward expansion by walking in the footsteps of early pioneers and Native Americans, visiting the ruins of fortifications used in the Civil War, and experiencing the life of an early mountain community in this 24,000-acre park.

Airbnb Nearby: This picture-perfect farmhouse in Hiltons is the perfect home base for your Cumberland Gap adventures. Kids will love the fields to run in and you'll love relaxing on the front porch. 

Obed Wild & Scenic River

The free-flowing river is far enough away from human activity that it is designated an International Dark Sky Park. The river, which looks much the same as it did 250 years ago, offers hunting, fishing, bouldering, rock climbing, whitewater paddling, hiking, and camping. The history of the river is centered around hunting and fishing.

Airbnb Nearby: This cottage charmer in Oak Ridge is the perfect base camp for an Obed adventure. You'll love the proximity to Jackson Square in the heart of the Secret City. 

Freedom Riders National Monument

Learn about the Freedom Riders, whose bold actions in 1961 helped lead to the successful desegregation of bus stations across the country. Two separate sites have educational panels that tell the history of the old bus station where the Freedom Rider's bus was first attacked and 6 miles away, the site where the bus was burned.

Airbnb Nearby: This cute retro cabin on Lake Martin is about a half hour away from the monument, and only about an hour away from Birmingham. There’s plenty of year-round fun right around the cabin as well, like boating, fishing, kayaking, and catching fireflies in the summer.

Fort Frederica National Monument

The fort, built in 1736 was a key outpost of the British Army in their defense of the Georgia colony from Spanish. Soldiers from the fort fought a decisive battle in 1742, defeating the Spanish and retaining control of Georgia. Extensive archeological work allows the park to present the history of daily life there, and of the British defense of their colony.

Airbnb Nearby: This cute house is just 2 blocks from the beach on St. Simon's Island, and you'll feel like you've stepped back in town as you enjoy the slower pace of this Georgia beach island. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore

You reach the park by ferry from the mainland visitor center or take your own boat or kayak. Camp at one of the 5 campgrounds, 2 of which are near the 17-mile long beach. Hike, bike, or take a guided tour by van to historic sites such as Plum Orchard Mansion and First African Baptist Church. The Cumberland Island Visitor Center, Cumberland Island Museum, and Lang concession ferry to the island are located in the town of St. Marys, Georgia. Public access via the ferry is limited, reservations are recommended.

Airbnb Nearby: You won't want to leave this perfect Jekyll Island house that's just a short walk from the beach and pool, except to depart for St. Mary's, where you'll catch a ferry to the Cumberland Island National Seashore for a memorable day of exploration. 

Blue Ridge Parkway

The parkway joins with Skyline Drive on the north and runs through Virginia and North Carolina for 469 miles. It yields incredible large landscape views as it runs along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, running parallel to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Take time to hike, camp, enjoy the diversity of plants and animals, or look into the history of the people who lived and live here.

Airbnb Nearby: Take in the rustic, fairy tale vibe of this custom-made treehouse in the midst of towering white oaks near Asheville, North Carolina—a great access spot for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Recline in a rocking chair and watch the sunset over the mountains, or try your hand at some stargazing from the comfort of the deluxe double bed.

Congaree National Park

The nutrients deposited year after year in this richly diverse floodplain park have grown some of the tallest trees of their species; the tallest loblolly pine in the U.S. grows there, and some of the tallest sweetgum and water hickory. You can walk the park’s elevated boardwalk trail or canoe or kayak along the Congaree River or Cedar Creek. In the Revolutionary War Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” had a base of operations there to hide from and ambush British troops.

Airbnb Nearby: Enjoy a quiet country stay at this charming European-style cottage nextdoor to a small vineyard. Within close distance of the Congaree National Park, USC, Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, Ft. Jackson, Lake Murray, and the Airport, this cute cottage is the perfect calm retreat you're looking for. 

photo: S. Massey

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

The park has over 48 miles of the Chattahoochee River, from Lake Lanier to Atlanta. Rafting, paddling, and fishing are some of the most popular activities here. The park has developed a system of biking trails in addition to those for hiking. The river is divided into 7 sections for put-in and take-out locations; rentals for rafts, canoes, kayaks, and tubes are available.

Airbnb Nearby: Craving a calm, convenient location close to the cute Roswell downtown and even closer to the Chattahoochee? Check out this cottage that's walking distance to retail and local restaurants, as well as the Chattahoochee River. Slow down and sample the smaller town lifestyle as you explore the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. 

—Shelley Massey

 

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