A list for the mobile vacation wanderers searching for just the right fix to Quench their Americana thirst.
Story by Tim Wood
Ryan and Leah McCarthy were one of the many local families who found RVing during the pandemic, and they have leaned in hard to get the most of their time with their kids.
“We have all the amenities of the hotel and can take it anywhere and find any new adventure,” Ryan said of his RV purchase. “It’s incredible to just pick a spot on a map and discover a new part of the country right alongside our kids.”
The McCarthys have become big fans of Savannah’s CreekFire RV Resort for more of a staycation feel and plan to use the RV plenty for Clemson tailgates come the fall. In between, they have been hitting as many new spots across the South as possible (they’re likely in the middle of a 40-day trek as you’re reading this).
In honor of the McCarthys and so many adventurous folks discovering the joys of the mobile vacation, we give you 10 of the must-visit RV trips across the South – some better known locales, some hidden gems and one spot hand-picked by the family.
1. Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Why you’ll love it: The Blue Ridge Mountains sell themselves. But this village eight miles from Boone along the Blue Ridge Parkway offers wineries, spas, galleries, orchards and farms, horseback riding, skiing during the winter and a couple of different zip line spots (including one that offers a night flight). But the attraction that caught our eye is Mystery Hill, a spot that offers a chance to experience the odd gravitational anomaly on the site dating back to when the property was bought in 1903. Water flows uphill, and visitors are forced to stand at a 45-degree angle to stay standing. We can’t make this stuff up. There’s axe throwing, an old-time photo studio, a farm yard and a gem-mining experience if you want to make a full day of it once you’re standing straight.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 332 miles
(5 hours, 25 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: Your choices are plentiful, and most offer breathtaking surroundings, but Down By the River Campground gets kudos from bigger rig owners. and Flintlock Campground is located on a mountainside stream and is a great bang for the buck.
2. Dandridge, Tennessee
Why you’ll love it: About midway between Charlotte and Nashville at the intersection of I-40 and I-81 lies the county seat of Jefferson County and a hidden gem for the RV set. Tennessee’s second oldest town features a quaint downtown bustling with restaurants and shops and water sports on Douglas Lake. It is a short drive to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and just 30 miles to Knoxville. Just 10 miles south of the town is the Bush Brothers plant, where you can tour the home of the world’s largest producer of baked beans.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 379 miles (6 hours, 6 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: Anchor Down RV Resort is McCarthy family approved and offers 170 luxury sites, bath houses with private bathrooms, firewood delivered to your site, boat and jet ski rentals to explore Douglas Lake and a gaga ball pit, where you can play this variant of dodge ball where you try to hit opponents below the knees with foam balls.
3. Elko, Georgia
Why you’ll love it: Just 40 minutes south of Macon on I-75, this former center of cotton commerce is just miles away from the Big Indian Creek Waterway Trail and boasts farmers markets and fresh peach picking at nearby Lane Southern Orchards and William Brown Farms. It’s one of the forgotten towns of the South that is slowly being rediscovered thanks to the RV crowd and is just a short drive to the Warner Robins Air Museum
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 202 miles (3 hours, 45 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: Twin Oaks RV Park is family owned just off Exit 127, an oasis of family surrounded by billowy cotton fields and delectable pecan orchards. The saline swimming pool and spacious RV sites keep winning over visitors, and the park now offers tiny house cabins if Grandma and Grandpa want to come along but want their own space.
4. Gulf Shores, Alabama
Why you’ll love it: It’s the biggest gas guzzler of our outposts but well worth the ride. This Gulf Coast gem has a little bit of everything, from beaches, trails and a pier to golf courses and zip line adventures. The 7,000-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is a photographer’s paradise, and the nearby Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo gives the kids a chance to see lemurs, sloths and kangaroos.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 559 miles (8 hours, 30 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: There are close to 20 nearby choices, but two stand out for us. If you’re looking to stay a bit more central to the area’s attractions, Sugar Sands RV Resort is the top choice. If you’re up for venturing a bit more out on Fort Morgan Peninsula, Doc’s RV Resort is a top-rated spot just three miles from public beaches on Little Lagoon.
5. Manteo, North Carolina
Why you’ll love it: This spot, affectionately known as the gateway to the Outer Banks, is located along Route 64 on Roanoke Island. One of the oldest towns in North Carolina, the hamlet features a waterfront boardwalk on Shallowbag Bay, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse and the North Carolina Aquarium. Take in a symphonic drama at The Lost Colony, or head indoors to a movie marvel, the one-room, century-old Pioneer Theatre.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 482 miles (7 hours, 22 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: The Refuge on Roanoke Island offers the best access for big rigs overlooking the water. And the WiFi gets rave reviews for those needing to still do a bit of remote work.
6. McMinnville, Tennessee
Why you’ll love it: Nestled exactly halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga, about 20 miles off I-24, you’ll be in the county seat of Warren County, the Plant Nursery Capital of the World, with hundreds of nearby greenhouses. For us, the coolest draw (literally) is Cumberland Caverns, a 32-mile maze of caves that stay 56 degrees year round. Plus, take in a slice of Opry deep underground in the attraction’s Show Cave.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 467 miles (7 hours, 35 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: Another spot with a bevy of solid landing spots, Mountain Glen RV Park and Campground and Grand View Cabins and RV Park are the top-rated and most convenient to book.
7. Spring Hill, Florida
Why you’ll love it: You’re an hour north of Tampa, about two hours west of Orlando. So it’s a good place to land if you want to hit the theme parks or catch a Bucs or Rays game with just a short drive. And the city is home to the world-famous underwater mermaid shows at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, where you can watch a 60-year-old tradition unfold in a theater 20 feet below the water’s surface. The 5.5 miles of water inside the park is a dream for kayakers and for manatee, turtle and otter watching.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 345 miles (5 hours, 30 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: You’ll find 20-plus options between the ocean and I-75, but Cody’s RV Park and Catfish Pond offers a top-rated and unique experience, with dinosaur and seahorse sculptures throughout the park, canoes and kayaks and catch-and-release fishing on the pond.
Why you’ll love it: Lowcountry locals have this programmed in the GPS to attend the State Fair and USC football games. Newbies will be drawn by the artsy vibe, a foodie haven with countless bakeries, coffee shops and top restaurants and an antique-lover’s dream in the Old Mill Antique Mall across the river. Columbia Craft Brewing Company is our pick among the growing brewery scene, plus there’s the EdVenture Children’s Museum and Riverbanks Zoo for the kids.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 152 miles (2 hours, 36 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: Broad River Campground in nearby Winnboro has the best amenities and most elbow room on its sites.
9. Jacksonville, Florida
Why you’ll love it: Jacksonville is just 171 miles from Hilton Head but offers both a metropolitan array of tourist attractions such as the Jacksonville Zoo and a Dave and Buster’s and a beach and nature escape with more than 20 RV parks in the metro region. Triple-A baseball with the Jumbo Shrimp and Jaguars football in the fall make this a fun sporting getaway as well.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 171 miles
(2 hours, 38 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: There are five RV parks right along the Atlantic Ocean, with the Osprey Cove RV Park earning the best reviews. We’ve stayed at a hidden gem, the Flamingo Lake RV Resort in Northern Jax, which boasts a homey on-site eatery and cast-iron bonfire pits at the lakefront sites.
10. Bristol, Virginia
Why you’ll love it: We struggled with this last pick, but we settled on Bristol as the center point of a number of small-town marvels worth seeing. Nearby Damascus is a hiker’s dream, the convergence of four different trails. Abington is home to a thriving art scene and the end of the Virginia Creeper Travel, a 35-mile hike that winds along Whitetop Mountain. But Bristol has the kitsch factor, the town divided between Virginia and Tennessee where you can literally stand in both states on Main Street. This is also the birthplace of country music and a must-see for fans of the genre. You have a couple of caverns nearby, as well as the Bristol International Speedway for NASCAR fans.
Road trip: From Hilton Head Island, 388 miles
(6 hours, 19 minutes)
Best nearby RV campground: Bristol Campground is the
tailgating spot of choice on race days with over 2,700 large camp sites over 113 acres. Closer to Damascus, Creekside RV Park is much smaller but highly rated by trusted review site RVShare.