need ideas for destinations and cool spots in the south
I recently graduated grad school and have no job, so I figured a road trip is a great alternative to jumping into the "real world." I have a general idea of what I want to do but am slightly fuzzy on some things and my friends have not been much help. My plan is to go to Ashville, NC to Nashville, TN then (this is where I need suggestions) somewhere in Alabama (northern), Mississippi (northern), Arkansas. From Arkansas I want to make my way to Austin, TX. I am thinking that perhaps going through Oklahoma some and then down through Texas may be good or maybe down through Louisiana. I would be traveling in January.
I am looking for smaller, interesting towns that have an alternative/artsy vibe or just towns that are interesting. I also would like suggestions on possible routes. Scenic drives are a plus.
Oh one more thing- I am debating about bringing my road bike to ride along the way but am not sure if it is worth it. Thoughts?
I'd appreciate any help/advice/suggestions you all can provide.
Scenic drives and small towns
Best of luck on the job search Road Trip. That's what I'd call it. Or maybe some post-grad research. So, leaving from Asheville, are we? (Oh, note the "e" in Asheville. The Ashe family, for which the city is named, is rightly picky about that "e").
The obvious start would be the Blue Ridge Parkway down to Cherokee (weather permitting, of course, as it closes for snow and ice). North Georgia includes Dahlonega, a small college town with a rich gold mining history. Helen, GA, nearby, is a reproduction of a Bavarian village. I would imagine Brasleton, GA has something of an artsy vibe, given that's the town Ms. Kim Basinger bought for film locations some years back.
Northeast Alabama includes the burgs of Oxford and Anniston, and nearby is the Talladega Scenic Drive. It's only around 30 miles in length, I believe, but it follows the ridge top of Cheaha Mountain, highest point in Alabama, and that is the southwesternmost exposure of the Blue Ridge geologic province. Cheaha stands around 1,500' above the surrounding valleys.
From there, a jog NW takes you towards Nashville. Although I've never been there, I'd be tempted to check out Suawanee, TN, home to the liberal arts college University of the South. Suawanee is on the Cumberland Plateau and is surrounded by some 10,000 protected acres of forests. An obvious option from Nashville would be the Natchez Trace Parkway, a National Park System highway allowing no commercial traffic. It passes close enough to Tupelo, MS that you might see Elvis and also close to Oxford, MS, home of the University of Mississippi, called Ole Miss. French Camp is a small but interesting lunch or snack stop along the Trace. You'll likely want to spend some time in Natchez at the far end, too.
Another jog NW takes you across northern Louisana into Arkansas, and there you'll find Hot Springs and Murfreesboro. The former is populated by well-heeled diamond-wearing vacationers and retirees while the latter is the only place in the US where you can dig for and keep naturally-occurring diamonds.
It's been +30 years since I worked in TX, but I recall Longview, Tyler, and Athens being pretty nice towns, and College Station, home of Texas A&M, being a boisterous large college town. Not far from College Station is Mexia (hometown of the late Anna Nichole Smith) and Kosse (birthplace of Bob Wills). Surely you'll want to look into the arts/vibe scene in the Hill Country closer to Austin, where New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, and a number of smaller communities thrive.
With any luck, you'll be in Austin for the annual South by Southwest music festival. I believe it's normally in March, and hopefully gainful employment will not have fouled up your Road Trip by then.
Enjoy the planning and the trip! Be cautious about starting that work career. Once you do, it's pretty difficult to stop for the next 40 years or so!
Towns in Louisiana and Texas
I suggest Paris, Marshall, Athens (check out the fish hatchery there), Longview in Texas. A great drive is to hit Highway 80 at the Mississippi border with Louisiana and take that all the way into Texas. One of the last stops on that route will be Grand Saline, Texas the home of the salt house.
In Louisiana Natchitoches and Lafayette are great towns to explore. Both are very old. If you head down around Lafayette I suggest going to New Iberia to see the plantation home Shadows on the Teche and on down to Avery Island for the Tabasco factory. Natchitoches is in North Louisiana, but can be reached from Lafayette via I-49 in about 2-3 hours depending on traffic and driving speed.
I recently went to El Dorado, Arkansas and was very charmed by it. Also in Southern Arkansas I suggest checking out Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The scenic route up there is fabulous. I count it as one of the best mountain roads I've ever taken.
some starters for you
Foy, is one of our local experts, and his suggestions (above) sound good to me. But first here is another Foy post:
Originally Posted by nojobequalsadventure
Blue Ridge Parkway
I always recommend a stay at the Shack-up Inn, in Clarksdale, MS -- here is a field report from last summer.
Here's a thread that is chock-full of some of things you might be looking for.
And finally, read this thread by UKCraig for Texas and the deep south.
Hey Thanks for responding. I have some good info to go off of. The links were very helpful.
Any familiarity with Oxford, MS?
What about Birmingham, AL? Is it safe? I am traveling alone (I'm female) and cities kinda sketch me out to venture on my own.
Would it be feasible to drive from Paris, TX or Texarkana to Austin in one day?
I think I have a better idea of what I will be doing. I am looking forward to having time to explore, only 8 more days before I leave!
In my opinion, Birmingham is not particularly safe, I had a friend who was a Birmingham cop and he had quite a few stories to tell. You need some good local info to determine what areas are okay and what areas to stay out of. Most cities are quite similar in this respect, it's just the larger a city is, the larger the undesirable areas are.
Either Paris or Texarkana to Austin is under 400 miles, an easy day's drive. This even leaves you some time to explore a bit.
Texarkana to Austin is definitely doable in one day (most non-interstate roads in Texas are very fast moving (i.e., sparsely populated, high speed limits (65-70mph) even on two lanes).
Definitely drive a stretch on the Natchez Trace Parkway. It's scenic, beautiful, secluded. Many pull-offs to explore and reflect on the historical aspects of the Trace.
In northwest Alabama, there's some nice scenic areas. There's a natural bridge somewhere (forget which town). Tupelo is Elvis' birthplace if that interests you.
For a drive to sight-see, avoid the bigger cities when possible.
Get yourself a good atlas. A cheap Rand McNally atlas at Wally World is about $5 and definitely can help. If this is just to get away, make sure you leave your plans fluid, and change your mind on the fly. That's what makes a great getaway road trip.