America is beautiful, plain and simple. Stick a pin anywhere on a map of the good ol’ US, and you’re not going to be far from some sort of “pretty spot,” whether grand or simple, natural or man-made. Narrowing the scope to our own home corner, the South, we’ve highlighted sixteen of our favorites (it’d be easy as peas to come up with sixteen more, of course). Vote for one of these, relate an experience, or offer up your own favorites in the comments section below. Here are the first six picks:
- Grotto Falls, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
Grotto Falls on the Roaring Fork in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee (photo by Brian Stansberry)
You can hardly go wrong in the Smokies. Just driving through these east Tennessee mountains, enshrouded by the cloud-mist hung up in their hollows and bends, one can certainly feel he has wandered into one of the most mesmerizing of all the beautiful places on the planet. But if you park the car and walk into the wonderland itself, the magic becomes as thick as the forest from which it oozes. Halfway between Gatlinburg and the North Carolina border, on the Trillium Gap Trail, you will find this gem: you can walk right behind the glittering curtain of twenty-five-foot Grotto Falls or simply drink it in from afar, downstream on the Roaring Fork.
- Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia
The tiny town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, viewed from Maryland Heights Overlook (photo courtesy of the National Park Service)
Everything comes together right here. Well, maybe not everything, but at least the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, as well as the states of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Thomas Jefferson called this spot “one of the most stupendous scenes in nature,” and he was right. The entire area is soaked in history, of course, including the site of the largest Union surrender of the Civil War at the Battle of Harpers Ferry (nearly 12,500 Federals were captured by Confederates that day). The “lower” town near the river is worth the visit alone, giving visitors the feeling nothing’s been touched for 150 years or so, and literally everything here is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Hill Country, Texas
“Hill Country Bluebonnets” in Blanco County, Texas (photo painting by Jackie Hinton and Bill Strain)
There are beautiful spots all over Texas, but you can land yourself anywhere in Hill Country when the bluebonnets are in bloom and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into a painting on the wall. This is more region than “spot,” I suppose, but you can seriously pick just about any spot in this region and find some of the best in Texas beauty . . . and wine, and food, and music . . . and all things German. No wonder Texas Hill Country attracts more visitors (and retirees) than just about anywhere else in the nation.
- Natchez Trace, Mississippi
The Sunken Trace, forty miles north of Natchez, Mississippi, has “walls” 20 feet high at points (photo courtesy of the National Park Service)
This is a long and stretched out spot, to be sure: the Natchez Trace that starts in Natchez, Mississippi, and finishes up in Nashville, Tennessee, is 450 miles of sheer beauty. You can drive it, hike it, cycle it, horseback it, camp it, or do a fine and fair mix of all of the above, and see some of the prettiest scenery the South has to offer. The Trace used to be the main highway through the “southwest” part of the country, traversed by the Davy Crocketts and Andrew Jacksons of American frontier days (although it was used for hundreds of years before that by the Native American crowd—don’t miss Emerald Mound near Stanton).
- Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Georgia
A giant earth goddess crowned with flowing foliage spills fountain water carelessly into the pools at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Georgia (photo by Eric Sonstroem)
You might not think one of the South’s prettiest places would crop up right here in the heart of the Southern Sprawl, but the big city’s blossoming botanical garden is a thirty-acre oasis of green-splashed beauty featuring “living sculptures,” a 600-foot canopy walk through Atlanta’s fabled “city-forest,” and more springtime orchids than you’ll see anywhere else in the nation. Atlanta has a lot of pretty in it, but for a deep breath of both natural and cultured beauty in the middle of the metrop, you can hardly do better.
- Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana Some of these beautiful and gnarly moss-draped oaks at Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana, are nearly 300 years old (photo by Michael McCarthy)
You can visit Oak Alley Plantation on the west bank of the lower Mississippi just to see the twenty-eight-columned Greek revival mansion—or you can go simply to drink in the nearly-300-year-old oaks that grace the lawn. Either way you will be enjoying some of the best Louisiana has to offer in aesthetic wonder. But when you see the two in context with each other (hard not to do when you visit in person, of course), the wow-factor does its exponential thing. Walk the quarter-mile “alley” of sprawling oaks (planted in the early 1700’s) toward one of the best-preserved plantation homes on the Mississippi, and it will be a stroll you are likely never to forget. Walk the Alley, feel the weight of beauty (photo of Oak Alley Plantation by Emily Richardson)
SEE ALL OF THE PRETTIEST SPOTS IN THE SOUTH SERIES PHOTOS HERE: