Houston to Atlanta: Discover the Deep South
Houston to Atlanta
Est Driving Time25-28 days
- Space Center Houston
- Houston Zoo
- Louisiana State University
- French Quarter, New Orleans
- Whitney Plantation
- Vicksburg National Military Park
- Old Capitol, Jackson
- Loretta Lynn Ranch
- GooGoo Clusters
- Lookout Mountain
- Ruby Falls
- Chimney Tops
- Appalachian Trail
- Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens
- Bonaventure Cemetery
- World of Coca-Cola
- Little Five Points
Leg 1 Houston to New Orleans
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You’ll be picking up your RV rental in Houston, but there’s no need to rush east straight away if you don’t want to. Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and offers a jumbo-sized serving of attractions for visitors to enjoy.
For anyone who’s ever looked up to the stars in amazement, Space Center Houston is a must-experience destination. There’s no better place to get an understanding of our journey toward the heavens than the place which fostered our missions to the moon. You could lunch with a real life astronaut, explore an interactive exhibit which will have you feeling as if you’re standing on Mars, see the Mission Control room which monitored the moon landings… and that’s just the start. Young or old, this is a place that will awe any adventurous soul.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can delve under the earth to discover all kinds of intriguing things about the city of Houston. The Houston Underground Tunnel Tour will have you exploring the city both over and underground, offering intriguing insights into the history, architecture and art of Houston.
If you’re just seeking a little serenity to centre yourself before you hit the long road ahead, you should visit Memorial Park. There’s a jogging track, mountain bike trails, tennis courts and a number of outdoor recreation areas - or you could simply find a park bench and watch the world go by.
If you’ve got kids with you for your tour of the South, heading to Houston Zoo before leaving the city is pretty much compulsory. This is one of the top zoos in the world with an impressive array of animals to see - be aware though that it can get pretty busy. The best way to get around this is to arrive early so you don’t have to fight for a parking space.
Getting from Houston to Lafayette is pretty much just a straight shot down the I-10 for a little over 3 hours - it’s not overly scenic, but occasionally travelling is more about the destination than the journey. Once you arrive in Lafayette however you’ll be in the midst of Cajun country.
To get to grips with Cajun culture, head to the Acadian Cultural Center where you’ll learn all about where the Acadians (Cajuns) came from, what brought them to Louisiana and what kind of traditions, cuisines and beliefs they brought with them.
If you’re hoping to experience Louisiana musical traditions, you won’t want to leave Lafayette without a visit to the Blue Moon Saloon. This joint has an excellent reputation for live Cajun and Zydeco music, but it does pay to enquire in advance about what’s on, as not every evening has bands booked.
A little further down the I-10 lies the capital city of Louisiana, Baton Rouge. While the city isn’t a major tourism destination, there are certainly things to see and do if you’re planning to stick around for a while.
Those who are keen to dive into Louisiana’s history should definitely check out the Louisiana State Museum. With curiosities like a hand-cranked Civil War submarine and Louis Armstrong’s first bugle, there’s plenty to intrigue both casual visitor and history buff.
It might seem a little odd to suggest a University as a travel destination, but Louisiana State University is an exception. This beautiful campus is more than a hundred years old but that’s nothing compared to the onsite Indian Mounds which are believed to have been there for over 1,600 years. There are also a couple of museums located on campus: one focuses on Natural Science, while the other explores rural life.
Once you leave Baton Rouge, it’s only an hour and a half drive down the I-10 to the storied city of New Orleans.
Leg 2 New Orleans to Jackson
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New Orleans, the Big Easy, is one of the most magnetic cities in America thanks to its undeniable culture of cool. Jazz, a vibrant nightlife, iconic cuisine and melting pot of cultures make this city completely unique and utterly fascinating. It’s not just one of the highlights of your entire Deep South road trip, but a highlight of the entire US, so you should allow for multiple days to get the most out of this colourful city before hitting the road.
It will be tough to decide where to spend your time, but don’t leave the city without investing a few hours in the French Quarter (Vieux Carre), which is the oldest part of town and is full of cafes, art galleries, restaurants, bars, museums and shops.
For a strong dose of art, make your way to Jackson Square where local artists paint and draw before your eyes - an attraction that’s been part of the city for decades. While you’re there, make a stop at the stunning St. Louis Cathedral, which dates back to the 1700s.
If you’re not in New Orleans during the famous Mardi Gras parade, be sure to visit Mardi Gras World, a wonderful museum of the annual festival where ‘Mardi Gras happens all year round’.
One must-see destination just outside of New Orleans is Whitney Plantation. A tour of the ‘Habitation Haydel’, as the plantation was originally named, will provide you with a searingly insightful look at the lives of the Haydel family and especially the lives of the slaves that they held. This is one of the very best places in Louisiana to gain an understanding of what it was like to live life as a plantation slave.
Vicksburg is a name entrenched in Civil War history, and is a fascinating stopping point for travellers in the state. As soon as war broke out in 1861, the city became a focal point due to its location at a bend in the Mississippi River, which is where the Southern army posted artillery batteries. The main attraction here is the Vicksburg National Military Park, a 16-mile road tour that stops off at various points of interest. Simply start at the visitors centre on Clay Street, then follow the road to see everything from attack sites and batteries to forts and other historic structures. The USS Cairo is one of the gems of this trip, as it’s an old ironclad warship that was salvaged and restored more than 100 years after it was sunk not far from Vicksburg.
From Vicksburg, head east on the I-20 to Jackson.
Leg 3 Jackson to Nashville
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Jackson, Mississippi is the largest city in the state and the capital, but it’s still a relatively small and laid-back town with fewer than 200,000 residents who call it home. The largest museum in the state is the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, which has both indoor exhibits and outdoor nature trails so you can see a little of everything during your visit. Jackson is also home to the state’s most historic building, the Old Capitol. With its distinguished Greek-style architectural structure, it’s the site of several important changes in history, and today serves as a free-admission museum. For avid readers, the Eudora Welty House & Gardens may be a favourite stop in Jackson. It’s where this Pulitzer-prize winner lived and worked for more than seven decades, and you can see it all during a tour almost any day of the week. Finally, no visit to Jackson is complete without spending some time exploring its musical roots. Make a start by spending time on Farish Street, a lively restaurant and club district that plays blues music most nights, and is where you’ll find live performances and up-and-coming local legends amongst the mix.
After you leave Jackson, you’ll have the option to take the faster, more direct route up the I-55. However, since when are road trips about quick, direct routes? Instead, follow Route 49 north to Clarksdale.
Clarksdale is part of the Blues Highway - an old route that runs between Memphis and Vicksburg that’s tied up with the history of blues music with big names such as B.B. King, Bessie Smith and John Lee Hooker all travelling this road at some point. Clarksdale offers just a few of the attractions that make Route 61 famous. For example, Red’s Lounge is a gritty and authentic live music club that’s an experience not to be missed when you’re in town. Then there’s the Delta Blues Museum, the Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art Museum, the Rock & Blues Museum, and the Ground Zero Blues Club, all of which are dedicated to this genre in their own ways.
Memphis is known largely for one thing and one thing only - music. In particular, it’s where you’ll find blues, jazz, and rock ‘n roll in abundance. Before you arrive, one tip is to load the free Memphis Music App to your smartphone for in-depth guides on all the music attractions in the city, as well as events on during your stay. One of the city’s top attractions is Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former home which he bought for himself and his parents after making a promise to make a name for himself and buy the nicest house in town. A visit here will give you a guided tour through his home, as well as through the trophy building to see his astonishing collection of accolades, the racquetball building to see his famous jumpsuits, and the meditation garden where both Elvis and a number of his family members have been laid to rest. Another of the best attractions in the city if the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, which celebrates the town as the birthplace of rock and soul. It follows the full history of the genre in the city, complete with photographs and memorabilia that dates back several generations. From there, you can only head straight to the Stax Museum, an unconventional museum that was once where artists recorded sell-out records, where you can dance to the tunes next to reruns of old soultrain videos, and see the ‘Wall of Sound’, a floor-to-ceiling collection of all the records ever made here. Finally, wrap up your Memphis musical education with a visit to Beale Street, a historic and iconic road full to the brim with clubs, restaurants, shops and more. Memphis is also home to the National Civil Rights Museum, which, as part of your Deep South road trip, is an extremely important part of the country’s history. There are more than 260 artefacts and multiple interactive media options for learning about the centuries of injustice unfairly endured by so many.
The road to Nashville
Love country music? You’ll love this stop - the Loretta Lynn Ranch just off the I-40 not long after you cross over the Tennessee River. She’s known as the First Lady of Country Music and has a career that’s spanned more than 60 years in the business, with hits such as ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, ‘Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man’, and ‘ Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’’. At her ranch at Hurricane Mills in Tennessee, you can tour the plantation home, visit the gift shop and museums, and see the simulated coal mine. As an added bonus for those travelling in a motorhome, the ranch is also a full-service RV park with additional experiences such as paddle boats, canoeing, fishing and special events throughout the year to make this visit all the more appealing.
Not long before you reach Nashville, you’ll have the option to turn off the I-40 and take Highway 70S. In doing so, you’ll get the chance to make a stop at the historic Belle Meade Plantation. The land here has its own story to tell, as it was once a woodland used for hunting before becoming part of the old Natchez road that was used by ancient tribes as a trade route through what we now know as the Deep South. The Belle Meade Plantation was known for its thoroughbred horses in its heyday, but today is renowned for its on-site winery, gorgeous grounds and homestead. You can take tours here, but be sure to check the website in case there is a special function on when you’re looking to visit, as the grounds are a popular spot for weddings and other occasions.
Leg 4 Nashville to Pigeon Forge
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Nashville proudly calls itself the Music City, and it’s easy to see why. Many of the city’s attractions are based around one of the many genres of music that are synonymous with the Deep South. Start your visit to Nashville by spending time on the Honky Tonk Highway down on Lower Broadway, where you’ll hear loud music pumping at all hours of the day and night all along the road. There are countless live music bars along this stretch, so you can easily while away an evening stopping off at a few of them. Similarly, Music Row is a fantastic outdoor space filled with music, bars and eateries, and is where you can visit RCA Studio B - the studio in which Elvis Presley recorded more than 200 of his biggest hits. The Country Music Hall of Fame is another major point of interest, which is essentially a who’s who of country music stars with all of the memorabilia and exhibits to highlight their stellar careers.
For something a little different, visit Nashville’s very own Parthenon at Centennial Park, a full-scale replica of the original that resides in Greece. It was originally built for the Centennial Exhibition, and now exists as the city’s art museum. Be sure to check out the events calendar in Nashville while you’re in town; it’s more than likely that there will be special events and performances on during your visit!
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837. His lasting legacy to this day is still that he was the only president to pay off the national debt during his term in office, and up until a recent announcement signalling a change, he was the face of the American $20 note. Jackson’s connection to your southern motorhome tour is the fact that you can visit his home, The Hermitage, to the west of Nashville. It was very much a typical plantation home of its time, complete with a household full of slaves and beautiful gardens. Jackson’s body now lies on the property in the Jackson Tomb next to the wife he lost so early. You can learn about all of this and more during a tour of these estate, which is open every day of the year excepting Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Before you leave Nashville, make sure you try the city's signature treat: Googoo clusters. These crunchy, chewy, marshmallowy delights are unashamedly decadent and more than a little moreish.
As you drive along the I-24, you should soon see Lookout Mountain on the horizon ahead of you. Located next to the town of Chattanooga, this site offers an enticing collection of attractions. For starters, you can ride the world’s steepest passenger railway, the Incline Railway, up from St Elmo. The ride sits at an incline of 72.7% and offers some incredible views of the valley and mountains as you head up. Then there’s Rock City, which sits on top of the mountain and comes with a 4,100-foot walking trail, a 200-foot bridge and a 100-foot waterfall. Perhaps the most arresting sight of them all, however, is Ruby Falls, a cascade within the mountain itself, which has been named as one of the top 10 most incredible cave waterfalls on earth. This 145-foot waterfall is America’s largest of its kind (underground), and is accessible by tour - or you can even check it all out on a night-time lantern tour for something extra special.
Some people will choose to pass straight through Knoxville and head on to the Smoky Mountains National Park, but others may choose to stick around for a while - especially since you'll be passing through the city in any case.
If you're planning to spend just a few hours in Knoxville, Market Square is definitely a good spot to hang out. This historic square downtown is home to shopping, dining and even a bi-weekly farmers market. Those who are just looking to unwind and lose a bit of the tension of the road can head to the University of Tennessee Gardens. Stretching over 12 acres, this green space is open to the public 7 days a week.
Once you're ready to head onwards from Knoxville, it's only about an hour's drive southeast to reach Pigeon Forge.
Leg 5 Pigeon Forge to Charlotte
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Pigeon Forge works as an excellent base for excursions into the Smokies, but the town isn’t without charms and attractions of its own. The city’s most famous attraction by far is Dollywood, a theme park co-owned by country music star Dolly Parton. As well as the usual thrill rides you’d expect from any amusement park, Dollywood features the traditional music and crafts of the Smoky Mountains region. If you’re visiting between March and December, you might even visit during one of the park’s five festivals. These annual events feature everything from world cultural events to BBQ and bluegrass.
Pigeon Forge is also home to bunch of other quirky museums, dinner theatres and rides so if you’re sticking around town for a day or two there will certainly be plenty to keep you interested.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Nature lovers, you’re going to think you died and went to Heaven. There are 850 miles (1,370 km) of hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including a good chunk of the famous Appalachian Trail. If you’ve got a decent level of fitness you might want to climb Mount Le Conte or head to the pinnacle of the Chimney Tops, both of which offer breathtaking panoramic views to those who make it to the summit. Those who are hunting for a slightly easier excursion might want to follow the Laurel Falls Trail to see an impressive 80 foot waterfall or gain a view over Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina with the short climb up the Clingman’s Dome Trail.
It’s worth noting that black bears call the Smokies home. These are wild animals which can behave unpredictably and you should definitely keep as much distance as possible between yourself and any bear you see. Attacks on humans are very rare, but if you are physically attacked you should fight back with anything at your disposal and definitely do not play dead. If you are concerned about encountering bears, you can pick up Bear Pepper Spray before heading into the park.
After drinking in your fill of inspiring vistas, it will be time to head eastward once more to North Carolina’s largest city - Charlotte.
Leg 6 Charlotte to Savannah
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Charlotte is the kind of city which offers visitors a little bit of everything. No matter what kind of experience you’re hunting for after your time in the Smokies, this is a place which can help you out. Those who are keen to discover more about the history of the area certainly won’t be disappointed. The Levine Museum of the New South, The Charlotte Museum of History and the Wells Fargo History Museum are all excellent spots to catch a glimpse of the state’s past.
There’s also plenty in store for thrillseekers and outdoor enthusiasts in Charlotte. You could jump into a raft or kayak to tackle world’s largest man-made whitewater river at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, face your fears on the tallest and fastest giga coaster in the world when you climb aboard the Fury 325 at Carowinds amusement park or (for a more sedate experience) paddleboard on the Catawba River.
If you’ve got kids along for the ride, make sure you visit at least one Discovery Place venue before you go - there’s Discovery Place Science, Discovery Place Kids and Discovery Place Nature, each with their own fun spin on hands-on learning. Alternatively you could head to the Planet Snoopy section of Carowinds amusement park, which has all kinds of family friendly rides and attractions.
You may choose to skirt around Columbia and continue straight on to Charleston, but if you need to break up the drive there’s certainly plenty to see and do. For example, Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden is a surprisingly captivating place to spend the day. The 170 acre grounds have been sectioned into a series of realistic habitats from around the world, so you might find yourself in an African rainforest, the Australian Nullarbor or Carolinian bogs all in the space of one afternoon.
Foodies will be pleased to know that Columbia has cultivated quite the reputation for excellent cuisine - so much so that Columbia food tours are becoming popular. Guides will take curious gourmands from restaurant to restaurant, sampling intriguing dishes from each.
If you’d like to stay active, Columbia has some of the best urban kayaking in the whole U.S. You’ll want to start at the north end of the Riverbanks Zoo parking lot in the Saluda River and hop out in the Congaree past Gervais Street bridge.
Charleston is one of the most iconic cities in the south, and one with countless experiences, sights and attractions, so give yourselves plenty of time to explore this treasure trove of a town. For a start, allow at least half a day to explore the historic Charleston City Markets. The Great Hall where most of the stalls are kept is an exquisite example of Charleston architecture, making the visit worth it even if you don’t buy anything - although that would take a huge amount of willpower amongst the endless crafts, clothing, sweets, souvenirs, and everything else to be found here. From there, head outdoors to Fort Sumter, a historic park where the first shots were fired in the American Civil War - a meaningful site after a long motorhome tour full of important Civil War history. The Charles Towne Landing is a quaint and fascinating area that pays homage to the place where English settlers first arrived in 1670. While there, you can walk aboard the 17th century replica ‘Adventure’ ship, take a history walking tour and check out the petting zoo. Finally, don’t forget to take your motorhome for a drive down Rainbow Row to see the sweet and bright colourful homes along this lively street.
When you leave Charleston, you’ll be heading southwest towards your final stop for this leg in Savannah, Georgia.
Leg 7 Savannah to Atlanta
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Savannah is the perfect penultimate destination on your road trip - it’s got plenty of history, outdoor scenery, culture, arts, and everything else that you’ll have enjoyed along the way. There are multiple old homesteads that you can visit, including the Owen-Thomas House, the Isaiah Davenport House, and the Mercer House. A stroll through the historic district is also highly recommended, which is made up of roughly 20 blocks of gorgeous cobblestone streets, landscaped gardens, classic architecture, museums, and plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants for some of that famous Southern hospitality. Another fantastic outdoor attraction is the Wormsloe Historic Site, which is both a set of ruins from the old colonial estate and a surreal avenue lined by gnarly oak trees - a favourite spot for keen photographers. Save the best for last and take that camera to the Bonaventure Cemetery, a wonderfully creepy historic site that has a certain appeal and atmosphere about it. So much so, in fact, that it appears time and time again in various books, movies, TV shows, poems and more - don’t miss the chance to see why for yourself.
Atlanta is your final stop; a place that has well and truly earned its reputation for everything from sports and history to culture and animals. One of the top attractions is easily the World of Coca-Cola, an experience where you can see the history of this world-famous drink that was first brewed in Atlanta by a creative pharmacist. A visit here will tell you everything there is to know about ‘Coke’ and, of course, will offer plenty of refreshing tastings too.
If you’re into the alternative lifestyle, you won’t want to leave Atlanta before visiting Little Five Points. This district has all kinds of cool spots for you to discover, from record stores to coffee shops, indie bookstores to novelty shops. Little Five Points also has quite a number of restaurants and bars, so it’s easy to spend most of the day here exploring and grazing.
Atlanta is also the home of the Martin Luther King Jr Historic Site, as it’s the city where the boy who would change a nation grew up to become a man. The site gives you insight into his early life, with access to his childhood home as well as a viewing of where he was buried.
Considering Atlanta’s distance from the ocean, it may come as a surprise to learn that the Georgia Aquarium here is the largest in the western hemisphere with more than 10 million gallons of water and animals in their tens of thousands. The aquarium is focused on conservation and education, and offers a fantastic array of sea life to say hello to during your visit. Plus, ‘Gone with the Wind’ fans can make a stop in Atlanta to see the Margaret Mitchell House where this famous book was written.
Five states, four capital cities, one epic motorhome road trip through America’s magnetic Deep South. This is one of those trips that may only take a few weeks but will stay with you for a lifetime. The eclectic mix of vibrant music scenes, grandiose plantations and important historical sites along this tour are all part of what gives the south its rich and fascinating culture, and are just part of the reason why so many love to travel through this region time and time again.
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