You’ll be getting the travel bug after reading this list of awesome places in the Southeastern United States to put on your bucket list!
I’m a master at making lists and do it for everything – the grocery store, articles I have to write, packing lists for trips, lists on what to cook for holidays, and my bucket ultimate list. I keep a running list of bucket list items that are specifically within the Southeast part of the United States since it’s where I live and can easily drive to, which saves a ton of money on plane tickets.
So I’m here to share that list with you. It’s not a comprehensive list but it does contain things I’ve done because they were on my bucket list already, some I’ve done because they were so cool and now I’m telling you about them because they deserve to be on the list , and a few others because our readers said they are on their own bucket lists. My definition of a bucket list place is somewhere that my kids and I will be talking about long after we go and is a unique and interesting experience.
Get ready to make some amazing memories with your families with any of these Southeast Bucket List places!
North Carolina Bucket List Worthy Adventures
This is first on our list because I’m almost positive you have never been to an outhouse race and I’m more than happy to tell you that it’s totally worth going to. Groups construct and decorate their own outhouses and then race them down a mountain in Western NC in February in the snow. It’s the funniest thing to watch and you can cheer for your favorite outhouse to win!
Shadow of the Bear
This happens only twice a year – November and February – up in the mountains of Western NC when, at sunset, the shadow of Whiteside Mountain in Cashiers, NC looks like a bear. Now, some people may think it does not look like a bear and it’s quite entertaining to talk to people who are watching it out there with you about what the shadow does look like. Get there early to secure a somewhat safe spot to watch along the mountain road.
Hike half a mile deep inside these caverns near the Linville Gorge and learn about the history of the area. Maybe even see a bat. Be sure to check the hours before you go.
The Gorge is often called the “Grand Canyon of the East” with its rugged terrain, deep valleys, and beautiful waterfalls. Not for the inexperienced hiker, the Gorge offers difficult hikes with incredible views and backcountry camping (permits are required) and is part of Pisgah Forest.
Blue Ghosts & Synchronous Fireflies
Only during a few weeks every year in late May and early June do the amazing Blue Ghost and Synchronous fireflies come out to mate – and sparkle. Walking amongst a sea of small, lighted fireflies near the ground was an incredible experience. This was one of those things that I did with my kids that they talked about for years afterward.
We did the Blue Ghost experience at the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah Forest near Brevard, NC. You have to enter the lottery at Congaree National Park in SC and the Smoky Mountains in TN/NC for the synchronous fireflies.
More than 100 miles of open shoreline await at the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina. This area has been on my bucket list for a long time. I need to just go!
The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad’s Polar Express runs in November and December out of Bryson City, NC and has all the trappings of the popular film, from hot chocolate to Santa to inviting guests to wear their pajamas. It’s a huge hit with families. Stay at Sky Ridge Yurts, just a twenty-minute drive from the train station.
Bon Ami Mine and Black Light Tour
Not only can you visit an old mine and hunt for gems but they have select dates throughout the year to do a black light tour of phosphorous rock that glows in the dark!
The Biltmore House is the largest privately-owned home in the country. It’s enormous with 250 rooms and was so far ahead of its time when it was built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1880s. I personally think the Biltmore Gardens are the star of the show, especially in the spring when there are more than 30,000 tulip bulbs and azaleas in every color line the garden path to the Bass Pond and waterfall. Biking the Biltmore, walking the trails, and visiting the winery are all wonderful things to do there.
Tennessee Bucket List Experiences
Lost Sea Adventure
Take a tour of these massive caverns outside Knoxville, Tennessee to learn all about geology. But then take a boat tour in the underground lake. It’s as cool as it sounds.
At 6,285 feet above sea level, Roan Mountain delivers big views over sweeping peaks. It’s perhaps most famous for the gorgeous rhododendrons that bloom in early summer along its ridges but really, anytime is going to be beautiful here. It’s pretty chilly though so bundle up!
Located in Chattanooga, TN, Rock City boasts a unique and creative atmosphere with a 4100-foot paved path that winds around amazing natural rock formations, including narrow pathways through large rocks, scenic look-out points, and an underground cavern. The garden is accented by statues, a rope bridge, clever signs, and more.
Dollywood & Dollywood Splash Country
Both of these parks are fantastic, clean, and fun for the whole family. The theme park has lots of roller coasters, a steam locomotive, wonderful shows, and areas for smaller kids to play and ride. And the waterpark is such fun with mat slides, water coasters, and a huge lazy river.
Smoky Hollow Outdoors Resort
You can channel your inner Laura Ingalls Wilder and stay in an authentic covered wagon or even a Sioux tipi at the Smoky Hollow Outdoors Resort in Sevierville, TN. If you go over the summer, don’t miss the nearby Soaky Mountain waterpark.
This 17-room mansion in Gatlinburg, TN is has hundreds of games to play and each room is designed as a famous game – the living room looks like the game, Clue, the kitchen is Mario Brothers themed, there are bedrooms that are designed after Pac-Man, Chess, LEGOS, and a Las Vegas casino. The Go Lodge is a must-do with your family.
The only way to get to LeConte Lodge on the top of Mt. LeConte is to hike up. Reservations are hard to come by but hikers have loved this place for many years for the views, the hospitality, and the feeling of accomplishment standing atop the mountain looking down on Gatlinburg.
South Carolina Bucket List Worthy Things to Do
Lake Jocassee Wild Child
I learned about the Jocassee Wild Child program in 2021 and I think it’s one of the most fun and educational things to do during the warmer months out on that beautiful lake. Read my Jocassee Wild Child review why this experience is a must-do for families. The same company also offers kids kayak clinics on the lake, which are so much fun as well!
I’ve done dolphin tours with Island Explorer in Hilton Head twice and I plan to go back again because it’s easily one of my family’s favorite things to do. Dolphins are so amazing, the tour company is fun and knowledgeable, and you can search for sand dollars on Vanishing Island.
I had seen photos of Boneyard Beach on Bulls Island, which is part of the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge in Charleston, SC, but nothing could truly prepare me for the experience of walking through those old and weathered trees strewn across the sandy beach. It was an experience like no other.
You can only get to Daufuskie Island, located close to Hilton Head Island, by boat. And there are no cars on the island, only bikes and golf carts. It sounds heavenly and I want to go.
I didn’t know you could cuddle cows until I visited Moo Cow Farms in Simpsonville, SC. But you can and it’s every bit as fun as I imagined! They are booked solid usually for at least two months out so plan accordingly.
Whitewater Rafting on the Chattooga River
Famed as the location of the movie Deliverance, the Chattooga River is the crown jewel of southeastern rafting offering the best and most challenging whitewater in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountain region. The Chattooga was named a National Wild and Scenic River in 1974. We recommend Wildwater Rafting for your adventure.
Find Some Ghosts in Charleston
Charleston is a gem of the Southeast for its beautiful architecture, restaurants, and history. But it is also known for its many supposedly haunted places. Take a boat tour to learn all about them.
Florida Bucket List Adventures
Castillo de San Marcos
A fort in the country’s oldest city of St. Augustine has a fascinating history behind it. For kids and their parents, the Junior Ranger Program is a must-do. Try to go during the spring, fall, or winter since the summer is particularly brutal and hot.
Blue Spring State Park
Florida has dozens of crystal clear springs around the central part of the state where you can see twenty feet to the bottom, go snorkeling, tubing, and even diving, and see manatees during the winter. Blue Spring State Park is a beautiful spot near the Eastern side of the state.
Bioluminescent Kayaking Adventure
Off the Space Coast in Florida near Cape Canaveral is a super cool spot where, because of a special kind of plankton, the waters look like a sea of glow-in-the-dark sparkling stars. And you kayak through them!
Kennedy Space Center Launch
This is a tricky one to make happen because so many things can postpone or cancel a rocket launch. And some launches happen in the middle of the night! A trip to the Kennedy Space Center is definitely worth a spot on this bucket list but seeing a launch there would be even more amazing.
Georgia Bucket List Items
This is one of those aquariums that people always say is worth the trip. It’s huge, has a large variety of marine animals, and is wonderful for both kids and adults.
Jekyll Island is definitely the place to escape from the world. It is quiet, serene, and beautiful.
Providence Canyon State Park
This canyon was actually caused by farmers in the 1800s who basically didn’t do a good job of farming. But today, hikers, climbers, casual nature lovers, and backpackers can enjoy the stunning cliffs and valleys.
I know a swamp doesn’t exactly sound enticing but I initially heard of this place because my kids and I were listening to the book “Tree Castle Island” by Newberry Award winner Jean Craighead George. We loved the book as it detailed what the magical swamp was like. The name of the swamp translates to “Land of the Trembling Earth” and you can take kayak tours, guided boat tours, and even a train ride.
I hope you’ve been inspired to start your own bucket list or just steal any of these ideas. Now go make some memories with your family!