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Guided Adventures in The South

The best way to explore the natural wonders of the South is with an expert guide by your side.

Beyond the bustle of city attractions, many groups visiting the South take advantage of the surrounding scenery through a guided outdoor excursion or program. These activities range from educational classes to high-adventure fun. Visitors can explore waterfalls, hone their photography skills and see marine life up close.

Next time your group travels South, be sure to check out one of these special outdoor experiences.

DeSoto State Park

Fort Payne, Alabama

Located on Alabama’s Lookout Mountain, DeSoto State Park features waterfalls, spectacular rapids, granite cliffs and 25 miles of hiking and mountain biking. The rock-climbing and rappelling sites in the area are some of the finest in the country, with sweeping views of the river below.

There are several companies in the area that offer great outdoor programs. At One World Adventure, people can participate in wilderness survival training, beginner backpacking classes and even a plant discovery program that involves preparing a food dish with wild ingredients.

Meanwhile, thrill-seekers often gravitate toward True Adventure Sports, which is based near the Little River Canyon National Preserve. With the help of an instructor, people of all ages and skill levels can experience rappelling, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, caving, zip lining, hiking or backpacking. One key attraction is the sky swing, which carries brave individuals 80 feet through the trees before flinging them 40 to 45 feet into the air.

Groups meet at the main office to check in before following the guide to the location of the activity. Some people may feel uncertain or nervous, but the guide is prepared to provide as much instruction as needed.

“Our guides are all trained, so they can spend that extra one-on-one time with you to make sure everyone is able to participate,” said Israel Partridge, a staff member at True Adventure Sports.

For school groups, tours can be customized to the needs and interests of the class, with focuses on geological formations, plant species and more. Likewise, if a group has a limited amount of time, guides may be able to adjust the timeframe of the activity.

Tybee Beach Ecology Trips

Tybee Island, Georgia

As a marine science professor at Savannah State University, Joe Richardson frequently took his classes out to Tybee Island for educational excursions. After he retired in 2007, many local schoolteachers and community leaders asked him to continue the trips. Next thing he knew, he was taking groups out to the beach nearly every day, “and I’m still having a great time,” he said.

The trips take place at the north end of Tybee Island by a lighthouse. Each one is scheduled around low tide, which is the best time to comb the beach for shells and other wildlife. Richardson provides buckets, shovels and dip-nets, as well as large plastic pans to fill with seawater for temporarily housing the live animals people find. Along a nearby rock jetty, people can find many small tidal pools with creatures buried in the wet sand.

Throughout the trip, Richardson discusses the characteristics of each animal with the group and answers any questions. Many people are interested to hear about how animals have adapted to their environment through specific colors and body shapes. To make it even more exciting, people can experience the animal behavior firsthand, using the water-filled pans as makeshift touch tanks.

When asked about the most surprising thing he has seen, Richardson described one instance where a young boy asked him to help pull something out from under a rock in a tide pool.

“I saw something fall into my net and thought it was a starfish. It was kind of orange and about that shape,” said Richardson. “Then its legs started stretching out, and my eyes about popped out of my head — it was a small octopus.”

Despite having visited the beach for more than 30 years, Richardson said there are always unexpected discoveries. One year, there was a surplus of starfish. Previously, groups were lucky to see two or three on a given trip, and then suddenly starfish began showing up by the dozens.

“You never really know what you’re going to find out there from one day to the next,” said Richardson.