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Southern National Parks

Groups yearning to step off the bus and explore will love a lantern-lit cave tour of Mammoth Cave, a spa experience in Hot Springs or a canoe trip traversing Congaree National Park. Even groups with limited mobility can enjoy an accessible hike in Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks.

Each of these wilderness locations boasts a long list of impressive environmental credentials, such as plentiful wildlife, rare geologic occurrences and panoramas fit for postcards, that earned them the title of national park. Instead of a quick drive through these Southern gems, take time to interact with the natural beauty surrounding your group with a guided tour or short hike. Your group will benefit from the fresh air and first-hand experiences of these wondrous national parks.

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Before the concept of a national park even existed, the United States sought to preserve the area around Hot Springs, Arkansas, for recreation by creating the Hot Springs Reservation in 1832. The area’s hot springs not only inspired the dedication of the country’s smallest national park, but have also been the subject of Native American legend for its medicinal properties.

The city of Hot Springs grew up around the spring water, which people have used in therapeutic baths for more than 200 years. After learning this backstory, your group can feel the relaxing waters themselves at one of the park’s two public bathhouses.

The park’s Bathhouse Row, a National Historic Landmark District, contains a collection of Gilded Age buildings. Groups can stroll beside eight of those buildings that once served as bathhouses along the district’s Grand Promenade.

“The Grand Promenade is a historic brick walkway that goes beside the bathhouses,” said Diane East, concessions specialist at Hot Springs National Park. “It is a very short walk where you can see the bathhouses on Hot Springs Mountain.”

Groups can bask in a regimented bathing routine established in the 1800s at the Buckstaff Baths. The bathhouse’s individual tubs ensure a traditional hot springs experience modeled after early European spas.

The Quapaw Baths and Spa lets guests soak in thermal waters in a modern spa setting, such as a hot springs pool.

The park converted the Fordyce Bathhouse into a visitor center and museum. Visitors learn the area’s significance from the center’s exhibits, park movies and re-created Edwardian era bathhouse.

Shenandoah National Park

Luray, Virginia

Stop to smell the azaleas and mountain laurel if you visit Shenandoah National Park in June. The wooded park, located along a narrow slice of the Blue Ridge Mountains, spellbinds visitors with its breathtaking vistas and secluded wooden walks.

Groups exploring the park should try walking some of Shenandoah’s 500 miles of trails.

“You can experience Shenandoah in many ways,” said Justine Chorley, acting management assistant for Shenandoah National Park. “The Lumberlost Trail is just over a mile and is fully accessible. It’s a level trail, nicely graveled. So if it’s a group where some of the people are in shape and some are not, it would be easy for everyone to hike it.”

The Lumberlost Trail not only proves an easy hike, but it also plunges guests into an enclosure of lush trees, mountain laurel and ferns. White-tailed deer, black bears and over 200 species of birds frequent the trail, as well as the rest of the park.

Skyline Drive runs down the entire length of the park along the ridge of the mountains. The 105-mile road offers numerous overlooks of the surrounding Shenandoah River and Valley on the west side and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east.

Groups also use this National Scenic Byway to access trails, waterfalls and group-friendly restaurants at the Skyline Resort and Big Meadows Lodge. At the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, guests can watch an orientation and examine exhibits on the park’s flora and fauna.