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Travel South: Outdoor destinations

Overlook at Caesar’s Head State Park, courtesy S.C. State Parks

Bird-Watching at Caesar’s Head State Park
Cleveland, South Carolina
Birds of prey migrate to Caesar’s Head State Park each fall to catch thermal winds that send them soaring without the exertion of flapping their wings. This aerial spectacle, known as Hawk Watch, runs from September through November 30 each year. During Hawk Watch, bird-watchers spy hundreds to thousands of broad-winged hawks and other birds of prey from the Blue Ridge Escarpment’s dramatic overlook.

“It’s incredible to look up and see hundreds of birds moving through the sky, especially such large birds,” said Tim Lee, interpretive ranger naturalist. “Sometimes they are up close, and you can see them clearly with only your eyeballs, though not always; so it’s good for a group to bring binoculars.”

On a good day in September, you can see 200 to 300 broad-wing hawks following the Appalachian Flyway on their quest for warmer climates in Central and South America. One- to two-hour Hawk Watch programs during this time of year can also help your group spot some of the other species of birds flying through, such as bald eagles, ospreys, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks and American kestrels.

Even without seeing a single bird, the view from the 2,000-foot-high Blue Ridge Escarpment is a show in itself, especially during fall foliage season. Caesar’s Head State Park is nestled inside the 11,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, which provides a mountain forest landscape as far as the eye can see.

Spring also attracts numerous birds into the area during the spring songbird migration. Spring bird-watching programs help groups spot the 167 species of birds that can often be found during forested hikes. This time of year is also a peak time for wildflowers, butterflies and waterfalls.

Walking Tour of Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Hidden underneath a peaceful river valley lies the subterranean labyrinth of the world’s longest known cave system. Mammoth Cave National Park holds vast chambers with peculiar formations, including the Bottomless Pit, the Mammoth Dome and the Frozen Niagara.

“We show about 10 miles of the cave, while there are about 400 total miles,” said Vickie Carson, public information officer for Mammoth Cave National Park. “Some parts of the cave are huge. It’s like being in a gymnasium. The Frozen Niagara formation looks like a frozen waterfall, only it’s made of stone.”

You can choose from a variety of tours that range in difficulty from short and easy to lengthy and strenuous. The least difficult trail is the 0.4-mile Frozen Niagara Tour that passes by interesting stalagmite and stalactite formations without any steep climbs.

Guides began giving tours of the caverns in 1816, making Mammoth Cave one of the oldest tourist attractions in North America. Historic-themed tours reveal the landmarks visited by the cave’s famous guests from the 19th and 20th centuries.

To feel like an early cave explorer, take the park’s Lantern Tour, which allows visitors to illuminate areas of the cave not lit with electric lights. If those tours don’t give your group enough adventure, the park also offers Intro to Caving and the Wild Cave Tour for more strenuous walks that reach the rarely seen corners of the cave by climbing, crawling and hiking.

Besides the caverns below, the 52,800-acre park also has numerous hiking trails above ground.

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