Mountains, historic riverfront adventures just hours away

Less than a day’s drive away, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia offer unique vacation experiences. Florida flatlanders can experience the mountains, winding country roads and unique outdoor activities. Experience Bavaria in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, stroll the riverfront in Savannah, take in the history of Georgia’s oldest city or ride a steam train on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. 

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Bryson City, North Carolina

Bryson City is a small town in western North Carolina that is surrounded by mountains, streams, waterfalls and lakes. The area has a wide range of outdoor activities such as hiking, walking, biking, fishing and swimming. But many visitors come to experience the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Various trail excursions include the Nantahala Gorge Excursion, a five-hour trip through the mountains, over a lake and along the Nantahala River.

Location: Bryson City is about a nine-hour drive from Brevard County.

Phone: 828-488-3335

Websites: brysoncity.gov; Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, gsmr.comfloridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/blue-spring-state-park

Video Tour: vieravoice.com/videos

Blue Ridge Mountains Helen, Georgia

Blue Ridge Mountains

Helen, Georgia

It is said to be the charm of Bavaria in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This town in north Georgia gives visitors a glimpse of a German village. The entire town follows the Bavarian theme, with its building designs, cobblestone walks, alleys with shops, restaurants, wineries and attractions. It is along the Chattahoochee River, which offers tubing and other activities. 

Location: Helen is in northern Georgia, about a nine-hour drive from Brevard.

Phone: 800-858-8027, 706-878-2181

Website: helenga.org

Oldest City in Georgia Savannah, Georgia

Oldest City in Georgia

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia, with lots of Victorian mansions, 20 park squares, including the 30-acre Forsyth Park that attracts lots of visitors to the city’s unique architecture, art, trendy boutique and cuisine. They come for the history and charm of a stroll along the Savannah River. A recommendation is to take a hop-on, hop-off trolley tour to decide what areas, museums or attractions to visit. There are several tour companies based at the City Market.

Location: Along the Savannah River across from South Carolina, it is about  a 4 1/2-hour drive from Brevard.

Website: visitsavannah.com

Natural and manmade wonders await nearby

Places and choices for summer vacation or day outings, including nearby trips and multiday road trips that can take you to interesting sites. Here are a few that we have visited and recommend.

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pelican Island is America’s first National Wildlife Refuge. It is a little island in the Indian River Lagoon that is surrounded by more than 5,400 acres of protected lands and waters. Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge is home to plenty of fish and wildlife. Pelican Island’s designation in 1903 was the first of 568 national wildlife refuges created since. It offers several trails, walkways and boardwalks, and wildlife viewing. 

Bring drinking water, sunscreen, mosquito repellant and binoculars.

Location: South of Sebastian Inlet, off SR A1A, near the community of Orchid

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to sunset

Admission: free

Phone: 772-581-5557

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Pelican_Island

Chihuly Collection at the Morean Art Center

Chihuly Collection at the Morean Art Center

The Chihuly Collection is stunning glass art of world-renowned Dale Chihuly in a 15,000-square-foot setting at the Morean Art Center in St. Petersburg. The experience is complemented by video presentations in the theater and in a retail store with a wide variety of Chihuly merchandise. Adults and children will likely marvel at the exhibit at the Morean Art Center as well as the Glass Studio and Hot Shop, where visitors can see glass artists creating pieces. It also has an outdoor garden.

Location: 720 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m., Sunday;

check website for holiday hours

Admission: adult, $20; 65 and older, military, $18; ages 6 to 18 and anybody with a valid college ID, $13

Website: moreanartscenter.org/chihuly

De Leon Springs State Park

De Leon Springs State Park

De Leon Springs is a great place to cool off in the summer heat and explore the trails of the subtropical forest that features a massive old-growth bald cypress tree. The spring was once used to turn a sugar cane mill followed by a grist mill to turn corn into flour during the Civil War. 

In addition to hiking, there are opportunities for swimming, fishing, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, picnicking and wildlife and wading birds viewing. Restrooms, boardwalks and sidewalks are wheelchair accessible.

Location: 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd., De Leon Springs

Hours: 8 a.m. until sunset. Restaurant is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends

Admission: Vehicle with two to eight people, $6; one-person vehicle and motorcycle, $4; pedestrians and bicyclists, $2

Phone: 386-985-4212

Website: floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/de-leon-springs-state-park