Located on Florida’s west coast on Tampa Bay, Tampa is Florida’s third-largest city. Tampa Bay’s port is the largest in Florida, with the Greater Tampa Bay area home to more than four million people. Typically, Tampa will have hot, humid summers with regular thunderstorms, while winters are dry and mild. There are a lot of things to do in the city and its surrounding area. The Ybor City District, for example, is a great place to encounter buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. There is the Tampa Riverwalk, a 2.6-mile long trail that follows the Hillsborough River, as well as the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Sports fans will find plenty to cheer for in Tampa, which is home of the Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball team and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.
Of course, even with a lot to do in Tampa, a road trip can be a ton of fun and allow you to experience new things. Consider a two to three-day trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The ten-hour drive will take you through Florida, Georgia and North Carolina to Tennessee, allowing you to explore portions of four different states before arriving at your destination.
And just what does your destination of Gatlinburg have to offer? It turns out, quite a bit. A mountain resort city in Tennessee, Gatlinburg is 39 miles southeast of Knoxville and is on the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Despite its small size, the city offers a myriad of things to do. To name a few, there is a ski resort, a SkyLift that takes visitors up to the top of Crockett Mountain, the Gatlinburg Space Needle, where you can experience a 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains, and the Ripley’s group of attractions.
The first leg of your road trip will be about two hours long as you make your way from Tampa to Gainesville. The home of the University of Florida, Gainesville is the location of the Florida Museum of Natural History, which is located on the campus of the University. The museum is considered one of the top natural history museums in the United States and is a leading authority in biodiversity and cultural heritage.
Within the museum is the Discovery Zone, which offers fun hands-on activities that aim to encourage critical thinking. A few of the exhibits are especially kid-friendly, where touching is allowed; for example, there are collection drawers that can be examined along with a limestone cave ready to be explored. While at the museum, check out the Butterfly Rainforest, a living exhibit with hundreds of butterflies and birds flying freely.
After you leave Gainesville, continue toward Valdosta. Less than two hours from Gainesville, you will find your next stop; Wild Adventures. Located about five miles south of Valdosta in Georgia, Wild Adventures is a zoological theme park that offers visitors rides and attractions, to include eight roller coasters, viewing of exotic animals and shows, including concerts.
In addition, Wild Adventures is home to Splash Island, which is a water park with a Polynesian theme that offers seven additional rides. Admission to Splash Island is included when you pay to visit Wild Adventures. Visiting Wild Adventures Theme Park is not only fun, but a perfect way to stretch your legs after some time in the car.
After having plenty of fun at Wild Adventures and Splash Island, get back on the road and continue north. After about two hours and forty minutes, you will arrive in Macon, where you can head to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, which is responsible for preserving traces of more than ten thousand years of Southeastern Native American Culture.
The park includes major earthworks that were built by the South Appalachian Mississippian culture prior to 1000 CE, including the Great Temple, a burial mound, and other ritually significant mounds. The Park is 702 acres and contains evidence of thousands of years of ongoing habitation by humans. What is now Macon, Georgia developed around the site. In 1997, the Park was designated a Traditional Cultural Property by the NPS, which was the first east of the Mississippi River to be recognized as such.
You are on the road again…and again heading to Gainesville, only this time, Gainesville, Georgia! Located two hours and ten minutes from Macon, Gainesville is where you will find Don Carter State Park. On the north end of Lake Lanier, Don Carter State Park is an ideal location for those who love to spend time in, on or around water.
Within the park are a sand swimming beach, a bath house, fish cleaning stations, and boat ramps so that you can explore the lake. Rentals are available seasonally for kayaks, paddleboards, and Aquacycles. The park also has a multi-use trail that can be used by both hikers and bikers to meander through the hardwood forest.
There are options to stay overnight within the park, to include cabins near the lake as well as campgrounds, whether for RV’s or tents. The park got its name from Don Carter, a real estate executive who was instrumental in establishing the park.
Macon County in North Carolina has been called the Gem Capital of the World, due to the area’s hills and mountains containing a variety of gemstones, including quartz, garnets and rubies and gem mines. As a result of there being so many gems and minerals, the Franklin Gem and Mineral Society was formed.
Located in Franklin’s old jail, the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum has eight rooms that are filled with gems and minerals; not just from the area, but from the world. The museum has one of the largest collections of gems and minerals in the southeast, ensuring that you will have the opportunity to experience a variety during your visit. The Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum opened to the public in 1974 and has been operating ever since.
You are just an hour and forty minutes to your destination of Gatlinburg once you leave the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum. You will want to take advantage of the time to rest while in the car because once you get to Gatlinburg, you will find no shortage of things to see and do, both indoors and out.
A big draw to Gatlinburg is its proximity to Smoky Mountain National Park. Located next to the city, the National Park is known for its diverse plant and animal life and its gorgeous mountains. The most visited National Park in the United States, Smoky Mountain National Park can be explored in your car or by going on hikes of varying lengths and levels of difficulty, where you can enjoy the mountains, waterfalls, and streams.
If art and authentic Appalachian crafts are of interest, check out the 8-mile Arts & Crafts loop in and around the city, where you can see craftsmen make brooms, baskets, and pottery or view paintings and hand-blown glasswork. With more than 100 shops and galleries to visit, there is a lot to explore. If you want to enjoy an amazing view of the area, including the Smoky Mountains, visit Gatlinburg’s Space Needle, a tower that is 407 feet tall that offers 360-degree views.
Gatlinburg is ready for tourists and offers plenty of options for camping, both within and outside of Smoky Mountain National Park. Stay a few days and take in the many things available in the area!