As the sun begins to set, paddlers head out on Tallulah Falls Lake for a 3-mile excursion that ends under the full moon. credit: Joell Zalatan

Best of the Southeast: Places to explore by boat

You don’t want to travel like a tourist. You want to be in the know. In the AJC’s annual Best of the Southeast travel special section, we give you the lowdown on where locals eat, drink, play, relax, shop and discover.

From fishing to kayaking to staying in a yacht hotel, there’s plenty of ways to explore the Southeast on the water.

Play: Moonlight paddle in North Georgia

You may have seen the 63-acre lake in the sunshine; you may have watched the powerful falls cascading over the rocks or even hiked the gorge bed itself. But it’s quite another thing to be out on Tallulah Falls Lake (338 Jane Hurt Yarn Drive, Tallulah Falls. 706-754-7981, gastateparks.org/tallulahgorge, @GaStateParks) when there’s a full moon to guide the way.

“You get a different perspective on a clear night, when the moon is reflecting off the water,” said Joell Zalatan, one of the Tallulah Gorge interpretive rangers. She and her colleagues lead the moonlight canoe paddles about once a month, as long as the weather is warm and the full moon makes an appearance, which is usually late April through October.

After a brief introduction to water safety and canoe handling, the tour takes off for a two-hour excursion to the far end of the lake, about 3 miles round-trip. The route stays far from the falls, so there’s no threat of whitewater, and the trip is suitable for various skill levels. The cost is $15 per person, or $10 if visitors have their own boats. And there’s a $5 per vehicle parking fee.

H.M. Cauley, for the AJC

Play: Go fish in Georgetown, S.C.

There are so many options for anglers in this South Carolina town that the tourism folks recommend seeing them all in one place: openangler.com. There, you can plan an excursion by selecting from half- and full-day charter boats, in-shore and near-shore guides, and deep-sea trips. Those with their own gear and boats also will find directions to launch sites and fishing areas.

Billed as South Carolina’s Hammock Coast (531 Front St., Georgetown, S.C. 843-546-8436, hammockcoastsc.com, @HammockCoastSC) the Georgetown area offers a choice of locations for fishing. The town is centered near the Atlantic Ocean, five rivers and an array of saltwater creeks that teem with king mackerel, tarpon and red drum. Georgetown’s reputation as a fishing mecca is bolstered by playing host to tournaments that include the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing series, the IFA Redfish Tour and the Georgetown Wahoo Challenge.

H.M. Cauley, for the AJC

Play: See Charleston Harbor from a kayak

Paddlers looking for an adventure beyond the calm, back waterways of South Carolina’s oldest city will find it right in the city’s harbor. This major port doubles as a recreational area that offers experienced boaters a challenge unlike many others, said Mike Martin, an American Canoe Association-certified instructor and tour guide with Sea Kayak Carolina (118 May Lane, Mount Pleasant, S.C. 843-225-7969, seakayakcarolina.com).

“The harbor is the highway, with a lot more things to pay attention to as opposed to paddling around a tidal river. It can be really calm, and 15 minutes later be really choppy. It can be quite dynamic,” he said.

Those who prefer a less challenging environment can sign on for one of several tours led by Sea Kayak guides. The two-hour expeditions, usually capped at 10 people, start at $45 and can range from the beginners’ basic intro tour to a longer excursion to one of the nearby barrier islands only accessible by boat. Instructors also lead two- and four-hour classes for all skill levels, also starting at $45. A three-day “crash course” class for $130 will leave novices feeling fairly proficient with a paddle.

H.M. Cauley, for the AJC

Relax: Floating hotel in Charleston

If you want to experience Charleston, S.C., from an exclusive perspective while vacationing in total privacy, then consider a floating hotel — the aptly named Southern Comfort (17 Lockwood Drive, Charleston, S.C. 980-254-5572, motoryachtsoutherncomfort.com).

This classic Hatteras yacht stretches over 61 feet and boasts a roomy interior — more than 1,800 square feet — decked out in lustrous mahogany and teak. Guests can select from four staterooms with private baths, and the yacht is fully air-conditioned.

Part of the experience of the yacht is to take in the surroundings from unique vantage points. The covered deck offers grand views of the James Island Bridge and the sailing fleet of the Charleston Yacht Club.

From the Southern Comfort, you’ll enjoy the convenience of the Charleston City Marina’s proximity to the historic district, which is an easy walk. To venture farther, pick up the free marina shuttle that departs each hour.

Sabine Morrow, for the AJC

Discover: Full speed ahead on Mobile Bay

Most everyone knows the famous battle cry, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” What’s less known is the who, where and when. Union Admiral David Farragut bellowed the command (or a variation thereof) on Aug. 5, 1864, during the Battle of Mobile Bay in the waters off Fort Morgan (110 State Highway 180, Gulf Shores, Ala. 251-540-5257, fort-morgan.org).

These days, instead of protecting the bay, Fort Morgan welcomes visitors to tour the site. Most visitors to this area come primarily for the white sand beaches on the Fort Morgan Peninsula and in nearby Gulf Shores, but the fort is well worth a visit. A ferry service connects Fort Morgan to Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island on the other side of the bay, carrying pedestrians and vehicles. On the ferry, you’re actually crossing the waters where Farragut said his immortal words.

Blake Guthrie, for the AJC

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