Spring Travel Guide: The great outdoors beckons

Southeast Mountain Guides hosts private, guided climbs in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, one of the best rock-climbing destinations in the world. 
Courtesy of Elodie Saracco

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Southeast Mountain Guides hosts private, guided climbs in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, one of the best rock-climbing destinations in the world. Courtesy of Elodie Saracco

Here’s where to go to hike, bike, bird, boat, fish, kayak and more.

Warmer temperatures bring the opportunity to shed winter clothing and get outside, whether one is yearning for quiet time at the beach or an adventure in remote wilderness. Luckily, there’s no shortage of outdoor adventures in the Southeast, from rafting over foamy white rapids to fishing in the Atlantic to birdwatching, the region is teeming with activities. This spring, escape to the Carolinas, the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Florida’s Treasure Coast, or hop a three-hour flight to Puerto Rico, our tropical, Caribbean sibling. Before booking any trip, check with each destination for the latest safety protocols and days and times of operation.

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An angler catches a kingfish in Tybee Island. Courtesy of American Fishing Charters

Credit: Handout

An angler catches a kingfish in Tybee Island. 
Courtesy of American Fishing Charters

Credit: Handout

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An angler catches a kingfish in Tybee Island. Courtesy of American Fishing Charters

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Catch a fish on Tybee Island

Just 18 miles east of Savannah, Tybee Island promises excellent fishing conditions year-round. American Fishing Charters accommodates varying skill and adventure levels on the water, featuring both inshore and offshore fishing. In spring, expect to reel in sheepshead, black drum, black sea bass, kingfish and trout, among other species. For 50 cents per pound, American Fishing Charters will clean and filet your catch, so it’s ready to cook. Beyond charters, the company also offers specialty trips, including a dolphin tour, sunset tour and Tybee Island tour.

American Fishing Charters, 8020 US Hwy. 80 East, Savannah. $500 inshore charters, $1,000 and up offshore charters. 912-239-7309, www.fishingtybee.com

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Southeastern Expeditions offers whitewater rafting trips on the Chattooga River, renowned for its Class III and IV rapids. Courtesy of Southeastern Expeditions

Credit: Handout

Southeastern Expeditions offers whitewater rafting trips on the Chattooga River, renowned for its Class III and IV rapids. 
Courtesy of Southeastern Expeditions

Credit: Handout

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Southeastern Expeditions offers whitewater rafting trips on the Chattooga River, renowned for its Class III and IV rapids. Courtesy of Southeastern Expeditions

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Raft the Chattooga

Considered the “crown jewel of the Southeast” among white water rafting enthusiasts, the Chattooga River flows through North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and is renowned for its Class III and IV rapids. Officially designated a Wild and Scenic River, the free-flowing estuary is the only water east of the Mississippi providing commercial rafting. Nature-lovers and thrill-seekers can book a full-day class II, III, IV or V whitewater rafting trip with Southeastern Expeditions, a commercially licensed guide operator catering to everyone from first-timers through advanced rafters. Chattooga River Section III overflows with natural beauty, wildlife and plenty of action on the water, appealing to all ages. Overnight camping trips with a barbecue dinner can also be arranged.

Southeastern Expeditions, 7350 Hwy. 76 East, Clayton. $90 and up per person. 800-868-7238, www.southeasternexpeditions.com

Ride horses in North Carolina

Located less than 30 miles from downtown Asheville, North Carolina, Sandy Bottom Trail Rides invites guests to traverse the hills of Western North Carolina by horseback. Knowledgeable guides lead one, two and three-hour outings along wide, scenic trails while pasture and Blue Ridge Mountain views allow riders to connect with nature, the terrain and the horse. On rides two hours and longer, guests have the opportunity to mine for gems at the Little Pine Gem Mine and keep the treasures they discover. The company hosts wagon trips and buggy rides for folks who would rather admire the horses from afar. Sandy Bottom encourages beginners through more seasoned riders to hit the trails no matter their skill level.

Sandy Bottom Trail Rides, 1459 Caney Fork Road, Marshall, North Carolina. $55-$130 per person. 800-959-3513, www.sandybottomtrailrides.net

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Kayak on Three Sisters Swamp of the Black River, a tributary of the Cape Fear River, and witness ancient bald cypress trees ranging from 1,600 to 2,500 years old. Courtesy of Cape Fear River Adventures

Credit: Handout

Kayak on Three Sisters Swamp of the Black River, a tributary of the Cape Fear River, and witness ancient bald cypress trees ranging from 1,600 to 2,500 years old. 
Courtesy of Cape Fear River Adventures

Credit: Handout

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Kayak on Three Sisters Swamp of the Black River, a tributary of the Cape Fear River, and witness ancient bald cypress trees ranging from 1,600 to 2,500 years old. Courtesy of Cape Fear River Adventures

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Kayak in Wilmington

North Carolina is home to some of the oldest bald cypress trees in eastern North America, ranging in age from 1,600 to 2,500 years old. Witness these awe-inspiring specimens among an untouched landscape while kayaking on Three Sisters Swamp of the Black River, a tributary of the 200-mile Cape Fear River. Capt. Charles Robbins of Cape Fear River Adventures hosts day-long, immersive ecotours in the forest, telling the region’s story. The all-day kayak adventure reveals incredible views of the ancient trees, arguably one of the state’s best-kept secrets.

Cape Fear River Adventures, 1317 Middle Sound Loop Road, Wilmington, North Carolina. $125 and up per person. 910-620-0296, www.capefearriveradventures.com

Ride a bike on Kiawah Island

Located 25 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina, Kiawah Island is a barrier island with an idyllic landscape that can best be experienced on two wheels. Though this hideaway is mainly a gated community known for golfing and resorts, day-trippers can explore marshlands, wildlife and maritime forests on 30 miles of paved bike trails. Arrange bike rentals for adults and kids with Seaside Cycles, and they’ll delivery to you. Stop by the Heron Park Nature Center in Night Heron Park, which also offers nature tours and walks, to learn about Kiawah’s wildlife. If riding on the beach is more in your wheelhouse, pedal along the 10 or so miles of coastline in Kiawah Beachwalker Park, the island’s only public beach.

Seaside Cycles, John’s Island, South Carolina. $30-$120. 843-768-5080, www.seasidecycles.com

Birding in Alabama

Alabama is a birder’s paradise. More than 400 species have been documented in the state, and a system of eight trails spanning from the mountains to the coast have been created specifically for optimum bird watching. See www.alabamabirdingtrails.com for details. For guided bird watching, Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours in Newbern, a tiny town in western Alabama, organizes walking, biking and trailer excursions on Saturdays. Bird watchers might catch a glimpse of American white pelicans, swallow tailed kites, bald eagles, great blue herons, ospreys and other species along a picturesque, six-mile trail on The Joe’s Black Angus Farm, a cattle farm that’s been in operation since the late 1800s. Nature lovers can also sight rabbits, bobcats and white-tailed deer, among other wildlife on the 200-acre property.

Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours, 1965 County Road 57, Newbern, Alabama. $25. 334-300-5509, www.connectingwithbirdsandnaturetours.com

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A Walk in the Woods guides custom hikes to Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, one of the most revered hiking destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains. Courtesy of Joel Ossoff

Credit: Joel Ossoff

A Walk in the Woods guides custom hikes to Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, one of the most revered hiking destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains. 
Courtesy of Joel Ossoff

Credit: Joel Ossoff

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A Walk in the Woods guides custom hikes to Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, one of the most revered hiking destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains. Courtesy of Joel Ossoff

Credit: Joel Ossoff

Credit: Joel Ossoff

Hike in Tennessee

Located between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Cades Cove, is one of the most revered hiking destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains. A pristine spot of natural beauty where keen observers can spot the white-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkeys that make their home in these forested acres, it is also the site of several historic structures, including cabins, a church and a grist mill that preserve what life was once like here in the 1800s. A Walk in the Woods offers a full-day guided hike ranging from moderate to strenuous that includes the Cades Cove Mountain Loop, Crooked Arm Ridge Trail and two waterfalls. For experienced hikers interested in exploring the quieter side of the Smokies with fewer tourists, the company offers the Old Growth Waterfall hike, a guided, strenuous trek through a rhododendron tunnel and the majestic Appalachian Cove forest, leading to one of the prettiest waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains.

A Walk in the Woods, 4413 E. Scenic Drive, Gatlinburg, Tennessee. $59-$275 per person. 865- 436-8283, www.awalkinthewoods.com

Go rock climbing in Kentucky

Climbers travel across the world to ascend the stunning Red River Gorge, a trove of breathtaking cliffs, rock formations and sandstone arches in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. Deemed one of the world’s top 10 climbing destinations, “The Red” has more than 2,000 routes, ensuring climbs for all skill levels. Southeast Mountain Guides hosts private guided excursions and its own Via Ferrata — a ¾-mile path marked by rugged cliff lines where the climber is secured to a cable system. The company also offers guided rappelling tours up to 120 feet and can customize the journey for age and preference. Not a climber? Red River Gorge is also excellent for hiking, swimming, kayaking or soaking up the beautiful surroundings.

Southeast Mountain Guides, 1617 N. KY Hwy. 11, Campton, Kentucky. $51-$215 per person. 606-666-6613, www.southeastmountainguides.com

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Ride an airboat and experience the biodiversity of Indian River County on Florida's Treasure Coast. Courtesy of Florida Airboat Excursions

Credit: KristaSimpsonPhotography

Ride an airboat and experience the biodiversity of Indian River County on Florida's Treasure Coast. 
Courtesy of Florida Airboat Excursions

Credit: KristaSimpsonPhotography

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Ride an airboat and experience the biodiversity of Indian River County on Florida's Treasure Coast. Courtesy of Florida Airboat Excursions

Credit: KristaSimpsonPhotography

Credit: KristaSimpsonPhotography

Ride an airboat in Florida

Experience the biodiversity of Indian River County on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Skim across the serene waters of Lake Garcia, a branch of the St. Johns Waterway. Florida Airboat Excursions offers narrated 50-minute, fun-filled tours replete with sightings of ospreys, herons, alligators and other various flora and fauna, depending on the weather and the season. Have your camera ready to capture the wildlife, blooming lotus lilies and other tropical plants in this unspoiled area of Vero Beach’s Blue Cypress Conservation Area.

Florida Airboat Excursions, County Road 512, Vero Beach, Florida. $51 per person. 772-461-0303, floridaairboatexcursions.com

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In Puerto Rico, take a boating and snorkeling tour to Flamenco Beach on the island of Culebra. Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Credit: Handout

In Puerto Rico, take a boating and snorkeling tour to Flamenco Beach on the island of Culebra. 
Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Credit: Handout

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In Puerto Rico, take a boating and snorkeling tour to Flamenco Beach on the island of Culebra. Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Boating in Puerto Rico

If the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sound tempting for a getaway this spring, consider Puerto Rico, only a three-hour flight from Atlanta. Cruise around the archipelago’s islands, cays and inlets with East Island Excursions, a tour operator that provides an array of water activities along Puerto Rico’s east coast. Opt for a snorkeling tour to Flamenco Beach on the island of Culebra, a self-guided mini-boat ride around San Juan Bay, a 45-minute trip to Vieques Island or an all-day or overnight private luxury yacht charter on a catamaran sailboat. Savor the tranquility of Puerto Rico’s gorgeous shoreline and diverse underwater life. Boats depart from San Juan Bay Marina and Marina Puerto del Rey in Fajardo

East Island Excursions. $75-$150; $1646 and up per person for private charters. 787-860-3434, eastislandpr.com