12 Great American Destinations
Shenandoah, Smokies, Everglades
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Cutting through the entire length of Shenandoah National Park is Skyline Drive, one of the most impressive scenic roads you will ever drive. Keep your eyes open as you cruise at the strictly enforced 35 m.p.h. speed limit, because you're sure to encounter deer and other wildlife frolicking alongside the road.
If you like to learn about where you are and what you're looking at, Shenandoah (Native American for "Daughter of the Stars") will not disappoint. Along the length of the 105-mile Skyline Drive, there are 75 overlooks giving background to the land's geography, history, and early settlements. When you're ready to leave the car, test-hike a few of the 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through the park. At the end of the day, lie down and stretch your weary body in Big Meadows, appropriately named for its enormity.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, North Carolina
Continuing south along Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive, you will meet the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, guiding you all the way to America's most visited national park: The Great Smoky Mountains.
At 800 square miles, the Smokies are the largest federally protected area east of the Mississippi, allowing for the 10,000 species of living things that have been documented there. Perhaps the most famous resident of the park is the black bear. Somewhere around 600 of these captivating creatures wander the park, making it one of the most populated bear areas in the country. If you are looking for a snapshot, your best bet of spotting one is at Cades Cove.
If you would rather avoid bears, there are plenty of other exotic animals in the park to arouse your interest. Among them are elks, red and gray foxes, coyote, bobcats, and bats. While it's rare that you'll encounter any of these creatures (especially in populated areas), you are almost sure to spot a deer or two at some point during your visit.
Everglades National Park, Florida
At 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the largest national park east of the Rocky Mountains. It spans the southern tip of Florida and is home to rare breeds of birds and wildlife, including the much discussed gator. In fact, you won't find both alligators and crocodiles at the same place anywhere else in the world.
If you're feeling adventurous, rent a canoe and take the family paddling along marshy rivers (being careful to avoid the camouflaged croc heads). Others might prefer to leave the steering to the experts and sightsee the mangrove islands on a boat tour, available all year long.