No need to be modest, Trip— tell me what you really think of your skills. Your options for snapshot-worthy hikes in the Southeast are nearly unlimited. But if I were setting out to channel my inner Ansel Adams, here’s where I’d start.
DuPont State Forest, North Carolina
When the makers of The Hunger Games were looking for an otherworldly wooded landscape where they could film their movie, they came to the 10,000-acre DuPont State Forest. Located about 40 minutes west of Asheville, the park is one of the top mountain biking destinations in the Southeast. It also just might be the region's most picturesque state preserve, thanks to its magnificent waterfalls and swimming holes. Park at the Hooker Falls lot, and you’ll have easy hiking access to some of the park’s choicest sites. The Friends of DuPont Forest offers a map of waterfall hikes here.
Old Rag, Virginia
As much as I’d like to exclude Old Rag from this list because of the throngs of hikers from DC who clamber to its rocky, 3,290-foot summit every summer, I can’t. No other hike in the Shenandoah National Park opens onto as much eye candy as the eight-mile trek and brief (but surprisingly challenging) rock scramble on the Ridge and Saddle trails. Go on a weekday to dodge the crowds.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
At seventeen miles long and with an area slightly bigger than Manhattan, Cumberland Island is the largest of Georgia's Sea Islands. It's also the least visited, because it’s not connected to the mainland by a causeway. Only 300 visitors a day are allowed to take the seven-mile ferry ride daily to this spit of land, nearly all of which is owned by the federal government. There are more than 50 miles of trails along beaches and through interior marshes and pine forests, where you can see feral horses roaming through the ruins of plantations. If you’re not capable of taking a slide show’s worth of keepers, you deserve to have your camera taken away
Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
The tallest vantage point east of the Mississippi is the 6,684-foot summit of Mount Mitchell. Its top is bare except for a nifty observation tower that affords views of the rounded 6,000-plus-foot peaks of the Black Mountains and the surrounding Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. You can drive to the top, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, or take the 5.6-mile (one-way) Mount Mitchell Trail from the Black Mountain Campground. Bring your wide-angle lens.
Tallulah Gorge, Georgia
Few hikes in the Southeast will give you a larger lineup of idiot-proof shots than Tallulah Gorge, a slender, 100-foot-deep and two-mile-long gash formed by the Tallulah River in the Appalachians of Northern Georgia. The three-mile circuit of the North Rim and South Rim trails, connected by a suspension bridge over the gorge, veers onto several jagged overlooks that look down to the river.