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Southeast: Small towns

Courtesy National Park Service

Everglades National Park, Florida
Miami is renowned for its nightlife, but it’s the wildlife that makes nearby Everglades National Park so popular with visitors.

“The park was set aside for its biological diversity,” said public information officer Linda Friar. “The Everglades has subtle beauty. It’s a great place for wildlife viewing, and it’s one of the world’s hot spots for birding.”

The park sits just east of Miami and covers most of Florida’s southern tip. All together, the park encompasses 2,400 square miles and offers a number of different visitor experiences.

One of the most popular activities for groups is a wildlife tram tour in Shark Valley. This two and a half-hour tour follows a 15-mile paved loop through the valley, stopping at a tower for sweeping views of the Everglades. Along the way, passengers frequently see alligators, herons, songbirds and other animals.

In other parts of the park, groups can take boat tours. The winter months, when migratory birds take up residence in the Everglades, are a great time for ranger-guided tours. And adventurous visitors can sign up for an exciting — and messy — experience called a “slough slog.”

“It’s a wet walk,” Friar said. “You walk out into the tall grass marsh and into a cypress dome. It’s a really special opportunity; you feel the real quiet of the place. It’s a takeaway memory.”

Bessemer, Alabama
South of Birmingham, the town of Bessemer features a number of attractions that highlight the history of central Alabama.

Housed in a 1916 train depot, the Bessemer Hall of History documents the area’s past. Chief among the museum’s exhibits are photographs of Bessemer during earlier periods. The museum also has several rare and surprising artifacts on display, such as a typewriter that once belonged to Adolph Hitler.

The area is also home to Tannehill Ironworks State Park. This park preserves both the natural beauty of the area and its heritage as a metalwork center. From spring through fall, blacksmiths, millers and other craftspeople do demonstrations in restored pioneer cabins.

Historic structures and items include a cotton gin, a pioneer farm and a working gristmill; the on-site Iron and Steel Museum has artifacts from the Birmingham area’s 19th-century iron industry.