Photo: Cyclists cross street

Cyclists pedal through downtown Valdosta.

Photograph by Wes Sewell Photography

Pop. 48,547
GPS: 30°51'N 83°17'W

Genteel "Azalea City" is the unlikely launchpad for the Okefenokee Swamp: a 700-square-mile (1,813-square-kilometer) blackwater refuge for gators, endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers and Florida soft-shell turtles that’s crisscrossed by 120 miles (193 kilometers) of paddling trails.


Brave? Sign up for an overnight paddling excursion through the evergreen bog lands, cypress forests, and reptile habitats. Okefenokee Adventures offers guided trips that last up to five days (from $295 per person;


You may be in the swamps, but you’re still in BBQ country. And Smok'n Pig BBQ has got all the trimmings—fried okra, Mama June's sweet potato soufflé, fresh collard greens—to accompany its award-winning pulled pork (


Fairview Inn, a bed and breakfast in the heart of Vandosta's 1800s-era neighborhood, is within walking distance of downtown museums (doubles from $85;