5 remarkable Southern sites to sleep beneath the stars

From treehouses and yurts to caves and campsites

Cumberland Caverns
McMinnville, Tennessee

In 1810, when Aaron Higgenbotham discovered the entrance to Cumberland Caverns—Tennessee’s second-longest cave, exceeding thirty-two miles—the surveyor’s torch went out and he waited three days to be rescued. Today, amateur spelunkers, in groups of ten or more, freely enter to sleep among stalactites in the Ten Acre Room, a 2,000-foot-long chamber more than 300 feet below ground. Wake early for a home-cooked breakfast, then hike to the entrance where, the story goes, dark passageways so unnerved Higgenbotham his hair turned white. Bring a light jacket; the cave maintains mid-fifties temps year round. cumberlandcaverns.com

Falling Waters Resort 
Bryson City, North Carolina

Mongolian nomads may have invented yurts, but Falling Waters Resort perfected them. Circular, canvased, and framed by wraparound decks, the eight huts sit on a bluff overlooking Fontana Lake in Nantahala River Gorge, seventy-five miles west of Asheville. Inside, skylights and table lamps illuminate cozy hardwood floors, muted rugs, and queen-sized beds. A backyard of hardwoods and hemlocks trails into the wild, where biking and zip lining take place beneath peaks so high, the Cherokee named the area “land of the noonday sun.” fallingwatersresort.com

Okefenokee Canoe Shelters
Waycross, Georgia

Sleeping mere feet above alligators is, perhaps, inadvisable. But Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge invites campers to take the risk. Stay on open-air platforms above the gator-filled waters of North America’s largest intact freshwater swamp. From your partially roofed shelter, canoe more than 120 miles of water trails edged with pine and cypress. Along the way, spot screech owls and endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. Only the sound of rustling white-tailed deer, warblers, and of course, those grunting alligators, disrupts your solitude. www.fws.gov/refuge/okefenokee

Edisto River Treehouses
Edisto River, South Carolina

To stay in the Edisto River Treehouses, you must paddle thirteen miles on your own down the Edisto, the country’s longest free-flowing blackwater river. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot wooden hideaways lofted fourteen feet up, all part of a privately owned, 100-acre island wildlife refuge. The treehouses sleep between two and eight guests and have propane grills, furnished kitchens, fire pits, and outhouses. Porches overlook an untouched ecosystem of cedars and cypresses, wild turkeys and turtles. The stay includes canoe rentals, but don’t forget fishing gear: Bass and redbreast sunfish abound. canoesc.com

Garden Key
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Every day, ten campers—and only ten—ferry seventy miles from Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park’s Garden Key, an isolated island distinguished by the red bricks of Fort Jefferson’s nineteenth-century ramparts. Usually booked months in advance, the island’s ten oceanfront campsites offer views of one of the East Coast’s most spectacular light shows: At twilight, the entire Milky Way appears, untainted by light pollution. The star-studded evenings are rivaled only by the world below: Just steps from the primitive campsites, pristine waters invite snorkelers and divers to explore the surrounding coral reefs. nps.gov/drto