(We also visited Myrtle Beach State Park in June 2019. To read more about that trip, click here.)
In today’s age of social media, we’re constantly barraged with “perfect” images. The flood of curated and filtered content can make us believe our lives need to be Instagram-worthy to be worthwhile.
So, as I reflected on our recent trip to Myrtle Beach State Park, I fixated on the foreboding forecast that delayed our arrival, the less than ideal weather, and the lack of sleep caused by our testy toddler. It wasn’t until we’d been home for a few days that the fog of unmet expectations lifted, and I began to see that our weekend was actually perfectly imperfect.
The forecast got worse and worse in the days leading up to our departure. We don’t mind rain, but riding out high winds and possible tornados in a tin can is another story all together. After being racked with indecision for several days, we finally decided it would be best to wait until Friday morning to head over to the campground. Our decision was ultimately fueled by the thought of having to shelter in a bathhouse with two kids during a pandemic. The risk wasn’t worth the reward in my book.
But, then, conditions changed and the storm shifted to the east. After carefully watching the radar, we accepted that South Carolina had dodged a bullet, which allowed us to head over Thursday night instead of waiting until morning. Hooking-up was easy since we’d already packed everything earlier in the day. Traffic was lighter than usual too, since we were leaving later in the day and many people were waiting out the weather indoors.
We arrived at our site, and made quick work of setting up before settling in for the night. We stayed on site 295, which was on the more spacious back loop. The site was easy to navigate into, even in the dark, and had a large outdoor living area. It was also full hook-up, which is always a nice find at a state park.
We woke to unseasonably cool temperatures and overcast skies, but thankfully the rain held off. We decided to bundle up and head to Murrell’s Inlet to explore Brookgreen Gardens with my Dad and his girlfriend Diane, who were visiting from Indiana. Brookgreen is located almost across the street from Huntington Beach State Park (which you can also visit for free, if you’re staying at MBSP). We spent several hours exploring Brookgreen’s beautiful sculpture gardens before the kiddos hit the wall. We’ll definitely visit again to see the rest of the grounds, which include a section on local history, a small zoo featuring local animals, and even an educational boat tour. (Note: Your ticket, which we found to be very reasonably priced, is actually good for seven days.)
When we got back to the campground, we decided to embrace the weather. Steven built a roaring campfire and whipped up a delicious, five-bean venison chili. I also made a pan of cornbread in our camper oven, without burning it! In retrospect, it was nice to be able to enjoy a few more days around the campfire since the oppressive heat of summer in the South will soon be upon us.
Saturday was chilly too, but the sun finally peaked through the clouds, which lifted our moods considerably. Since Dad and Diane were nearing the end of their trip, we spent the day soaking up the park. We visited the Nature Center, took a walk on the beach, and watched seagulls land on the pier. Everett was captivated by the challenge of completing the park’s scavenger hunts to earn a patch from the Nature Center, and Jase insisted on trying every slide on the playground.
For dinner, Dad visited a market and stocked up on local seafood, which we boiled over the fire. The result was delicious! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Our trip may have been marred by some less than ideal circumstances, but we enjoyed good fellowship, great food, and beautiful sights. Real life is messy, and sometimes it takes the storms to truly appreciate the sun. Now we’re counting down the days until our next perfectly imperfect weekend.
The shift to remote work meant the lines between my home life and my work life blurred beyond recognition. My brain is constantly abuzz.
Which is why I treasure our camping trips. Yes, the packing and planning adds to the chaos temporarily, but once we are settled into our campsite so much of the stress lifts. For a few days the only decisions I have to make are what’s for lunch and what scenic destinations we should visit next.
Our recent trip to Table Rock State Park proved to be a much needed dose of stress relief. We came very close to cancelling when it looked like Tropical Depression Iota would make the trip a washout, but once again the camping Gods smiled down on us. And, we ended up with sunny skies, warm days and crisp evenings.
This was our first visit to Table Rock, and like many of the other parks we’ve visited, we were pleasantly surprised. The park itself was large, secluded and beautiful. After doing some research we chose site 84 in the White Oaks Campground. Our site had a shallow creek running behind it (which the boys loved!) and a large wooded area on one side. We had to a bit of leveling, but overall the site was well maintained.
My Mom and Stepdad were camping with us and were on site 86, which was on the other side of the wooded area next to our site. The arrangement worked fine, but if we went again, we’d probably do sites 83 and 84 or 86 and 87, just to be a bit closer to one another. We did drive through the Mountain Laurel Campground and though it had beautiful views of the mountains, it felt a bit more crowded and noisy. All the RV sites have electric and water, but are not full hook-up. The dump station is located in the Laurel Mountain Campground, but was easy to access.
Going with the theme of rest and relaxation, we spent most of our weekend enjoying the park itself. The only hiccup we had was firewood that refused to burn, but after scavenging some downed branches, we were back in business. We’d been warned that we wouldn’t get cell signal in the campground, and I was actually a little disappointed that our AT&T phones actually got a good signal at our site. I’d been looking forward to a forced detox. Though the boys did enjoy that they could watch our new FIreTV after the sun went down (which was surprisingly early this time of year!).
On Friday, we decided to venture out to see some nearby sights. First we visited Twin Falls, which was a 15-minute drive from the park. The falls were a short walk from the trailhead parking, and were absolutely breathtaking. The recent rains had the water really rushing. And though we were disappointed that the active hurricane season had taken a toll on the fall foliage, the sparser trees did make for great views of the falls.
Once I’d taken an excessive number of pictures and Steven was able to drag me away from the falls, we headed to the Sassafras Mountain Overlook. The overlook sits atop the highest point in South Carolina, and straddles the South Carolina and North Carolina border. On a clear day you can see 30 to 50 miles into the distance. We soaked up the views and enjoyed lunch on Papaw’s tailgate before heading back to the campground.
Saturday, Grandma and Papaw went out to do some exploring of their own, and ended up at my favorite place Jumping Off Rock. While they were gone we enjoyed a lazy morning, and then decided to conquer one of the park’s trails. We chose the Carrick Creek Trail, a moderate, 2-mile loop. We were quickly reminded that we’re used to flatlands and that our toddler is getting heavy, but the reward was worth the effort. Most of the trail follows Carrick Creek which is full of waterfalls and other scenic features. My Mom and I set out to do the Lakeside Loop later in the day, but were thwarted by a road closure and the quickly setting sun. Next time. We’d also love to eventually make our way up to the top of Table Rock, but that trek might have to wait until the boys are a bit older.
There is so much to do and see in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that I hate leaving. But, alas, there always comes a time to return to reality, chaos and decision making. So, we savor the time we get enjoying the great outdoors.
Anyone who has been camping for a while knows that campgrounds are booking up quicker than ever. In fact, getting a prized site at a popular campground often requires booking a year in advance. So, we would do a few “camping 101” posts to help all the newer campers learn the ropes.
So, you bought a camper! Now what? Finding a campsite is becoming more difficult, but it’s not impossible, if you know where to look. Below is a list of some of the various places where you can camp:
Local and county parks
Don’t forget to look local! Many towns, cities, and counties have parks with RV sites. Some of these parks are smaller and more primitive, while others are larger and offer a range of amenities. For instance, James Island County Park near Charleston, S.C., has a beautiful campground with full hook-up sites and an onsite water park.
State parks are probably the best known place to camp. We enjoy that state parks typically offer a quiet and relaxing environment for a reasonable price. However, if you plan to camp in more than one state, then make sure you research each state’s booking policies. In South Carolina you can book a site at a state park 13 months in advance, but in Florida you can only book 11 months in advance. If you do a little bit of research you can find some gems in the state park systems.
Depending where you live, federal parks can be another great option! As the Army Corp of Engineers (COE) built man-made lakes across the country, they also built beautiful, lakeside campgrounds. The Strom Thurmond Federal Reservoir on the South Carolina/Georgia border currently has seven COE campgrounds operating along its shores. These campgrounds typically don’t offer sewer hook-up, but usually offer large sites, often with great views. They are also very reasonably priced.
You can reserve sites at COE campgrounds on www.recreation.gov. Finding pictures of available sites can be tricky, but if you google “army mil” plus the name of the campground you’re researching it will typically pull up an interactive map with pictures.
Another great option is private parks. Thousand Trails and KOA offer nationwide chain of private campgrounds that typically offer lots of amenities. Yogi Bear Jellystone Park™ Camp Resorts is another nationwide chain that offers beautiful, family-friendly campgrounds. You also can find independent private parks, like Riverbottom Farms in Swansea, S.C., Mountain Stream RV Resort in Marion, N.C., or the various resorts in Myrtle Beach. You sometimes sacrifice privacy and space at the larger private campgrounds and they can be a bit pricier than a state park or a COE. However, you also tend to get more amenities.
Boondocking is when you camp on land that isn’t part of a developed campground. Boondocking could be setting up in your backyard or heading out into a national forest. We haven’t really tried boondocking so far because we don’t have a way to run our rig without electricity at this point, and frankly, in South Carolina there’s a pretty small window when you can camp without air conditioning. But, if you have alternative energy sources or live in a more temperate climate, boondocking is a great option! Just make sure you do some research on where you are and aren’t allowed to camp.
Miscellaneous: Harvest Hosts, HipCamp, AirBnB, etc.
As the camping industry booms, many individuals and businesses are looking to get in on the fun! Harvest Hosts seems to be one of the more popular options. For an annual fee, you can camp at a variety of scenic destinations across the country, such as wineries, farms, etc. Sites like HipCamp and AirBnB also offer unique options for campers. I only see this industry getting bigger as more people choose to hit the road in their camper or RV.
We hope this helps give you some ideas of where to find some new places to camp! Don’t forget to seek the scenic, and let us know in the comments what other “camping 101” topics you’d like us to cover!
When we decided to start a blog and an Instagram account to record our adventures, we chose the name EASYRunner Overland. “EASY” was an acronym of our names: Everett, Alyssa, and Steven Yancey. “Runner” referred to our Toyota 4Runner that kick started our love of exploring as a family. And, “overland” referenced our love of vehicle-based exploration.
When our younger son Jason was born, we questioned if we should change our name to incorporate him. But, nothing seemed to fit. When we started doing more camping, we again considered a name change. Then when we traded our 4Runner in for our Grand Cherokee earlier this year, we knew it was time.
We pondered what we wanted our new name to be for months. We wanted something timeless that would stay relevant even if things in our life changed. We brainstormed ideas, but nothing stuck.
Finally, one day I was thinking about what is at the heart of our adventures. Of course we like traveling back roads and camping, but our true passion is finding beautiful and unique places as a family. And, so our new name was born: Seek The Scenic!
Stay tuned for more updates! We hope to offer some new swag soon. Until then, don’t forget to seek the scenic!
If you follow our Instagram account (@easyrunner_overland), then you may have seen the post about my solo trip to Dreher Island State Park a few weeks ago. I decided to write a post about the trip and how great it was to have a few days to myself for the Columbia Mom Blog.
Okay, let me clarify that a bit. I don’t hate all fireworks. I just hate when my neighbors shoot off commercial grade fireworks in my subdivision for days before and after any “fireworks holiday.” I know that may make me sound a bit like a Karen, but so be it. I’ve just never understood spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on something you literally blow up. My aversion only got worse once we had kids that we had to try to put to bed in what sounded like a war zone.
Each to their own, I guess.
So, since I can’t stop everyone from living out their pyrotechnic dreams, I made the vow that we were going to get out of dodge for the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve for the foreseeable future. This year we put the plan into action, and headed to Lake Greenwood State Park to celebrate the Fourth.
After our first trip to Lake Greenwood, I was a bit nervous to return, but thankfully, everyone was healthy this time around. We stayed at Campground 2, on site 121. It was a fairly short site, but we didn’t have any issues parking our 24’ Jayco and our Jeep. And the view was awesome! I know I say that a lot, but what do I say, we’ve found some pretty awesome lakefront sites lately.
The only drawbacks of the site were the lack of substantial shade and large rocks that made accessing the water challenging. But did I mention the view? It would be the perfect site for fall or winter, but for July it was HOT. My in-laws tagged along in what Steven affectionately calls the Monstrosity. They stayed on site 124, a large pull through on top of a hill. They struggled to get their 36’ fifth-wheel level on the site, and had even less shade than we had.
We also had a strange incident where some fellow campers decided our site was their personal boat launch. If they had approached us and politely asked if they could tie-up at our site, we probably wouldn’t have thought much of it. But they didn’t say a word to us as they trekked across our site smoking and hauling coolers of beer. Plus, they came back from the fireworks display on Friday night in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday. They may have been great people, but I wasn’t comfortable having people on our site in the middle of the night, so Steven finally had to ask them to move. Interestingly, some of our friends recently had a similar encounter at Lake Greenwood where a family set-up their chairs right in front of their site. So, maybe it’s just something about that park?
But despite the heat and small inconveniences, we still had a good time, especially since fireworks were prohibited inside the park. Actually, our site provided a great vantage to watch the fireworks that were being launched on the other side of the lake, but was still quiet enough for us all to get a good night’s sleep. Perfect! I’m sure we’ll give Lake Greenwood another shot, but as mentioned in my Lake Greenwood post, I think we’ll be looking toward the mountains for the Fourth of July next year!
Note: I’m behind. I was planning to write a post about our trip to Lake Greenwood State Park, but… life. So, I decided to go ahead and write about our more recent trip while it was still fresh in my mind.
During our Fourth of July trip to Lake Greenwood State Park, which was beautiful, but sweltering, I repeatedly said that next summer we needed to spend more time in the mountains. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait a whole year. In fact, we only had to wait a few weeks to escape to Lake Hartwell State Park and the mountains of the South Carolina Upstate.
We’ve made a few trips to the mountains, including a trip to Greenbrier Campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and a great trip to the Yogi Bear Golden Valley in Bostic, North Carolina, but this was our first time truly exploring the mountains in our own state. I booked Lake Hartwell on a whim last November during the South Carolina State Parks’ Black Friday Sale, which meant we got three nights for the bargain price of $42.
I’d heard mixed reviews of the park, and didn’t have overly high expectations. So, when we arrived I was very pleasantly surprised. We were on site 46, arguably one of the best sites in the park. As is the case at a lot of lake front parks, the sites were a bit tight, but we still had plenty of room. Plus, the view was amazing, and we had shade (win-win)! We also had great water access right from the back of our site. The bottom of the cove was pretty level and didn’t have a lot of rocks or branches, making it perfect for wading. (The only word of caution that I’ll offer is that there is a good bit of red clay on the bank and on the lake bed, so you WILL stain your bedding if you happen to bump into it with wet clothes.)
The drive up to Lake Hartwell was easier than expected too. From Lexington we took 178 up to 85, and we were able to make it in about three hours. Somehow, miraculously, we actually made the whole trip without a single stop, and both kids took naps! We spent Thursday evening relaxing with my Dad and his girlfriend, who drove down from Indiana (they were on site 48, which was smaller and didn’t have great access to the water).
On Friday, we ventured across the state line to Georgia to Harbor Light Marina (highly recommend) to rent a pontoon boat. Everyone at the marina was very friendly, and the boat was practically brand new (we rented the 65hp 18ft pontoon). We cruised up the Tugaloo portion of the lake looking for fish, but didn’t have any luck since the water was so warm. Even without fishing success, we had a great day, and the boys had a successful first boat trip.
On Saturday we decided to venture out and explore. First, we headed up to Stumphouse Park to see the Stumphouse Tunnel and Isaqueena Falls. The tunnel, built in the 1850s, was intended to be part of a railroad line connecting Charleston, South Carolina, to Cincinnati, Ohio, but the project ran into financial trouble and was never finished. (Fun Fact: It was later used to cure blue cheese.) The tunnel really is an impressive sight and a refreshing place to explore since it stays cool inside even in the summer.
The waterfall, one of many in the Upstate, was beautiful too. Unfortunately, our time admiring it was cut short when a thunderstorm brought a lightning strike a little too close for comfort. While we waited for the storm to pass we decided to stop at Mountain Mocha, a coffee shop and café in Walhalla, South Carolina, to get lunch. The food was great and the atmosphere was even better.
But the most memorable part of trip was still to come.
We decided to trek north toward Lake Keowee, and realized we were close to Lake Jocassee. For years Steven has been saying he wanted to drive Horse Pasture Road and take me to Jumping Off Rock Overlook, so we figured this was the perfect opportunity. We almost gave up on the mission when the directions from my iphone sent us to a dead end into a gated community. But after a little research and consulting SC DNR’s maps, we found the correct route. From HWY 178 to Jumpoff Rock is about 10 miles on Horse Pasture Road. The road itself is in good shape, but very winding, so it took almost an hour to make it to our destination.
Finally, we made it to a pipe gate marking the end of the road. The only other indicator we’d found our destination was a small sign nailed to a tree and a rough trail up the side of the hill. From the road you’d have no idea what waited at the top.
After a short walk, you crest the hill and are left awestruck by a panoramic view of Lake Jocassee and the surrounding mountains.
It is truly breathtaking. I didn’t want to leave, but Steven said DNR wouldn’t take well to me homesteading on their land, so eventually we made our way back to civilization.
The next day we even more reluctantly (a common theme on these trips) packed to head home. I may or may not have tried to convince Steven to stay another day. Our little weekend camping trips are our one escape during these crazy times, and even the boys seem more relaxed and centered when we’re out enjoying nature. Thankfully, we have more trips scheduled for August to look forward to, and until then, we have our memories and lots of pictures!
So, I’m a little hesitant to write this post because I’m worried if I tell everyone how magical James Island County Park Campground is during their Festival of Lights, then it’s going to be even more difficult to find a spot for next year!
I don’t remember where I first heard about the Festival of Lights, probably one of the many camping-related Facebook groups that I follow, but I decided it would be a fun destination for the weekend of Thanksgiving since I’d have some time off of work. When I went to make our reservation back in August, I thought I was lucky and found the very last available site, but knowing what I know now, I think it was likely that I actually stumbled upon a cancellation. Regardless, we were able to secure a spot thanks to a little Christmas magic, and am I so thankful that we did.
After all our multitudes of misadventures earlier this fall – from the “do we have a site or not” fiasco at Hamilton Branch State Park to the late night ear infection at Lake Greenwood State Park – I had some serious anxiety going into our trip. Luckily, most everything went smoothly. Having the day off work meant we were able to take our time packing and getting on the road, and also meant our first daylight set-up in three months.
When we arrived I was pleasantly surprised. I’d had an image in my head of a Myrtle Beach style RV resort with cramped sites and no privacy, but the sites were actually well-spaced and there was a good amount of tree cover to provide a bit of buffer from the neighbors. We were on site 109 – since it was the only one available – and where a little concerned what we’d find when we arrived since the website had a note that said “a tree on site may prohibit awning use.” However, the site was perfect for our camper. We were able to back the camper to the edge of a beautiful oak tree and still have room to put out our awning and park the 4Runner: one of the benefits of a smaller camper and tow vehicle. It also was a large corner lot diagonal from the bathhouse, which worked great for us since my Dad tagged along and camped on our site in his tent. There was a trash dumpster at the edge of the site, but it didn’t cause any issues and seemed to be emptied regularly.
After getting set-up, we were able to relax and enjoy some perfect weather before heading over the Festival of Lights activities. Again, I had a mistaken concept of what the Festival of Lights would entail. Not only did it include a drive through lights display featuring an estimated 2 million lights, but there also was an entire festival village that include gift shops, food vendors, visits with Santa, story time with Mrs. Claus, a carousel and much more! Staying at the campground meant we didn’t have to pay the $20 entrance fee, wait in traffic or fight to find parking to visit the village. It was truly a magical experience. The toddler didn’t even complain about the walking!
On Saturday we spent the morning enjoying the park’s playgrounds and hiking trails, then we took a side trip to somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years: the Angel Oak. It was a quick jump over to John’s Island, probably about 15 minutes from the campground. The tree is tucked behind a chain link fence along a dirt road, and traffic can be a bit tight getting in and out, but it’s worth it to see a true spectacle of nature. After we got back, the boys and I took a nap and Steven and my Dad went and tried their luck at a fishing hole. Steven was excited to reel in a good size catfish! Later that evening Everett took Steven on a guided tour of the lights, then before we knew it, it was time to start packing up.
Sunday morning Everett and I did make a quick detour into the camp store, which had some great items, including a special addition ornament to commemorate this year’s festival – take my money! I think we could have spent several more days at the campground and not been able to enjoy all of the festivities. I’m definitely hoping we can make a trip to the Festival of Lights an annual tradition. In fact, I tried to book a stay for next year upon returning home, but discovered Thanksgiving weekend 2020 is already booked-up! So, fingers crossed we find another lucky cancellation. I’m also hoping we can visit the park again this summer to enjoy their water park and spend some time over at Folly Beach.
We’re taking a bit of a break from camping this month because we are going to go to Grandma’s house in Florida to celebrate the boys’ birthdays. So, until next time, see you down the road!
Last spring I started seeing chatter on Facebook about a new
Yogi Bear Jellystone Park opening in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The pictures looked amazing! But as a family that typically stays at state or federal parks, the nightly rates of $79 to $99 during “shoulder season” (the span between Labor Day and peak fall season) made us a bit reluctant to book a trip. Fortunately, after some quick searching, I discovered the park offered a lot of discounts, including 20% off for first responders during their “Heroes Weekend” in September.
With the discount, the nightly rate came out to $63 a night,
a much more reasonable amount. So, we decided to give it a try. After all,
everyone deserves to splurge occasionally!
The drive up to the campground, which is located in Bostic,
N.C., and use to be a Girl Scout camp, was uneventful. But beware, the last 15
miles or so were on pretty narrow mountain roads, and the last few miles into
the park were very curvy. Make sure you make a bathroom and fuel stop, if
needed, before you get off the interstate because there aren’t many places to
Check-in is located at the Ranger Station across from the
entrance to the park. The entrance itself is gated, once inside staff will
guide you to your spot. We went with one of the basic, back-in sites, and were
pleasantly surprised! The sites were huge and easy to back into. The only drawback
was the lack of shade, but the size and layout of the site still made it very
private. Since the campground just opened in July, all the hook-ups were in
perfect condition, and all of the sites offered full hook-ups.
We did find it a little odd that our fire pit was almost on our neighbor’s site, and there were clear instructions not to move it. When we mentioned it to Bruce, a staff member who was rounding through the campground, he said he’d see what he could do. We figured that would be the end of things, but the next morning Bruce was back moving the pit to a more convenient location. Golden Valley and Bruce definitely get an A+ for customer service!
Once we made it to the park and got settled, we decided to check out the water park. Wow! Not only was the water area huge, but it also had lots of interactive activities for kids. Our toddler loved it, and if we’re being honest, so did the adults! We easily spent a couple of hours exploring and splashing.
Saturday included another trip to the waterpark and pool, some gem mining, a round of putt-putt, a walk to the campground pond and more. We also enjoyed that the campground had cable, but were a bit disappointed that the Wi-Fi didn’t quite reach our site (though it did work well up at the store area). All of the amenities definitely made the higher rates worth it!
Before we went to the campground, we read a number of reviews
that suggested renting a golf cart. But at $50 a day, I just couldn’t justify
the extra expense. However, I didn’t realize before we went that there would
only be very limited vehicle parking near the amenities. We missed the
interaction with Yogi Bear Saturday morning because we tried to drive up, only
to realize there was no parking. Walking wasn’t bad, but I think next trip we’ll
try to get a spot closer to the activities.
On Sunday we were able to take our time packing up, and even
hit the gem mine one more time since the check-out wasn’t until 1 p.m. Overall,
we really enjoyed our trip! Given the cost, it’s not somewhere we’d go all the
time, but I can definitely see us splurging on a special weekend once or twice
After our excursion to Cook’s Mountain a few weeks ago, we
were ready to spend some time in the actual mountains. Luckily, we already had
a long weekend planned in the Smokies.
It was a pretty big adventure since we’d never even taken our camper on the interstate yet, let alone into the mountains. We had been pretty nervous about towing up (and down) Saluda Mountain and Green River Gorge, but the ‘ole family truckster did amazing. In fact, we were really surprised at just how well the 4runner pulled in the mountains.
It took us about six hours to get to Gatlinburg from
Lexington, S.C., including bathroom breaks, baby feeding breaks, and a lunch
stop. We’d been warned to avoid the Foothills Parkway on our way into
Gatlinburg, so we stayed on 321 through Cosby and didn’t encounter any treacherous
We stayed at Greenbrier Campground about five miles east of Gatlinburg, and right across from the Greenbrier entrance to Smoky Mountains National Park. Our site was in the newly developed section of the campground. The site itself was amazing. It backed right up to the Little Pigeon River and was perfectly level. The sites were fairly close to the road, but we didn’t have any issues with road noise. The older part of the grounds was being renovated and featured a nice, modern bathhouse and a well maintained playground.
Our only complaint was the lack of the advertised amenities in the new section. We were excited there would be a playground right across our site to entertain our toddler, but when we arrived we discovered an empty field where the online map had shown the playground. The bath house in the new section also was still under construction. When we mentioned our disappointment about the playground to the front office, they brushed it off and said a lot of people had been disappointed. If that was the case, then it seems like they would put a disclaimer on their website about construction being behind. Thankfully, the beauty of site itself made up for the elusive playground.
We spent our first evening relaxing at the campground. Steven found a nice grocery store about 3 miles from the campground and grabbed some items to make a great dinner. He did mention prices did seem to include a bit of a tourist tax, so keep that in mind when planning.
Day 2: Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Greenbrier and Roaring Forks)
The next day we set out to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Well, at least some of it, since it covers 522,419 acres or 816.28 square miles. We drove the trials through the Greenbrier section of the park first. And holy butterflies! As we drove 1,000s of brightly colored butterflies fluttered over and around the truck. After following the river deep into the park and enjoying the pristine scenery, we made our way back toward the entrance. We decided to pull off at a parking area right before the entrance to do some exploration on foot. The boys (and mom) quickly stripped off our shoes to dip our toes in the cool water, which was particularly nice since the mercury was starting to rise.
Next, after a lunch break, we drove through downtown Gatlinburg to enter the park further west and do the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail, a one-way, 6-mile, scenic loop. Roaring Forks was a fun drive filled with lots of twists and turns. There were several trailheads tucked into the trail, some roaring (thus the name of the area) rapids, small waterfalls, and a couple of scenic overlooks. The end of the trail put us back out on the eastern side of Gatlinburg near our camp, so we went back to the campground to enjoy dinner and a campfire.
Day 3: Sky Bridge and
In the weeks leading up to our trip we’d seen several stories about the new Gatlinburg SkyBridge. The attraction, which just officially opened on May 17th, is the longest suspension bridge in North America at 680 ft. across. Excited by the opportunity to be among the first to cross the bridge, we decided to give it a try on Sunday.
After finding a parking spot ($10), we stood in line for the chair lift up to the bridge. Tickets for the experience are $19.95 for adults (12-64) with discounts for kids age 4-11 and seniors 65+. Children 3 and under are free. The line moved quickly and we were soon being shepherded onto the SkyLife (aka chair lift). The view from the SkyLift was beautiful, but there are no seatbelts, so be prepared to hold on tight to any small children.
Just before we boarded the SkyLift we heard an announcement that they were going to pause ticket sales because of high winds on the SkyDeck. We didn’t give much thought to the announcement other than to be thankful we got our tickets when we did. However, once we got to the top, we realized the high winds meant the SkyBridge also was temporarily, but indefinitely closed. Employees suggested we get back in line to head back down the mountain because there was a chance the SkyLift could also be closed. We decided to take a closer look at the SkyBridge and SkyDeck while the line died down. What a view!
After milling around for a few more minutes, we accepted defeat, and made our way back to the SkyLift. But wait! Seconds before climbing onto the lift, I turned around and saw people pouring onto the SkyBridge. It was open! We made a beeline back to the entrance of the bridge, not wanting to miss our opportunity to cross before more wind rolled in. We stepped out onto the wooden planks and slowly began to cross. The bridge had a bit of the bounce and sway you’d expect from a suspension bridge, but overall felt very sturdy. The middle of the bridge features three glass panels that allow you to look down on the 100 feet tall trees below: a truly special experience!
After conquering the bridge (with two kids in tow), we made our way back down to street level. We ate an early lunch and did some window shopping at that Nantahala Outdoor Center. Then we headed to Clingman’s Dome. The highest point in Tennessee at 6,600+ feet. From Gatlinburg it’s a 20-mile drive to the top of the mountain, but it takes about 45 minutes to drive, luckily it’s a beautiful drive. Once you reach the end of the road, there’s a trail that takes you the last half mile to the highest elevation.
We were exploring with my Dad and his girlfriend, who were in town from Indiana for the week, and they assured us it wasn’t a bad climb; however, we were still nervous about hiking with a toddler and infant. So, when both kids fell asleep on the ride up the mountain, we decided to take turns trekking up to the observation deck. I headed up first. Everyone who had told me it was an easy climb, clearly didn’t take my life at sea level or lack of regular cardio into consideration. After more than a couple stops at benches the park had thankfully provided, I made it to the top.
When I was able to breathe again, we started back down the trail. I told my Dad I was glad we decided not to try bringing the kids up, since we’d surely have ended up having to carry the toddler. At about that time, I saw a crazy man trudging up the mountain with a baby strapped to his chest and a toddler riding on his shoulders. Then I realized that crazy man was my husband and those were my kids! Apparently, the kids had woken up and wanted Mommy, so he loaded them up and started up the trail. The toddler made it through the parking lot to the trailhead before he said his feet hurt and requested to be carried. I offered to lighten Steven’s load and took the baby back down the mountain, while he and Everett went up to the observation deck.
Finally, everyone (except the baby) having summited Clingman’s
Dome, we loaded up to head back to camp. We had another relaxing (other than
the occasional tired toddler meltdown) evening listening to the rapids and
enjoying the campfire.
Day 4: Santa Claus-et and Home
Since checkout was at 11 a.m., most of day four was packing up camp and getting ready to head home. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our quick trip to Santa Claus-et since it was our son’s favorite activity of the weekend!
We had planned to visit the Christmas-themed store on our way back to camp after Clingman’s Dome, but, unfortunately, it was already closed for the day and wouldn’t reopen until 9:30 a.m. So, after breakfast we made a quick stop. I’m a sucker for a year-round Christmas store because they just make you immediately feel the cheer of the holidays. I also like them because we collect Christmas ornaments on our travels. Our toddler also LOVES Christmas. He also LOVED that Santa Claus-et had a toy room. When I picked him up from daycare on Tuesday and asked him if he told his friends about our trip, he said “yes, I told them I went to the Ho Ho store.” So, it clearly left an impression.
Even if you don’t have kids or a particular affinity for
Christmas décor, Santa Claus-et also had their own line of butters and jams, a
whole wall of camper flags, and a lot of other fun items.
We left Santa Claus-et with our pockets a little lighter and went back to the campground to finish packing up. It sure was tough to hook-up the camper and say goodbye to Gatlinburg. There was so much more to do! We can’t wait to go back. In fact, I have a feeling this trip was just the beginning of an annual trip to the Great Smoky Mountains!