Mother’s Day Under the Mistletoe – Mistletoe State Park (Appling, Georgia)

As much as I love macaroni art and pipe cleaner jewelry, what I really wanted for Mother’s Day was some peace and quiet.

So, when I realized we hadn’t used the two free nights of camping that came with our Friends of the Georgia State Parks membership, I decided Mother’s Day weekend would be the perfect time for a mini-momcation. (An article about my first solo camping trip was featured on the Columbia Mom’s Blog last fall.)

With the influx of COVID-campers it has become more difficult to snag premium sites, especially when only booking a few weeks out. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find a waterfront site available at Mistletoe State Park in Appling, Georgia. I reserved the site, and hoped for the best.

A few weeks later it was finally time for my trip. When the clock hit five, I tossed my heels in the back of the Jeep, strapped on my sandals, and headed off into the sunset. Eventually I’d like to be comfortable enough to haul the camper myself, but for this trip Steven graciously offered to haul and set-up for me. I arrived at site 41, and what a site! It’s one of seven sites on a point jutting out into Lake Strom Thurmond. There were other sites that offered more privacy, but I don’t know that there were any that offered better views or access to the lake.

I spent Friday evening enjoying a gorgeous sunset over the lake, and then I stayed up until 4 a.m. binging an entire season of a show on Netflix. I rolled out of bed around 10 on Saturday, and decided to do some exploring. I took a leisurely drive around the campground and park, then stopped by the park store to rent a kayak. For $30 you get to access to kayak (single, tandem or canoe) for 24-hours. Before venturing out on the lake, I decided to take a hike.

The park offers 15.5 miles of trails. I selected the Cliatt Creek Nature Trail Loop, a 3.75 mile loop that starts across from the park office. The trail was relatively easy and offered scenic views of the creek. It was relaxing to be able to explore the woods at my own pace without having to wrangle kids. And, I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself for completing the whole hike.

After I ventured out of the woods, I decided to drive a few minutes down the road to the dam. I was so envious of all the federally managed recreation areas that I passed on way. We live near Lake Murray, but there are hardly any public areas on the lake. Aside from the parks there isn’t much else along the shores of Lake Strom Thurmond, so I was excited to see a BBQ food truck at the gas station in the Pollard’s Corner area. The truck was out of everything but ribs, but I’m not even mad about it because they were so good! The meat fell right off the bone and had great flavor.

With my stomach full I crashed for a power nap.

Next I decided to test out my kayaking skills. The kayaks were conveniently located next to my site. I strapped on my life vest and headed out on to the water. It wasn’t until I was paddling out into the cove that I realized I hadn’t ever kayaked before. Luckily, I managed to get the hang of it and didn’t end up in the drink. I enjoyed another beautiful sunset on the water before turning in for the night.

In the morning it was time to head home relaxed and refreshed to spend Mother’s Day with my boys. If you’d have told me a few years ago that I’d spend a day alone exploring the woods and kayaking, I would have said you were crazy, but I couldn’t have asked for a better day. I’m so grateful for a partner who encourages me to take time for myself for self-care. I encourage other moms to find ways to connect with nature and shed the stress of this chaotic world.  

Until next time, don’t forget to seek the scenic!

Rest and Relaxation: Table Rock State Park

This year has been mentally exhausting.

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.

Camping 101: Where to camp?

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.

Check out our blog post about camping at James Island County Park.

State Parks

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.

Check out our blog post about camping at Lake Hartwell State Park (SC) and Hunting Island State Park (SC).

Federal Parks

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.

Check out our blog posts about visiting Modoc COE Campground.

Private Parks

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.

Check out our blog posts about camping at Mountain Stream RV Park in Marion, N.C., and at Yogi Bear Jellystone Park – Golden Valley in Bostic, N.C.

Boondocking

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!