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.
A list of products linked in this post is available below.
Disclaimer: The products linked in this post are items we have tried and liked. We do NOT receive any payment (financial or in-kind) from any of the links in this post nor do we have any partnerships with any of the product manufacturers.
I often get questions from fellow parents who would like to start camping with their young children, but don’t know where to start. So, I wanted to share a few of our tips and tricks that have helped make camping with kids a bit more enjoyable.
We bought our first camper when our youngest was 3-months-old and our oldest was three. Through a good bit of trial and error we found some strategies that help make camping with kids a little bit more enjoyable.
One of the main challenges of camping with kids is ensuring sound sleep when the whole family is confined to close quarters. Our first camper was only 19’, so we didn’t have room for a play pen for our then infant. Instead in the early days (before he could roll) he used a portable infant sleeper on the converted dinette.
Once he got a little older we custom built a swing gate to cover the opening to one of the bunks. When we upgraded to our current camper, the boys each got a double bunk, and we mounted a baby gate over the opening to the toddler’s bed. Our 5-year-old sleeps in the top bunk in an inflatable toddler bed that has built-in bumpers. The air pump that came with the bed also works great for inflating water toys and tubes. An added bonus of using the inflatable bed is I can slide it out to change the sheets rather than having to climb up in a bunk. It’s also a lot easier to clean if your kiddo is prone to overnight accidents.
We also make sure to bring the boys favorite lovies and a portable sound machine from home to help encourage a good night’s rest.
Another question I see online from time to time is: What do you do with diapers? Our solution for dirty diapers is a “trasharoo” mounted on our spare tire on the back of the camper. We simply put a trash bag in the trasharoo at the beginning of the trip and put anything we don’t want in our inside trash in that bag until the soonest opportunity to haul the trash off.
We also make sure we keep wipes and diapers in the car or our “go bag” for when we are on a hike or adventure and need to make a quick stop.
Safety is another top concern when camping with little ones. One modification that we made that has been great for ensuring our peace of mind is the addition of an extended hand rail. Some campers come with the larger hand rail standard, but if you have one with only the small grab handle, head over to Camping World or Amazon and purchase the upgrade.
Not only does the hand rail help the boys steady themselves as they climb up and down the stairs it also can serve as a way to block the screen door from opening. If we are in the camper, but want to enjoy the fresh air, we slide the handle in front of the screen and the toddler can’t open the door and fall out.
Another safety tip that I swear by is dressing the boys in bright clothes and/or hats. Choosing items that stand out from the natural landscape help make it easier to keep my eye on the boys as the play at the campsite or explore a scenic destination.
When our toddler was younger we also traveled with a playpen (I actually found one with a sunshade at Aldi, but it was similar to the one linked) and a baby seat that we could use to keep him more contained. When he was infant we snagged a used BabyBjörn bouncer. It was perfect for camping because it folds flat when not in use and the cover is washable. When he got a bit older we used a Summer Infant Pop and Sit Portable Booster.
Also make sure you have a well-stocked first aid kit and a fire extinguisher in your camper. We keep kits in the camper and in the car at all times.
At times it may feel like you are packing your whole house to take a quick weekend trip, but after some practice you’ll figure out what you don’t need and what can be left in the camper. We typically leave at least one outfit per person, jackets/sweaters, a few toys, diapers, swim diapers, water toys, sunscreen and bug spray in the camper. Another product that we really like, especially in the summer, is our Thermacell lantern. Our 5-year-old is a mosquito magnet, but the Thermacell helps keep them at bay.
Also, if you are a family that allows electronics, we find letting the boys have a tablet or watch TV in the camper occasionally can be a sanity saver. Most of the time we encourage them to be outside and enjoy nature, but sometimes it’s nice to let them watch an episode of their favorite show in the evening while we enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. It can also be helpful when storms roll in or the temperature drops and outdoor activities are off the table.
We don’t take a ton of toys, as we’ve found the boys typically find ways to entertain themselves with rocks and sticks and other items from the campsite. However, we have found bubbles are a great way to entertain kids at the campsite. We recently bought an inexpensive bubble gun that the boys love!
Camping with young kids can be challenging, but the more you keep at it, the more you figure out what works for you and your family. If you have tips you’d like to share, feel free to comment on this post, or message us on our Instagram @SeekTheScenic or our Facebook page www.facebook.com/seekthescenic. Happy Camping!
I have included a full list of the linked products below:
Some camping trips are filled with visiting a full itinerary of scenic destinations, others are spent relaxing at the campground, and some trips are spent arguing with tiny versions of yourself until you are completely exhausted. (I’ll let you guess which category our trip to Twin Lakes Campground fit into.)
My intent for our trip to Twin Lakes Campground in Pendleton, South Carolina, was to explore an area of the state where we hadn’t spent much time, but once we arrived our boys decided they had different plans.
You see, Everett and Steven recently started watching Bear Grylls’ new, interactive Netflix series You vs. Wild. The show is similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” children books that were popular in the 90s. Everett has watched every episode and has taken to reenacting his favorite scenes. So, when we pulled into our campsite, he was in heaven: the rocks, “cliffs,” and lake were the perfect place for him to test out his newly acquired wilderness knowledge.
Twin Lakes is a 152-acre, 102 site lakefront campground managed by the Army Corp of Engineers. The sites have water and electric hook-ups, and are very economical at $26 a night. Reservations can be made at www.recreation.gov and a site map can be found here. We stayed on site 33, which is in the middle of five sites out on a point. We had no problem navigating into the site and had plenty of room for our camper and tow vehicle. The site was surrounded by Lake Hartwell on three sides and offered great views of the sun setting over the lake. It also had a large, level living area that included a fire ring and grill. A playground and bathhouse were a short walk from the site.
A gently sloping hill led down to the lake, but accessing the lake was a bit tricky due to a drop-off and rip rap surrounding the point. But Everett didn’t mind: navigating the terrain was a perfect way for him to sharpen his survival skills. However, supervising his antics near the water’s edge about gave me a heart attack. On future trips, I’d like to try a site with a more level “yard” area. Some of the sites in 60s looked to be bordered by a nice grassy area, and were also close to a beach area and playground.
We did convince the boys to go on an excursion to the South Carolina Botanical Gardens on the grounds of Clemson University. It was free to access the trails and there were lots of interesting sights to see. I would definitely recommend visiting the gardens, if you happen to be nearby. We also swung by Mac’s Drive-in, a local restaurant, for lunch. The food was great, but be aware, it’s not an actual “drive-in” and they only take cash or check.
The rest of the trip we alternated between playing “Bear Grylls” with Everett, which entailed helping him decide whether to rappel or free climb, hunt or forage, trap or fish, and on and on, and trying to convince him to leave the campsite. In the end, he had a blast, but we were exhausted. After a particularly overwhelming day on Saturday, we came to an agreement that on future trips we’d have a day where the Mommy and Daddy choose the adventure and a day where the boys get to choose our itinerary.
Camping with kids is an adventure in its own right, and each trip we are discovering what works and what doesn’t work. And even though this trip did come with more parental drama than we would have liked, we still enjoyed spending some time in nature and making memories together as a family. In all honesty, I wish we had gone with the flow and embraced that the boys wanted to enjoy our site. Not every trip needs to be filled with activities: lesson learned.
So we meet again fellow travelers! I hope this entry finds you all well, healthy and many miles of good travels under your wheels.
Where do we find the Yancey family in this entry of adventure you might ask? Well that’s a loaded question, as travelling with kids isn’t always pretty or easy. I know social media sometimes portrays these perfect families traversing the globe without a care in the world, but that just isn’t reality, at least not our reality.
When we decided we wanted to give the camper life a try, we did a lot of research, and eventually chose a small, lightweight camper that we felt comfortable towing with our 4Runner. Having a 19’ camper and mid-size SUV means we can pretty much find a campsite anywhere from a large RV park to a state park or even a national forest road. We have never found a spot that we can’t fit in or a road we couldn’t go down. My parents on the other hand have own a large 36 foot fifth wheel, which they pull with a 2500 Dodge Power Wagon. And they typically can be found in Myrtle Beach at a large RV resort, such as Pirate Land or Ocean Lakes. So, I was surprised when they decided to plan a long weekend at Lake Greenwood State Park near Greenwood, South Carolina.
They went up the week before to scout the area, and decided that it was big enough for their rig and offered some full hook up spots for their rig that I affectionately dubbed “The Monstrosity.” After securing two sites in close proximity we waited for Thursday. It was going to be perfect, I put in for a leave day on Friday, planned to leave early on Thursday. I couldn’t wait for all of us to relax and enjoy some serenity. Then it all went ugly, pear-shaped, and stressful.
I left work early on Thursday and spent a frantic day trying to pack because when you and your significant other have two full-time careers and two babies to get ready for bed you forget things. After packing, cleaning the house, and a trip to the grocery store I realized it was nearly 4 p.m.. My parents were already at the park and lamenting on how peaceful it was and how they wished they had done this sooner and oh this and oh that. And the ever helpful, “when are you gonna leave.” Alyssa was finally able to tie up things at work and make a mad dash home stopping in route to pick up the boys. She wheeled into the driveway as I frantically, yet with expert precision, began loading the truck. Stacking coolers, bags, and other accoutrement for our weekend’s adventures. We finally wheeled out after hooking up the camper and headed north. It was quickly becoming dark, and I began to worry I was in for a repeat of our previous trip to Hamilton Branch State Park, even though I swore I would avoid arriving at a new park in the dark at all costs!
We finally arrived and, thankfully, didn’t have too much trouble getting set-up thanks to my Mom and Dad (AKA Nan Nan and Pop Pop). Dad was able to help me set-up, while Mom helped Alyssa wrangle screaming hungry youngins from their car seats. The night went quickly and was uneventful. We awoke to a cool breeze coming off the lake and our first real look at the park and its beautiful scenery. Everett was being difficult and I could tell he didn’t feel well. His health continued to deteriorate throughout the day as did his attitude.
After a peaceful day of mostly sitting around the fire talking about life we attempted to get the boys to bed. Jase eventually fell asleep, but Ev soon woke up screaming and saying his ear hurt. After staying up to nearly 1 a.m., several trips around the park in the truck, and attempting every means of soothing, an exhausted Alyssa decided to make a Red Eye drive over an hour back home to a pediatrician, home amenities, and separate rooms for the kids.
I remained behind to salvage the weekend hoping that after some TLC and antibiotics she would return to finish out the weekend. On Saturday I was able to make some new friends by the way of Patti and Ronnie. They arrived in the evening taking the spot between our site and my parents’ site. After a quick introduction I found that this was the very first trip they were taking in their brand new camper. Both seemed happy to be there and a little unsure of setting up so I offered some help. My first thought was good for them!!! One, for getting out of their comfort zone trying something new and having a little adventure. And, secondly, for being humble enough to ask for help. A word to the wise: if someone asks for help or advice give it to them genuinely. You were new at this once too, drop the ego and be kind to people. If you ever read this Patti and Ron, it was a pleasure meeting both of you. Keep adventuring and I hope we run into you two again somewhere. Unfortunately, Everett was diagnosed with an ear infection and didn’t feel up to returning to the campground.
So, on Sunday my beautiful bride returned in our chariot to hook-up and haul us away. This is probably the oddest blog yet, but life isn’t always pretty and doesn’t always go to plan. But don’t get frustrated, which is what I continue to tell myself about 14,000 times a day. Just roll with it. Life is a continual learning experience. So until next time, keep adventure in your hearts, and get outside!!! Easyrunner out.
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
Our unwritten camping rule (so far) has been to avoid camping two weekends in a row. This allows us time to get things done at home and recoup between trips.
So, since we had our Gatlinburg trip last week, this was an “off” weekend. But even when we aren’t camping we still like to get out and explore.
Typically, on the “off” weeks we do a day trip to a state park. So, on Saturday I started researching parks we hadn’t visited and happened upon Landsford Canal State Park.
I discovered Landsford Canal is home to the world’s largest population of spider lilies, which happen to bloom between mid-May and mid-June. And our agenda was set!
The trip to the park was about 80 miles, mostly on interstate 77. We arrived around lunchtime and enjoyed a picnic overlooking the Catawba River. Then after a quick stop at the playground, we set-off down the Canal Trail to find the spider lilies.
Once again the toddler’s “feet hurt,” so we trekked down the trail with Everett on Steven’s shoulders and the baby strapped to my chest.
Since the heat index was in the triple digits today and we were both carrying extra weight, the 3/4 mile trail seemed a lot longer! Luckily, the trail was shaded and there was a bit of a breeze to help make the South Carolina heat tolerable.
The lilies are only found on one rocky shoal in the middle of the Catawba, so there were times we started to worry we’d missed the season or we’d get to the end of the trail only to find a single patch of lilies.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case!
Soon the trail began to rise up to a scenic overlook, the view when we arrived made the short hike on a hot day more than worth it! The clusters of snow white lilies stretched as far as the eyes could see.
W￼e snapped some pictures, had a snack, and just enjoyed the view.
This is where the tears portion of the “blood, sweat and tears” comes in. A nice couple (Patsy and Scott) asked if we could take their picture in front of the lilies. So, I asked Everett to move out of their picture. He didn’t like that. Tears ensued. So, now the aforementioned couple has several pictures that include our dirty toddler.
After the crisis was averted we headed back down the the trail, reluctant to leave the beauty of the lily patch. Along the way we decided to cool off in the crisp waters of the Catawba. We found a shallow pool where we splashed around and did some rock hunting.
Invigorated by the water, we set back down the trail. We made a quick detour to the park office to get our Ultimate Outsider book stamped, then headed back to the 4Runner. When we got to the truck, we realized Steven had picked up an unwanted hitchhiker, a leach, while playing in the river (thus, the blood portion of the story). He did some quick first aid and we were back on the road.
At only 448 acres, Landsford Canal State Park might not look like much at first glance, but it’s truly a hidden gem! In addition to the spider lilies, the park also is a nesting site for eagles and home to the remains of the canal system built in the early 1800s to make the river commercially navigable. The area also was significant during the Revolutionary war and there are several historic markers along the route in and out of the park.
After a great first visit, we can’t wait to go back. We’d love to return with a kayak or canoe to get an even better view of the spider lilies.
We continue to be amazed by the beauty in our state and we can’t wait to see what we discover next.
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!