Review: Amicalola Falls State Park

Amicalola Falls State Park is located in the north Georgia mountains near Dawsonville; it is hands down my favorite Georgia state park. My family and I have gone to Amicalola many times over the years but our recent trip was only the second time we have camped. (For those not a fan of camping, the park also has a lodge and cabins.) Camping at Amicalola is not for the faint of heart; from the park entrance to the campground involves navigating a 25% grade. (Yes, you read that right.) As one of the park rangers once told us, this is where a lot of people discover that their tow vehicle isn’t up to the challenge.

The first time we camped at Amicalola we owned an RPOD 177 that we towed with our Toyota Highlander. The RPOD was near the top of the Highlander’s towing capacity but Bonnie (the Highlander) made it up the incline fine. It was the hairpin turn covered with loose gravel within the campground itself that really got my heart pumping. We made it (obviously) but we also drew a bit of an audience. (“Yeah, that gravel gives a lot of people trouble.”)

Our most recent trip was our first trip with Ruby as our tow vehicle. Ruby hauled our Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS up the 25% incline like it was nothing. Even the ridiculously heavy fog wasn’t enough to stress us out with Ruby on the job. (Can you tell I like my big red truck? LOL.)

The view from the cab

The campground itself is relatively small with only 24 campsites and one bath house. However, it is laid out well and the road had been recently paved. There was also no gravel on the hairpin turn this time so it seems that someone finally devised a way to prevent that problem. Even though we arrived in rain and fog (not uncommon when we travel) it moved out overnight so we were able to get out and enjoy the rest of our trip. There are all sorts of things to see and do within the park itself, not the least of which is viewing the falls. Many of the activities and events have currently been curtailed due to COVID-19 so I recommend that you check the website (link at the beginning of this post) for the latest information before traveling.

Amicalola Falls

It wouldn’t be a trip to Amicalola without viewing the falls so we did hike the stairs partway down the falls. The stairs at the falls are labeled as “Strenuous” and they are not kidding but there is also an accessible parking lot and trail which allows for viewing without the hike. We ventured out a little further this time and traveled down forestry service roads to reach the trailhead for Long Creek Falls. While the forestry service road itself was in less than stellar shape in some areas the ride was worth it for the winter wonderland of ice-covered trees we discovered at the top of a ridge. (You can see my favorite photo here.) The hike from the trailhead to the falls was approximately one mile and wasn’t strenuous at all. The falls were small but definitely worth the walk.

Long Creek Falls

Right now, I’m a happy girl. I’ve been struggling a bit with the continued self-isolation due to COVID and this was a much needed trip. My soul is always the most at peace in the mountains and being at my favorite park made it even better. *happy sigh*

Now I have to finish packing for our next adventure! Until next time, happy trails!

Achievement Unlocked: Towing

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to Ruby, our new-to-us Toyota Tundra. We took Ruby on her first camping expedition last weekend; I’ll post about that next week. Even though we have owned a travel trailer since 2014, I have never driven while towing. Even though I know this puts a heavy burden on my husband, just the idea of driving while towing has always freaked me out and sent my anxiety level through the roof.

When we purchased my husband’s Toyota Tacoma in 2015 I wasn’t sure I would ever get used to driving it; it felt so much bigger than my Highlander. So, of course, I expected driving the Tundra (which is huge) be be an even bigger adjustment. However, much to my surprise, I actually love driving Ruby. I was apparently born to drive a big honkin’ truck. Who knew? So, on our trip home I decided I’d give towing a try and… I did it! I know that may seem like nothing to many of you but since traffic/driving is one of the biggest triggers for my anxieties, for me it’s a Really Big Deal and I’m proud of myself. I didn’t drive for long, only about twenty miles on a two-lane road between two small towns but now that I have done it once, I know I can do it again and for a longer stretch.

There’s no stopping me now, y’all!

Vintage style camper trailer and camping scene

The End of an Era

In January 2006 my husband and I traded in our Dodge Caravan on a 2005 Toyota Highlander. The Caravan had served us well while were were chauffeuring around growing teenage boys (two of our own and oodles of their friends). However, by 2006, most of those boys had their driver’s licenses and most of our chauffeuring days were behind us. We needed a vehicle big enough to haul the four of us when our boys were with us but not too big for just the two of us. After much research and several test drives of various vehicles we settled on the Highlander. Our choice turned out to be a good one. Our Highlander, named Bonnie, safely carried my husband on several work trips from Georgia to San Antonio and back not to mention our daily commutes to work, vacations, and the Great Road Trip of 2019. However, as of January 30, 2021, Bonnie has gone on to a new home with our daughter-in-law. Even though Bonnie is now fifteen years old and has a little over than 207,000 miles on her I have no doubt that with good routine maintenance she still has several years of life left in her.

Bonnie, sporting her stickers from our various travels

Why has Bonnie gone to a new home? Well, as of January 26, 2021 we are what I swore we would never be – a two truck family. (I really need to stop using the word “never” – I think I’ve already done all of the things I swore I would never do.) We already had a Toyota Tacoma. My husband has owned many trucks over the years, most of which I hated. We bought his 2006 Tacoma used in 2015. It was such a relief to finally have a truck that I wasn’t afraid to ride in or drive. We were able to use the Tacoma to tow our RPOD 180 and its tow package is the only reason we were able to upgrade to our Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS without purchasing a bigger tow vehicle.

So, if we could tow with our current truck why did we invest in a bigger truck now? My husband does the driving when we’re towing and I know that towing with his Tacoma makes him nervous, even knowing that we’re not even at the upper end of its tow capability. We have towed in mountainous areas and the Tacoma does fine, it just doesn’t have a lot of power to spare. Recently, I became aware that the Tacoma’s stopping capability while towing worried him. Our retirement plans included at least one road trip every year. The pandemic cancelled our planned trip for 2020 but we are planning to try again this Fall. (Hopefully we will be able to receive COVID vaccines by then.) So, we decided to go ahead and make the investment. Since our two Toyotas have been good to us, a Toyota Tundra was the next logical step for us. Researching trucks did nothing but reinforce this choice. So, we went for a test drive and came home with a new truck. Well, a new-to-us truck. Ruby the Big Red Truck is a 2018 model.

Meet Ruby, the big red truck

My husband has already taken the Tundra and the travel trailer out for a short drive so he could get the hitch configured properly. He came home very happy with the way the Ruby handled both while towing and stopping during the outing. Now I have two goals:

  1. Get used to driving a much larger vehicle.
  2. Start doing some of the driving when we’re towing the camper

Traffic/driving are two of the biggest triggers for my anxieties but I refuse to let my anxieties rule me so, I can do this. Right? Wish me luck!

Review: Twin Lakes Campground

Twin Lakes Campground is located in Pendleton, South Carolina. We have family in the Pendleton area and Twin Lakes gives us a nice place to stay when we visit. We wrapped up our second visit over New Year’s. The website states that there are 102 public campsites; however, during both of our trips we have stayed in the section containing sites 25-58. Sites 25-58 are located on a finger of land extending into Lake Hartwell; all of the sites are on the exterior of the loop so they are all a short walk from the water’s edge.

The presence of Lake Hartwell means a lot of early morning fog. This is my favorite picture from our last trip.

I quite like Twin Lakes. The campsites are nicely spaced so you aren’t on top of your neighbors. That said, there are a few key things to key things to keep in mind:

  1. There are two bath houses available to sites 25-58. However, during the December 1st to March 30th time frame the bathhouse between sites 30 and 41 is closed. (The bathhouse near site 58 is open year round.)
  2. Also during the December 1st to March 30th time frame, if the temperature is predicted to be near 32 degrees (F) or lower, water to the campsites will be turned off. The bathhouse near site 58 will remain open.
  3. The gate to the park is closed from 10pm to 7am. Unlike the gates at most other campgrounds that we have visited, guests are not given a code by which the gate can be opened. So, if you get caught on the wrong side of the gate, you seem to be out of luck.
  4. During our first stay in February 2020 (just prior to the pandemic) I found it disturbing that there was no soap provided for the washing of hands in the bathhouse near site 58. (My husband confirmed that the absence of soap also applied to the men’s room.) I understand that keeping soap dispensers filled is just one more thing for the campground hosts to manage, but no hand soap in the restrooms? Gross. Since our latest stay over New Year’s 2021 was smack dab in the middle of a surge in COVID cases, I did not visit the bathhouse so I cannot confirm whether or not the lack of soap is still an issue.

When we pulled out to begin our journey home after our most recent stay, the dump station was closed and a crew was busily at work digging up pipes leaving us scrambling for a way to empty our grey and black water tanks before arriving at home. (There may be another dump station for the sites in the other section of the campground but that section has been closed during both of our visits.) Some of the Georgia rest areas/welcome centers have been retrofitted with dump stations; sadly, neither of the ones on our route home fall into that category. However, there is a new Love’s truck stop in Madison, Georgia which is quickly becoming one of our routine stops. A quick internet search showed that that Love’s had a dump station available. Using the dump station cost us $10 but it was money well spent to not have to worry about it any more. Allen, the Love’s manager who unlocked the cap for us, implored my husband to make sure that everything went down the pipe as it should; he said the last person had left a mess that he had to clean up. Once we began the process of emptying our tanks we realized that the dump station is poorly designed; there is no way someone emptying their tanks without assistance can avoid leaving a mess as the current set up requires there to be someone holding each end of the sewage hose. Once we finished, my husband went back inside and spoke to Allen again and explained to him how the dump station needs to be modified in order to avoid more nasty messes. (Not expecting the drainage to flow uphill would be a good start.) Allen appreciated the feedback since he is not an RV’er; it will be interesting to see if Love’s acts on the information.

Now I’m going to get on my soap box for a minute. While using dump stations is not anyone’s idea of fun, it is a necessary part of the RV/travel trailer lifestyle. When using a dump station, I believe it is our responsibility to clean up any messes we leave behind, even if the dump station is poorly designed. While we may not want to clean up literal crap, expecting someone else to do it for us is just wrong. Truck stops and rest areas do not have to offer dump stations; they do it as a service to their customers/visitors; abuses will result in the loss of these voluntary services. Don’t be part of the reason the rest of us can’t have nice things. End rant.

On another more humorous note, as someone who was in her late teens/early twenties in the 1980s, my brain seems to default to Back to the Future mode when discussing Twin Lakes. I had to double and triple check to make sure I didn’t refer to it as Twin Pines campground in this post like I usually do. (Twin Pines is the name of the mall at the beginning of Back to the Future.) 🙂

Review: Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island State Park is located on a barrier island fifteen miles east of Beaufort, South Carolina. My husband and I made a day trip to Hunting Island several years ago where we got to see two Clydesdales cavorting in the surf – definitely not something you see every day. 😉 When we were looking for somewhere different for a short getaway, we decided to give the Hunting Island campground a try.

Entering the campground is simple. Campers pull into the right-hand lane where a park employee comes to your car to complete the check-in process. Once the check-in process is complete things get a little more complicated. Hunting Island is an older park and the road that runs through it is very narrow in comparison to today’s vehicles and travel trailers so taking it slow and easy is a must. Even doing so, things got a little exciting when we reached an area where someone had parked on the left shoulder of the road and their bumper was sticking out a bit; a tree on the right side of the road meant we had zero wiggle room. Fortunately, we managed to squeak by without hitting either. We were in site 157 which is shown on the map as a pull-through. However, the only way to actually use it as a pull-through would have meant driving the wrong way down a one-way road. True, it would have only been a short distance but, still. We chose to back in. I liked the fact that the campsites weren’t crammed on top of each other. (I don’t like campgrounds where the sites are jammed one on top of the other.)

The beach is an easy walk from the campground and there is also a playground for the kiddos. My criteria for judging a beach are vastly different from those of most people. I’m a fair-skinned redhead who can sunburn in fifteen minutes without sunscreen, probably an hour with. I’m also a non-swimmer so I couldn’t care less about the surf, etc. The main things that interest me when at a beach are the size of the crowds and the fossils. Hunting Island beach wasn’t crowded at all but, it was October. As far as fossils went, we did find a few shark’s teeth over the course of our stay but not as many as we have found at other beaches. Oddly enough, most of the teeth were tiny as well. (According to the park website, Hunting Island is South Carolina’s most popular state park so it’s probably safe to assume that the beach will be much more crowded during the summer months.)

Shark’s teeth found on Hunting Island beach. Hershey’s kiss for scale.

The lighthouse on Hunting Island is the only one in the state that is accessible to the public. During our trip, coronavirus changes meant that visitors had to sign up for a specific time to climb the lighthouse. Not being a fan of heights or close quarters I was perfectly happy to take pictures with my feet firmly on the ground.

Hunting Island lighthouse

Our campground neighbor recommended we visit the St. Helena Chapel of Ease. If you are interested in ruins and history, the chapel is a short drive from the campground and is a good way to spend a little time. I find things like this fascinating; it amazes me that these tabby walls are almost 300 years old but are still standing.

St. Helena Chapel of Ease

All in all, Hunting Island State Park is not our favorite beach getaway; that honor belongs to Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island in Florida. However, if we have the urge to go to beach and can’t get into Fort Clinch (which is pretty much a given considering the difficulty of getting reservations there), Hunting Island isn’t a bad second choice.