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

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.

Review: Moccasin Creek State Park

This is the first of the reviews I will post regarding the various campgrounds/parks we visit. I’m not going be rewarding a star rating or anything like that. I’m just going to post my thoughts on the park, pros/cons, etc.

Moccasin Creek State Park is located in the mountains of Rabun county in north Georgia. The park is bordered on three sides by Hwy 197 and on the fourth by Lake Burton. First impressions are important and, when we entered the park, my first thought was “Wow. This place is small. I don’t like it.” The website lists the size of the park as 32 acres; I’m not sure what is included in that acreage but the actual area for campsites is nowhere near that large. Even so, the park features 53 campsites.

Small “falls” on the stream in the park

One of the most important things to me when camping is the layout of the campsites. Are they shaded? (Shade is an important consideration here in the South – especially in the summer.) Are they on top of each other or is there a little space in between sites? Our campsite was on the outer loop for which I was thankful. I don’t like feeling crowded, especially when camping. If we had been in the inner section, I would have probably been ready to leave the next day. Being on the outer loop meant that our campsite backed up to the road but that wasn’t a problem; Hwy 197 is a two lane “country” road and is hardly a beehive of activity.

In spite of my initial dislike of the park, it grew on me a little over our visit. Moccasin Creek is a really pretty park. A small stream flows down one side of the park and there are swings and benches scattered around where you can sit and commune with nature. Normally, it would have been possible to rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard; however, this is 2020 and rentals were not available due to COVID restrictions. Fortunately, no special equipment is needed to view Hemlock Falls and it’s an easy hike from the park.

Hemlock Falls

If you get twitchy without easy access to cell service at all times, brace yourselves. Verizon is our service provider and our signal strength was virtually non-existent at the park. However, there are a few towns within easy driving distance where signal strength is better.

Overall, while pretty enough, Moccasin Creek is not a park we plan to revisit.

Have you been to Moccasin Creek? If so, what did you think?

The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 3

I meant to post this earlier but I got lazy after our summer road trip. What can I say? The fact that this series even has a Part 3 is evidence that my husband and I cannot be trusted to simply “look” at travel trailers.

We had Gypsy, our RPOD 180, and everything was fine. There was only one minor inconvenience we felt might need to be addressed in a few years. Like many smaller travel trailers both our RPOD 177 and the 180 had east/west beds meaning that the head of the bed touched one wall, the foot the other, and the third side pressed against the front wall of the camper. This caused two problems: First, if the person sleeping on the inside (me) had to get up in the middle of the night I either had to crawl over my husband sleeping peacefully on the outside or wake him up, neither of which were ideal situations. Second, making the bed in a small travel trailer with an east/west oriented mattress is nothing short of an Olympic event. We discussed the eventual need to upgrade to a travel trailer with a north/south bed as we aged; a north/south bed would allow access from both sides, negating the whole crawling over/waking up scenario. But, I assumed that decision was still several years away. Silly me.

One day my husband announced that he had been looking online at campers with a north/south bed and had found one he thought we should check out: a Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS. (The Rockwood Mini Lite equivalent is the 2109s. Rockwoods and Flagstaffs are manufactured at the same plant. The 2109s and 21FBRS floorplans are identical; only the decals and fabrics are different.) One of the local RV dealers had a couple in stock so, we stopped by to take a look and the rest is history.

The 21FBRS had everything we had talked about wanting in our future travel trailer and more. Instead of a dinette it has a love seat with a free-standing table that stores when not in use freeing up valuable floor space. The table can also be used outside. (Removing the dinette and replacing it with a loveseat/freestanding table is one of the frequent modifications made by RPOD owners.) It had the north/south bed described above, the shower has an actual sliding door instead of a shower curtain, a full-sized RV refrigerator/freezer (instead of the college dorm sized unit in our RPOD), a three-burner stove, an oven, a microwave, a double-sink and more storage than we ever dreamed possible.

Image from http://www.campersinn.com

When we made the move from our RPOD 177 to our 180, we didn’t do the sort of due diligence we should have. We only looked at the 180 before making our purchase. We were determined to not make the same “mistake” again. This time we spent a ridiculous amount of time researching a variety of travel trailers by a number of manufacturers and traveled to several different dealers (one in another state) to make absolutely sure we would be getting everything we wanted. The only model other than the 21FBRS that we considered was the Flagstaff 21DS. I loved this model. It had a U-shaped dinette where I could spread out with my laptop while my hubby lounged on the loveseat. (The bed is a murphy bed.) As much as I loved the 21DS, it had a few significant drawbacks. First, due to the murphy bed it was heavier than the 21FBRS and it didn’t have the pass-through meaning the loss of a lot of exterior storage. There was also less interior storage. However, the deciding factor was that, with the slide in, the 21DS is not a functional camper, the 21FBRS is. With the slide in, the bed, loveseat, and bathroom in the 21FBRS are still accessible, a definite plus when traveling.

In spite of all of the research, and as much as we loved the 21FBRS we didn’t think we would be able to make the move simply because of the weight – we didn’t want to have to upgrade to a larger tow vehicle. Then, we discovered that my husband’s 2006 Toyota Tacoma (bought used in 2015) came with a tow package capable of hauling over 6000 pounds, a good 2000 more than needed. So, earlier this year we sold our RPOD 180 and purchased a new Flagstaff 21FBRS which we named Serenity after the ship in the short-lived sci-fi series Firefly.

We both love Serenity but it has been a big adjustment. Towing a larger (22 foot), heavier trailer has been a little nerve-wracking for both of us. (My hat is off to those of you who tow fifth wheels around like it’s no big deal. You have my utmost respect.) However, after a recent trip to the mountains and a few steep, winding roads we now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Paco (the Tacoma) is more than up to the task. We also had to invest in new mirrors for the truck in order to be able to see around the wider camper.

We’re looking forward to many years of adventure with this travel trailer – and I’ve told my husband he’s not allowed to look at any more. We obviously have no willpower and I don’t want to go through this process again anytime soon. It’s exhausting, LOL!

The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 2

In my last post I introduced you to Hope, an RPOD 177 and our first travel trailer. As we were in the thick of elder care, our ability to travel was limited but we did make trips as our schedule allowed – mostly to state parks within a 3-4 hour drive from home. We were complete newbies but with each trip we became a little more comfortable with the process of towing, setting up, etc. Backing the camper? Not so much. Backing a travel trailer into a camp site is a test for even the strongest of marriages. (I’m only sort of joking.)

We knew going in that Hope would not be our “forever” camper. We knew that as we age and get to travel more and for longer periods of time that we would want to upgrade to something a little larger. So, we used our time with Hope to determine what changes/improvements we would like to have on our next travel trailer.

First on the list was more storage. It’s a given that storage in a small travel trailer is going to be at a premium. But, all travel trailers are not created equal. It’s worth taking the time to check out models made by different manufacturers before making your final selection. Hope had a full pass-through on the exterior for storage of chocks, chairs, etc. but interior storage was pretty much non-existent. Trips more than 2-3 days in length required a lot of creativity and more than a little frustration for the storage of food and clothing.

Second was a dry bath. The wet bath on a 177 is tiny and there is a pretty healthy step up/down to get in and out. My husband was already starting to have problems with his knees so we knew there was a good chance that that step was going to cause problems over time. Yes, most campgrounds have bath houses but if you are boondocking where there are no facilities (or if the campground facilities are just nasty) a decent bath is nice to have.

In late 2016 my husband said that he thought we should check out the RPOD 180 – it was slightly larger and had a dry bath. So, we made the trek to one of our local dealers to do a walk-through and it was basically love at first sight. The 180 was a couple of feet longer than our 177 and had more storage for both food and clothes. It also had a three piece dry bath (vanity/sink, toilet, and an actual shower). So, we put the 180 on our wish list. Several months later when the price dropped prior to the release of the 2018 models we took the plunge. My only regret is that we decided to trade-in our 177 instead of selling it outright. Yes, the trade-in was a lot less hassle but we would have gotten much more for it had we sold it. Ah, hindsight!

Meet our RPOD 180, eventually named Gypsy. (It was a lot harder to name this one.)

RPOD 2017 floor plan image from RVUSA.com via Google

In addition to the increased storage and dry bath, there were a few other improvements as well. The interior colors of our 180 were much lighter than those on our 177. Entering the 177 was like entering a cave. The walls, floors, and upholstery were all varying shades of brown. Even with all of the blinds open and lights on it was just dark. Gypsy also had awning as opposed to the “rdome” that came with Hope. A lot of Podders love the rdome because it adds a screened-in room to the exterior of the pod. However, the set-up/tear-down process is not for the faint of heart. The push-button awning is more our style. I was also excited about the blue exterior on Gypsy. (The older models were green, which is my least favorite color.)

The 180 was a couple of feet longer than our 177 and weighed about 400 pounds more which meant we could no longer tow with our Toyota Highlander. Fortunately, my husband had replaced his clunker truck with a 2006 Toyota Tacoma which had more than enough power to tow the 180.

Of course, our adventures don’t end there. Stay tuned for Part 3!

The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 1

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My husband and I come from vastly different backgrounds. One of the biggest differences was that his family traveled, mine didn’t. His parents owned an RV and would hit the road for two or three weeks every summer and my husband frequently expressed a desire to do the same. Initially, I wasn’t sold on the plan. In my mind, the cost of an RV plus the insurance, etc. would more than offset any savings achieved. But, over time, I gradually came around to his way of thinking and we began dreaming of “someday” owning a small travel trailer – the RPOD by Forest River seemed a perfect fit for our needs.

Our someday arrived much earlier than expected when we found an RPOD 177 for sale by owner in the parking lot of a local pawn shop in 2014. After much discussion (spontaneity is not a strong point for either of us) we contacted the owner and set up a meeting to tour the camper. Honestly, it was almost too good to be true – it was the travel trailer version of the little old lady who only drove it on Sundays. The owner, an elderly man, bought the camper for he and his wife to stay in on his trips to his hunting club. However, his wife developed Alzheimer’s and passed away. No longer having a need for the trailer, he decided to sell – they had never even used it. It still wrenches my heart when I think about it. We agreed to a price and the camper became ours.

RPOD 177 Floor Plan. Image from RVUSA.com via Google

The 177 was the perfect size for two people with all of the necessities and none of the frills. And, for those rare occasions in which we might have guests, the dinette converted to an extra bed. What more could we need? Its small size also meant we could tow it with our existing Toyota Highlander – a definite plus as neither of us was interested in upgrading to a larger tow vehicle.

Once the purchase was complete, the next step was to name our camper. (Yes, we name our vehicles.) We named her Hope. At that point in our lives we were overwhelmed with full-time jobs and taking care of three elderly parents. We knew we might not get to travel much for a while but we needed some hope in our lives and Hope the RPOD became the physical embodiment of that much needed trait. She was quite forgiving of our newbie mistakes as we began our forays into the camping world. (We bounced the trailer off the hitch THREE times before learning to quadruple-check to make sure the hitch was properly secured.)

We also discovered a wonderful community of other RPOD owners when we joined the R-Pod Owners Facebook group. The group members have been a tremendous source of information and encouragement. If you own an RPOD and aren’t a member of the group, I highly encourage you to join ASAP. Oh, and we also learned that naming your RPOD is a Really Big Deal not to be taken lightly.

Stay tuned for The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 2.