Unicoi State Park and Helen, GA

unicoi 1We were getting cooped up and we needed to get out for another adventure. We had been to Fall Creek Falls, Myrtle Beach, Breaks Interstate Park as a blended family so far. We had a long weekend over the winter holiday and we were ready to explore. Helen, GA and Unicoi State Park sounded like a perfect solution. They had outside adventures to hike and an adorable Alpine town to experience, so off we went.

Unicoi state park was beautiful even in the winter. The weather was cool, but perfect for hiking and sitting around the fire at night. We were able to get a campsite in  the Laurel Ridge part of the campground. The campground was full of campers ready to ring in the new year. For those who prefer to stay in a hotel there is Unicoi Lodge at the entrance of the park. There is a large lake that had some great hiking trails, and we had some great opportunities to see some birds and other wildlife in the area. The drive there was gorgeous, the views were incredible and there were plenty of places to pull over and snap some pictures.

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We enjoyed the campground, and met our hosts, they were extremely friendly and made a large fire for us to sit around at night and chat with other campers. The kids enjoyed a rousing game of hide and seek around the playground with one another . They also enjoyed riding their bikes around the campground and walking around the lake. A short drive to Anna Ruby Falls led us to a short, paved half mile hike to see the twin waterfalls. Curtis Creek and York Creek  meet up to make these falls. It cost a few dollars admittance fee to get into the park, but it is well worth it.

Helen is a unique town. Back in 1969 the townspeople were looking for a way to reinvent their town. They consulted with John Kollock, who had lived in Germany for some time and visited many Bavarian towns. He shared his vision for the town and everyone loved it. Thus the little dying lumber village was rescued and is now the third most visited town in the state of Georgia. It’s unique in its’ Bavarian styled buildings. You can find some wonderful German food and beers while walking through the town. King Ludwig’s beer garden was a nice spot for us to take a break. We had a few beers and the kids enjoyed some pretzels, beer cheese and some brats and sauerkraut. Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe can’t be beat for finding some scrumptious pastries. My very favorite is  their cream puffs, they simply can’t be beat. We had to load up on some sweet treats before leaving the town.

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Poose was overjoyed to be at Babyland General

Nearby in Cleveland, GA  is Babyland General Hospital. If you grew up like I did, you always dreamed to go to Babyland General. Even as an adult I was quite excited to visit the home of the Cabbage Patch dolls. You can walk through and see thousands of Cabbage Patch Dolls. Some handmade and quite pricey,  and some more traditional and affordable. You can see the cabbage patch dolls being born from the cabbage patch, and take your oath of adoption when you have chosen your perfect match. It’s free admission and made for some fond memories.

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Meet Kendrick, the newest member of our family

 

 

 

Helen also has a wine trail that we had to try out. Most of the wineries charge for tastings, which is different than I am used to, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Some of our favorites were the Frogtown Cellars and Habersham winery. We didn’t get to try them all, we had to save a few for our next visit, right? We also discovered Bulldog Hard Cider, it was very crisp and refreshing.

helen 1One of our last hikes was spent exploring Sautee Nachoochee area. There are several beautiful hikes in the area, many with gorgeous waterfalls and views. We had fun wandering in the forest and breathing in the fresh air. I enjoy hiking and being in the outdoors in the cooler winter months. It beats being stuck inside by a long shot. The kids enjoyed the waterfalls and views, there were a few spots where ice was still clinging to the rocks that were breathtaking.

We found our trip to Unicoi State Park and Helen, GA to be invigorating. It was a grand getaway that was close to home. It had the perfect mix of nature and culture. We noticed there were a lot of activities for the warmer months such as tubing and Zip lining. We hope to return in a warmer part of the year and have some more fun soon.

Where are your favorite waterfalls and hikes? Do tell!

 

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Cooking and Camping

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Using our Lodge cast iron Dutch Oven

There are different kinds of campers in this world. Some are more “glampers”, they like to have every bell and whistle and TV’s outside and A/C and every luxury when they are camping. So these kinds of campers usually have really nice campers and it feels like home away from home. The other type of campers are the more rugged type, that don’t mind getting dirty, cooking over an open fire and sleeping under the stars. I would say our family is a perfect mix of the two. We came from two different camping philosophies to find peace in a new one that works for us, together.

 

Poose and his family have always brought their own pre-packaged foods for camping. So they would use their outside kitchen on their camper and make cans beans and boxes of macaroni and cheese. Me and my kids on the other hand have always cooked over the fire for our food. We’ve made hobo dinners that we’ve thrown in the coals and roasted food on sticks, etc. So it was unique when we came together to find a way to handle our meals for camping that met in the middle.

 

For our wedding my mom got us a large Lodge castiron 14″ dutch oven.I was excited to try it out for our family of 6 on our camping trips. We read the little book that came with it and it explained how you use the coals underneath and on the lid to do the cooking on the inside. We tested it out on a few of our recent camping trips and we are hooked. It makes the most delicious meals and is very easy to do. I highly recommend using the liners for easy cleanup. I have also found the lid lifter and the lid stand to be helpful in avoiding burns.

 

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Cheese Enchilada Casserole

Our favorite recipes are easy and have become staples when we go camping. One of the easiest is a cheese enchilada casserole. You simply layer enchilada sauce with corn tortillas, cheese, beans (kidney and/or black beans) onion and some taco seasoning. It doesn’t take long before it’s bubbling and smells so delicious. We top it with some green onion and sour cream and we never have any leftover.

 

Potato corn chowder is another winner. We simply add onions, potatoes and vegetable stock with seasoning to the dutch over. It’s not long before it’s bubbling and we let the potatoes soften then we add a bag of frozen corn. When everything is cooked through we sometimes add some milk or cream. It’s delicious when served with a dollop of sour cream.

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Potato and corn chowder

We try to eat organic whole foods as often as we possibly can. Camping is no exception to the rule. We have found using the cast iron dutch oven to be the perfect helper for making delicious healthy meals that we all like. Perry is gluten free and Big Z and I are vegetarian, so we find meals that works for all of us in one pot. All of us have been satisfied with cooking this way during our camping adventures. We all look forward to filling ourselves on these delicious concoctions. I’ve not had anything turn out where we didn’t eat it. so this makes me happy.

I feel good about camping and cooking this way. We bring our own dishes, we prefer not to use paper plates because of the wast it creates. Camping doesn’t have to be about convenience food and paper plates. It can be fun to cook around the fire, as well as healthy. We have found cooking large meals in the dutch over to be a life saver for our large family.

 

What is your favorite way to eat when camping? Do you have any go to family favorites when camping? Do you prefer to cook inside a camper or out under the stars? Have you ever tried a Dutch Oven, have any  helpful hints for me?

 

 

Breaks Interstate Park

 

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Love this family picture taken on The Ridge Trail at Breaks Interstate Park 

We were off for another adventure, but where would we go?  It wasn’t a typical time of year for camping. It was November and most people would be out of school and work for the Thanksgiving holiday.  But we wanted to get away to the great outdoors for a few days. I saw on Pinterest some spectacular views, and some called it the Grand Canyon of the South. So we decided on Breaks Interstate Park. It’s a bi-state park sharing it’s home in Virginia and Kentucky.

 

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Spectacular views even in November 

The roads were windy to get there once we were off the interstate. It made  us a little weary steering our camper through the windy roads up and down the mountain. However, we quickly realized it was worth the drive when we arrived. We were initially greeted by some friendly deer standing by the Park sign as we pulled in, we took that as a sign of good things to come. We were surprised when we pulled into the camp ground that we were the only ones in the entire park. Really? It was true. We had expected the park to be full for the holiday, but perhaps they were frightened by the thought of camping in the cold? It surprised us, but the weather was perfect for camping and after our initial shock we settled in to having the whole campground to ourselves.

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Me with Big Z and Perry on the Rattlesnake Bike Trail 

We noticed there was a mountain bike trail so I was able to get Perry and Big Z to agree that we should give it a try. So the three of us headed to Rattlesnake Trail. I had never been true mountain biking before, I mistakenly assumed it was just a bike trail in the mountains. Wrong. We noticed the entry to the trail was rather narrow, but were sure it would widen as we traveled. Wrong. We started up the trail, zigging back and forth. Yes, we had to walk our bikes up part of the way. We now realize this was perhaps more than we bargained for, and perhaps we weren’t really prepared for this adventure. Perry’s bike was made for the streets and his tires were as smooth as could be. We realized we better go on, because otherwise we’d have to go down the zig zag we just came up. So forward we marched…with our bikes. Once at the top we were able to ride our bikes comfortably, we also ran into a worker for the park who was repairing the trail. We talked to him for awhile, and he assured us after looking at Perry’s bike that we probably weren’t prepared for this trail. He said once we went downhill we could break off to the right, and it would make the trail shorter, that it was a large loop, and we could cut some of it off. So we thanked him, and headed downhill..

Breaks Interstate Park 5So the downhill was cut into the side of the mountain, zigging back and forth. We could see it part of the way as we look down the trail. Thankfully we all had good attitudes about it, but it was quite intimidating. We mounted our bikes and vowed to try and be careful for the decent. I made sure my helmet was tight, and with a wail off I went. Perry and Big Z stayed together and stayed behind me. I could not believe how narrow the trail was, and how close the trees were to the trail. I enjoyed some of the ride down, it was exhilarating and scary all rolled into one. Perry had to walk a lot because his tires weren’t cut out for this kind of biking, but he was patient and kept going. We were so happy when we arrived at the loop turning point where we could head back to the parking area. I had fell several times during this Rattlesnake run, but I was proud that I had tried something new. We look back at that ride and we laugh, we were so unprepared. So we all have an interest in mountain biking but will do more research on the trails beforehand. We went out of our box and faced our fears, and conquered them. However, leisure biking might be more our speed.

Breaks Interstate Park 2As a family we did several hikes together. There are many spectacular views right off the main road. So it’s easy to drive and walk a few steps and get some great photos. We hiked all we could, short and long. The Ridge Trail combined with the Geological trail  took us along some pretty fantastic rock formations and faults. There were many opportunities to discuss land formations, geology and geography. Most of the trails are moderate because of the rocky cliffs, but the views can’t be beat. We’d love to return to this park in the spring when everything is green, however we still enjoyed it in Fall after the leaves had all fallen off.

 

Breaks Interstate Park 8There is a hotel at Breaks Interstate Park as well as a few  playgrounds and  a restaurant and gift shop. The restaurant was closed during our visit, but we still enjoyed the gift shop for a few items. The teens enjoyed the gift shop for the WiFi it provided. There were also warnings of a bear in the area, we didn’t see him though. The bathroom facilities were pretty standard for a State Park, they were clean, but nothing fancy. We really enjoyed our quiet evenings around the campfire eating our hearty warm soups. There was plenty of fun in the hammocks and riding bikes around the camping loop. We hope to return to this park someday soon.

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Pee Wee, Big Z and Me enjoying the views 
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The rocky cliffs are intimidating but gorgeous. 

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Do you have a favorite camping spot? Where are your favorite State Parks? Where are your favorite views?