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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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?

 

 

Camping at Myrtle Beach

myrtle beach 2It’s been a long standing tradition in my family to go to Ocean Lakes campground in September -October. My parent’s like to vacation without a ton of people, so they tend to avoid the busy season. The fall months are great for the beach, you avoid the crowds,you  can take your dog on the beach and the rates are cheaper. My parents rent a house in Ocean Lakes for the  entire month for what it costs in peak season for a week.This is an excellent advantage to homeschooling. You don’t need to fight for your spot on the beach at the same time as everyone else. The weather is still nice and the water is warm.

Ocean Lakes offers a lot of options for visiting Myrtle Beach. You can rent a house or you can bring your own camper and use their hookups. They also offer fresh water fishing at their lakes, there are planned activities such as exercises classes or Bingo ( a family favorite) and they have a convenience store, fast food restaurant and laundromat. It is convenient to grocery stores, restaurants and shopping. So you have the option of staying in the park the whole time because there is plenty to keep you busy, or you can venture out and see what else the city has to offer.

myrtle beach 1Most of the beach homes you rent come with a golf cart that you can use to get around the 310 acres. It’s the largest campground on the East Coast, so this is a definite break of our habit of staying in State Parks. This place has the extra bells and whistles, you can paint ceramics or swim in the heated pool. We enjoy taking a morning or two to spend painting ceramics together, it’s always relaxing and the kids always end up with a masterpiece. This year they added a new water park that we are looking forward to testing out. The showers are newer and cleaner and nicer than your standard ones at a State Park.

So this was going to be the first time I stayed at Ocean Lakes in a camper. Previously I had always stayed with my parents in a beach house. Now there were six of us, so we felt the camper would give everyone there own space but we could still spend time with my parents. We love the idea of camping so close to the beach. The kids were able to ride their bikes to the ocean and around the campground, including back and forth to their grandparents. My parents stayed in a beach house, we set up  our camper at a campsite. We met for dinners at their beach house. There are no fire rings at Ocean Lakes. Usually when I camp I do all of our cooking over an open fire, that isn’t an option here. So it was nice to be spoiled by mom’s cooking each evening. It’s a nice way to meet in the middle with vacation with my parents. My dad isn’t one for eating out, but he enjoys are family meals together, so it works for us all.

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My dad

We usually spend our time taking long walks to the pier. My parents take their Jack Russell with them. She’s getting old and they end up carrying her most of the way. We always meet interesting characters to talk to along the way. Sometimes we’ll see a fisherman catch something, and that will give the kids something to get excited about. We pick up interesting shells along the way.  At one of the piers we usually walk out and spy on the sharks below. It amazes me how close they are and how big they are, I know I won’t be swimming next to the pier anytime soon.

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Late night beach walks with glow sticks, you can’t beat it! 

We enjoy Bingo nights on Mondays, where the crowd in October is mostly Senior Citizens. We compete for junk food and free ice cream cones from the Snack Shack. You wouldn’t believe the thrill of excitement that a getting five in a row can give a six year old, or a sixty six year old for that matter. It’s a lighthearted good time. Late night walks on the beach are always relaxing too. There is nothing like hearing the waves crash on the shore in the dead of night. So we take this time at the beach to reflect on all of the good memories we’ve had in the past and plan on making in the future.

We always look back to our time at Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach with fondness. We make good memories and get to rejuvenate here a few days each year. We’re going back this year, we just made our reservations.  Do you have a place that you enjoy meeting up with family and making memories? What are your family vacation traditions?