Dave V.
FL
Joined August 2016
Outdoor enthusiast and lover of all things exploring, camping, backpacking, hiking, paddling and cycling. Spending 70-100 days camping each year.
Fascinating History and Formations

Providence Canyon State Park, Lumpkin, GA

https://gastateparks.org/ProvidenceCanyon 

Providence Canyon State Park is tucked away in the southwest corner of Georgia…but offers a surprising beauty as a result of erosion. As you enter the State Park, it is fairly linear running alongside the roadway. Day use appears to be the high volume. 

Two children’s playgrounds, two picnic pavilions and two restrooms are positioned along the upper rim as you head to the visitor center. The visitor center offers location specific clothing, souvenirs and some snack items…along with additional restrooms. 

Opposite the first playground, on the right side of the roadway when you enter the park is a Methodist church from 1832 and a small pioneer cemetery that offers a realistic view of the hardships faced by these adventurous folks. 

The actual“Georgia Grand Canyon” is barely visible as you make your way to the visitors center. But once you’ve paid the daily use fee($5) and signed in…you can choose the trails you desire to explore. An upper rim trail, fenced by split rail, travels the canyon rim… is easiest and offers a splendid Birdseye view and wonderful photo opportunities.. 

Hiking down into the shallow canyon affords a worthwhile close-up view and nicer photographs (in my opinion) especially with the backdrop of azure skies. Because the canyon and formations are merely sand and clay, they are fragile. As I briefly climb upon my soapbox, the plethora of posted warning signs are not heeded, so violators climb and scramble for their coveted selfies…defacing the natural beauty and causing more damage. While warning signs make threat of prosecution, without consistent or constant enforcement it will continue. 

Once on the canyon floor, you have a few options…but for the best views hang a left and follow the small wooden Canyon 1-5 signs. All the reviews state canyons 4 and 5 are the nicest…and they are…but if you explore the canyons in numerical sequence, each gets better as you go. With fully leafed trees and foliage, viewing is tough in canyons 1-3. Signage is absent as to where the trails end, as past hikers tread further and higher in each canyon. Canyons 4 and 5 offer more prohibitive signage. 

The canyon floor is a mixture of wet and dry sand. In areas a steady stream of water flows. It was dry weather on my visit so I can only assume the water would be deeper during or immediately following rains. During my late October visit, water wasn’t deep enough to enter your hiking shoes. Heed the heat and drinking water warnings during hot days, Little to no breeze in the canyon. 

I did not travel the longer backcountry trail on this visit, so defer to other reviewers comments on its enjoyment.

 Camping: You have two choices…a handful of Backcountry Primitive Camping that require a backpack into the canyon and 3 Pioneer Group Campsites. It’s easy to miss Pioneer Campsites 1& 2, as they are located beyond the gated park and down a two track gravel drive. Unfortunately, from the campsite, the roadway can be seen through the trees and traffic noise is loud when traveling by. During normal sleep hours (midweek) night traffic was sparse, but still disruptive. Because of road construction during my visit, it wasn’t excessive during daylight hours. 

Pioneer 1-3 are essentially group sites designed to accommodate larger camping parties. But for one tent and two people $43.00 was an exorbitant price, especially with merely a pit toilet, two picnic tables and a fire ring…NO electric, NO water. But I’ve found Georgia parks a tad steep in cost in comparison to other State’s parks. 

Interestingly, time zones shift from Eastern at the visitors center to Central Time at Pioneer Campsites 1& 2…so be cognizant of the switch. Pioneer 1 group site boasts a newer pit latrine with a solar spot light for nighttime…and was amply stocked. Previous campers removed the two large picnic tables from beneath the shed style shelter to the campfire ring area. The picnic tables are large and heavy, so without a group present, you won’t be moving them back to their rightful location. 

For a tent camping location…there is negligible flat ground to pitch a tent, but if you are a hammock camper there are plenty of trees. The grounds at Pioneer 1 where strewn with plastic and pop tops, cigarette butts, partially melted plastic ware and snack food wrappers littered the wooded area. Not cool. A lidded plastic garbage can is tethered to the shelter so there is no excuse.

 Pioneer site 2 had a grassy field, flatter area for tents and further down into the canyon past Pioneer site 1. 

Pioneer site 3 is appears to be the coveted group site with ample flat, grassy field for tents, area for parking and a huge shelter. The long winding gravel two-track is also located immediately to the left upon entering the main entrance so you have the“security” of the park’s front gate being locked at 6:00 p.m.(A pavement sensor permits egress if you need to exit, but you won’t be driving back in til morning when they reopen.) 

Overall, if you shared the site as a group, defraying the cost…midweek camping would not be bad. After visiting the canyon for a couple hours, there is not much else to visit in the immediate area, so bring a book. 

Wildlife: you’ll likely hear some owls calling out throughout the night and woodpeckers in early morning. Small yellow finch’s were abundant. Mention of wild hogs in the park as well. 

Final thoughts: A one time camping visit is sufficient for my tastes. Even at half the price, I’m not sure I’d camp here solo. However, I will likely visit the canyon in the future to see possible changes due to further erosion.

A Relaxing Shoulder Season, Weekday stay

Hueston Woods State Park, Oh.

http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/huestonwoods 

Campground Overview: Hueston Woods State Park is very close to Miami University…in the Southwest area of Ohio. The direction we traveled from the south took us on numerous winding country lanes through farm country that actually meandered in and out of Indiana and Ohio.

(Disclaimer: I am a tent camper, preferring backcountry sites of solitude and privacy…so take my reviews of campgrounds with a grain of salt). 

The campground area is separated not only by roadway, but a short walk, ride or drive from the reservoir, docks, boat rental beach area and tiny nature center. 

The Campground Office sits at the campground entrance and does offer quite a bit of camping items for its tiny size should you have forgotten anything. The cabins and lodge are on the opposite bank of the reservoir. The tent site area was sparsely occupied and the particular area was empty that I chose. 

All campground sites are line of sight, no barriers or buffer between neighbors(something I do not enjoy)…the trees are mature and tall so offer no privacy. Noise/sound travels so when full, you’ll likely hear your neighbors conversations. 

Unknowingly, it appeared every weekend in October has a big Halloween emphasis, so the upper campground was sold out. I was advised the lower non electric loop would also be sold out…which reinforced my gratefulness for midweek camping. 

With the vast old growth forests, dried/dead branches for firewood was plentiful for a chilly night(38) fire. We evaded the impending rain for once and pressed on. Weekend campers experienced heavy storms as we left. 

There are several hiking trails and biking trails. Streams were dried up at our visit. A cool restoration covered bridge was a short hop from the campground. The lodge has a restaurant, a gift shop, an outside pool and a nicely equipped activity room for older kids complete with numerous arcade games, pool table, and ping-pong table. There is also a token tiny exercise center-Key card entrance for lodge stayers. The A-frame lodge, though nostalgic, needs some TLC and updating(especially the exterior). 

Traffic noise is noticeable, especially during quiet hours. While not excessive, it’s disruptive. 

Deer sighting were plentiful as were chattering tree rats…ahem, squirrels, sorry. Woodpeckers stayed busy overhead. At dusk an overly friendly“masked trash panda” encroached seeking to share my delectable and perfectly toasted s’more…having to be chased off(unfortunately, it appeared he has been fed by campers to be that bold). Other small birds were plentiful as were migrating Canadian honkers. 

Housekeeping notes: In the larger non-electric loop newer restrooms existed…modern bathrooms and showers were clean and stocked with TP. No paper towels offered, only electric hand dryers. Bathroom stalls, like the showers, utilized shower curtains rather than lockable doors. In my tent area…antiquated wood shed pit latrines…that truly needed razed. 

I did not have time to walk any trails, but talked with mountain bikers that spoke favorably. There were several marked trails near the reservoir area. 

Final Thoughts: It was a nice choice for a stop-over as I drifted north. However, I would not want to stay when it’s busy or on the weekends. The reservoir beach and watercraft fishing appears a big draw…and I wish I had brought both my bicycle and canoe.

A delightful surprise!

Vogel State Park, Blairsville, GA

https://gastateparks.org/Vogel

$32 a night with water/electric, walk-in tent sites$30…as of this review. 

Arriving in the dark for the first visit, is a bit confusing in the labyrinth of roadways(some One-way) throughout the campground…but for the normal camper it would be no problem. 

After the visitor center is closed, a list of available sites are posted and a sign-in Sheet for the site you choose. 

After experiencing 12 hours of straight rain(9-9)…the sun broke through for a beautiful fall mountain day. The campground sits at 2500 ft.so it was comfortably cool.

Campsite are spaced reasonably, but with tall, mature trees, although you do see and hear your neighbors. In fact, you see and hear your neighbors half a dozen sites away. During my visit, it was almost entirely retirees from out of state…so other than a random yappy terrier, it was quiet. 

There are several loops offering more or less “privacy.” Had I known about the incredible tent “walk-in” sites before arrival, I would’ve stayed there. They are tucked away on their own loop on a wooded hillside. 

Bathroom/showerhouses are strategically located in each loop. They are modern, bright, well-stocked and clean! Also provided are individual “family/unisex” bathroom/shower facilities. 

Numerous very nice cabins are available for rental, from efficiency to 3 bedroom interspersed throughout the park…and appear moderately priced. 

Available State Park Activites: Two separate children’s playgrounds exist, not too far from one another. One near a small kids ball field…the other near a very nice volleyball court, permanent corn hole pit and state of the art outdoor exercise machine area…the likes of which I have never-ever seen. Two 9 hole miniature golf courses next to the visitor center are reminiscent of the old Putt-Putt courses of yesteryear. Bicycle and boat rentals are available during summer months for reasonable hourly, half and full day rates. A swimming beach also exists on the park’s 22 acre picturesque lake.

 A gravel walking trail circumnavigates the lake and at the far end, a trail leads down to lovely Trahlyta Falls. If you are a waterfall chaser, this immediate area boasts numerous worthy falls. The closest being the upper and lower Helton Creek Falls. The upper and lower Desoto Falls are 7 miles away in one direction and several in the opposite direction. 

Terri Tucker, manager of the visitor store, and her staff are excellent and knowledgeable about not just their park but also the surrounding area and nearby parks. They are pleasant, cheerful and helpful. Additionally, Terri has outfitted this visitor center store about the best I’ve seen in all my years of camping. For a state park visitor center, it has a unique balance of food items, camping comfort foods, park specific knick-knacks, souvenirs, and practical clothing items, along with a fantastic assortment of camping, hiking related necessities. Shoot…they even sell Eno hammocks and slap straps! Did I mention two bookshelves of outdoor books and maps?! For as small as it is, it is masterfully stocked. Well done! 

Several creeks meander through the campground, notably Burnett Branch, Wolf Creek…so the rushing water noise is both soothing and assists in drowning out neighborly conversations. 

In most advertisements, the phrase “one of the oldest and most beloved state parks” is used and frankly, I see why. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay.

The hiking both from Vogel State Park and nearby are incredible. Take half a day and climb Blood Mountain along the Appalachian Trail. Views from the summit are breathtaking…doing the hike is also a little breathtaking too. It is worth stopping and shopping at Mountain Crossings just a few miles away (turn right out of the park)…you just can't leave the area without buying some souvenirs.

I am planning next fall's return already!…I do wish GA state parks were a tad cheaper though.

A relaxing lakeside atmosphere

Uwharrie National Forest-Badin Lake Campground, New London, NC.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid=48934 

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5368418.pdf

Campground Overview: 34 sites, two loops…upper loop and lakeside loop. Relatively large sites with vegetation that blocks constant view of neighbors. 

Each site has a gravel parking pad and separate gravel tent pad, a standing charcoal grill, firepit with adjustable grate, a picnic table and a metal pole for hanging lanterns, etc. I would advise securing online reservations, but they do have an Iron Ranger to drop your payment in should you find an empty site. Note: There are warnings that online reservations take precedence, so if you use the Iron Ranger payment drop chute and someone reserved the same campsite…you will be required to move to a different location when the online reservation campers arrive. Just so you know.

No electric. 

Oddly, no firewood for sale…although scrounging produced plenty of things and fallen branches to keep a fire going.

I preferred the lower loop as nearly every outer site was on the lake with great views and lake access and sites are spread out. The inside sites of the lower loop are pretty spacious and deep. Water spigots were spaced out around the loop, so a short walk as we were equal distance between two. 

Restroom/showerhouses were quad door buildings. Separate men’s and women’s restrooms and two separate shower rooms. Facilities were kept clean and stocked by resident hosts. 

With Verizon, I never lost signal…a plus for a National Forest!

The upper loop appeared to offer a little more solitude than the lower lake loop…but no lake views. 

The lake loop trail crosses the main campground roadway between the two loops. This trail is relatively flat and meanders around the lake and it’s many fingers…offering lovely lake views and some nice fishing locations. 

During my midweek visit it was quiet day and night. The sunset across the lake was gorgeous and relaxing. Loud powerboat noise was minimal as only a couple bass boats thought it essential to travel at high speeds from location to location. Next visit my canoe and mountain one will accompany me. 

What I enjoyed: as much as I dislike tree rats, I was entertained by two feuding squirrels that chased each other relentlessly and knocking each other out of tree tops. Woodpecker and Turkey wake up calls. 

For a National Forest, I was surprised by the level of daytime industrial noise nearby. 

Overall, a fantastic location relatively close to Raleigh/Durham and Fayetteville for a great camping getaway. I was only able to stay one night as the campground was booked, all reserved in advance. So plan ahead.

Offroader's Paradise

Uwharrie National Forest-Arrowhead Campground

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid=48934 

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5368418.pdf 

Uwharrie National Forest is fairly vast, but several camping areas are located in one general area. Equestrian campgrounds, hunting camps and then Arrowhead and Badin Lake campgrounds, along with the boat launch area. Arrowhead Campground has had a bigger budget compared to its lesser sibling Badin Lake Campground. 

Campground roadways are paved, as well as the campsite parking pads, The restrooms are newer, larger and offer paved parking for users. 

Sites are reasonably large and offer a picnic table, firepit, charcoal grill and metal hanging pole for lanterns, etc. some foliage exists between Campsites, but you still have a visual of your neighbors. 

It appeared during my visit that most users were off-roaders with either 4x4’s or quads. The onsite host advised that it is very popular with the off-road enthusiasts. Enclosed and flatbed trailers filled most of the sites. 

Caution: During hunting season, the National Forest is open to hunters…wear brightly colored or hunter orange clothing especially dawn and dusk.

Reserve well in advance if you desire a site…these campgrounds fill quickly. 

Arrowhead also offers an inner-campground paved walk/bike/stroller trail…and the drive down to the boat launch(which has a fairly sizable paved parking lot and latrines). You can also pick up the lake loop trail by the Boat Ramp.

Being located so closely to the Raleigh/Durham area…and the Fayettville area…I can see this being filled to capacity most days and definitely weekends. Mid-week it was filled.

Conveniently located for all things outdoors

Smokemont Campground-Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherokee, NC-

-site 25($25 nightly). 

https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/232486 

Nestled in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park at 2200 feet, close to crystal clear mountain streams, great hiking, and right down the Ridgeway from Clingman’s Dome. 

There are far too many outdoor activities to list that are a short drive away. So the location is prime.

(Disclaimer: My perspective comes from a tent camper that prefers privacy and solitude…so take my ramblings with a grain of salt…and I ordinarily fly by the seat of my pants without reservations). 

Even during the week in late October, there were only four available sites left right near the entrance. Campground Rangers in the office and walking the grounds were very friendly and helpful. All sites are line of sight…and though at capacity, campers were politely quiet. 

Tent sites have a gravel pad that you must utilize…firepit and picnic table. An all non-electric, non-generator campground. You won’t get cell service either…you must travel to the nearby visitor center for that convenience. 

Bathrooms are modern, no showers. 

Water is available throughout the campground. 

The park’s visitor center, roughly a mile down the road usually have local herd of elk grazing in the adjacent fields where tourist stop to take photos. A few gobblers joined the elk during my visit. Warning signs and Rangers on foot, keep photographers from encroaching onto the fields…but the visitor center parking lot is usually filled and vehicles are parked along both side of the roadway. 

Clingman’s Dome is a highlight. Realize that though you get to drive most of the way up the mountain, you must still walk from the parking lot to the summit and up the ramp for the birds eye 360 view.(**Pit latrines are in the parking lot only…not in the tiny visitor center, nor at the summit) Note: while the walkway to the summit is paved, it has a fairly steep pitch. Tip: earlier in the day has fewer clouds, afternoon tends to see more view-obscuring cloud cover. The wind is strong and several degrees cooler than the parking lot.

 Final Thoughts: Smokemont Campground is a quiet, comfortable, conveniently located campground for short stays in a wonderful setting…but realize it is extremely popular and fills up nightly.

Close proximity to natural attractions

Hocking Hills State Park, Oh-Site 89. https://thehockinghills.org/

Hocking Hills State Park offers close proximity to most of the popular natural attractions…Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, etc….but for a tent camper that prefers solitude and space, I found it unappealing.

I did arrive late on a Monday evening, mid-October and got one of the last available sites. Packed on a Monday night!

I found the camping sites a bit cramped both in depth and width. Site 89 and 90 shared the same parking pad. Limited flat locations existed for a tent and my tent footprint is fairly small. You do have a firepit and picnic table with all three in fairly close proximity, so you must be extremely cautious with wind direction when deciding for a fire, else you’ll have embers dotting your tent and picnic table. Even though the neighbors were trying to be respectfully quiet…you heard every conversation and saw their every move.

No electric, which is fine in my book…the water spigot is centrally located on the loop and happened to be next to my site.

The restroom/shower facilities were not well cared for upon my visit. The floors were very muddy and trash was piled up in the corner of one stall and out of necessities.

Construction and dump truck noise started early with a project behind the restrooms.

The visitor’s center was well-stocked and the employee was pleasant. Cell service is unavailable and even sketchy at the visitor’s center. Wood can be purchased at the visitor’s center.

Close proximity to local attractions and a swimming pool are likely the big draw.

Knowing that I prefer solitude and distance when camping, I’ll likely not return but choose nearby Lake Hope State Park for my local visits.

A relaxing shoulder season stay

Hungry Mother State Park, Royal Oak Campground, Marion VA…site 3. https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/hungry-mother

Campground Overview: Located outside of Marion VA

Hungry Mother State Park is somewhat split up and fragmented on either side of a local highway and the first campground is distanced from the other two. So a little different than most parks but not necessarily a negative.

The Visitor’s Center is on the left after the first campground (Camp Burson) and across the roadway from the reservoir and beach area. The remaining two campground loops are past the beach area…one to the right along a feeder stream (Creekside Campground) and opposite that is the third loop (Royal Oak Campground) on the side of a hill with wooden platforms for tents.

I was hoping to paddle this meandering reservoir but it was being drained for bridge work…so it was six feet or so lower than normal. Even the migrating geese weren’t too happy about it, as they waddled around on the mud.

During the peak of the summer season, it appears that it would be very popular with s nice swimming beach, paddlecraft rentals, cabin rentals, conference center, ample covered picnic pavilions and both paved and dirt trails.

I stayed on site 3 in Royal Oak Campground, pitching the tent on a 20’x20’ leveled wooden platform. Several pros and cons to elevated platforms.

Pros: It’s level and large enough for any tent I’ve ever seen. Water drains pretty decent between wood decking, so no pooling. D-ring lashing points were attached to the decking to assist in securing tent or rainfly.

Cons: When the cold wind blows, it’s hard to retain heat in the tent…360 cold. While there are D-ring lashing points, they don’t accommodate every tent of rainfly. Previous knucklehead campers drill Tapcon screws or nails in the wood decking and rails to secure their tent…then leave them there so everyone else snags or rips their tent on them.

It rained for 12 hours straight with cold, high winds…so it was a bit chilly, but still enjoyable.

What I enjoyed: deer wandering through the grounds, the Molly’s Knob Trail and Vista Summit,

The ugly: the lake (reservoir) was drained. Heaters weren’t on in the shower rooms…37 degree showering gets tricky.

Peak Bagging Coolness!

Spruce Knob is West Virginia's highest peak and on a clear day offers breathtaking 360 degree views from the Observation Tower.      https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mnf/recarea/?recid=7053

Because of the thick conifer growth, long mountain views don't occur till nearly to the top and that only along the western roadway…but once you climb the observation tower…(as mentioned, on a clear day) you are rewarded with wonderful views of WV and VA mountains.  Watching storm clouds or simple clouds roll in and envelope the Knob offers a wonderful experience.

I've taken the opportunity to camp on Spruce Knob on several occasions, once to the NE of the parking lot just into the pines, once a couple hundred yards down the Seneca Backcountry trail to the right and once directly south of the Tower in the pines.  Each offered a differ experience.  There is no cost, which is a huge plus!

In the pines, just below the summit, it is eerily quiet and muffled.  I've never seen another camper when I've stayed, so the solitude is glorious.

If you want shelter and a picnic table for cooking/eating…they are available, but only along the parking lot.  Pit latrines are nearly on the summit in the parking lot near the trailhead for the Observation Tower.  So practice leave no trace when camping and hiking!! No water, so bring enough with you. There are waste receptacles but be wise and take trash with you. 

There are two levels to the concrete Observation Tower…and best views are from the upper level. I've often though about cowboy camping on the second level after the last sightseer has left for the night, but haven't seen, heard or read if its forbidden or permitted…so I haven't…yet.

Obviously, on a clear night, star gazing is incredible as there no ambient light. It is much cooler at this elevation, even in the summer…and the winds on the summit cut through like a knife. 

Note: utilize good camping practices and set camp on a previous location where there is an established fire ring. Again, use caution with campfires because of the wind.

If you desire a more established campground, Spruce Knob Lake Campground is not too far away…down the mountain.

Spruce Knob summit camping is a family highlight!

Far from the hectic pace!

Red Creek Campground is positioned a decent drive down gravel National Forest roads, so it does not see the amount of traffic that easier, closer campgrounds get.      https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mnf/recreation/natureviewing/recarea/?recid=7003&actid=63

With a season of Mid-April through the beginning of December, be assured that weather is always a factor. Family has been thwarted at Thanksgiving by unpassable snow without a 4x4. Rain is almost certain, as the varied elevation nearly creates its own weather patterns.  So my first recommendation is to always add rain gear and cold weather garments for insurance.

We ordinarily visit during the month of August and being a "fly by the seat of my pants" type of roaming tent camper…I have arrived to see Red Creek Campground full…as these sites are non-reservable. 

Keep in mind, Red Creek Campground is "primitive"…no modern facilities, no showers, no electric…and the only running water accessible, is a small spring pipe (that I highly recommend filtering before use even though it does not post that).

Sites on the outer portion of the loop are fairly concealed from one another by trees and undergrowth…the inner loop sites are a little more exposed.  Gravel parking at sites and each site offers a picnic table a fire ring and lantern post. All sites are a short distance to the two individual unisex pit lantrines in the center of the campground.

With no ambient light, the night skies are amazing…though cloud cover always seem to plague my visits at night. Though one evening we drove down toward Bear Rocks and laid in an open field to stargaze one evening to enjoy a wonderful light show from shooting stars. We were so quiet, several deer passed between us within arms reach…a little disconcerting but we survived.

Trails are abundant and some leave directly from the campground deeper into the Wilderness Area. Choose footwear wisely, as the trails are strewn with sharp rocks (on certain trails), various stream and river crossings, shoe-swallowing mud bogs along with the regular ol' dirt trail.  Bring a trail map, water…and/or a water filter…and raingear.

Nearby Bear Rocks is a fun scamper for "kids" of all ages and the views eastward share WV and Virginia mountain ranges.

We were thrilled to visit when "Bird Banding" is taking place and enjoyed searching for migrating birds caught in the netting on the east side of the road opposite the campground.

For a peaceful, relaxing camping experience that offers great hiking, and some of the most amazing flora and fauna…its a family favorite!

Waterfalls, Trails and Long Valley Views!

Blackwater State Park, Davis, WV https://wvstateparks.com/park/blackwater-falls-state-park/

Camping anywhere in West Virginia is a highlight, but this area offers hiking views aplenty.

Most will travel by Canaan Valley State Park entrance and the back road to Dolly Sods Wilderness Area to arrive at Blackwater Falls State Park…but very worthwhile.

This campground is very popular and fills up quickly. I’ve only visited during midweek and prime sites are still difficult to find. Reservations can be made online and are recommended during peak season. Cabins are also available for rental.

The campground office is small but sites are paid for there ($23 non electric/$26 electric)… firewood and ice are available there also.

I’ve only camped in the non-electric loops (to the left). and usually along the far wood line. There are 65 sites in all, less than half offer electric.

Obviously, the biggest draw is the cascading 57ft Blackwater Falls, but there are other smaller falls (Elakala Falls) in the State Park. Trails abound with some pretty incredible long valley views. Lindy Point and Pendleton Point Overlook are two big draws. All worthwhile. Note: The walk down to the bottom of the Blackwater Falls include many steps…not handicap accessible to the lower levels.

The Trading Post by the falls is enjoyable and will satisfy your search for trinkets.

During my stays the campground has been quiet and relaxing. The centrally located restrooms/showerhouse is spartan but clean and well-stocked.

Deer meandered through the unattended Campsites two of my three stays, so it can be very quiet. Trees exist on outside perimeter sites that can be utilized for hammocking…and some inner loop sites. The sites have level grassy areas for tents…parking pads are all fairly sufficient for pop-ups or moderate-sized campers. On my visits, RV/campers were primarily in the loop to the right of the office.

The nearby town has a small grocery store and several fantastic eateries.

Shoulder season solitude...flora and fauna delight

Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, part of the Monongahela National Forest, offers something for every hiker, backpacker, camper.

Having visited Dolly Sods numerous times at the Red Creek Campground, using that as the base camp to launch off to explore the myriad of trails. We decided to use the backcountry as a primer for the following year's longer westerly  backbacking trip. 

Know that it will likely rain on you in Dolly Sods, so always bring rain gear. Also realize, that with climate and conditions similar to the Canadian Tundra, temperatures and winds vary and fluctuate often, any time of year. Those two conditions often dissuade less hearty souls…but they are also exactly what creates and sustains a very beautiful environment.

During our excursion, we spent three nights and four days on what I will term the perimeter trails…camping at Raven Ridge, Big Stonecoal Run creek, and at Reds Creek at the forks. Numerous websites offer insight and directions and all are beneficial to study. We chose to travel counter-clockwise from Bear Rocks, parking in the grass across from the trailhead. Note: leaving valuables in or on your vehicle while you traipse about in the Sods is always iffy, just like anywhere else, so use wisdom. I've read of thefts…but the vehicle parked to us had two high end full-suspension mountain bikes on a roof rack for days without issue.

If you are unfamiliar with Dolly Sods Wilderness trails…choose footwear that either dries fast or is waterproof…has a robust sole to fend off bruises from the brutal amount of sharp, ankle buster rocks on the trail…and won't pull off and be lost in the countless bogs and areas of shoe sucking mud. We wanted to rename one particular trail "pointed rock trail." Our expensive boots were actually a fail for this trip…which was a valuable education.

We saw people run this trail in a day…but there's no way you can enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells moving that quickly. I felt we should've taken more time and explored much more…although soggy weather became a deterrent. The amount of brightly colored fungi, snakes, crayfish and salamanders were astonishing. So if you move too quickly, you miss them.

Do practice "leave no trace." The heavy summer and weekend use by careless and selfish hikers or backcountry partiers…has left the woods adjacent to Reds Creek camping sites littered with toilet paper…dig your cat hole and bury your "goods!"

The rocks on the trail may be a pain, but the formations and views from Raven's Ridge, Lion's Head and Bear Rocks rival the best.

Do your homework, choose your camping gear and wardrobe wisely and launch off into the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area…you'll be glad you did!

RANGER REVIEW: GREGORY ZULU 35L BACKPACK AT PICAYUNE STRAND STATE FOREST

RANGER REVIEW: GREGORY ZULU 35 BACKPACK AT PICAYUNE STRAND STATE FOREST-HORSESHOE CAMPGROUND

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: Florida offers very diverse camping opportunities throughout the state. Not many states can offer year-round camping along lakes, rivers, oceans, swamps, undulating terrain to pancake flat, grasslands, sugar sand to elevated chickee huts. Camping in Florida is not for the faint of heart, but for the adventurous…much like any state. However, in Florida, you may encounter crawling or slithering reptiles and spinning spiders in various shapes and sizes, non-venomous and otherwise…gators or saltwater crocs…otters, manatee or sharks…wild hog, bear, bobcat or relocated panther.  In the fairly young Picayune Strand State Forest many of these reside. Most are shy and elusive, rarely to be seen…but they are present. Many wrongly assume the voracious and plentiful mosquito is the state bird…not so much…but come prepared with repellant any time of year.

Almost comically, Picayune Strand State Forest (https://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Our-Forests/State-Forests/Picayune-Strand-State-Forest) was the location where the 1950's phrase has its origination…"If you believe that, I've got some swamp land in Florida to sell you." Land developers laid flat the land southeast of the city of Naples, put a grid of sandy roads in and flew prospective buyers in helicopters above the land during the dry winter months to sell them on the dream of cheap prime SW Florida real estate. Problem is…this land is all part of the Everglade watershed and is under a few feet of water every year from June through November, once the rainy season begins June 1. Some bought, but very few built…so to return the sheet flow back to its original state…the State began purchasing land back through eminent domain from the mid-1980's until a remaining parcel was purchased in the mid-1990's when the Picayune Strand State Forest was named. The man-made pump-regulated canals are being blocked to allow the natural sheet flow to reclaim much of this area.

Unilike many State Forests, while you can hike and bicycle the roads and trails throughout Picayune Strand, you cannot camp wherever you like. Horseshoe Campground https://floridastateforests.reserveamerica.com/camping/horseshoe-primitive-campground/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=FLFS&parkId=1120199 is located on the north end of the State Forest, which travels on the south side of Alligator Alley (Interstate 75) as it turns and slices across the Everglades to Miami.

Horseshoe Campground is a small parcel of high ground carved out of the swamp scrub. The grounds are well-maintained and clean. I found Ranger Reid, in the Ranger office, to be very friendly and helpful. He even offered a highlight that a panther, the night before my arrival, was chasing some deer about 300 yards west of the campgrounds.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

No potable water (bring all the water you need)

No Electricity (None, zero, zilch…plenty of sunshine for solar chargers though)

No Showers (I'd also advise against swimming in any water nearby)

No waste recepticles (Carry out what you bring in)

No Internet offered (Adequate cell service is available)

⦁ Open fires permitted in designated camping areas, in fire rings, unless posted

⦁ Two portable pit latrines enclosed within wood fence enclosures

⦁ Prepare for mosquitos year round

⦁ Don't forget your sunscreen

Reservations can be made through Reserve America's website. Or you can chose to utilize one of the six (6) walk-up sites. Actually, I liked the added feature of the two tarp poles (or hammock poles) on the non-reservable walk-up sites. Between mid-November and April, it does not rain often, so its of no real advantage…unless you utilize a hammock. But from mid-May to mid-November, you are likely to experience some heavy downpours each afternoon…so sturdy tarp poles would be appreciated.

Each site is grass covered, has one fire ring and one picnic table.

Can't beat the pricing…$10 a night.

True to its name, Horseshoe Campground offers paddocks for the horses and ample room for horse trailers. The Equestrian Group Camping area also has picnic tables, some grills and a pavilion. Horses must be picked up after in the campground, just like dogs.

I saw one pop-up camper during my stay. I imagine you could back in a larger RV, but there is no gravel or concrete pad…and the grass is on a sugar sand base. So plan accordingly.

Several trails leave the campground from the northwest corner. Adequately marked and all are sandy. If you choose to ride a bicycle on the trails or gravel roads, you'll want the largest tires possible to have both comfort and control. You can drive to other trails, such as the3.2 mile Sabal Palm trail…though during the height of the rainy season, the back road there will likely be impassable.

Wildlife abounds and birding is huge during winter migratory months. You are also likely to see the nesting pair of bald eagles, gopher tortoise, wood stork, eastern indigo snake, red cockaded woodpecker, osprey, red-shouldered hawk, kites, and a myriad of wading birds.

Numerous activities are nearby, whether you want to take in an Airboat Everglade tour, Shark Valley National Park, kayaking, canoeing throughout the Big Cypress Basin. Gulf Coast beaches are an hour away…either in Marco Island, Naples, Bonita Springs or Fort Myers Beach.

Bike racers convene on Picayune Strand every May for the 50 mile Tour de Picayune https://tourdepicayune.org/.

PRODUCT REVIEW: NEW GREGORY ZULU 35 BACKPACK

Gregory Mountain Products have really stepped up their game in recent years! Not that they’ve been a slouch…Gregory Packs have long been synonymous with easing heavy loads, durability and comfort. Here's a look at Gregory's New Zulu 35 backpack https://www.gregorypacks.com/packs-bags/day-packs/zulu-35-1115ZUL35.html?dwvar_1115ZUL35_color=Fiery%20Red&cgidmaster=packs-day-packs#start=1 As a TheDyrt.com review Ranger, I have opportunity to review gear at no cost or substantially discounted pricing, as was the case with Gregory's New Zulu 35.

PROS:

•Featherweight 

•Breathable/Airflow

•Comfortable 

CONS:

•Very limited pole loop and bungee

First and foremost, Gregory's Zulu 35 prolific use of breathable cutouts in the hip-belt and shoulder strap padding, coupled with the large holed mesh liners elevate airflow to new levels. The taut mesh back panel creates ample space between the pack body and the wearer’s back resulting in more airflow. Greater airflow, greater comfort. A thinner aluminum loop outlined the back panel for pack support and stability.

The Hip Belt: All hip-belts are not created equal. The Zulu 35 is a huge departure from previous Gregory models. The 3D Comfort Cradle was created to eliminate hotspots. Absent is the lower lumbar padding, thick hip bone padding and swivel…present is the FreeFloat ventilated suspension system. Hip-belt bellow pockets are cavernous in comparison to former Gregory models…8” zippers offer plenty of room for current smartphones, even when housed in protective cases. The pocket bellows 1.5” at the top and 2” at the bottom…and is nearly 11” from front to rear. Both pockets are coated nylon packcloth in contrast Gregory’s former generation Baltoro with one waterproof pocket and first generation Paragon packs that offered one of the pockets in a light breathable fabric. Note: Cram too many hard edged or lumpy items in those pockets and you may feel them through the ‘foam cutout’ areas.

Shoulder Straps: They may not be thinner, but they feel thinner… amply comfortable. Adjustment for size is a snap…well, actually more of a pull. Slide a hand down and separate the hook-n-loop and adjust to your desired height (marked in 1” increments). The chest strap slides along 9” integrated piping making the perfect placement simple. At 6'0," and with my torso length, I felt I was at the very top end of the adjustment.The logo’d QuickStow eyewear band and elastic keeper strap adorns the left shoulder strap simplifying sunglass storage. The right chest strap incorporates a hydration hose retention hook…but the coolest is the chest strap buckle now has an integrated high shrill whistle! How cool is that?! Buckle coloration has changed too. Male end is a dark gray, female end a light gray.

Pack Body: The main body is a lightweight coated, nylon pack cloth shell with lightweight stretch fabric ambidextrous 8”x 6” deep waterbottle/storage sleeves and a 12” x 7” deep breathable stretch fabric exterior rear stash pocket with adjustable top buckle. Two compression straps on each side help keep the load stable. The Zulu 35 offers one large compartment with a top load cinch opening and a U shaped 40” zipper allows easy access to entire main pack contents. Absent is an unnecessary bottom zipper. The top load offers a 34” circumference so no worries about restrictions. The main body interior supplies a protective hydration sleeve along with both a Gregory hydration pack specific SpeedClip snap hook and also a nylon loop for other brands. Trekking/ski pole or ice axe loop (adjustable!) and cinch bungee are intended to keep items secure. (*I found the combo for attaching my poles to be rather ineffective, as the bungee, even cinched tightly, did not prevent my poles from swinging metronome style at the top, which you can see from my pics).  All pack zippers include molded Comfort Grip nylon loops for easy pulling.

Pack Hood: The hood has one outer and one inner zippered pocket. The outer pocket will hold ample ancillary items, whereas the inner pocket is intended as a dedicated “labeled” Rain Cover storage pocket. But stuffing the Rain Cover into the main body stretch stuff pocket or water bottle/storage sleeve frees up an additional zippered pocket. Two small web lash loops on the outside of the hood are nice for securing solar panels or carabiners for hanging your Tentlab Deuce shovel.

Final Thoughts:  Born a skeptic, things are rarely as advertised but the New Gregory Zulu 35 is the real deal. Until now, I loved my overly padded hip belts, shoulder straps and back panels of yesterday’s packs…but the Zulu 35’s comfort level was astounding, catching me totally off guard. Granted, I was only hauling 30lbs, but it was ‘out of sight-out of mind.’ The purposefully engineered breathable mesh and cut-outs worked…in blazing sun and 89 degrees, I was comfortable. I usually haul heavy loads (55-65lbs) for long treks…but I was able to pack enough in the Zulu 35 for four days worth and still had room. Apart from the ineffective bungee cinch/adjustable loop for poles…it is nearly perfect! In the future, I’ll just stick my trekking poles (upside down) in the side pocket and cinch ‘em down with the side compression straps with my tent poles. Problem solved.

Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Stats: 

Size: Gregory Zulu 35 (Med/Lg)

Capacity: 35 liters/2136 cu in

Pack Weight: 2.89

Recommended Maximum carry weight: 35 lbs

Reviewer: 6’0/185, 21” torso 

Price Point:  $169.95

RANGER REVIEW: PRIMUS LITE+ STOVE AT BOW-TIE ISLAND PRIMITIVE CAMPSITE

RANGER REVIEW: PRIMUS LITE+ 'ALL IN ONE GAS STOVE' AT BOW-TIE ISLAND PRIMITIVE CAMPSITE, ESTERO BAY, FLORIDA

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: When it comes to "camping," often people immediately think of hiking, backpacking or traveling by car to a campground or campsite. But throughout North America (U.S. and Canada) paddling your way to a campsite often leads to greater solitude. Another distinct advantage to paddle camping… unless multiple, long portages are involved…you can carry luxuries and more of them with greater ease.

On this journey, I chose to paddle six miles North from home, along the Great Calusa Blueway-Estero Bay, to Bowtie Island Primitive Campsite. (GPS: N26 22 35 W81 51 13)  Of note: The Great Calusa Blueway has over 190 miles of intercoastal waterway paddling trails with several barrier island primitive campsites.  https://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/media/30166/phase-1-update-9-05-17-proof.pdf . On this pdf you see number 11  for Bow-tie Island and the primitive campsite on the southeast portion of that mangrove island. If you are traveling the Blueway south, Bow-tie Island is to the east of marker 9. Paddle to the southeast corner and you will locate a narrow trail that leads to the campsite. It is first come=first served…no reservation system exists presently, nor is there an informational phone number.  Bonus: It's free  

Most of the paddling hugs mangrove islands in this area, with a few larger open-water crossings. Be very alert, as power boaters tend to be less than gracious with their kayak swamping wake as they fly by.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

⦁ Solitude- you will likely have this small mangrove island to yourself

⦁ It is a primitive campsite

-No potable water (bring all the water you need for hydration and cooking)

-No electricity (plenty of sunshine for solar chargers)

-No facilities (Leave No Trace-pack out everything)

-No internet (There is strong cell signal present)

-No lights (Stargazing is incredible on clear nights, but bring illumination)

-No picnic table

⦁ Bring mosquito repellent (do not forget this!)

⦁ Bring sunscreen 

The campsite is not openly obvious, even to those that boat and fish the area often…I startled a boat of fisherman as I dragged my kayak out of the mangroves. At the time I stayed, the east side "beach" entrance was blocked by a large, wayward uprooted tree that was washed up. So the only other trail opening is on the southeastern side. I would estimate that trail to the cleared camping area, a 50 foot walk.

There is no signage visible when on the water. Near the "blocked" eastern beach entrance is a small Calusa Blueway placard indicating Bow-tie Island Primitive Camping area.

The cleared campsite area is large enough and flat enough for possibly two 2-man tents. I used a 3-man tent and had ample room for a hammock and chair. This is a mangrove island that is comprised of broken shell, so bring that tent footprint to save your tent floor. Though there was a fire ring comprised of a dozen rocks, I did not brave the outside from dusk to daybreak, as the mosquitoes were savage…and I just so happened to have forgotten my repellent. Mangroves are fairly dense, so you don't get a strong enough breeze to keep the bugs away.

During the winter months (Dec-May), you will hear some road noise from the nearby beach roadway (depending on the wind direction)…but it is sporadic at night (I do sleep with earplugs) and didn't bother me. Power boat traffic is quite heavy during winter months also…and noise travels on the water…but there was no boat traffic during the night.

If you don't bring it…you won't have it…and you can't get it…no stores within five paddling miles (and some walking) or on the water in this area. There is a marina just south of Big Hickory Island that has a nice restaurant, and there is a hotel restaurant on the north end of Lover's Key…but not simple 10 minute jaunts.

Fishing is great, for both sport and meals…just make sure you get a license. Big Hickory Island and Lover's Key have beautiful beaches to enjoy a short paddle west…via New Pass. I'm not suggesting that you paddle over to the Lover's Key State Park restrooms to enjoy modern facilities…but its only a 20 minute paddle. Mound Key Archaeological Site is a close paddle in Estero Bay…and Koreshan State Park is a further paddle up Estero River on the mainland. If you paddle south, 3+ miles, you can dock at Coconut Jack's restaurant along Bonita Beach Road and enjoy incredible seafood meals.

Check the weather forecast when boating…and continue to check it, as SW FL weather can change rapidly. Winter months see sparse rain, but nights can get downright chilly. Summer months are gloriously hot, but from June through October it usually rains each afternoon…and when I say rain…I mean torrential deluge. I thoroughly enjoy paddling in rain storms, but in Florida, "the lightning capital of the world," I would advise against it.

Consider the challenge of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail and its island primitive campsites.

Note: I contacted State of Florida Parks, FWC, County Parks/Recreation and City of Bonita Springs regarding rules, regulations and reservations…and each one deferred to the other, so nobody really knew. Biggest concern will be where you leave your vehicle while you paddle.

PRODUCT REVIEW:  PRIMUS LITE+ "ALL IN ONE GAS STOVE"

Primus makes sturdy, reliable, innovative stoves…and the Primus Lite+ is no exception https://primus.us/products/eta-lite-7?variant=38436885010 . I have and still own numerous stoves by various manufacturers, but the stove I use exclusively when in the backcountry on short or extended trips is the lightweight Primus Express piezo ignition stove…front country camping, I utilize my Primus Primetech 1.3 Stove set especially if I'm cooking for multiple people, where weight and size is not critical. 

Enter the Primus Lite+ "All In One Stove"…featuring a creative locking mechanism that secures the 500 ml pot to the stove burner with a simple insertion and twist. The Primus Lite+ also incorporates their proprietary Laminar Flow Burner Technology, which minimizes distance from pot to burner…along with lowering overall height. Like the Primetech Stove pots, the Lite+ pot also utilizes the integrated heat exchanger which both distributes burner heart evenly, thereby reducing fuel usage, and helps block the wind, also assisting with faster cook times and lower fuel consumption.

As a TheDyrt.com Review Ranger, I get the opportunity to test and evaluate outdoor products for review either for free or deeply discounted, as was the case for the Primus Lite+ "All in One Stove."

Box Contents:

⦁ Stove with locking mechanism and Piezo ignition

⦁ 500 ml (nearly 16 oz or 2 cups) pot with integrated heat exchanger/wind-block

⦁ Plastic lid with strainer holes

⦁ Removable, felt-lined Insulated pot sleeve with strap grab handle

⦁ Folding canister stabilizing legs

⦁ Suspension cord 

⦁ 3 Threaded Stabilizing Studs (for using standard flat bottom pots on stove)

Available Accessories:

⦁ Coffee press

A 500 ml pot will give you two cups of coffee using the Primus Coffee Press (not included). This sized pot is sufficient in the backcountry to provide meals for two…based on the one cup meal servings.

PROS:

⦁ Reasonably lightweight at 13.9 oz

⦁ Integrated Ignition is simple and works

⦁ Insulated sleeve with handle gives it a "mug" feel

⦁ Pot Heat Exchanger heats fast and evenly

⦁ Pot/Stove Burner interface locks securely

⦁ Canister stabilizing legs fulfill their purpose

CONS:

⦁ Primus did not use their new Ceramic coating on pot interior

⦁ No Stove Pouch provided like their Express Stove includes.

The Primus Lite+ ticks almost all the boxes for my preferred usage. If Primus would've used their ceramic coating inside the pot, along with providing a nylon storage pouch for the stove burner…it would place Primus further ahead of the competitors in this hot market. Clean up would be a breeze…and the storage pouch would minimize stove damage and pot interior scratching.

There is nothing difficult or foreign about usage, nor is there a learning curve…remove the contents from the box, thread the stove burner head onto a fuel canister, line up the triangle on the stove head with the triangle opening on the bottom of the pot, insert…twist and shazaam! Fill the pot with your desired contents, turn the black fuel adjustment knob so it releases gas…press the red piezo ignition inward…adjust the flame and in a few minutes dinner is served.

Final Thoughts:

The Primus Lite+ is a solid all-around performer! Light enough to take with you anywhere-everywhere again and again. Absent are any complexities… simply user-friendly and practical. As previously mentioned, I would like to see Primus utilize their ceramic coating on the pot interior and include a protective mini stuff sack for the burner…their absence doesn't affect performance or function in any way…though I think it would help bring the competition to their knees.

Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Long, unobstructed views and refreshing breezes

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:: Mount Nebo State Park, Arkansas https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/parks/mount-nebo-state-park

Turning off I-40 at Exit 88, Mount Nebo is viewed less than 10 miles southwest…a stand-alone mountain.

At the base of the climb, signs posted numerous times, “Crooked and Steep, no trailers over 24 ft”. I have driven up a lot of steep and twisty mountain roads, and these warnings are to be heeded. Grades are up to 18%.

The State Park rests up its summit.constructed by the CCC, many of their stonework craftsmanship can be seen in the buildings and trail system.

The “Rim Trail” is just that…a 3 1/2 mile trail running the top rim of the mountain, with long views. There are two distinct areas of the “Rim Trail” that can be driven to…to capture those special photos…Sunset Point and Sunrise Circle.

Different sections of the Rim Trail range from easy to moderate to strenuous. They are marked. Bicycles are not permitted on the Rim Trail but are permitted on other trails as are horses. So know and exercise proper trail etiquette.

There are bear in this area, and precautions are taken by the park. Park staff informed us of numerous venomous reptilian, too…so be aware on the trails, or if you choose to wander off them.

A large rentable enclosed stone pavilion sits on the end of the mount, between Site 17 and the pool. Yes, a very nice pool (separate daily or annual fee). A standard picnic pavilion also sits out front of the larger stone pavilion beside public parking area.

The beautiful Visitor Center is deeper into the park to the right. You can sit on its back porch and look out over the valley. There are numerous cabins that are available for rental…and appear very inviting.

When you crest the top of the mountain, the camping area is directly to the right, as are the pavilions and pool. Cabins dot the summit, but private residences are interspersed among them. As mentioned, the Visitors Center is further up the road to the right…on the right.

Being on an 1800 ft elevation summit, surrounded by valley…its quiet and enjoys a constant breeze. Enjoying blue skies, the shade trees are appreciated in the camping area.

On a Wednesday, the 1st of August, we had our pick of beautiful and spacious sights. Very few campers on this day. So we chose site 17, directly on the Rim with unimpeded long views and unobstructed breezes. It was a toss-up between 16 and 17 …even 14 is directly on the Rim. $22 + tax a night.

Each of these sites had separate electric, water spigot, fire pit, standing grill, picnic table and lantern post. Metal bear cabinets and resistant trash receptacles were clustered conveniently among the campsites. Though I was surprised they didn’t have timber outlined leveled tent areas. In fact, you need to be somewhat creative in locating a level tent spot.

Restrooms are clean and stocked. The pool showerhouse has but one shower a piece for men and women. The entire park is well-maintained and clean.

Overall, a very enjoyable and relaxing campground.

Surrounded by pristine wilderness and High Sierra hiking

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: Coldwater Campground, Mammoth Lakes, CA

A beautiful 77 site campground nestled in at over 9,000 ft in the Inyo National Forest of the Eastern Sierras.

Amenities: large sites, modern restrooms spaced throughout the camp (two unisex doors, includes one sink with running cold water, a flush toilet, and metal mirror), water spigots near the latrines.

Each site has a large picnic table, a fire pit with sliding cook grate, a double door bear cabinet and small paved parking pad.

We chose site 66, as it sprawled to s mountain stream, nestled in shaded pines, had a couple flat tent spots and was relatively close to restrooms and water.

No electric, no showers (nearby Twin Lakes Campground Store rents shower time at $7.00…one person per shower.

Coldwater Campground is a short drive from Mammoth Lakes, which has all you should need or desire.

The trails from the back of Coldwater Campground go up, up, up…but offer spectacular mountain views, glacier lakes, picturesque alpine meadows, waterfalls and cascades. A short drive and bus ride away are trails to Iconic Rainbow Falls and Devil’s Postpile, among other ridiculously beautiful mountain trails!

Mountain bike trails are innumerable…and the paved multi-use trails are stellar and travel for miles. https://www.visitmammoth.com/blogs/top-5-xc-mountain-bike-trails-near-mammoth-lakes

There are rentals nearby for every sportsman. This is the active person’s Mecca! Also close-by is Mammoth Ski area that offers the downhill mountain bikers absolute Nirvana, during summer months.

https://www.mammothmountain.com/summer/bike-park-overview/mammoth-bike-park/mammoth-bike-park

At $24 a night, this seems to be the standard rate for this region…and that without showers.

Note: Even during hot summer months, it gets chilly at night. August 6, it was 50 degrees at night. A 40 degree dip from the cloudless daytime temps.

It did not take long to fall in love with the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. I would not hesitate to camp here again, and am already planning a return visit.

Mammoth Lakes offers it all and then some!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: Coldwater Campground, Mammoth Lakes, CA

A beautiful 77 site campground nestled in at over 9,000 ft in the Inyo National Forest of the Eastern Sierras.

Amenities: large sites, modern restrooms spaced throughout the camp (two unisex doors, includes one sink with running cold water, a flush toilet, and metal mirror), water spigots near the latrines.

Each site has a large picnic table, a fire pit with sliding cook grate, a double door bear cabinet and small paved parking pad.

We chose site 66, as it sprawled to s mountain stream, nestled in shaded pines, had a couple flat tent spots and was relatively close to restrooms and water.

No electric, no showers (nearby Twin Lakes Campground Store rents shower time at $7.00…one person per shower.

Coldwater Campground is a short drive from Mammoth Lakes, which has all you should need or desire.

The trails from the back of Coldwater Campground go up, up, up…but offer spectacular mountain views, glacier lakes, picturesque alpine meadows, waterfalls and cascades. A short drive and bus ride away are trails to Iconic Rainbow Falls and Devil’s Postpile, among other ridiculously beautiful mountain trails!

Mountain bike trails are innumerable…and the paved multi-use trails are stellar and travel for miles. https://www.visitmammoth.com/blogs/top-5-xc-mountain-bike-trails-near-mammoth-lakes

There are rentals nearby for every sportsman. This is the active person’s Mecca! Also close-by is Mammoth Ski area that offers the downhill mountain bikers absolute Nirvana, during summer months.

https://www.mammothmountain.com/summer/bike-park-overview/mammoth-bike-park/mammoth-bike-park

At $24 a night, this seems to be the standard rate for this region…and that without showers.

Note: Even during hot summer months, it gets chilly at night. August 6, it was 50 degrees at night. A 40 degree dip from the cloudless daytime temps.

It did not take long to fall in love with the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. I would not hesitate to camp here again, and am already planning a return visit.

Blue skies, Emerald lakes, Refreshing creeks!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: Big Pine Creek Campground, CA

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recarea/?recid=20312&actid=31

As we traveled up Rt 395, along the Eastern Sierras, we searched for a campground offering trails into the wilderness…but also one with a shower, as they seem to be a rare commodity…and our last campground was primitive.

Reviews stated Big Pine Creek had showers and modern restrooms, so we drove through the night arriving at 7:00 Sunday morning…hoping for an available site. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Turns out, the camper at site 2, beside the Host site, was packing up…so we claim jumped the site. Also turns out…after we paid $22 for the night…Big Pine Creek Campground does not have showers, nor modern restrooms.

So, to set the record straight…there are vault latrines and a river of cold glacier runoff of roughly 40F degrees. However, next to Big Pine Creek Campground is Glacier Lodge (they share the same entrance road and is privately owned)…and they will rent you a shower for $5/5 minutes. For that $5 shower, you can use the modern toilet.

Don’t let that run you off, though. We loved Big Pine Creek Campground. The sites are spacious and the backdrop is gorgeous. Not many campgrounds offer stellar trails into the Inyo John Muir Wilderness…more on that later. Mule deer roam between campsites, ground squirrels and magpies are everywhere. We also noted a resident lizard.

Most sites are somewhat tiered because of the sloped terrain. Site 2 parking pad was large enough for our SUV, but little else. You have a large bear resistant locker in front of a large fixed picnic table, situated on a large, raised, leveled pad that also has the fire pit. Up a few steps is the raised timber tent pad. Numerous large pines and smaller hardwoods populate the sites. Our neighboring site was visible with little obstruction, but was occupied by a delightful French family on holiday, that we enjoyed.

Big Pine Creek Campground is often filled with campers from all over the world and makes for interesting conversations.

Drinking water was a little walk. Last year’s winter had an avalanche destroy their water lines, so others were rerouted. No electric. Also, no cell service. Perfect for unplugging, relaxing and meeting your fellow campers.

There is a trout pond near the entrance that folks were capitalizing on. They were also fishing the creek. The glacier fed creek is cold…like 38 degrees cold. The trails…in a word…Epic!

The North Trail was incredible. We started late and only went to the first and second of seven alpine glacier lakes. The water is so emerald green, it’s surreal. We hiked out and back in 6.5 hours, taking an hour respite for a polar bear plunge in the near freezing lake. I was advised we missed the most beautiful third lake…also referred to as Emerald Lake. The North Fork Trail into The John Muir Wilderness does require permits for backcountry camping…an easy process and well worth it…https://www.recreation.gov/permits/JohnMuirTrailNorthOfDevilsPostpile_Aa10/r/entranceEntryExitDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72203&entranceId=315543&permitTypeId=1009473747&entryType=1

Of note, along the way is Lon Chaney’s (of Frankenstein, Werewolf and Hunchback of Notre Dame movie fame) backcountry cabin. Lon Chaney would bring guests back by horse and mule train. Upon his passing, it was gifted to the parks.

One horse/mule train passed us on the trail, returning after they deposited their riders and goods out into the wilderness.

The host couple were very helpful and a joy to glean local and trail information from.

A wonderful campground to visit.

Historical significance!

Clayton Lake State Park, Clayton, NM…5200 ft elev.

Beautiful oasis nestled away in the windswept high plains of NE New Mexico. Not only for today's travelers but for yesterday's pioneers we take the Cimmaron Cutoff from the Santa Fe trail. We pitched tent at Chicano Beach site #2 (there are only two on that ridge), far away from any crowds upon a knoll overlooking a western "dog-leg" of the 170 acre reservoir. Even though the man-made Clayton lake was down from 32' to 19' depth…it was tranquil and bustling with wildlife. Coyotes barked in the distance, strutting turkey's gobbled, jackrabbit's darted, fish jumped and mule deer grazed the shoreline grasses and taking in late night and early morning drinks. Bring your binoculars to glass the shore and ridge lines. Fascinating park, the sandstone formations were varied and interesting…worn away by generations of rain. The rock garden is worth a scramble…very cool columns…(R4 campsite is nestled deep within them and the most highly coveted tent site). Highlight: The dinosaur tracks (uncovered at the spillway around 1982 after a flood) at the spillway are of particular interest. Informational signage lines the spillway and the small pavilion atop the levy. The 471 acre state park was quiet and peaceful. Mark, the park ranger, is full of great information of the area…and incredibly helpful, having spent his entire life in these parts…truly as nice a man you could meet (and the first ranger to ever return my phone message when calling for last minute availabilty). The visitor center and every other aspect of this park is spotlessly clean and meticulously maintained. The visitor center, though small, utilized every inch to bring you desired information of the park's history. New signage and informational displays were going in as we left. A heated restroom/ shower house was a wonderful creature comfort. Plenty of very new and clean pit latrines and water spigots dotted throughout the campground. If you don't want crowds avoid the fishing tournament the second weekend of June when about 900 campers descend to camp and fish…and most summer holidays. Other than that there is room….and no bad spots. I'd recommend using the online reservation portal. Tent sites are cheap($10 developed/$8 primitive)…actual too cheap, in my opinion…the state parks are nearly bankrupt, if not already so. Skeleton staffs are underpaid, yet they worked tirelessly to keep the parks to the highest standard. http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/claytonlakestatepark.html

•A nearby highlight is the Capulin Volcano National Monument an hour away up Rt 87. The walk around the rim of the dormant volcano offers epic views of the surrounding high plains, Sante Fe trail and the jagged snow capped mountains to the West.

Mile High Camping!

Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs, CO.

http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/Parks/cheyennemountain

Made our way to Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs. The tent only sites are walk-in and $18…and by walk-in…between 10-100ft from the parking area depending on the site. By midday most were taken and we landed in the available #45 (which was handicap accessible). Pluses and minuses: close to the restroom. Convenience comes at a cost, a motion sensor light constantly tripping on and a tad noisy. Tent pads only…comprised of a small pea gravel base, but elevated two railroad ties high…you will not get standing water, that's for certain. #45 is a handicap site so it is all paved…walkway, picnic table, animal-proof food container and fire pit area…no dust or dirt. Could be a positive or negative depending on your expectations. In April the trees were just budding so there wasn't a ton of concealment or cover from your neighbors provided by the leafless shrubbery and mountain scrub. A water pump is ten feet away. Another site was handicap accessible like this one but the others were situated further back in the scrub in dirt trails offering greater privacy. Hammock hanging was limited on site #45 but could be creatively managed. Restrooms were very clean and well-stocked. The visitor center is beautiful, large, interesting and offers local trinkets to purchase. Camp registration office is located by the campground and also houses restrooms and the coin operated showers and laundry. Water appeared to be at a premium as the water fountains were not operating. Depending on the wind direction, and with no leaves on the trees yet…highway noise could be heard in the distance from interstate 25…but not loud enough to be an irritation… Not to mention the sound breaking the early morning air…revelee from the nearby Air Force base. Signage leaves little doubt where you are or where to go throughout the park. The trails are superb and offer a variety of high plains and mountain views. Trail markings are remarkable, offering both self-guided tutorial placards and strategically located gps coordinates, in case of injury. Runners and mountain bikers frequent the trails. Wildlife aplenty. Mule deer sauntered by throughout the park and tom turkeys strutted their stuff for all to see. Colorful songbirds dotted the trail (my favorite…bright blue mountain bluebird). Keep the elevation in mind when choosing activities. Being a "flatlander," it takes about 7-10 days for your body to adjust to high elevations, so allocate more time on the trails for recovery breaks and hydration. Definite plus or minus…dogs are allowed in the park, but not on the trails and must be leashed at all times. Even on a Monday night in mid April, the park was filled so reservations would be advised. You can choose electric/water sites but there is no privacy from your RV neighbor.

Creative mountainscape photos are necessary to avoid the mountaintop antenna towers from NORAD.

It was a pleasant camping experience and would visit again.

There is so much to do nearby that you need to stay in the area at least a week.

Here are a few of my favorite nearby hikes: -Mt Cutler trail, Mt Muscoco trail, Helen Hunt Falls, Seven Bridges Trail, Red Rock Canyon, The Manitou Incline (parking fee), The Barr Trail (to Pikes Peak summit), Garden of the gods, Palmer Park, and Stanley Canyon Reservoir (on the Air Force Academy grounds)…all are must do's! Only Red Rock Canyon and Garden of the gods are flatter and easy strolling. Countless other trails exist and would take a lifetime to explore…worthy reason to return again and again!