Jeremy H.
Athens, AL
Joined June 2019
Pastor and Camper
Camping in the Heart of Tennessee Amish Country

On August 30, 2019, my wife and I camped at Blackberry Row Campground located on Shalom Farm near Ethridge, Tennessee. The private campground is right in the middle of Amish country, so on our drive in we were able to stop and enjoy the fields, windmills, animals, and horse and buggies of the Amish people. There are other campgrounds located near the Amish community in Ethridge but none quite as beautiful and centrally located as Blackberry Row. 

The campground is simple. There’s a bathroom building with a composting toilet. At the time we camped, there was no running water in the bathroom building, but there was a spigot located near the campsites. This doubles as a water source for many of the farm animals that will join you on your camping trip at Blackberry Row. For instance when we got up in the morning, we were greeted by five beautiful hens and their ever watchful rooster. They enjoyed picking up the scraps from our S’mores the night before. 

The campsite we stayed at was near the woods. It had a permanent structure built there that a tent or hammock camper could use during the rain. We parked next to it and used it as a porch for our chairs, cooking setup, and campfire.  It was nice sitting under it and enjoying coffee from our Banner and Oak Coffee Cups.

Some of the camping areas are not level, but there’s a large field that has plenty of level spots if that’s what you need. The campground is near a small paved country road but there’s very little traffic. The whole time we were there only two or three cars passed. We had full cell phone reception which was really nice.

This would be a perfect place for kids. I know my children would have loved visiting the many animals that call Shalom their home. 

TIP: I would make sure to pick up all of your essentials before arriving to set up camp. This is a rural location and stores are a bit away. We brought our Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast(yum) and a few snacks to get us through the night. We also had fun using our Grub Stick  to make S’mores over the fire. 

TIP: By the way, don’t forget to bring some cash. The Amish make wonderful items for sale (Monday-Saturday, closed on Sundays), but as you might imagine, you can’t buy their fried pies or peanut brittle with a card. We took $25 in cash and ate like kings.

TIP: Please remember that the Amish do not like to be photographed.  If you stay at Blackberry Row you will be camping in the heart of their homeland.

Ranger Review: Grub Stick Deluxe Kit at Chickasaw Rustic State Park

Campground Review: 

On Friday, August 23, 2019 my son Charlie and I camped at Chickasaw State Park to celebrate his ninth birthday. We couldn’t have found a better park than this one. It reminds me of the classic summer camps I saw on television as a kid: beautiful lake, horses, stables, paddle boats and canoes, and even a well maintained swimming hole. They even have three birds of prey on display for visitors to enjoy. From our arrival to the moment we left, the rangers and staff made us feel welcomed and safe. Ranger Brittany helped me find the perfect site and even checked in later to make sure that we were completely satisfied with the spot. Who wouldn’t be? The campsite was located right on Lake Placid in the middle of almost 15,000 acres of state forest. Each campsite in the tent campground had a new picnic table, a fire ring, access to potable water, and a grill. Our campsite, number 109, was located right next to a large handicapped parking spot that is big enough for a very large handicapped van. The parking spot was constructed on level ground with concrete. Campsite 109 was far away from the bathroom, but the trail to it was beautiful and made even the most hasty trip pleasant walking. Campsite 109 also had easy access to the pier which spans the width of the lake. My son and I enjoyed walking out into the middle of the lake and seeing the expanse of the Milky Way(what a treat!). There’s great firewood for sale at the stables for$6.00 a box. This is the best campfire wood I’ve ever purchased. It burned slow and steady leaving us enough to pass on to one of our neighbors the next morning. I would suggest spending at least two nights here. We only spent one, and my son and I didn’t want to leave. There’s so much we didn’t get to see and do at this park. This place is a real gem. I’ll guarantee that you will feel like you’re back at summer camp. By the way, don’t forget to bring a good lantern or flashlight with you: you will need it since many of the trails to the bathroom and out to the pier are very dark at night. This just helps you to see the stars better.

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Product Review: 

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I have the opportunity to test some of the latest and coolest camping products on the market. On my camping trip to Chickasaw, my son and I tried out the Grub Stick Deluxe Kit. What a fun way to cook over a campfire! In my kit I received two telescopic poles which have well made attachments such as the Grub Cage, Grub Fork, Burg Cage, and Grub Tube that attach to the end of the telescopic poles. 

We used the Burg Cage for supper and it made awesome burgers. They had that perfect campfire flavor. My son enjoyed getting to cook his own food rather than waiting for dad to cook it on the grill. The handles are very comfortable to hold, and they were just the right size for my son’s smaller hands. The whole time he was using it, I kept hearing wows. It’s great when a company makes a camping product that engages children in cooking. The Grub Stick does just that. 

The kit also came with special grips like the finger grabber and the hot pad to help open and close the cages and other attachments. You can really tell that the makers of the Grub Stick thought of everything when they were designing this. 

One of the things that was really fun was the Grub Cage. It left me wondering,“where have you been all my life?” Instead of building the S’more AFTER roasting the marshmallow on a stick, you build it in the cage and toast the whole thing. I think this is the way the S’more was always meant to be. Everything, including the graham crackers, oozes with sugary, toasty goodness. 

For breakfast, we used the Grub Tube and wrapped it with bacon and croissant rolls. It was as good as it sounds. As I was cooking, I kept thinking of other things that could be cooked over the fire using this kit. I’m excited to have it in my cooking kit now, and I see us using this quite often especially on those winter camping trips when we want to stay close to the fire. 

Overall, this is a great product for engaging kids in camping. The Grub Stick will allow my kids to come up with their own recipes, put them together on their own, and then try them out on the fire. They love being a part of the cooking part of camping, and the Grub Stick is the perfect tool for this. 

I did have an issue with one of the telescopic handles. After cooking three burgers, one of the telescopic handles broke. I contacted customer service, and they went above my expectations to not only replace it but to help me understand their product even more. Most people expect things to be returned with“no questions asked,” but this isn’t how Grub Stick operates. They asked for pictures and a description of the failure so they can make sure their product gets better and better. I wouldn’t hesitate at all to order more from this company. It’s great when people not only believe in their product but also stand by it and are always looking for ways to improve it. They sent a replacement immediately, and I can’t wait to get this back out in the field.

First to Review
Primitive Camping At Its Best

I camped at Hammock Sway on Friday night, August 9, 2019. According to the camp owner and host Chris, the camp was one year and ten days old the night I visited. This is a primitive camping experience in the pristine woods of Van Buren County, TN about 20 miles(30 minutes) outside of McMinnville, Tennessee. The campground borders the beautiful Rocky River. The camp is a work in progress, but I’m so glad that I was one of those who found it in its infancy. The campsite I chose is buried in a pine forest. Though I was only 30 minutes away from a large town, I felt like I was a million miles away. I enjoyed watching the moon rise through the pines and catching glimpses of the stars through the treetops. This place is beautiful! Chris is a welcoming and helpful host. When I arrived he greeted me with a smile and handshake. I asked him to hop in my SUV, and he gave me the driving tour of Hammock Sway. He showed me each campsite, described why he had chosen it, and then invited me to choose the one in which I felt most comfortable. The site I chose already has a tent setup and is available for campers to use if needed. The site had a rock fire ring and there was plenty of wood to be gathered and used for a campfire. At the moment, all the sites are primitive, which for me, is exactly how I like to camp. Even if every campsite was filled, I doubt you would be able to hear or see anyone else. This is definitely the place to get away from it all. There’s very little cell service, so you will need to make your phone calls before arriving. You will also want to grab all of your supplies before arriving too(this place is out there.) I did struggle to find the campsite since Rocky River Road wasn’t marked with a road sign, but I use paper maps(Lewis and Clark style), so this might not be an issue for someone with GPS in their car or on their phone. Chris responded promptly to text messages, and he helped me find my way in. At the moment, I would only drive a truck or SUV to this camp. You will need the clearance on some of the roads if you want to drive right up to the campsite, and a car might not work at the moment.  You could always park your car and carry your supplies to the campsite if you're okay with that. There’s room for RVs too if that’s your thing. Overall, this is one of those places that I would go back to over and over again. The price is right and the place is perfect. I look forward to watching this camp grow.

Great Place To See The Stars

Most campgrounds in Tennessee are buried in the woods, but not this yurt campsite at Ray of Hope.  The yurt sets on the side of a beautiful Tennessee Hill offering almost a complete view of the nighttime sky.  We watched the moon rise over a hill directly in front of the campsite, and we even saw a brilliant shooting star blaze across the sky for what seems like an eternity.  The Ray of Hope campground is a private campground that went above and beyond our expectations.  The yurt was clean, included battery powered lights and a LED lantern, and a full sized bed that made the night pass with ease.  The campsite also offers free firewood and a large fire ring.  There are two deck chairs at the campsite which are perfect for stargazing.  The entrance of the yurt faces sunrise and the farm animals serenade you in the morning when the mist begins to burn off the valley.  There is a well stocked outside shower surrounded by sweet smelling herbs.  Water and a toilet are near the shower stall.   The campsite is near the small town of Petersburg, TN where you can find two gas stations and a Dollar Store.  If it's hot outside, you might want to bring a battery operated fan.  This place is a perfect glamping experience for an extended date or weekend in beautiful Tennessee.

Great Place To Call Home For The Night

My son Conner and I stayed at Pickwick Landing State Park on Monday night, July 15. We arrived after dark, but thanks to a park staff member I called earlier, we had an amazing campsite(#18) waiting for us when we arrived. Campsite#18 is located near the bathrooms and shower areas. The restroom and shower building had 8 individual shower rooms with fold down benches. Each of them were big enough to allow someone in a wheelchair to use them. Both the bathrooms and the shower rooms were clean and well stocked. The park staff cleaned them thoroughly the next morning as we prepared to leave. Each campsite has a picnic table, asphalt drive, a fire ring, grill, and lantern post. These sites also have power and water, but they do not have trash cans at the campsite. Trash must be taken from the campsite to the dump station by the campers. If you’re camping here make sure to bring your own trash bags. The sites seemed well spaced and all of them probably have full shade most of the day due to the mixture of pine and hardwood trees that fill the camp. A gas station/bait shop/oyster bar is about a mile away from the camp grounds. Grocery stores and other restaurants are within 5 miles. Though this was a quick camping trip for us(we went to see the Shiloh Battlefield and Shiloh Indian Mounds), the trip was made a little easier by having an efficient, comfortable, and peaceful campsite to call home for a few hours. Be on the lookout for our nighttime visitor Lester the curious racoon. He checked out our campsite after we went to bed looking for an easy meal. Luckily, we had put all of our food securely in the car before calling it a night. This is another 5 star Tennessee State Park campground. Sidenote: We enjoyed a good lunch at a place called the Rib Cage just a few miles from camp. Conner recommends the ribs but not the hot sauce.

Camping at Old Stone Fort

My son Conner and I stayed at the Old Stone Fort Campground in Manchester, Tennessee on the night of Monday, July 8, 2019. We arrived at the park and were checked in at the museum entrance by the helpful and courteous staff. They really made us feel welcome. The campground setting is dense, lowland hardwood. The sites are very close together, so you will need to love your neighbor as yourself on holidays, or if you need solitude, you may need to go during the week or on non-holiday days. Each site had a water spigot, electrical hookups, an asphalt pad, a fire ring with grill, and a standalone grill. Some sites had a raised, gravel tent pad which would come in very handy on nights when rain’s in the forecast. The bathrooms were old, but they were clean, well stocked, and functioning. Recycling bins were also located near the well lit bathrooms. Trash was picked up in the morning from the campsite, and throughout the day and night rangers and park staff made their scheduled rounds for security. The campground is near the Old Stone Fort which is a stone wall constructed nearly 2,000 by the native people of the Tennessee Valley. Its sacredness is felt as you tour the many waterfalls that surround the campground and archaeological site. There are numerous swimming holes for kids and adults and a non-motorized boat launch near the campgrounds. There is a small museum on site and is free to the public. After the museum tour, you can walk the trails free of charge and see the ancient ruins. If you are going to the campground during the summer, you will need a good DEET based bug spray. For those traveling in RVs, you will need to call ahead and make sure your RV can make it across the one lane bridge that serves as the only entrance to the campground. In addition, it’s worth noting that the campground is near the small town of Manchester. You will hear an occasional siren, but other than that you will feel like you are a thousand miles away from town. I’d suggest driving through the campground and selecting a couple of possible campsites before registering. The three loops are well used, but we enjoyed staying on the main drive. Overall, this is a wonderful campground near a very fascinating archaeological site. The trails and waterfalls make this a great place to visit if only for a day.

Camp Where An Explorer Died Mysteriously

“Let’s go camping where one of the most remembered American explorers died a tragic death.” That’s probably not something I would have said before visiting the Meriwether Lewis Campground near Hohenwald, Tennessee. This campground is amazing. First, its setting couldn’t be anymore beautiful being nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of central Tennessee. The campground is filled with tall, stately oak trees that provide great, all day shade and shelter from the sun. It was hypnotizing listening to the wind from a summer storm swoosh through them. The sites are tent, car camper, and RV friendly though if you are staying in a tent you might have to be selective about which site you choose. Some are rocky and have quite a slant. Site 16, the one we chose to call home for the night, would not have made a good tent site at all even though it offered a breath-taking view of a cool, green hollow. Each site has a fire ring with an attached grill. The rings are about three feet wide and around 18 inches deep. They rest on a concrete slab. Camp parking is asphalt as are all the roads that wind through the park. All sites are within walking distance of a fully functional and positively clean bathroom that is cleaned regularly. You will need to bring your own soap to the bathroom though. The park doesn’t supply it or paper towels. Each campsite also has a secure trash can that is emptied daily(late in the evening during our stay). The campground is full of wildlife so it's nice to know they won’t be feasting on full trash cans. We shared our campsite with a pleasant and oddly curious Tennessee Rough Green Snake or Vine Snake. He enjoyed hunting bugs in the leaf litter at our campsite, and for about an hour, my son Oz and I enjoyed watching him on the hunt. We also saw a box turtle speeding down one of the many trails located within walking distance of the campground. The campground had three rounds of campers arrive on Friday night, July 5. The early campers who arrived between 2PM and 6PM, the after-work campers arriving just before sunset, and the evening crowd that arrived after sunset. The after-sunset crowd made a quick camp and went right to sleep. The camp has fresh water sources scattered throughout the campground including water fountains and spigots. Park staff were welcoming and hard working as you can instantly tell by the overall tidiness of the entire park. You may want to grab supplies before you head into camp since the two nearest towns are a few miles from the camp: Hohenwald (8 miles) and Summertown (11 miles). There is no store in the park or vending machines. You will also need to purchase firewood or be willing to walk to get it. The campground is well used so most sites only have twigs available. We lucked out and found some charred wood in unused campsites that supplemented our kindling we found while hiking. Overall, this is a great family campground. Access to the park isn’t restricted at night so you may want to make sure you carry a light with you as you walk around the campground in the dark. There is a lot of after dark traffic and you want to make sure you can be seen by other campers driving to the bathroom or the occasional guest who might just be driving through. I look forward to going back again soon. This is a five star park.

Clean, Quiet, Comfortable

My son Charlie(age 8) and I camped at Cathedral Caverns State Park on June 17, 2019. It was a Monday night. We chose one of the primitive campground sites and paid a little under$20 for one night. Since we were camping we received a discount on our cave tour the next day. It's worth noting that all of the primitive and RV campsites are outside of the state park’s main gates which means that anyone can easily enter or leave the camp at anytime day or night; however, two state employees live fulltime within walking distance of the campsites. It was encouraging to know that help was only steps away if we needed it. One of the rangers actually stopped and introduced himself while making his early evening round. He verified that I had registered at the camp, informed me that it might rain that night, and wished us a good evening. A father and son also drove through the campground about that time in a personal car. I expected him to camp, but later when we went for a walk, we didn’t find him. On our walk we went down to the restrooms gathering kindling in large, reusable grocery bags. We also brought our one gallon water jug. It’s quite a walk to the restroom and unless you are driving, it would be unreasonable to rely on it as your bathroom. Bring a camping toilet or a shovel. The RV sites are right next to the restrooms, which means that if you are in the primitive site it is very unlikely that you will hear RV generators all night. There were no RVs there on our night because the sites were being overhauled and it was closed though the restrooms were still up and running. The restrooms were very clean and spacious with clean, new shower curtains and it was fully stocked with supplies. I can’t say if the water was hot, but my suspicion is that it probably was since the rest of the facility is well kept. Back to the kindling: There’s plenty to be had and we even found four or five logs left by our campsite by a previous camper. Speaking of firewood, there’s plenty of that for sale for a reasonable$10.00 at the restroom facility. Money’s left in a box on the honor system. After cooking two cans of Southgate chili on an improvised Sweedish fire using the charitable camper’s firewood, we played in the field which was easily accessible from the primitive campsite. It’s guarded by a feral but entertaining cat who has an appetite for small rabbits. He almost caught one when he chased it through the campsite and under the picnic table where we happened to be eating supper. I’m not sure if he ever caught him but the last time I saw them they were running through the campsite like the wind. The campsite was simple. There was a fire ring and an old picnic table. You might want to bring a table cloth along or use a tarp if you’re doing more than heating up canned chili. The site was clean as was the entire park. I was easily able to back into the site with a 2007 Trailblazer. Though we had planned on tent camping, we ended up sleeping in the Trailblazer. Dad brought the tent, but he forgot the poles. All of the sites were clean and would have made wonderful tent sites. They were spaced adequately apart to provide a sense of privacy though if you’re pooping in a bucket you might have to be strategic in your temporary John placement. I don’t think my wife would have liked the bathroom situation at all and it might have been a bigger issue for Charlie and me if there’d been anyone else on the campground. We were the sole campers at Cathedral Caverns during our visit. We weren’t the only people using the park though. There were plenty who come to see the cave which true to its name feels like a Cathedral. I’ve been in a few tourist caves but there’s something different about this one. Our tour guide did a great job not only telling us about the beauty and history of the cave, but helped us to imagine one of the caves first explorers and its benefactor Mr, Gurly. If that description doesn’t make you want to visit, here’s this: Legend says there’s a ledge in the cave and if you toss a coin and land it right on the ledge you get your wish. After I tossed my dime I regretted instantly not wishing for a billion instead of a million dollars. I was assured by the tour guide that I could expect my check any day now, so the star review might change depending on how quickly the check rolls in.