It would have been about a 10 hour drive home from Pigeon Forge. We don’t drive over 70mph and we like to stop to check the rig so we always factor in extra time. We decided to drive at least 6 hours, to get us closer to home and to allow us to tow the rig through Detroit when it wasn’t rush hour. We rarely drive more than 4 hours in a day, except when we need to get somewhere quickly or to avoid bad weather. After all, we are retired. Why be in a hurry and subject ourselves, to too many hours of sitting?
We found a beautiful county park in Lima, OH, which does not take reservations. We arrived around 3:30pm to find all the sites had been taken since 7am. I had the number for a KOA nearby, in case this happened. The KOA would not answer the phone and was due to close soon, so we found nearby Lake Cody Campground *(see special note below!). It is situated on what used to be a farm. It has many long-term seasonal sites and a few drive-up, full hook-up sites. A couple with a tiny trailer, who had been at our last campground was also there. The owners were friendly and it was fine for a quick overnight stop.
The next day, after 4875 miles, 12 campgrounds (2 visits each to Flagler Beach and Hobe Sound) in 7 states and 61 nights camping, we returned home. Nine of the campgrounds were new to us. It was a great mix of returning to places we love and seeing new places. We especially loved experiencing the Florida keys. We are looking forward to returning next year.
*Special note on this campground: Beware the campground descriptions on Campendium. They could be inaccurate. Always look for multiple guest reviews. DO NOT go to Lake Cody, unless you have your own toilet , sinks and shower. They have one disgusting unisex shower and 30-year-old pit toilets that likely have never been cleaned. We were fine, but I felt bad for the peole in the tiny trailer….
When we left Asheville, we had already been traveling for two months and were ready to go home. Even so, we could not justify driving from Asheville to Detroit without stopping at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a last-minute plan to go there, so we settled on a private campground in Pigeon Forge. We normally prefer camping in a more rustic setting, but we were only stopping for 2 nights and planned to fit in a couple of hikes, sightseeing and time in Gatlinburg. This was one example of our camping as an alternative to a hotel vs. truly camping. Mill Creek Campground costs about 4 or 5 times what we usually spend on a campsite, but they had an easy pull-thru site available. It was also just a short drive from a free shuttle into Gatlinburg. It has a pool and small rental cabins. Though it was only 5 minutes away from the very busy, high-traffic area of Pigeon Forge, the hilly landscape blocked the traffic noise.
Dave visited Gatlinburg and the Smokies countless times, as a kid, mostly camping. His parents, Gary and Shirley, countinued to go there, frequently, after their kids were grown. They climbed Mount LeConte a couple of times. It is the third highest peak in the park, at 6,593 feet. It’s a 5 mile hike to LeConte Lodge. We have enjoyed their stories about the lodge and many hikes in the park. The lodge was built in 1926 and offers meals, as well as lodging (we are adding this to our list of cool things we might do soon).
It was my second visit to the park. Dave and I previously spent a week there in October, 2015, a year before the 2016 wildfires. We stayed in a beautiful, condo in town and explored most of the park, hiking every day. At that time, the fall colors were at their peak and it was extremely crowded with tour buses everywhere. We managed to avoid some of the crowds by heading out early and hiking longer trails.
This time, we did one hike that I had not done before – Clingmans Dome. At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We arrived at the trail head fairly early, and were still lucky to find an empty parking spot. It is paved and only about 1/2 mile, but very steep. There were a lot of people of all fitness levels hiking, many stopping along the way, gasping for air. I was really worried that someone was going to have a heart attack. The views from the top were spectacular.
We spent late afternons and evenings in Gatlinburg. It’s not our favorite town, mainly because it is a giant tourist trap. Gatlinburg has changed drastically since I was there over 30 years ago with friends. Then, it was a sleepy little town with “old time photo” places and a few souvenier shops. Now, the town is always packed with tourists and consists of mostly Ripley’s Believe It Or Not attractions and distilleries. Thinking I wanted to take something local home, I inquired about a tasting at one place. I learned that everything they sell is very sweet, such as butter pecan moonshine or salty carmel whisky, so I skipped it. Instead, we went to the brewery in town and we ate at a mexican restaurant. The free shuttle was great. We avoided parking fees and trying to find a spot suitable for our large Silverado 3500 HD.
I actually forgot to take a picture of the campsite. Just imagine a very neat, full campground with little vegetation and campsites very close together. When we return to the area, we will plan ahead and find something closer to our style – more scenic and more privacy.
The view from Clingmans Dome Observation tower, the highest point in the park, with a 360-dergree view. On a clear day you can see seven states: Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
While planning our route home from Jekyll Island, we were looking for any route that did not require driving through Atlanta. Anyone who has ever driven through that area with or without an RV, could relate. We have been wanting to check out Asheville, so that was our obvious choice. We were lucky to find any campsite without advanced planning, so the Asheville KOA was fine for us.
We liked the location of the KOA. It was only a 7-minute drive from Black Mountain, which we planned to check out. While the campground was in a pretty setting, it was not very nice. The sites were very close together. The campground website states there is a dump station, but it is only accessible to fairly small rigs, so I consider that to be false advertising. Fortunately we have our portable waste tank (aka poop trolly), which we can tow to the dump station with the truck. We frequently saw an RV dump service emptying tanks around the campground. We do not plan to return to this campground.
Biltmore Village and Downtown Asheville
We had planned to see the Biltmore Estate, but decided to do that in the future. The entry fees start at $109 per person and we knew we would not spend an entire day and get our money’s worth out of it. Our intention was to get an overview of the area and have more specific plans on our next visit. We opted to see Biltmore Village instead. It is an area built in the late 1890’s to house workers of the Biltmore estate. It is now an upscale shopping and dining area. We went on a Friday morning and not many places were open. We didn’t have plans for fine-dining or high-end coffee shops. Expensive boutiques and galleries do not really interest us. We were hoping to check out the historic buildings and maybe learn a bit about the history. That was disappointing, as there was nothing displayed anywhere, with information about the buildings or history. We quickly walked through the area, took a few photos and left.
We headed to the city, parked and spent a couple of hours walking everywhere. The buildings and general feel reminded us of Detroit. It seemed pretty safe and vibrant, We will return if we have a specific place we want to go to.
Blue Ridge Parkway and surrounding area
We were glad we did not try to fit in a tour of the Biltmore estate, as we drove a lot of distance over 3 days, checking out the Blue Ridge Parkway and some advertised must-see places that were all very long distances apart. The Asheville area is huge and the many advertised microbreweries are scattered over a very extensive area. We had a guidebook from the visitor center and some online info that were not very helpful, unless you planned to spend all day driving. We enjoyed many scenic overlooks from the Blue Ridge Parkway, but did not do any hiking. My knee injury from Maui was almost completely healed, but Dave was still dealing with a sore knee from surfing at Flagler Beach. He wanted to spare the knee for any hiking we might do at our next location, the Smoky Mountains.
Our favorite times were spent in the small town of Black Mountain. It is a scenic mountain town with a couple of microbreweries and some restaurants, including a fabulous old-school mexican restaurant. We found the microbrewery that is the favorite of the locals. Wherever we go, we like to spend time chatting with people who live there. It was fun experiencing the vibe of the town.
On our way to Asheville, we made a stop in South Carolina. We had planned to spend 3 days at Jekyll Island, but canceled the last day so we could chill out for 2 days at Dreher Island State Park. The photos online looked nice and we were not disappointed. It is located about 20 minutes outside the town of Prosperity, SC. Though it looked like a cute town, we decided to just stay in the park, since we would be driving a lot over the next week.
There are two campgrounds in the park. We stayed at the farthest south Islanders Camp Circle, where the sites were bigger and more well-spaced. We managed to book a large pull-through site. Many of the campsites would have been difficult or impossible for us to park our 33-foot fifth wheel.
We enjoyed the beautiful weather, exploring the park. We checked out the boat ramps and the tackle shop/camp store. We talked with the ranger and learned a little bit of the park history and fishing conditions. We hiked some trails and walked around the campground. While Dave had previously been inspired to consider tent camping, while we were at Fort Clinch, I had the same inspiration while at Dreher Island (stayed tuned for summer tent camping adventures). We would definitely stop there again, but would be very careful about which campsite we book.
We arrived on Jekyll Island on Mother’s Day. The island was packed with local weekenders and day visitors, celebrating the holiday. There was a long line of cars waiting to get through the entry gate. We ventured out for a cold beer at a crowded open-air restaurant/bar, checked out the famous Driftwood Beach and decided to tour most of the island the following day.
The campground was okay. It was pretty busy and there wasn’t a lot of space or any privacy between sites. Many of the campers were speeding around in golf carts, which they used to get around the island. The highlight was the bird sanctuary. It was an area with many bird feeders and a couple of swinging benches. We were able to see several painted buntings there, which I had not seen in a couple of years.
On a Monday morning we walked around the historic district and had the whole place to ourselves. During the late 19th and 20th centuries, the area was the vacation destination for many of the most wealthy millionaires and industrialists in the country. The historic buildings were once their cottages. It was there in 1910, that draft legislation was written to create the Federal Reserve. The residents were asked to evacuate during WWll. Most of them never returned.
All of the land and buildings on Jekyll Island are owned by the state of Georgia. Land and buildings are leased to residents and businesses. Some cottages in the historic district are used for special events. Guided tours of the district are also available.
At one point I considered how the homes of the wealthy and privileged men from that time period are now museums or national historic sites. Even the names of all of the poor servants, cooks, gardeners, etc. are long forgotten. There is no recognition or remembrance of them. I managed to put the thought out of my mind and enjoy the beautiful weather and sights.
We camped at Fort Clinch State Park last year and really enjoyed it. The park is beautiful and we love the beachside campground. The people around Amelia Island and the town of Fernandina Beach are mainly locals and Florida tourists. There are no big resorts in the area and there is limited hotel space, so it isn’t crowded, even when busy. For next year, we scored a beautiful site, right next to the beach. We are looking forward to that and returing to this beautiful area.
Our spacious campsite at Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach, FL
On our way toward Amelia Island, we went to Gamble Rogers State Park, again, stopping first at Jonathan Dickinson State Park . JD has large, well-spaced sites and new restrooms and laundry facilies. It was a great way to take a break from driving and wash some clothes. It is a really nice campground and nice area, so we may stay there a little longer next year.
Our stay at Gamble Rogers was as nice as it always is. The cool breezes off of the Atlantic were a welcome change from the hot, humid weather in the keys. We have become acquainted with some of the regular camp hosts and the park rangers, at least one of which is an avid surfer. We also regularly run into other campers we have met during past visits at Gamble or other campgrounds. Needless to say, we always feel at home there.
One day, I was out walking and ran into the camp host. He told me he had just seen an exteremly large diamond back rattlesnake near the campground entrance. Apparently that is quite common. I had no idea! It definitely reduced my enthusiasm for hiking on the trails there.
We hated to leave, but were looking forward to Amelia Island/ Fort Clinch. We have reservations to return next year.
Our spacious campsite at Jonathan Dickinson, Hobe Sound, FL