Just before Labor Day, the weather is finally cooling down and bugs are beginning to retreat. Night temperatures are becoming comfortable, just warm enough that you won't be sweating bullets in a sleeping bag. As summer turns into fall, outdoor enthusiasts are itching to get out into nature. If you’re a new to camping, Glenn Orton of High Country Outfitters has a few tips to make your experience more enjoyable.
How to Prepare:
The best way to prepare for any activity is to practice first. I recommend setting up your equipment in your backyard and "camping" for a night. Really do your best to only use what you would take camping with you, even cook your meals outside on a camp stove. This will give you the opportunity to really see what it takes to set up everything. And besides if it goes badly at least you will be only feet from the back door.
What did you need that you didn't have? What did you "bring" that you didn't need? This is the best way to prepare for your adventure and not be surprised when you are weary from hiking and the family just wants everything to go smoothly.
Finally, check the weather before you go. While having a good quality family tent will keep you dry, being cooped up together all day instead of doing all the fun things you had planned is no fun at all. A chance of rain, I would still go, but if it is definitely going to rain, it may be best to pick another time. Remember camping is something that can bring a lifetime of fun times so don't start with a bad memory.
Where to go beyond the backyard:
Vogel State Park is located at the base of Blood Mountain, and is one of Georgia’s oldest state parks. With 103 campsites, you can start at the tent sections that rent for $27-$30. 17 miles of trails in the Chattahoochee National Forest means you don’t have to trek far to get in a workout. But when you want to head into town, you're also not far from the tourist-friendly city of Helen, which is known for its German culture of brews, brats and confections. King Ludwig’s Beer Garden is a little kitschy, but you can’t beat the outdoor seating, especially if you’re coming sweaty from a hike.
Cloudland Canyon State Park is another must for scenic camping, just west of Lookout Mountain. At the bottom of the gorge are two cascading waterfalls, perfect for taking a morning wake-up dip. With elevation differences of nearly 300 feet, the park straddles the Sitton Gulch Creek. Pick from 72 campsites at a reasonable $25-$30 fee. Beyond the beautiful hiking vistas, there are also caving tours of Sitton Caves that are available by Georgia Girl Guides.
Things to Do:
The great thing about state parks in general, but especially in Georgia, is that the trails are usually well marked and maintained, and there is always a wide array of other enjoyable outdoor activities.
Cloudland Canyon’s West Rim Trail is a moderate/strenuous five-mile hike that leads you along several ridgelines and out onto a stunning plateau. You’ll see sweeping views of Cloudland Canyon, Trenton, GA, and neighboring Sand Mountain. The varying terrain gives hikers somewhat of a challenge as you’ll hit some strenuous climbs, but the rewarding vistas are worth the sweat.
Vogel State Park’s 22-acre mountain lake is closed to motorized water traffic, so it is a great place for beginners to test the water, so to speak, on kayaks or paddleboards. Kayak rentals are available in season. After a night in the wild, simply lying on a mountain beach is also a welcomed relaxation.
Jimmy Harris of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Georgia, gave us some tips on where to cast the best line. “Unicoi Lake has a stretch of fishing piers along the shoreline and the waters are abundant with largemouth bass and bream." Moccasin Creek is a 25-minute drive from Unicoi, and the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery is a breeding ground for raising rainbow and brown trout. Be aware that the river between Highway 197 and Lake Burton is only open to anglers ages 12 & under or 65 & older.