Exploring the Upstate: Lake Hartwell State Park

Note: I’m behind. I was planning to write a post about our trip to Lake Greenwood State Park, but… life. So, I decided to go ahead and write about our more recent trip while it was still fresh in my mind.

During our Fourth of July trip to Lake Greenwood State Park, which was beautiful, but sweltering, I repeatedly said that next summer we needed to spend more time in the mountains. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait a whole year. In fact, we only had to wait a few weeks to escape to Lake Hartwell State Park and the mountains of the South Carolina Upstate.

We’ve made a few trips to the mountains, including a trip to Greenbrier Campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and a great trip to the Yogi Bear Golden Valley in Bostic, North Carolina, but this was our first time truly exploring the mountains in our own state. I booked Lake Hartwell on a whim last November during the South Carolina State Parks’ Black Friday Sale, which meant we got three nights for the bargain price of $42.

I’d heard mixed reviews of the park, and didn’t have overly high expectations. So, when we arrived I was very pleasantly surprised. We were on site 46, arguably one of the best sites in the park. As is the case at a lot of lake front parks, the sites were a bit tight, but we still had plenty of room. Plus, the view was amazing, and we had shade (win-win)! We also had great water access right from the back of our site. The bottom of the cove was pretty level and didn’t have a lot of rocks or branches, making it perfect for wading. (The only word of caution that I’ll offer is that there is a good bit of red clay on the bank and on the lake bed, so you WILL stain your bedding if you happen to bump into it with wet clothes.)

The drive up to Lake Hartwell was easier than expected too. From Lexington we took 178 up to 85, and we were able to make it in about three hours. Somehow, miraculously, we actually made the whole trip without a single stop, and both kids took naps! We spent Thursday evening relaxing with my Dad and his girlfriend, who drove down from Indiana (they were on site 48, which was smaller and didn’t have great access to the water).

On Friday, we ventured across the state line to Georgia to Harbor Light Marina (highly recommend) to rent a pontoon boat. Everyone at the marina was very friendly, and the boat was practically brand new (we rented the 65hp 18ft pontoon). We cruised up the Tugaloo portion of the lake looking for fish, but didn’t have any luck since the water was so warm. Even without fishing success, we had a great day, and the boys had a successful first boat trip.

On Saturday we decided to venture out and explore. First, we headed up to Stumphouse Park to see the Stumphouse Tunnel and Isaqueena Falls. The tunnel, built in the 1850s, was intended to be part of a railroad line connecting Charleston, South Carolina, to Cincinnati, Ohio, but the project ran into financial trouble and was never finished. (Fun Fact: It was later used to cure blue cheese.) The tunnel really is an impressive sight and a refreshing place to explore since it stays cool inside even in the summer.

The waterfall, one of many in the Upstate, was beautiful too. Unfortunately, our time admiring it was cut short when a thunderstorm brought a lightning strike a little too close for comfort. While we waited for the storm to pass we decided to stop at Mountain Mocha, a coffee shop and café in Walhalla, South Carolina, to get lunch. The food was great and the atmosphere was even better.

But the most memorable part of trip was still to come.

We decided to trek north toward Lake Keowee, and realized we were close to Lake Jocassee. For years Steven has been saying he wanted to drive Horse Pasture Road and take me to Jumping Off Rock Overlook, so we figured this was the perfect opportunity. We almost gave up on the mission when the directions from my iphone sent us to a dead end into a gated community. But after a little research and consulting SC DNR’s maps, we found the correct route. From HWY 178 to Jumpoff Rock is about 10 miles on Horse Pasture Road. The road itself is in good shape, but very winding, so it took almost an hour to make it to our destination.

Finally, we made it to a pipe gate marking the end of the road. The only other indicator we’d found our destination was a small sign nailed to a tree and a rough trail up the side of the hill. From the road you’d have no idea what waited at the top.

After a short walk, you crest the hill and are left awestruck by a panoramic view of Lake Jocassee and the surrounding mountains.

It is truly breathtaking. I didn’t want to leave, but Steven said DNR wouldn’t take well to me homesteading on their land, so eventually we made our way back to civilization.

The next day we even more reluctantly (a common theme on these trips) packed to head home. I may or may not have tried to convince Steven to stay another day. Our little weekend camping trips are our one escape during these crazy times, and even the boys seem more relaxed and centered when we’re out enjoying nature. Thankfully, we have more trips scheduled for August to look forward to, and until then, we have our memories and lots of pictures!

We’re Back!

Did you miss us? Just kidding, we know you did! 😉

A lot has changed in our family and around the world since our last blog three and half months ago.

Just days after we returned from our idyllic trip to Hunting Island State Park in March, COVID-19 arrived in South Carolina. By mid-March, I was working from home and we were social distancing as much as possible. Around the same time, Steven got a much deserved promotion, which took him from working in the field to working in an office.

We decided that wasn’t enough change (ha!), so we also made the decision to trade in our trusty 4Runner in March. We’d been considering making the jump for a while, but struggled with saying goodbye to a vehicle that had become a member of the family. Buying the 4Runner, and learning about other families who were traveling the country and world in their 4-wheel drive vehicles, truly set us on a new path as a family. Yet, with two growing boys, we knew we’d like to find something with more towing capacity, so we could eventually get a little bit bigger camper.

We stumbled on the V8 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, and it seemed to check all of our boxes. One Saturday, right before the country shutdown, we headed to North Carolina to see a Trailhawk that we’d found online. But we discovered the trip was taking a lot longer than Google predicted. Since we had to get back to the boys, we made the decision to stop and look at another option at Stateline Dodge Jeep Chrysler in Rock Hill, South Carolina. We both really liked the Jeep, and the dealership made us a good offer on the 4Runner, so we ended up with the first Trailhawk we looked at in-person.

The following Monday was my first day of working remotely, and I haven’t been back to the office yet, so the Trailhawk hasn’t seen a ton of road time. But the times we have been able to get it out, we’ve really been pleased with our decision. Toyota 4Runners are solid, reliable cars, but the lower trims are pretty lacking in features. So, it’s taken a bit of getting use to all the bells and whistles on the Jeep (we are definitely enjoying the air conditioned seats as summer in South Carolina sets in!).

We ended up cancelling our trip to Barnwell State Park scheduled for April due to the various closures and the general uncertainty about the coronavirus. We also cancelled our trip to James Island County Park for Memorial Day weekend. The campground was accepting people with prior reservations, but the water park, playgrounds and other amenities were going to be closed. So, we made the tough decision to stay home.

Instead, we booked a trip to Pirateland Campground in Myrtle Beach with Steven’s parents the following weekend. It was our first trip towing with the Jeep, and it did great! Steven said he had to keep checking the mirrors to make sure the camper was still behind us. The campground seemed to be taking appropriate precautions: limiting the number of people in the pool area, providing hand sanitizer when entering the store, etc. Although large resorts like Pirateland aren’t usually our cup of tea, we did enjoy being close to the beach and having some fun activities for the kids.

While we were in Myrtle Beach, we didn’t venture out to restaurants or any tourist destinations, and we were fully self-contained in the camper, so we felt pretty comfortable on the trip. However, since we’ve returned Myrtle Beach has become a hot spot for COVID-19, so I’d be more leery to go now. While we were there, we did take the opportunity to visit a few camper dealerships. After having our Gulf Stream Amerilite 198BH for a little over a year, we’d come to realize there were several things we really wanted in our next camper, including a walk around bed, a larger fridge, a full bathroom and an outdoor kitchen. We also knew we wanted to stay as light as possible.

At the first dealership we stopped at, we found a camper that fit the bill: a Jayco JayFlight 224BH. However, I was reluctant to commit until we visited a few more dealerships. We stopped at few more locations, but were surprised to discover bunk models were in very short supply. One salesman said it was due to a perfect storm of limited stock being produced because of factory shutdowns and increased demand from people wanting a safer way to travel. We went back to the campground to think about our next step, and got several calls from the dealership with the Jayco we liked. After some negotiating, we decided to go for it. On Sunday, we packed up our site, drove across the street and swapped campers! You don’t realize just how much stuff you have in your camper until you have to take it all out in a parking lot.

Maybe all the craziness in the world kick-started a midlife crisis because now we have a new truck and a new camper!

After getting back from the beach, we took the next few weeks to prep the new camper. Then we set off on our maiden voyage for Father’s Day weekend. This time, with COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in South Carolina and protests happening across the country, we opted for a more secluded destination: Winfield Campground in Appling, Georgia. Winfield is an Army Corp of Engineers campground on Lake Strom Thurmond about 20 miles west of Augusta, Georgia. It was our first time visiting Winfield, but we weren’t disappointed. We were on site 55, a very large, pull-through site with a great view of the lake. The sites have water and electric and are a bargain at $28 a night. The playground was still closed, but they had a small, but nice beach area that the boys enjoyed.

We absolutely loved camping in our new travel trailer! Although the layout is similar to our previous camper, it feels much more spacious. And the larger bathroom and outdoor kitchen are huge hits! With our Amerilite trying to take a shower always felt like a big production, but showering in Jayco is a breeze. Being able to cook and wash dishes outside also meant that someone wasn’t stuck inside missing out on good conversation and beautiful scenery. We really feel like this is a travel trailer that will grow with our family for years to come.

As it always does, Sunday came too quickly, and it was time to pack-up once again. Luckily, it was only a one week hiatus, and we’re scheduled to head to Lake Greenwood State Park for the Fourth of July. We also have a trip planned to the Upstate to meet up with my Dad and his girlfriend later in July, and in August we’ll be heading south to Crooked River State Park in Georgia to meet-up with my Mom and her husband, who just bought their first camper a few weeks ago.

As overwhelming as the last few months have been, we are thankful to still have our jobs and to be able to keep exploring as a family. We all have more than a little bit of cabin fever from being cooped up in the house so much, so being able to get out and enjoy the outdoors together has been our one glimpse of normalcy. We hope that all of our friends and family are staying healthy and safe, and that we’ll see you somewhere down the road very soon!

A weekend in paradise: Hunting Island State Park

A grinning toddler teeters toward me with an outstretched hand. I offer my palm and he places a small seashell into my hand. Pleased with himself, he sets off to find more treasures.

Meanwhile his brother, shovel and bucket in hand, is on a quest to find the best place to dig for dinosaur bones. The sun is shining and we have the beach to ourselves.

It is a perfect afternoon.

Lately, it seems like our boys grow an inch every night. Everett has gone from a toddler to a little boy and Jase from a baby to a toddler. We needed a getaway to spend quality time together as a family, making memories we’ll remember for years to come.

Luckily, Hunting Island State Park didn’t disappoint. We’d rescheduled this trip several times (thankfully the state parks are always very accommodating with changes), but finally the timing was right. Camping in late February can be risky if you aren’t a fan of cold weather, but we were fortunate with comfortable temperatures and clear skies. In fact, we much preferred this trip to the unbearably hot weekend we had at Edisto Beach State Park last August.

Hunting Island is completely undeveloped. There is only one road in and out, and getting to the park requires a slightly harrowing bridge crossing, but once you arrive it’s the perfect destination for a peaceful weekend. The park has been hit hard by several storms in recent years, so we were a little nervous about conditions. However, our fears proved unwarranted. Though one campground was completely lost to Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma, the remaining campground has been repaired and is in good condition.

We stayed on site 157, which was a large corner lot near the playground. The map given to us at check-in showed that the site was a pull-through, and it may have been at one point, but now it is a back-in. The map also shows beach parking, but we discovered there is no parking for beach access in the campground. So, if you want to go to the beach, you must walk from your site. Luckily, it wasn’t a bad walk from our site, but we’re definitely going to keep that in mind when selecting sites for future trips.

We spent most of Friday exploring the beach. It was a nice change from the overcrowded beaches in other parts of the state. We’d go long stretches without seeing anyone else, and it would feel like we were on a private island somewhere in the Caribbean. In a few sections of the beach, there were obvious signs of the destruction caused by the storms, a solemn reminder of nature’s power.

When we checked in we’d been told we could walk down to the lighthouse at low tide, so we decided to give it a try. It was a beautiful walk, but unfortunately, we discovered the lighthouse actually wasn’t accessible from the beach due to a beach renourishment project that began in early February. We did drive down to the lighthouse the next morning, but since kids have to be 48” inches tall to climb to the top, we decided to admire it from the ground.

In addition to the lighthouse, we made stops at the Visitor Center, the Nature Center, the Marsh Boardwalk, and the Campground Store. The Visitor Center has a few alligators living in the pond out front, one of which we were able to see sunning herself on the bank. Everett also really enjoyed seeing the local animals who called the Nature Center home. The boardwalk was an easy walk, but if you have spirited kids, beware that there aren’t any rails on the walkways over the marsh. The Campground Store was well stocked and had a lot of great gifts and keepsakes. We made sure to pick out an ornament for our collection and a few gifts for family members.

If you like visiting restaurants or local attractions while you are camping, you won’t find much near the park, but Port Royal and Beaufort are only about 30-minutes away. We spent Saturday afternoon exploring the area, making stops at the Chapel of Ease and historic downtown Beaufort. The boys particularly enjoyed the Monkey’s Uncle toy store and the playground at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. On the way back to the campground we made a quick detour to the Carolina Cider Company & Clockwise Coffee, a local joint that had great drinks and baked goods. I recommend the pecan streusel coffeecake (yum!).

Sunday morning came much too soon, as it always does, but we made our way home relaxed and with priceless new memories. We can’t wait to go back!

Christmas Camping Magic: James Island County Park Campground

So, I’m a little hesitant to write this post because I’m worried if I tell everyone how magical James Island County Park Campground is during their Festival of Lights it’s going to be even more difficult to find a spot for next year!

I don’t remember where I first heard about the Festival of Lights, probably one of the many camping related Facebook groups, but I decided it would be a fun destination for the weekend of Thanksgiving since I’d have some time off of work. When I went to make our reservation back in August, I thought I was lucky and found the very last available site, but knowing what I know now, I think it was likely that I actually stumbled upon a cancellation. Regardless, we were able to secure a spot thanks to a little Christmas magic, and am I so thankful that we did.

Though after all our multitudes of misadventures earlier this fall – from the “do we have a site or not” fiasco at Hamilton Branch State Park to the late night ear infection at Lake Greenwood State Park – I had some serious anxiety going into our trip. Luckily, most everything went smoothly. Having the day off work meant we were able to take our time packing and getting on the road, and also meant our first daylight set-up in three months.

When we arrived I was pleasantly surprised. I’d had an image in my head of a Myrtle Beach style RV resort with cramped sites and no privacy, but the sites were actually well-spaced and there was a good amount of tree cover to provide a bit of buffer from the neighbors. We were on site 109 – since it was the only one available – and where a little concerned what we’d find when we arrived since the website had a note that said “a tree on site may prohibit awning use.” However, the site was perfect for our camper. We were able to back the camper to the edge of a beautiful oak tree and still have room to put out our awning and park the 4Runner: one of the benefits of a smaller camper and tow vehicle. It also was a large corner lot diagonal from the bathhouse, which worked great for us since my Dad tagged along and camped on our site in his tent. There was a trash dumpster at the edge of the site, but it didn’t cause any issues and seemed to be emptied regularly.

After getting set-up, we were able to relax and enjoy some perfect weather before heading over the Festival of Lights activities. Again, I had a mistaken concept of what the Festival of Lights would entail. Not only did it include a drive through lights display featuring an estimated 2 million lights, but there also was an entire festival village that include gift shops, food vendors, visits with Santa, story time with Mrs. Claus, a carousel and much more! Staying at the campground meant we didn’t have to pay the $20 entrance fee, wait in traffic or fight to find parking to visit the village. It was truly a magical experience. The toddler didn’t even complain about the walking!

On Saturday we spent the morning enjoying the park’s playgrounds and hiking trails, then we took a side trip to somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years: the Angel Oak. It was a quick jump over to John’s Island, probably about 15 minutes from the campground. The tree is tucked behind a chain link fence along a dirt road, and traffic can be a bit tight getting in and out, but it’s worth it to see a true spectacle of nature. After we got back, the boys and I took a nap and Steven and my Dad went and tried their luck at a fishing hole. Steven was excited to reel in a good size catfish! Later that evening Everett took Steven on a guided tour of the lights, then before we knew it, it was time to start packing up.

Sunday morning Everett and I did make a quick detour into the camp store, which had some great items, including a special addition ornament to commemorate this year’s festival – take my money! I think we could have spent several more days at the campground and not been able to enjoy all of the festivities. I’m definitely hoping we can make a trip to the Festival of Lights an annual tradition. In fact, I tried to book a stay for next year upon returning home, but discovered Thanksgiving weekend 2020 is already booked-up! So, fingers crossed we find another lucky cancellation. I’m also hoping we can visit the park again this summer to enjoy their water park and spend some time offer at Folly Beach.

We’re taking a bit of a break from camping this month because we are going to go to Grandma’s house in Florida to celebrate the boys’ birthdays. So, until next time, see you down the road!

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Lake Greenwood State Park

(Written by Steven Yancey)

So we meet again fellow travelers! I hope this entry finds you all well, healthy and many miles of good travels under your wheels.

Where do we find the Yancey family in this entry of adventure you might ask? Well that’s a loaded question, as travelling with kids isn’t always pretty or easy. I know social media sometimes portrays these perfect families traversing the globe without a care in the world, but that just isn’t reality, at least not our reality.

When we decided we wanted to give the camper life a try, we did a lot of research, and eventually chose a small, lightweight camper that we felt comfortable towing with our 4Runner. Having a 19’ camper and mid-size SUV means we can pretty much find a campsite anywhere from a large RV park to a state park or even a national forest road. We have never found a spot that we can’t fit in or a road we couldn’t go down. My parents on the other hand have own a large 36 foot fifth wheel, which they pull with a 2500 Dodge Power Wagon. And they typically can be found in Myrtle Beach at a large RV resort, such as Pirate Land or Ocean Lakes. So, I was surprised when they decided to plan a long weekend at Lake Greenwood State Park near Greenwood, South Carolina.

They went up the week before to scout the area, and decided that it was big enough for their rig and offered some full hook up spots for their rig that I affectionately dubbed “The Monstrosity.” After securing two sites in close proximity we waited for Thursday. It was going to be perfect, I put in for a leave day on Friday, planned to leave early on Thursday. I couldn’t wait for all of us to relax and enjoy some serenity. Then it all went ugly, pear-shaped, and stressful.

I left work early on Thursday and spent a frantic day trying to pack because when you and your significant other have two full-time careers and two babies to get ready for bed you forget things. After packing, cleaning the house, and a trip to the grocery store I realized it was nearly 4 p.m.. My parents were already at the park and lamenting on how peaceful it was and how they wished they had done this sooner and oh this and oh that. And the ever helpful, “when are you gonna leave.” Alyssa was finally able to tie up things at work and make a mad dash home stopping in route to pick up the boys. She wheeled into the driveway as I frantically, yet with expert precision, began loading the truck. Stacking coolers, bags, and other accoutrement for our weekend’s adventures. We finally wheeled out after hooking up the camper and headed north. It was quickly becoming dark, and I began to worry I was in for a repeat of our previous trip to Hamilton Branch State Park, even though I swore I would avoid arriving at a new park in the dark at all costs!

We finally arrived and, thankfully, didn’t have too much trouble getting set-up thanks to my Mom and Dad (AKA Nan Nan and Pop Pop). Dad was able to help me set-up, while Mom helped Alyssa wrangle screaming hungry youngins from their car seats. The night went quickly and was uneventful. We awoke to a cool breeze coming off the lake and our first real look at the park and its beautiful scenery. Everett was being difficult and I could tell he didn’t feel well. His health continued to deteriorate throughout the day as did his attitude.

After a peaceful day of mostly sitting around the fire talking about life we attempted to get the boys to bed. Jase eventually fell asleep, but Ev soon woke up screaming and saying his ear hurt. After staying up to nearly 1 a.m., several trips around the park in the truck, and attempting every means of soothing, an exhausted Alyssa decided to make a Red Eye drive over an hour back home to a pediatrician, home amenities, and separate rooms for the kids.

I remained behind to salvage the weekend hoping that after some TLC and antibiotics she would return to finish out the weekend. On Saturday I was able to make some new friends by the way of Patti and Ronnie. They arrived in the evening taking the spot between our site and my parents’ site. After a quick introduction I found that this was the very first trip they were taking in their brand new camper. Both seemed happy to be there and a little unsure of setting up so I offered some help. My first thought was good for them!!! One, for getting out of their comfort zone trying something new and having a little adventure. And, secondly, for being humble enough to ask for help. A word to the wise: if someone asks for help or advice give it to them genuinely. You were new at this once too, drop the ego and be kind to people. If you ever read this Patti and Ron, it was a pleasure meeting both of you. Keep adventuring and I hope we run into you two again somewhere. Unfortunately, Everett was diagnosed with an ear infection and didn’t feel up to returning to the campground.

So, on Sunday my beautiful bride returned in our chariot to hook-up and haul us away. This is probably the oddest blog yet, but life isn’t always pretty and doesn’t always go to plan. But don’t get frustrated, which is what I continue to tell myself about 14,000 times a day. Just roll with it. Life is a continual learning experience. So until next time, keep adventure in your hearts, and get outside!!! Easyrunner out.

Lessons Learned: Hamilton Branch State Park

When we bought our camper, I made one rule: we will use it at least once a month (barring any unforeseen circumstances).

Initially, I had booked a trip to Hunting Island State Park as our October trip, but then we decided to take our sans-kids anniversary trip. Since our venture to North Carolina had required us taking some time off of work, I decided to reschedule our trip to the coast and book a quick weekend trip somewhere closer to home.

I chose Hamilton Branch State Park, an expansive park with 200 campsites nestled along the shores of Lake Strom Thurmond. We’d visited the park on a daytrip before, and promised we’d be back to camp. I decided to book the weekend of Oct. 25, so we could participate in the park’s trick-or-treating event.

Our first trip to Lake Greenwood State Park in March 2019.

On the day of our scheduled departure, Steven and I both raced home from work to pack the truck and hook up the camper. Even though we packed quickly, the sun was beginning to set as we pulled out of the yard and headed west.

That’s when things got interesting.

As we cruised down the road, I decided to pull up our confirmation email, just to double check the details of our arrival. Hmm… I couldn’t find it. So, then I decided to double check that my credit card was charged. Again, no dice. At this point, I started getting nervous. The only conclusion I could draw was that somehow our reservation hadn’t gone through.

Lesson One: Always print out your confirmation email prior to departing.

As the last rays of sunlight faded from sight, I shared the news with Steven. He chuckled, but was clearly flummoxed. We decided to continue on to the park, in hopes of finding an available site. Of course, when we arrived, the park office was closed. We checked the list of available sites tacked to the door, but didn’t find much that fit our needs. Finally, we decided to double check that the site we believed we’d reserved wasn’t, in fact, reserved to us.

At this point it was pitch black. We located “our” site on the map, but realized it would be hard to turn around, if it was occupied by someone else. Steven strapped on a headlamp and took a stroll down to the site. It ended up being more of a trek than a stroll, and when he arrived at the site, it was empty. We had hoped there would be some kind of sign indicating who the site was reserved to, like we had encountered at Barnwell State Park, but no such luck.

Steven was understandable growing frustrated at this point, and comments about “just going home,” where starting to be slung around in the darkness. To make things worse, all of our stomachs were starting to rumble.

Lesson Two: Eat before you hit the road.

In a last effort to save the trip, we decided to hunt down a camp host. Luckily, we saw a small wooden sign denoting “camp host” just a short distance down the road. Steven trudged to the site and knocked. A few moments passed. Then the camp host emerged. When Steven explained our predicament, the host said, “you’re on site 33, I remember because I used to know a guy named Yancey!” So, after all the drama, the site was reserved to us. I never did find the confirmation email, but I did find the credit card charge. It was just further back on the statement than I had thought it would have been.

Crisis averted, we snaked through the woods to our site. Did I mention it was dark? Really dark? When we finally arrived, we grabbed our flashlights and headlamps to inspect the set-up. It was odd. The lot was huge, but the electric box and water were on the far side of the site blocked in by trees. Navigating our camper into the spot took some intricate maneuvering.

Lesson Three: Don’t arrive in the dark (especially, if you don’t know the set-up of the site).

Once parked we discovered the water spigot was missing any discernible handle, meaning Steven had to do some MacGyver-ing. Did I mention we were hungry? Our misadventure reaching comical heights, we finally were able to set-up, make dinner and relax. Just in time to get ready for bed.

The next morning, the stress of the previous evening melted away when we saw the spectacular view our quirky site provided. In fact, that Saturday ended up being one of the best days we’d had in a long, long time. There was a slight chill in the air, the campfire was warm, the view serene and the company perfect. Our toddler enjoyed trick-or-treating that evening, and all was right with the world again.

Lesson Four: make the most of every day you’re given.

This trip definitely taught us some new lessons, but in the end we were thankful we persevered through the challenges and enjoyed a peaceful weekend together as a family enjoying all that nature has to offer. And would it really be a Yancey family trip without some misadventure in the mix?

A North Carolina (and Tennessee) adventure to remember

Instead of waiting God knows how long for me (Alyssa) to write a post about our most recent adventure, Steven decided to take things into his own hands this time. Below is his first blog post, and I must say, he did a great job! I’m excited for us to share the writing duties going forward!


I’ve always had a sense of adventure. I’ve always seemed to pick a job or career that would keep me staring out of a windshield in one way or another. I could never stand office work where I was only allowed to step outside for a quick 15-minute break once a day. So, when it came to picking my partner in life I wanted someone with just as much of a free spirit. A woman who wanted to see beautiful places.

Which finally brings me to the most recent adventure in the series we call “Life.” Alyssa and I recently celebrated 10 years of marriage and wanted to have a little getaway to celebrate. After some thorough searching (entirely on her part), we decided on Hot Springs, North Carolina. Hot Springs is a small town located in northwest North Carolina just south of the Tennessee state line. The town sits on the famed Appalachian Trail (no actually the side walk is the trail) and is a welcome sight for hikers who need to resupply or for an adventurous, slightly out-of-shape, youngish couple with two kids who want to enjoy a long weekend in the mountains.

Now I must digress for a moment. The argument still persists today as to the definition and application of just what overlanding is and means. Here at EASYRunner we don’t care what you drive, where you go, or where you stay. Don’t have a 4-wheel drive? Solution: see beautiful places and don’t drive off road. Don’t like tent camping? Solution: buy a camper or caravan, base camp and travel around during the day doing fun activities in nature. Stay in a hotel for that matter. The point I’m trying to get at is overlanding to us is traveling, by land, and seeing beautiful things along the way. Don’t let anything stop you from getting out in nature.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

After much deliberation we decided that since this would be a solo venture sans kiddos we would forego the camper, and instead rent a cabin on the outskirts of Hot Springs, overlooking the French Broad River. It came well stocked with beautiful views of the mountains complete with a hot tub on the back porch and a fire pit in the yard. I know, we were really roughing it this time. After a scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains on Saturday we arrived late in the afternoon.

We had stopped in Marshall, North Carolina, about 30-minutes away to get supplies for dinner and some firewood. So, when we arrived I cooked a wonderful, home cooked anniversary dinner. Then we spent the evening enjoying the intoxicating sound of a crackling fire and the rushing river, the most relaxing sounds you could ever imagine.

The weather over the weekend was perfect. So, after a dip in the hot tub to wake-up, we headed into town for brunch on Sunday. Our noses led us to Iron Horse Station in town, which had wonderful food and good prices. Just be warned that Hot Springs is a small town and finding certain things open on a Sunday can be a chore. We found this out later that night when we were confronted with dinner options (or a lack thereof). We chose to go back to the Iron Horse, but were pleasantly surprised by a totally different dinner menu. It was delicious and did not disappoint.

After lunch on Sunday we traveled north of town up an array of Forest Service roads to Max Patch. This short hike varies in difficulty depending on the path you take, but leads to an absolutely breathtaking 360 degree view. If you’re a novice hiker, like us, the trek up to the summit of Max Patch will leave you with a sense of accomplishment.

After working our way back to the truck via a short stretch of the Appalachian Trail, we decide to head back to town for some dinner. Not wanting to retrace our steps we decided to head further north on Max Patch Road, which eventually led us to what we’d later discover was Tennessee State Route 107. The road is very well maintained, but is very windy with steep drop-offs, so caution should be taken. The road back was beautiful; however, during the 30-second window where we had a phone signal, we discovered that we had travelled far west and were actually well into Tennessee. Despite our meandering route, we eventually made it back to town. We spent our last night at the cabin sitting by the fire holding hands like we were dating again, and listening to the sound of the river in the background.

When Monday morning came, we reluctantly left our wonderful little getaway. On the drive home we detoured to Fireside Restaurant and Pancake Inn in Hendersonville, a little breakfast joint that had the best biscuits and gravy I have ever eaten. After eating far too much we detoured once again, and took a short, but scenic drive to Saluda to knock one last activity off the list.

Alyssa has been talking about hiking to see a waterfall for some time. And while we were in the area she picked one with a small hike, due to our enormous breakfast, which was close by. Pearson falls lies on private property and there is a small $5 fee for entry. There is parking and restrooms available at the trail head and a short .25 mile hike to the falls. Though not a strenuous hike at all I would recommend good footwear as the path had many slick rocks and roots. The waterfall itself is 90-foot tall and was a wonderful end to our trip. It really must be seen in person, as photos just cannot capture its beauty.

With that checked off our list, it was then we realized we must head south back to our lives. Our beautiful children and jobs awaited us. Until next time North Carolina (and Tennessee, I guess)… Get outside and travel on.

Review: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort: Golden Valley, NC

Last spring I started seeing chatter on Facebook about a new Yogi Bear Jellystone Park opening in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The pictures looked amazing! But as a family that typically stays at state or federal parks, the nightly rates of $79 to $99 during “shoulder season” (the span between Labor Day and peak fall season) made us a bit reluctant to book a trip. Fortunately, after some quick searching, I discovered the park offered a lot of discounts, including 20% off for first responders during their “Heroes Weekend” in September.

With the discount, the nightly rate came out to $63 a night, a much more reasonable amount. So, we decided to give it a try. After all, everyone deserves to splurge occasionally!

The drive up to the campground, which is located in Bostic, N.C., and use to be a Girl Scout camp, was uneventful. But beware, the last 15 miles or so were on pretty narrow mountain roads, and the last few miles into the park were very curvy. Make sure you make a bathroom and fuel stop, if needed, before you get off the interstate because there aren’t many places to stop.  

Check-in is located at the Ranger Station across from the entrance to the park. The entrance itself is gated, once inside staff will guide you to your spot. We went with one of the basic, back-in sites, and were pleasantly surprised! The sites were huge and easy to back into. The only drawback was the lack of shade, but the size and layout of the site still made it very private. Since the campground just opened in July, all the hook-ups were in perfect condition, and all of the sites offered full hook-ups.  

We did find it a little odd that our fire pit was almost on our neighbor’s site, and there were clear instructions not to move it. When we mentioned it to Bruce, a staff member who was rounding through the campground, he said he’d see what he could do. We figured that would be the end of things, but the next morning Bruce was back moving the pit to a more convenient location. Golden Valley and Bruce definitely get an A+ for customer service!

Once we made it to the park and got settled, we decided to check out the water park. Wow! Not only was the water area huge, but it also had lots of interactive activities for kids. Our toddler loved it, and if we’re being honest, so did the adults! We easily spent a couple of hours exploring and splashing.

Saturday included another trip to the waterpark and pool, some gem mining, a round of putt-putt, a walk to the campground pond and more. We also enjoyed that the campground had cable, but were a bit disappointed that the Wi-Fi didn’t quite reach our site (though it did work well up at the store area). All of the amenities definitely made the higher rates worth it!

Before we went to the campground, we read a number of reviews that suggested renting a golf cart. But at $50 a day, I just couldn’t justify the extra expense. However, I didn’t realize before we went that there would only be very limited vehicle parking near the amenities. We missed the interaction with Yogi Bear Saturday morning because we tried to drive up, only to realize there was no parking. Walking wasn’t bad, but I think next trip we’ll try to get a spot closer to the activities.

On Sunday we were able to take our time packing up, and even hit the gem mine one more time since the check-out wasn’t until 1 p.m. Overall, we really enjoyed our trip! Given the cost, it’s not somewhere we’d go all the time, but I can definitely see us splurging on a special weekend once or twice a year.

Summer in the South: Edisto Beach State Park

Summer in the South has a way of sneaking up on you. Around late July you start thinking “we’ve made it through the worst of it. Fall will be here soon.”

Maybe it’s all the Back to School activities, the excitement of football season looming, or just a defense mechanism we’ve developed to survive in the sweltering heat. Regardless the origin of this false hope, I’m here to warn you to resist complacency. As soon as you let your guard down and start daydreaming about campfires and pumpkins, August will smack you right across the face with its big, sweaty hand.

If you are thinking I sound like I’ve been personally victimized by August, you are right. You see, I let my guard down.

The last few weeks of July were milder than normal. Thoughts of mosquito free evenings and crisp fall mornings crept into my mind. In my delirium, I decided we should take a camping trip to the beach before summer faded away.

We packed up and headed to Edisto Beach State Park, excited to enjoy the crashing waves and ocean breeze. Instead we singed our feet on the hot sand and nearly melted into puddles of sweat.

Don’t get me wrong. The campground and beach were beautiful. We even were treated to an awe-inspiring rainbow, gorgeous sunrises and tiny sea turtle hatchlings being rescued from their nests.

But it was just too hot.

It was manageable on the beach with the breeze coming off the water, but once we climbed back over the dunes to our campsite the heat became unbearable. But did I mention the walk to the beach from our site was literally less than 60 seconds? You can’t beat that!

We did decide to check out the Edisto Island Serpentarium on Saturday morning to distract ourselves from the oppressive heat (and humidity). They had a great collection of snakes, alligators, crocodiles, turtles, and more. The toddler enjoyed checking out the critters, as did Mom and Dad. (Tip: If you have a state park pass, they offer a 15 percent discount and kids 4 and under are free.)

We scoped out some great sites and can’t wait to plan another trip in the late Fall or Spring.

So, for those of you suffering with us, stay vigilant! Officially, there are 39 days left until Fall, but let’s be honest, sometimes Fall doesn’t show up at all. It was 80+ degrees on Halloween last year.

So, until that magically day when we wake up and discover jacket weather has arrived, you can find us huddled around our air vents and fans. And next August we’ll be smarter and head to the mountains!

Take me to the lake: Modoc COE Campground at Lake Strom Thurmond

Spot the baby 🤣

Epic. That’s the only way to describe our recent weekend trip to Lake Strom Thurmond.

On a whim we decided to book a site at Modoc Campground, a Army Corp of Engineers campground in Modoc, South Carolina. I booked site 9 based solely on the picture I found online.

Look at that view!

I almost changed sites after booking because I was concerned we wouldn’t have water access due to rocks around the site. But when we arrived Friday evening ‘ole site 9 did not disappoint! The lake view was as promised and we had a steep, but manageable path down to a clean and private beach.

We were treated to an epic sunset over the lake as we set-up our site, and spent most of the day Saturday enjoying the lake. I even saw an eagle while enjoying the view from our site!

There were a few minor drawbacks to Modoc – mostly unlevel sites and a large sugar ant population – but nothing we couldn’t deal with for a spacious site with water access. And did I mention the view!? Oh, and for the bargain price of $22 a night!

Saturday afternoon we decided to scope out a few other campgrounds in the area. Hamilton Branch State Park is right up the street from Modoc, but we’d been there before, so we skipped it. Instead we headed further north to check out Hawe Creek COE, Baker Creek State Park and Hickory Knob Resort State Park.

Hawe Creek had large, secluded sites with nice views, but limited water access. Baker Creek seemed a bit outdated and the campground was confusing and hard to navigate. Hickory Knob was beautiful with a ton of amenities, including a restaurant, pool and golf course, but the campground seemed a bit neglected.

When we got back to Modoc, we made a small campfire and I made what might be the perfect smore. Since checkout wasn’t until two on Sunday, we were able to spend some more time swimming before packing up.

Overall, our first experience at a COE park was great! In fact, we’re planning to go back next month. We’ll probably venture over to the Georgia side of the lake to scope out a few more parks/campgrounds on that trip. So, stay tuned!


Few notes:

  1. Modoc is only open May through September. You can book at http://www.recreation.gov. A park map with site photos is available here.
  2. They have 30 amp and 50 amp sites. All sites are electric and water only, no FHU.
  3. There’s not much to do in the immediate area, but Augusta is only about 20 minutes away.
  4. Check out The Ice Cream Parlor in McCormick. Yum!
  5. The campground closes at 10 p.m., but the park attendants (super nice folks!) provided a gate code.
  6. Don’t forget your sunscreen. A certain member of our family forgot to put on sunscreen and got fried to a crisp.
  7. There’s a Dollar General right outside the park entrance in case you need to pick-up any essentials (like ant spray or aloe 😉 ).