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 😉 ).


Life is Better at the Beach

The sound of waves breaking along the shore. The slight saltiness of the sea air. The cool silkiness of the water. There’s something about the beach that can wash away the stress of everyday life, even if just for a few moments.

As much as I am awestruck by mountains, canyons, and deserts; the beach will always be my happy place. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Florida or because my parents took me on some great trips to the beach when I was younger. Whatever the genesis, my love of sand and waves runs deep.

Thankfully, we only live a few hours from the beach, but the craziness of life means we don’t make it to the coast as often as I’d like. We were scheduled to visit Edisto Beach State Park for our first beach trip of the summer a few weeks ago, but a stomach bug decided we needed to stay home instead. The South Carolina State Park system graciously allowed us to move our reservation to the next available weekend, which happened to be in August.

I knew I couldn’t wait until August for some beach therapy, so I started stalking the park system’s reservation site, and luckily, found a great spot at Myrtle Beach State Park for this past weekend. We packed up our camper and headed east.

When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by our campsite. It was huge, shaded, and steps from the bathhouse and the playground. It was also full hook-up, all for $55 a night, which is almost half what the large RV resorts charge this time of year.

We (okay, mostly Steven) made quick work of setting up the camper. Set-up is definitely getting easier and quicker the more we venture out. Then we decided Steven would drop me and the boys off at the beach while he went and picked-up some groceries. The plan was for us to just walk on the beach and play in the sand, but Everett had other ideas. He has definitely inherited my love of the water, and was begging to go play in the waves. I stripped him down to this shorts and let him go at it.

Juggling an enthusiastic toddler and an infant at the beach by myself proved to be a bit stressful. So, when Everett asked to play with some kids nearby who were splashing in a pool that had been dug on the beach, I obliged, relieved to have him a bit more contained. Soon after making our way to the small pool, I realized one of the boys Everett was playing with was actually a friend of his cousin’s, who we’d met a few times before. Small world!

Before long the sun began to set, so I convinced Everett to head back to our campsite (not without some three-year-old angst). Steven grilled up some steak for fajitas, and we enjoyed some quiet time as a family.

We had a bit of a rude awakening the next morning when I realized it was thundering. We rushed to secure our site, then ate breakfast while the storm blew over. This was the first time we’d weathered a storm in the camper, and I was really impressed with how well it did. There was practically no sway or rock from the wind, and with the air conditioning running, you could barely even hear the rain.

Once the rain passed over, we headed back down to the beach. With a return to a one-to-one parent-to-child ratio, it was much more relaxing. Jase dipped his toes in the ocean for the first time and enjoyed a nap in the sand. Everett splashed in the waves with Steven, built some epic sand castles, and hunted for buried pirate treasure.

After a few hours, we reluctantly left the beach to find lunch. We decided to head south toward Murrells Inlet to grab some seafood. We ended up at Graham’s Landing. The food was good, and reasonably priced. But the drinks were another story. When the bill came Steven realized they’d charged us $10 for two sweet teas. I guess we should have checked the drink prices, but we didn’t even think about it. Lesson learned.

Huntington Beach State Park is a few minutes south of Murrells Inlet, so we decided to check it out after lunch. We made a stop at the gift shop to get our park stamp, drove through the campgrounds and took a walk on the board walk over marsh.

Huntington Beach also is home to Atalaya, the Moorish-style winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. The home was originally built in 1931, and is now open to the public. After walking the board walk, the boys both fell asleep, so we didn’t walk though Atalaya. However, after we got home we saw a YouTube channel we follow, Less Junk More Journey, had posted a great video featuring the park and Atalaya, if you want to check it out.

Overall, Huntington Beach State Park was beautiful, but with its playgrounds and nature/activity center, I felt like Myrtle Beach State Park was a better fit for young families. Plus, the nightly rates at Myrtle Beach are actually a little bit less than the rates at Huntington Beach. But, you really can’t go wrong with either park!

By the time we made it back to the campground, it was about time for dinner. Steven cooked another great meal, then we enjoyed sitting around the campsite. Everett tested out my new hammock. He seemed to be a fan, so much so, that I can’t give you any feedback on it because he didn’t want to share! Soon the storms threatened a return, so we made our way into the camper for the night. This was the first trip we’ve done where Everett actually fell asleep in the camper both nights without one of us having to go drive him around the campground, so we must have worn him out.

In the morning, it was time to pack up and head home. As we pulled away, I actually got a bit emotional seeing the ocean disappear in our rearview mirror. When I said I didn’t want to leave, Everett echoed my sentiment from the backseat. Two nights just wasn’t enough. We all agreed that we needed to stay at least three nights in the future. We’ve only been back a few days, but the call of the ocean is already getting louder. I have a feeling we’ll be heading back soon!

The Beginner’s Guide to Adventure

When we lived in Texas, we took several trips to Broken Bow, Oklahoma. On one of those trips, we decided to go canoeing.  

I was a little nervous because coordination isn’t exactly my thing. (I even did a magnet program in high school so I could get an exemption from the PE requirement.) On the short ride to our drop point, we noticed a very athletic couple. Their clothing had more spandex and their bodies less fat than ours, and I grew more concerned that I was going to embarrass myself.

We all climbed into our canoes and set out onto the water. And you know what? Steven and I looked like we’d been canoeing for years. And our sporty friends? They kept paddling in circles.

Even six years later, I still think back on that trip. That hour or two taking in the sights in Southeastern Oklahoma taught me an invaluable lesson: the only thing stopping us from living life and chasing adventure is ourselves.

You don’t have to be an endurance athlete to go explore. We definitely aren’t.

You don’t have to have a ton of money to make memories. We definitely don’t.

Since we’ve added the boys to our family and made it an even bigger priority to seek adventure, we’ve often had people say, “I wish I/we could do that!” And our response is always “you can!” Then we usually get one of two responses: 1) “I can’t afford it.” or 2) “I don’t know how.”

Okay, yes, purchasing a 4WD vehicle or a camper may not be an option, if you are on a tight budget. But are either of those things necessary? No! We love our truck and our camper, but we were exploring before we had either of them. If you have enough money for a little bit of gas and a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then you can start exploring.

Which brings us to the “I don’t know how” response. I’m here to tell you, it’s not as hard as you might imagine, especially in the age of smartphones and Google. You can start small. Look at the map and choose a town you haven’t been to, then Google it. Almost every town has something it’s known for, whether it’s a natural landmark, a great local restaurant or even just beautiful, old buildings.

If you want to get a bit more adventurous, start checking out start parks, national parks, or a historic site. The South Carolina State Park system includes 80,000 acres at 47 parks, and offers a wide range of activities appropriate for beginners. Most of the parks we visit have lakes or rivers, short nature trails, education centers and more. The state parks are a great place to get your feet wet (both literally and figuratively.)

We’re lucky that we can drive two hours one direction and be in the mountains or drive two hours the opposite direction and be at the beach, but every state and region has its own awe inspiring sights to visit.

As you become more comfortable exploring, you might want to try longer hikes or try camping. Many of the campgrounds we’ve visited offer areas to tent camp. They usually also have bath houses with restrooms and showers within walking distance, in case you’re like me and not quite outdoorsy enough for primitive camping. A lot of parks also have cabins to rent, if glamping is more your thing.

You also can find some unique opportunities through social media. I found out about the spider lilies at Landsford Canal while looking at the State Parks website, but later that same day I saw an article about them on the “Only in South Carolina” Facebook page. If you are traveling with kids, the local mom groups/pages/blogs are a good place to find kid-friendly activities. Pinterest is another place to find inspiration.

So, pack your sunscreen, some water, and lunch and start exploring!

Landsford Canal State Park: Blood, Sweat, Tears and FUN!

Our unwritten camping rule (so far) has been to avoid camping two weekends in a row. This allows us time to get things done at home and recoup between trips.

So, since we had our Gatlinburg trip last week, this was an “off” weekend. But even when we aren’t camping we still like to get out and explore.

Typically, on the “off” weeks we do a day trip to a state park. So, on Saturday I started researching parks we hadn’t visited and happened upon Landsford Canal State Park.

I discovered Landsford Canal is home to the world’s largest population of spider lilies, which happen to bloom between mid-May and mid-June. And our agenda was set!

The trip to the park was about 80 miles, mostly on interstate 77. We arrived around lunchtime and enjoyed a picnic overlooking the Catawba River. Then after a quick stop at the playground, we set-off down the Canal Trail to find the spider lilies.

Once again the toddler’s “feet hurt,” so we trekked down the trail with Everett on Steven’s shoulders and the baby strapped to my chest.

Since the heat index was in the triple digits today and we were both carrying extra weight, the 3/4 mile trail seemed a lot longer! Luckily, the trail was shaded and there was a bit of a breeze to help make the South Carolina heat tolerable.

The lilies are only found on one rocky shoal in the middle of the Catawba, so there were times we started to worry we’d missed the season or we’d get to the end of the trail only to find a single patch of lilies.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case!

Soon the trail began to rise up to a scenic overlook, the view when we arrived made the short hike on a hot day more than worth it! The clusters of snow white lilies stretched as far as the eyes could see.

We snapped some pictures, had a snack, and just enjoyed the view.

This is where the tears portion of the “blood, sweat and tears” comes in. A nice couple (Patsy and Scott) asked if we could take their picture in front of the lilies. So, I asked Everett to move out of their picture. He didn’t like that. Tears ensued. So, now the aforementioned couple has several pictures that include our dirty toddler.

After the crisis was averted we headed back down the the trail, reluctant to leave the beauty of the lily patch. Along the way we decided to cool off in the crisp waters of the Catawba. We found a shallow pool where we splashed around and did some rock hunting.

Invigorated by the water, we set back down the trail. We made a quick detour to the park office to get our Ultimate Outsider book stamped, then headed back to the 4Runner. When we got to the truck, we realized Steven had picked up an unwanted hitchhiker, a leach, while playing in the river (thus, the blood portion of the story). He did some quick first aid and we were back on the road.

At only 448 acres, Landsford Canal State Park might not look like much at first glance, but it’s truly a hidden gem! In addition to the spider lilies, the park also is a nesting site for eagles and home to the remains of the canal system built in the early 1800s to make the river commercially navigable. The area also was significant during the Revolutionary war and there are several historic markers along the route in and out of the park.

After a great first visit, we can’t wait to go back. We’d love to return with a kayak or canoe to get an even better view of the spider lilies.

We continue to be amazed by the beauty in our state and we can’t wait to see what we discover next.