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.

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!

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.

Mountain in the Midlands

There’s a mountain… in the Midlands!

Last fall we started a quest to visit all of the state parks in South Carolina. So, on days we don’t have a particular destination in mind we let the toddler pick a dot on the map of the parks and point the 4Runner that direction.

This past Sunday morning we woke up itching to spend some time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, it looked like forecasted storms might thwart our adventures. So, we decided to head out early and stay relatively close to home. The destination selected by our young Navigation Specialist (with a little guidance from Mom) was Poinsett State Park in Pinewood, S.C.

We loaded up with drinks and snacks (though clearly not enough as we would learn later) and headed east. Along the way, we noticed a sign for the Wateree River Heritage Preserve. Having never heard of the preserve we decided to consult Google for more information. We learned the more than 3,600 acre preserve was created in 2015 as part of a mitigation agreement with a mining company. The description said the preserve offered hiking and equestrian trails, hunting, a fishing pond and a mountain! The concept of a mountain in the Sandhills of South Carolina piqued our interest, so we made a mental note to explore the preserve on our way back from our state park visit.

After driving a bit further and detouring down a newly wet and spongy dirt road, we made our way into the park. The forested park was quiet and peaceful, with a slight sense that it could be the setting for a horror movie – I think it was the darkness combined with the trees draped in heavy moss.

We made our way up to the Overlook Shelter first. The small, historic shelter was in a clearing with a nice view of the valley below. Next we drove through the campground. At first I had assumed the area designated by the wooden sign must be the tent camping area since it was off some pretty rough and steep roads, but upon turning the corner, we saw some pretty large travel trailers and motor homes (those are some braves folks!).

In addition to the challenging roads, there didn’t seem to be much to do within walking distance of the campground, other than hiking, of course. However, there was a large fishing pond and a nice office and camp store further into the park. They also had some cabins down another side road.

Still trying to beat the storms we set back out. The park is actually set into the Manchester State Forest, so we drove a few side roads through the forest. Around this time we were getting hungry, but discovered we should have packed lunch since the nearest restaurants were a ways off. Following our stomachs, we started back toward Columbia, but not before we went looking for the mountain supposedly hidden in the Midlands.

We were shocked by what we found upon entering the Wateree River Heritage Preserve! After driving through an ornate iron gate we found immaculate gravel roads and large modern street signs. As instructed by signs, we stopped at a check point soon after entering the preserve and filled out a day use pass. Then we set out to find the mountain.

Despite the street signs, the preserve wasn’t particularly easy to navigate for first-timers. The map at the check point clearly indicated the roads, but didn’t mark any points of interest. So we drove. Eventually we saw a small white sign. It had an arrow pointing left to the fishing pond and right to Cook’s Mountain. We turned right. We expected to make the turn and find the “mountain” was just a small mound in a clearing, but instead the road began to weave upward. Our excitement began to grow as we continued up the hill. Could there really be a secret mountain in the Midlands?

Then we came to the end of the road. The top of Cook’s Mountain.

And it was beautiful!

Maybe not a mountain in the typical sense, the land mass only rises to 372 feet above sea-level, but the scenic overlook provides a breath-taking view of the Wateree River below. Pictures really don’t do it justice.

In fact, I’m a little hesitant to even tell anyone about this hidden gem because I want to keep it to ourselves, but what fun would that be? So, if you find yourself near Columbia, S.C., make the 17 mile drive to Eastover, S.C. and drive up Cook’s Mountain. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. We weren’t! My only word of caution is to bring your chosen bug repellent. The mosquitos seem to be fond of the view, as well.

After our mountain voyage, we made the short drive home, promising to be back for further exploration. It’s amazing the things you find in your own backyard just taking a lazy, Sunday afternoon drive!