Category - Campsites

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REVIEW: Cedars of Lebanon State Park (TN)
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REVIEW: Chimney Rock (NC)
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REVIEW: Bledsoe State Park (TN)

REVIEW: Cedars of Lebanon State Park (TN)

Earlier this year, our small group thought it would be fun to spend a long weekend camping together.

During our regular weekly meetings, we’re restricted to a church class room for an hour on Wednesday night. Most of us are rushing home from work, feeding the kids, racing to get to church on time… and then scrambling to get home to preserve bed-time routines.

We began to plan armed with the idea of camping under the stars with no plans, no agenda, no screens, and no walls.

Cedars of Lebanon was a great option for us, just an hour away from the North Nashville area. We knew that state parks fill up quickly during Fall Break so we looked past our commitment issues and booked our sites early.

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We decided to take the kids on a short hike and made plans to fit in a game of kickball. After checking out a cave and making a couple of turns we started down our chosen trail. Although I confess I was somewhat swept up in the beauty of the day and said “this way!” without knowing exactly where I was headed. What was supposed to be one mile, quickly turned into two. As we continued, we began to see horseshoe prints… and then the inevitable horse poop the rest of the way. At mile three, we started to worry. Just how long was this trail?

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With 11 kids in tow, we were in the middle of nowhere and had no clue how long the trail was. The only choice we had was to turn around and follow the trail back or keep going. We chose to press on. Five miles later, we ended up at a horse stable and a street. The kids were tired, thirsty and hungry. I had the forethought to bring salami in my pack so I passed that out while we waited for our friends to rescue the kiddos. Thank goodness a couple of guys stayed back at the campsite to hang out. The kids were worn out but in good spirits. We were very happy with the accessible hiking, just make sure you read the map. Or not… just be prepared for adventure!

Camp Site(s):

All of our sites were in camping area three. This area is reserved for tent camping and pop-up campers so you won’t be stuck next to RVs. My family was specifically in 107 (closest to the bathrooms) and the site was huge. We even said if we were to do it again, we probably could’ve fit our five families into three camp sites. There was very little traffic except for the camp patrol that came by very frequently to check on things. Cedars of Lebanon definitely gets thumbs up from our crew and we hope to check out the cabins and horseback riding at some point in the future. Always planning!

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REVIEW: Chimney Rock (NC)

  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls
  • Hickory Nut Falls

Disclaimer: The folks at Chimney Rock State Park kindly allowed our family admission for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

Fall is officially here, which means camping season! We already have a two-night camping trip planned with our small group and can’t wait to sleep under the stars again.

Last July, we tent camped in Chimney Rock, NC (near Ashville), which was about five and half hours from our home. Check out our experience and plan a trip there yourself, it’s one of our favorites!

Hickory Nut Falls Campground:

This was our first time camping right on the water and the kids had a blast being able to stand in different parts of the Rocky Broad River. Our family (Nana, Papa, cousins, everyone!) occupied the end on sites 78, 77, and 76. It was nice not having other people outside of our family on one end. It gave us a lots of extra space where our kids could explore without bothering others. Additionally, that end of the camp site is reserved for tent camping so you don’t need to worry about any pop up or RV campers (with 42″ televisions) rolling up next to you. The edge of the river has a few pockets of standing water but the closer you get to the middle, the deeper and faster the water rushes. Make sure to bring your own water tubes and water shoes. We didn’t equip ourselves with tubes so we ended up buying a few at a nearby store with inflated prices. The water is pretty loud which might bother you, but we found it soothing, especially at bed time. Make sure you reserve your spot early, the lots can go quickly! We reserved 3 months prior to our stay.

Chimney Rock State Park:

On Saturday, we visited the state park to hike Chimney Rock. There’s an elevator that takes you to the top of the Chimney but unfortunately, was broken during our visit.  With kids, it would’ve been nice to ride up to the top, then walk down but that was not the case for us. However, I’m glad to report that we made it without any injuries and few meltdowns. For the average adult, it takes about 25 minutes, covering 491 steps, to reach the Chimney. The Chimney itself is 315 feet at an elevation of 2,280 feet. Once we made it down, we visited a bat cave but sad to report that there were none to be seen at the time. Then we made another long, but easier hike to the 404-foot waterfall to cool down. By the end of that, we were all exhausted so we made one last stop to a kids area where one of the rangers showed off some snakes and other wildlife that the kids could touch and see up close. The state park charges per person (currently $13 for adults, $6 for children) however I do wish they would charge one flat fee per vehicle. For our family alone, the $50 admission would make the visit questionable. There was a ton more stuff to do but our young family just couldn’t handle it, especially on such a hot day.

Shopping, etc:

Right outside of the campground, there are plenty of shops that were really inexpensive. Lots of cute little mountain souvenir shops. Somehow we ended up with four harmonicas, bad idea for the drive home. We couldn’t refuse the Chimney Rock Gem Mine with kiddos, but I also scored some Salt Rock Lamps from their gift shop. There are a couple of lunch and dinner spots but we were very disciplined and stuck to eating at the campground with all the food we brought. We did treat ourselves to the Hershey’s Ice Cream Shoppe on our final night. They have a crazy amount of flavors, I think the sign claimed something like 85 flavors of Hershey’s Ice Cream.

Conclusion:

Chimney Rock is definitely a great midway camping spot between my family in Charleston, SC and our current location. The access to the water with kids is great however you definitely need to stay on guard if you have little ones like ours. Tubing is a must so make sure you plan ahead and bring some with you! Bottom line, waking up and hiking into the middle of the river with a cup of coffee is worth it every time.  We did a lot of rock sitting, skipping rocks and watching for wildlife. Can’t wait to go back.

REVIEW: Bledsoe State Park (TN)

On Thursday I attended the last of a series of ceremonies marking the end of school. I ended up with one best smiler, one super reader and one fun friend. Say what you will about unnecessary pomp and circumstance but my kids’ teachers nailed it with their awards. We had a great year of school with tons of progress, growth and achievement. IEP meetings for Lola were smoother this year and there were less hurdles all around. We are better at advocating and anticipating her needs. The year went by so quickly compared to the year before. In fact, it went a little too quickly. Next year we will have a 2nd grader, two 1st graders and a mother’s day out preschooler. Liam is almost four, and while he loves being the baby of the family, he seems less and less my littlest everyday. I feel like I’m approaching the stage where I blink, and instead of awards for super reading my kids will be accepting diplomas.

Entering into the “big kid” stage definitely has it’s advantages. They pour milk, clean rooms and even lay out their outfits for the week. Life feels much less chaotic than the “Four, 5 years old and younger” category we lived in for awhile. Those new advantages were definitely tested this weekend when we headed out for our first of many family camping trips.

I was super excited to get the kids and head out so we checked out of school a little early and hit the road. We made reservations at Bledsoe State Park because it’s conveniently located just 30 minutes away. I’m an ambitious mommy so I told Calvin to just meet us there after work and planned to set up the site with the help of my four small ones. This actually went pretty well minus the excited youngest who wanted to run off and explore every 4 seconds. Bledsoe is a great little state park. They have excellent hiking trails, some that run along the water, and nice wooded campsites. The bathrooms are also clean and heated which was very nice on cold mornings. The Goodbye boys didn’t frequent the bathrooms often, as they were more interested in the bathroom freedoms the woods provide.

The days were spent hiking, relaxing, preparing camp meals, riding bikes and playing games. Man did the kids ride their bikes. Liam even conquered two wheels. And that’s the thing about family trips and memories. I love that we can look back and say “remember when Liam rode a 2-wheel for the first time?” And we will, because it was a big event taking place in the simplest of times. This may be the reason I’m obsessed with becoming a camping family. I grew up camping and I loved backpacking in college. Some of my clearest family memories come from campfire circles or hiking trails. And as I watch the kids grow and gain independence, the moments where my almost 8-year-old holds my hand for a moment while we walk toward the water will become increasingly rare. Camping also builds character. It creates a need to work together. Gathering wood, setting up camp, cleaning up after meals and making sure nothing is left to draw animals. We were also lucky enough to hit early tick season in Tennessee. (insert emoji that displays a completely stressed out mom face) I cannot handle ticks. Read WebMD, they are tiny killers on the loose. I picked them off the kids and dog regularly. I’m still checking necks, ears and crevices because they were THAT BAD. Another memory right??

We have a few more camping trips planned this Summer. Hopefully there will be less ticks. Hopefully. We are all genuinely looking forward to more challenging hikes, longer stays and more adventure. And for those of you who have yet to take the plunge I’ll continue to blog about camping gear and what made life a little easier in the great outdoors. And for those of you who have non-camping significant others… just buy them some cool hiking shorts, it will change their whole outlook. It worked for me!

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