Category Archives: Campground Reviews

Reviews of RV campgrounds, state/national parks, etc.

Campground Review: Ft Benning Destin Rec Area, Destin FL

Dates: December 26-31, 2015

Campsite: 2108

Overall Score: 4.58 (out of 5)

Summary: This military campground features full hookups and is located in Destin, one of the top vacation destinations in the Southeast. We made it ground zero for an 18-person Christmas family reunion. At 4.58, this is our highest scoring campground to date.

Recreation/Amenities: 4.5

  • A marina where you can rent pontoons, wave-runners and kayaks, or launch your own boat
  • Charter fishing, harbor tours, and dolphin watching tours
  • Fishing/crabbing pier
  • Swimming pool, playground, picnic facilities, and a 2,500 square foot splash park
  • Fitness facilities and recreation equipment, including treadmills, TVs, kayaks, and paddle boards
View from the Tuna Villa
View from the Tuna Villa

Hookups & Connectivity: 4.9 – Finally, a campground that has it all! Electricity, water, sewer, free Wi-Fi, cable TV, and laundry facilities. Minor deduction because the cable reception wasn’t consistent, although that may have been due to the weather. Also, our 30-amp box had an issue, so we went with the 50-amp box, using a dog bone converter, gauze pads, and the valve off an old flux capacitor.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 4.8 – Destin offers something for everyone. In addition to the sugar sand beaches and emerald green waters, you’ll find several golf courses, deep sea fishing, the Destin Commons open air mall, an outlet mall, water parks, miniature golf, laser tag, etc. For a more complete list, here’s the link… http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g34182-Activities-Destin_Florida.html

Among the two hundred plus restaurants, we especially like Dewey Destin Seafood, Harry T’s, The Shrimp Basket, Landshark’s Pizza, The Back Porch and late night key lime pie at the Donut Hole Bakery.

Cleanliness: 4.5 – Solid. No major issues.

Rec Area Pool
Rec Area Pool

Intangibles: 4.2

Pros

  • Lots of nostalgia associated with this place, as we have enjoyed several extended family reunions at this rec area, especially in the 90s and 00s.
  • Wide range of lodging options, all non-smoking, including RV sites, 1-bedroom suites, 2- and 3-bedroom villas, hotels and studios. The spacious Tuna Villa is available for colonels and above and is a good gathering point for family reunions.
  • Most lodging units have a water view of Choctawhatchee Bay
  • Pleasantly surprised to run into the Bagwell family at Destin Commons…good friends we worshipped with during our two years in Germany. Small world.
  • Good security—gated with code entrance at night.
  • Affordable…especially the RV sites, at $21/night.
  • Shout out to the office staff at the Destin Church of Christ for mailing me my Bible (with 20 years worth of notes) that I inadvertently left on a pew during a worship service.

Cons

  • Rained much of the week, although that’s not the fault of the campground. Rain has never stopped our family from having fun and finding things to do.
  • RV sites are packed in pretty tight with no water view.
  • Traffic jams, especially on Destin’s main strip, are pretty commonplace
  • Limited traditional hiking options, although beach hikes are fun
  • Our day trip to the normally really cool town of Seaside was mostly a bust due to a red tide outbreak. Specifically, some Karenia brevis bloomed causing ophthalmalgia and tussis for our group and the other tourists and residents trying to enjoy the town and beach. Embrace my medical terminology swag.

Bottom line: We had a wonderful Christmas week at the Fort Benning Rec Area! For the first time, our holiday gathering featured both our daughter and daughter-to-be…the incomparable Rachel and Laci. Rachel’s awesome parents, Ron and Jackie Swift, also joined us which made the week even more special.

Big Steve

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Campground Review: Aviation Arbor RV Park, Belle Chase, LA

Aviation Arbor RV Park, Naval Air Station (NAS) Joint Reserve Base (JRB) New Orleans, Belle Chase, LA

Dates: October 6-9, 2015

Campsite: 27

Overall Score: 4.46 (out of 5)

Summary: The strength of this military campground is being close to New Orleans and having full hookups.

Recreation/Amenities: 4 – Aside from billiards and Ping-Pong, there is not much to do at the actual campground. However, its location on a military base puts a movie theater, bowling alley, gymnasium, golf course and other recreational opportunities in easy driving distance.

Hookups & Connectivity: 4.8 – electric, water, and sewer. Laundry facilities. Free Wi-Fi. Aside from Cable TV, it has everything you’d want in a campground.

Pavillion, Laundry, Bathrooms
Pavillion, Laundry, Bathrooms

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 4.7 – A high score due to its proximity to New Orleans which has a ton of things to do (see our blog on New Orleans). There’s also the Audubon Aquarium, Insectarium, IMAX, and Audubon Zoo.

Cleanliness: 4.5 – Solid. No major issues. Even the laundry facilities were nice.

Simple, but full hook-ups!
Simple, but full hook-ups!

Intangibles: 4.3

Pros – Quiet, clean, and safe. Very affordable at $20/night. There’s decent spacing between RVs. Upon arrival, we were given a welcome packet with maps and information on the local area. That’s a first. I always love being back on a military installation and hearing the National Anthem played over loud speakers each day. Merica!

Cons – The campground is not what you would consider beautiful…no lakes, mountain vistas, forests, etc. There are just rows of RVs surrounded by some trees and bushes. The campground is close to the a flight line which can get loud at times, although that wasn’t a problem for us.

Big Steve

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Campground Review: Natchez SP, MS

Dates: October 3-5, 2015

Campsite: 26

Overall Score: 3.86 (out of 5)

Summary: We loved the spacious, wooded, quiet campsites and the close proximity to Natchez. This state park must be especially appealing to fishermen and hunters.

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Recreation/Amenities: 3.8

Freshwater fishing and a boat launch, playground, nature trail, picnic area/shelter, and disc golf. The park also has about 2.5 miles of logging roads in the hunting area where horseback riding is allowed (except during hunts). This rule is designed to keep you and your horse from getting shot. I think it’s a good rule.

Hookups & Connectivity: 3.5 – electric and water, with dump station.  Laundry facilities. No sewer or Wi-Fi at site.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 4.3

Antebellum homes, Emerald Mound, and the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians can be visited in nearby Natchez. There are also golf courses, historic Jefferson College, Homochitto National Forest, and the Natchez Trace Parkway. There are several special events, including the Great Mississippi Balloon Race in October and Christmas in Natchez in December.

IMG_1870
Fire Starter

Cleanliness: 4.3 – Solid. No major issues.

Intangibles: 4.2

Pros – The largest bass in Mississippi history, an 18.15 pound largemouth, was caught in Natchez lake in 1992. For hunters, deer and turkey hunts appear to be popular activities in the park. The $18/night + tax RV camping fee is very reasonable.

Cons – Aside from a short nature trail, there are no real hiking trails. That’s kind of a bummer for hiking nuts like us.

Big Steve

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Campground Review: Petit Jean SP, AR

Dates: September 22-24, 2015

Campsite: 46 (Area B)

Overall Score: 3.96 (out of 5)

View from the Lodge
View from the Lodge

Summary: This beautiful wooded park in central Arkansas features great hiking, spacious campsites, incredible rock formations, and rustic stone and log structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. 

Canyon Falls
Cedar Creek Canyon Falls

History: Petit Jean, according to legend, was a young 18th century French woman. When she learned that her fiancé planned to explore the Louisiana Territory, she cut her hair, disguised herself as a boy, and found a position as a cabin boy. When the expedition reached this area, Petit Jean (or “Little John” as she was known on ship), became seriously ill. On her deathbed, she revealed herself to her fiancé who, channeling his inner Usher, said, “Lil Jon!” (I added that to the legend.) She died and was buried on the mountain under the name “Little John”, as she had been known by on the ship.

IMG_2377
Name the State

Recreation/Amenities: 4.6

The park features a variety of lodging options for its visitors:

  • RV or tent camping at 127 campsites;
  • The 24-room historic Mather Lodge on the edge of a bluff of a deep, forested canyon;
  • 32 rustic cabins, some with fireplaces and some lakeside

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The park offers great hiking options, including the somewhat challenging Cedar Creek Canyon hike that leads to a 95-foot waterfall. Due to the lack of rain, the waterfall was more of a trickle, but still beautiful. Rock climbers and geology lovers should check out Bear Cave, Rock House Cave, the Grotto, Turtle Rocks, Carpet Rocks, and Natural Bridge.

Lil Jan, Big Rock
Lil Jan, Big Rock

Other recreation options include a lodge swimming pool, canoeing and fishing on the 100-acre Lake Bailey, picnicking, bike trails, tennis and basketball courts, and playgrounds. There is also a restaurant at the lodge, a visitor’s center, and a gift shop.

Poor Technique
Poor Technique

Hookups & Connectivity: 3.5 – electric and water, with dump station.  No sewer or Wi-Fi at site.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3

The Museum of Automobiles is less than a mile away.

Cleanliness: 4.3 – Solid. No major issues.

Cedar Creek Canyon Lookout
Cedar Creek Canyon Lookout

Intangibles: 4.4

Pros – The campsites are some of the best we’ve seen, with lots of mature trees and good spacing. For those not able to hike down into the canyon to see the waterfall, there is a handicap-accessible observation tower on the bluff. A giant stick insect was hanging out on our RV when we returned from hiking.

Stick Bug Looking for an Outlet
Had He Plugged Into the Outlet…Civilization Would’ve Been Doomed

Cons – Two bees in Cedar Creek Canyon stung me. Be careful out there. Also, the park is named after a French transgender cabin boy, the thought of which may be upsetting to younger campers.

Big Steve

We named it "Cairn Larsen"
We named it “Cairn Larsen”
Name the Indian Artifact
Name the Indian Artifact

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Campground Review: Navy Lake Rec Area, Millington TN

Campground: Navy Lake Recreation Area, Millington, TN

Dates: September 18-22, 2015

Campsite: next to men’s bathroom

Overall Score: 3.78 (out of 5)

Summary: Although somewhat lacking in amenities, recreation, and nearby attractions, this quiet, clean, safe, and affordable military campground is a good base camp from which to explore the Memphis area.

Recreation/Amenities: 3 out of 5 – The campground has a couple of small lakes for fishing and paddleboats. That’s about it.

Hookups & Connectivity: 4.2 out of 5 – electric, water, and (finally) sewer! No need to dump the tanks on our way out. No Wi-Fi or cable TV.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3 out of 5 – Not much to do in Millington, aside from shopping and restaurants. A short drive away, military/government employees can access the golf course, gymnasium, and other recreational activities on the Mid-South Naval Support Activity, Millington. A 30 to 45 minute takes you to downtown Memphis and all that it has to offer.

Cleanliness: 4.5 out of 5 – No issues. In our experience, military campgrounds tend to be cleaner than state parks.

Intangibles: 4.2 out of 5 –

Pros – Level sites, on concrete. Just $21/night.

Cons – Sites are lined up one right after the other. Not much privacy and not much of a view.

This no-frills military campground is good for a safe, quiet getaway or as a staging area to tour Memphis.

Big Steve

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Campground Review: Pere Marquette SP, IL

Dates: September 5-7, 2015

Campsite: 12

Overall Score: 4.22 (out of 5)

Summary: Pere Marquette State Park is Illinois’ largest park, covering more than 8000 acres. A nature lover’s paradise, it offers a wide variety of activities in and around the park.

Site 12, Pere Marquette Campground
Site 12, Pere Marquette Campground

Recreation/Amenities: 4.7

There are 10 hiking trails covering a total of 12 miles. They range from easy to difficult and some have scenic bluff views of the Illinois River.   For the less ambitious, there is a scenic drive through the park. For the more ambitious, there is rock climbing on the bluffs. There are several cabins, a lodge (with indoor swimming pool and weight room), and a restaurant (get the fried chicken) all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Visitor Center has a 3-D map of the park along with displays and exhibits concerning the Illinois River, wildlife habitat, local history and geology. There are 2 rustic cabins that can be rented in the campground and there’s a boat ramp for Illinois River access.

Saddle Up!
Saddle Up!

Hookups & Connectivity: 3 – electric only, with dump station. Water source is located in the camping area, but not at individual campsites. No Wi-Fi. There is supposed to be Wi-Fi at the lodge, but we couldn’t pick up a signal.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 4.9 

Where to begin? Let’s see…you can go to the Illinois and/or Mississippi Rivers to go boating, fishing, cruising, parasailing, or take a ferry ride. Nearby you’ll find some of the best bald eagle watching anywhere along the Great River (during the winter). There’s also hunting on 5,000 acres of public land and a 20-mile bike trail to Alton. There’s also horseback riding, a mystery dinner, Eckert’s apple orchard, golfing, and the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site and Conveyance Tower. You can head to Grafton for shopping, wineries, and riverfront dining. On top of all that, there’s zip lining nearby and the Raging Rivers Water Park. And, of course, you can take a very scenic 40-minute drive to St Louis for all that it has to offer.

Cleanliness: 4.3 – average cleanliness. Not pristine, but no major issues.

Nesting Intincts
Nesting Instincts Kick In

Intangibles: 4.2

Pros – Campground has shade trees and most sites are level. Lil Jan and her nesting instinct were immediately drawn to the eagle’s nest at the Visitors Center.

Cons – Campground sites have adequate spacing, but minimal natural barriers between them. No cell phone service in the park. $32.50/night was a tad higher than the average state park we’ve visited. A person familiar with the lodge rooms and cabins said they were “starting to show their age” although we didn’t get a look inside them.

Bottom-line: this is a large, beautiful park with a ton of things to do both in the park and in the vicinity.

Big Steve

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Campground Review: Maquoketa Caves SP, IA

Dates: August 30 – September 2, 2015

Campsite: 16

Overall Score: 3.64 (out of 5)

Summary: This small but beautiful state park is best known for its caves, and for good reason. Although off the beaten path, the 16 caves linked by 6 miles of trails make this park a spelunker’s delight.

Campsite 16
Campsite 16
Peaceful Neighborhood
Peaceful Neighborhood

Recreation/Amenities: 4 – The 16 caves are the most of any state park in Iowa. They range from very accessible (walk-ways, lights, etc.) to extremely difficult. Case in point: back in 2012, two 20-year-old experienced spelunkers got wedged in a cold, narrow passage of Wye cave. It took first responders four hours to get her out and twenty hours to free him. Thankfully, they survived. A link to their story is at the bottom of this blog. Before entering the caves, visitors must receive training (a short speech) on White Noise Syndrome that has killed more than 5.7 million bats in 25 states. Basically, a fungus grows on hibernating bats, so spelunkers have to take precautions like wiping off the bottoms of their shoes before entering or exiting the cave system. Unrelated to the caves, the park also has several beautiful spots for picnics and relaxing in nature.

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Hookups & Connectivity: 3 – electric only, with dump station. Water source is located in the camping area, but not at individual campsites. No Wi-Fi.

Back of knee sweat?
Big Steve tracks Injun Joe

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3 – Aside from the small town of Maquoketa a few miles away, we didn’t notice much to do in the local vicinity. It is, however, a good central location from which to do day trips to the Amana Colonies, Dyersville, and Dubuque.

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Cleanliness: 4 – well-maintained campsite, facilities, and trails. The bathhouse was average/acceptable. The National Weather Service radio broadcast plays rather loudly, 24/7, next to the showers…a good way to keep campers aware of impending storms. (In good weather, you simply have to find the joy in being loudly and repeatedly reminded, while showering, of the forecasted barometric pressure in nearby Spragueville and Oxford Mills.)

Big Steve discovers portal to Narnia
Big Steve discovers portal to Narnia

Intangibles: 4.2

Pros

Again, the quality, quantity, and varying intensity of the park’s cave system are what set it apart. If you plan on spelunking, be sure to bring a change of clothes/shoes and a headlamp. Also be sure to visit the ice cave where, in a single step into the cave, the temperature drops about 30 degrees. There are tall, mature trees throughout the park and deer roam freely. Park entrance is free and campsites were just $18/night. The sites are close together, but we were almost the only ones there so that wasn’t an issue. I’m told during weekends in the summer, the place is packed.

Going down?
Going down?

Cons – Due to inconsiderate souvenir hunters, there are no stalactites or stalagmites inside the caves. My only real complaint, though, is with the terrible campground/hiking map. It was the worst, least helpful one that we’ve come across. We would come to 2- or 3-way forks in a hiking trail with no marker as to which trail went which way. Other trails were marked with signs, but there was no indication of them on the map. We began guessing where we were and started following a series of unmarked trails that led to an intense hike up a hill to a ridge. Yes, for the first time in our many hikes, we were lost. Tired of guessing, I called the park office (no answer, and it cost me a man chip). I left a message and my number stating that we were out hiking and seemed to be lost, and they never called back. I finally resorted to using my iPhone compass to determine the likely direction of park headquarters, and we eventually found our way back. They need to invest in more signs and a better map to make navigating the caves and trails a little easier.  I would also add that a follow-up call checking on our status would have been a considerate thing to do.

Aside from getting lost, we enjoyed the caves and recommend this state park in the middle of Iowa.

Big Steve

http://qctimes.com/news/local/rescuers-free-two-from-maquoketa-caves/article_d121f214-a16d-11e1-a5e8-001a4bcf887a.html

Spelunking Buddies
Spelunking Buddies

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Campground Review: Frontenac State Park, MN

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”   – Job 12:7-10

Yes, “the hand of the LORD has done this”!  In fact, sometimes God  just smacks me upside the head with the awesomeness of His creation. This tends to happen while I’m hiking.  Most recently, it happened at Frontenac State Park while solo hiking through the forest as the morning sun broke through the trees. I had to just stop and thank God for this gift, and for allowing Lil Jan and me the privilege to be able to travel the country during this special time in our lives.  As for Frontenac State Park, here’s our review…

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 Dates: August 25-26, 2015

Campsite: 14E

Overall Score: 3.88 (out of 5)

Summary: Although this is a relatively small state park, it has a wide variety of beautiful terrains. There are river bluffs, forests, and hilly prairies to hike, and one of the most scenic picnic areas we’ve come across. The park has a secluded and peaceful feel to it, which is a good thing.

Did I mention God is awesome?
Did I mention God is awesome?

Recreation/Amenities: 4.0 – 20+ miles of great and varied hiking trails, ranging from easy/scenic (along the bluff) to difficult (going down the 430+ foot bluff with switchbacks from In Yan Teopa rock to the river). Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are available in the winter.

In Yan Teopa (Rock with Opening)
In Yan Teopa (Rock with Opening)

Hookups & Connectivity: 3.5 – electric only, with dump station. Water source is located in the camping area, but not at individual campsites. Only 19 electric sites, which may not meet demand on holiday weekends and other high volume times.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3.5 – Canoe and kayak rentals are available at nearby Lake Pepin. Of course, the Great River Road is nearby. From the park, I’d recommend heading north to Red Wing (historic, w/ some shopping), crossing over into Wisconsin and then following the Great River Road north to the historic towns of Prescott and Hastings.

View from bluffs, along hiking trail
View from bluffs, along hiking trail

Cleanliness: 4.2 – well-maintained campsite, facilities, and trails.

Intangibles: 4.2

Pros – Be sure to check out the great view of the Mississippi River (at this section, it’s known as Lake Pepin) from the bluffs and especially at the picnic area. Good chance of seeing a bald eagle during the winter months. Friendly staff. $36/night, which includes a $5 park entrance fee and an $8 charge for an electric site.

View of Lake Pepin (Mississippi River) from Picnic Area
View of Lake Pepin (Mississippi River) from Picnic Area

Cons – I would be scared to hike with children (or someone as graceful as Lil Jan) along parts of the bluff, unless they were on a leash. The drop off is steep and unforgiving. Campsites were wooded/scenic, but also pretty close together. It would be difficult to park a big RV given the campground layout—one of the reasons we went with a somewhat smaller (32’) Class-A. There’s no place to cool off (pool, creek, etc.), aside from the Mississippi River…and that may not be advisable. The hiking trail map and signage could have been a little better.

We enjoyed our time at Frontenac State Park.  Time to say farewell to Minnesota and head back to the Great River Road on the Wisconsin side.

Big Steve

A Final Reminder How Incredibly Awesome God Is!
A Final Reminder How Incredibly Awesome God Is!

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Campground Review: Lake Itasca State Park, MN

Lake Itasca
Lake Itasca

Dates: August 20-22, 2015

Campsite: 77e

Overall Score: 4.42 (out of 5)

Summary: This massive 32,500 acre state park is one of the most beautiful places we’ve been, camping or otherwise. It is the second oldest state park in America (behind Niagara Falls) and the oldest and 3rd most visited state park in Minnesota. Its rolling landscape, created by glaciers thousands of years ago, conceals over 100 lakes within maple, oak, birch, pine, and spruce forests.

Bohall Lake
Bohall Lake

Recreation/Amenities: 4.8 – This park has something for everyone. We’ll begin with what it’s best known for…the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. Yes, the world’s third-longest river starts its 2,552-mile journey as a small wilderness stream that can be walked across. So we walked across it. Near the headwaters there is also an outstanding Great River Road interpretive center, museum and gift shop (more on the Great River Road in our next blog). There are 49 miles of hiking trails (we hiked about 5 miles of them). Recommend the 2-mile Dr. Roberts Trail, a loop trail with a few moderate hills along the east arm of Lake Itasca. The .5-mile, out and back Bohall Trail to the secluded Bohall Lake is also terrific. I can only imagine what it would be like to backpack for several days along the lakes and trails of the southern and western portions of the park. Additionally, there are 16 miles of paved biking trails, 28 miles of cross country skiing trails, 31 miles of snowmobile trails, and an 8-mile loop wilderness trail that can be done via car or bike. There’s also fishing, boat rentals (all varieties), a tour/excursion boat, a historic lodge and restaurant (order the Southern Pasta), and giant pines throughout the park. Note:  The modest .2 deduction is due to a lack of equestrian or dirt bike trails.

Miles & miles of trails
Miles & miles of trails

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Hookups & Connectivity: 3.5 – electric only, with dump station. Water sources (spigots) are located throughout the camping area, but not at individual campsites. Free W-Fi, but only if your campsite is close enough to the bathroom/shower building.

Lil Jan Crossing the Mississippi River!
Lil Jan Crossing the Mississippi River!
Watch out, kid, I'll push you in!
Watch out, kid, I’ll push you in!

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 4.5 – There are enough things to do in the park that there’s no reason to leave it. However, Park Rapids is 20 miles south. It features shopping, fishing, golfing, stage entertainment, and family music and comedy shows. Basically, the entire area in and around the park has hardwood and pine forests (for wildlife watching, camping, fishing, hiking/biking) and is also a winter playground with a vast network of snowmobiling and cross-country skiing trails.

Fire Tower
Fire Tower

Cleanliness: 4.6 – well-maintained campsite and facilities.

Intangibles: 4.7 …..

Pros – a good variety of campsites—some more secluded in the woods, some more open by the lake, etc. There’s a climbable 100-foot tall fire tower for a panoramic view of the Lake Itasca watershed. Good balance between hiking, biking, skiing, boating, and driving to explore the park. Contains the largest white pine tree in Minnesota…113 feet tall and 14.5 feet around. Be sure to stop at the Preacher’s Grove and walk under the giant red pines along Lake Itasca.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River
Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Cons – nitpicky, but at rush hour/check-in time, there were 6 or 7 campers backed up waiting to check-in. The check-in staff was competent and friendly, but the process took some time. There are lots of mosquitos (except in winter), especially at certain times of day (near dusk) and on certain trails (for us, that was the Blowdown Trail). So apply liberal amounts of bug repellant.

Lil Jan Chillin' as Big Steve preps for Weiner Roast
Lil Jan Chillin’ as Big Steve preps for Weiner Roast

If you want to travel the entire length of the iconic Mississippi River (and we do, and we are)…it all begins at the headwaters in beautiful Itasca State Park. It was named a National Natural Landmark in 1965 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Put this one on your bucket list!

Big Steve

Pines along Bohall Trail
Pines along Bohall Trail

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Campground Review: Arnold AFB FamCamp

Dates: July 8-29, 2015

Campsite: 10

Overall Score: 4.2 (out of 5)

Summary: This rustic, lakeside military campground has a lot of things going for it, and thus is our top scoring campground to date. However, it’s only open to government employees (active, retired, reserves, and DoD civilians). If available, choose RV sites 17, 36, and 18, in that order. If primitive camping, it’s hard to beat site T1, where you could conceivably catch fish from inside your tent…although that would not make a lot of sense.

Along Hiking Path, Woods Reservoir
Along Hiking Path, Woods Reservoir

Recreation/Amenities: 4.6 – Located along the shore of Woods Reservoir, a 4000-acre wilderness lake that provides water for the testing/engineering activities at Arnold AFB. Fishing is superb…supposedly the 3rd best crappie fishing locale in the state of Tennessee. I caught a 3-foot long catfish and dozens of bluegill. (Catfish should not be eaten due to high PCB levels. Also true for catfish caught in ponds near Fukushima, Japan.) Boat rentals are available, ranging from kayaks to ski and pontoon boats. The campground features a beach area, picnic pavilion, horseshoes, a playground, and hiking/biking/horseback riding trails (see link below). Easy drive to fitness center (weights, racquetball courts, etc.), a paved 1.5 mile walking/jogging trail, a larger beach area, commissary/BX, golf course, etc., at Arnold AFB.

Hookups & Connectivity: 4.2 – electric, water, and dump station (partial hookups). Laundry facilities. Free Wi-Fi! No cable TV or sewer connection at site.

Rutledge Falls
Rutledge Falls

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3.2 – within 15 miles, you’ll find the small towns of Manchester, Winchester and Tullahoma (restaurants, antique stores, small town life). Closer in, you have the previously covered and very affordable things to do on Arnold AFB. Our two favorite Tullahoma stops involved, not surprisingly, hiking. First up, Rutledge Falls features a short, steep descent down to a beautiful waterfall and swimming area. From there, you can hike downstream either beside the creek or in the creek (wear water shoes) for more than a mile. Butterflies were everywhere (cool!) and some of them feasted on a dead animal in the water (not cool!). Next up, the Short Springs Natural Area features 4.5 miles of hiking trails, including the Machine Falls Loop. The up and down climb to the cascading Machine Falls is well worth the effort. In Manchester, we recommend lunch or dinner at the eclectic 50-year-old Jiffy Burger, featuring delicious burgers (imagine that) along with an impressive display of collectibles (mostly toys), music memorabilia, and other nostalgic décor. If you are willing to drive further, you will of course find a host of things to do in the Nashville metropolitan area…more on that in a future blog.

Machine Falls
Machine Falls

Cleanliness: 4.3 – well-maintained campsite and facilities.

Intangibles: 4.7

Pros – close proximity to Steve’s parents and Arnold AFB activities. Very affordable…just $12/night. Quiet campsite. Fabulous views, right on the water. With just one marina, the lake is very un-crowded. Fun fact: Arnold AFB is home to “the most advanced and largest complex of flight simulation test facilities in the world”…including “43 aerodynamic and propulsion wind tunnels, rocket and turbine engine test cells, space environmental chambers, etc.” (My presence brought the number of wind tunnels to 44.)

Butterfly Landing Zone, Machine Falls Loop

Cons – the campsites are lined up right next to each other…very little spacing or natural barriers. The on-site convenience store is only open on holiday weekends. The campground is off the beaten path, a good drive from any major roads…which could be a plus or minus for you.

Update – due to my mom’s health situation (stage 4 liver cancer, under hospice care), we decided to park the RV at some friend’s house at a nearby lake and move in with my parents for her remaining days. We appreciate your prayers as we care for her, administer the medicine, and encourage my dad as best we can. It has been an emotionally draining time, but God is good all the time and we trust his plan and timing as it relates to my mom.

Big Steve

Biking/Hiking Trails… http://www.mtbproject.com/trail/3268376

Near Rutledge Falls
Near Rutledge Falls
As the deer...
As the deer…
Alright, kids, everyone out of the water!
Alright, kids, everyone out of the water!
Creek walkin' with my lady
Creek walkin’ with my lady

 

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