Hidden Gems… and a Cautionary Note

One of my favorite resources when planning a journey from Point A to Point B is the website www.uscampgrounds.info.  You can access a fairly comprehensive set of public campgrounds (they do not include private campgrounds) from the national and state level to city and county parks.  They also cover TVA, BLM, COE, and military-only campgrounds.  One of the things I like best about it is that it is map-based, giving you clear, easy access to camping options along your route.

Once you zoom into an area on the map, a variety of colored symbols show you the location and types of parks in that area.  If the symbol is white, that is an indicator of a low nightly fee.  When you click on a park, basic info appears to tell you things like the nearest city or town, the park’s phone number, what kind of facilities/hookups are available, and links to weather and reviews.  Elevation is even included, which I have found useful when seeking a campground where summer nighttime temps have a chance to cool down or, in the winter, when I want to aim for lower elevations.

Here are three gems that I found by using the US Campgrounds website:

McLeod Park and Campground in Kiln, Mississippi is run by the local water authority.  I like it because it is extremely convenient to I-10.  It is also in a very pretty area, situated on the Jourdan River.  All of the sites are full-hookup for $24/night.  It is a fairly large campground, though, and only has one bathhouse, which could be a problem if it is crowded and you rely on park facilities.

The Dead Lakes Recreation Area near Wewahitchka, Florida is a county-run park and campground on the western side of the Apalachicola National Forest.  For just $14/night, they have electric and water hookups in a small, charming campground overlooking a pond that leads to the Dead Lakes.  There is a public boat ramp to the lake nearby.  They even have a couple of laundry machines on the premises.

Sopchoppy City Park (a.k.a. Myron B. Hodge Park) in Sopchoppy, Florida is a small city park located on the Ochlockonee River in the southeastern corner of the Apalachicola National Forest.  It is one of my favorites.  For $15/night, you can have an electric/water site overlooking the river.  Full hookup spots are available along the fence line by the road.  The only downside is the condition of the bathrooms and showers, which are pretty unclean, at least when I was there.  But if you are in a self-contained RV with all of your own facilities, that shouldn’t matter much.

I would like to offer one cautionary note.  It is always wise to read reviews of any park you might want to visit, but with these small, locally run parks it is even more important.  I have steered away from a few after reading reviews that mention lots of local traffic, especially kids at night.  Some of these parks do not have a camp host or any kind of staff member on the premises after business hours, which could leave you vulnerable in case of trouble.  In the above three cases, only McLeod Park did not have after-hours staff or camp host presence, but the park seemed nice enough, so that didn’t deter me.

Also, keep your options open and leave yourself enough time to find another campground in case you decide not to stay at a park you picked.  This trip, I bypassed a city park in Louisiana because of the extremely trashy condition of downtown and its pothole-ridden Main Street.  Another time, I left a park in rural Ohio after feeling very uncomfortable with its seedy atmosphere.

Bottom line, there are lots of really nice campgrounds out there and the US Campgrounds website is a great way to expand your search.

Happy, safe travels one and all!

(The photo at the top of this post was taken near the boat ramp into the Dead Lakes.  All I could think of at the time was an alligator bursting through the calm of the water to grab me or Dawny.  Did you see the recent news story about the Florida alligator that tried to drag a man–not a child, not a puppy, a man!–into his pond at a golf course?  The man got away by jabbing the gator vigorously and repeatedly in its eye with his golf club.  I have no golf club.  Just a wimpy limpy leash.  And my iphone/camera.  Should Dawny and I have some kind of terrifying mishap, future paranoids at the Dead Lakes boat ramp would not hear a faintly eerie tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock keeping time with their imagination’s stroll on the wild side.  No.  They would hear Siri’s calmly professional, dark and bubbly voice… “Sorry, I missed that….”)

Wild About Texas

Texas has done it again.  Dawny and I have been enchanted by another one of their State Parks.

As I have mentioned in previous posts about campgrounds and ratings, our basic requirements are simple but fairly specific.  Succinctly put:  wonderful dog walks, decent 30-amp sites, good Verizon signal, and a budget-friendly price.

Martin Dies, Jr. State Park sits on the swampy banks of the Steinhagen Reservoir in east Texas.  “Caution: Alligators…” is boldly stamped on a prominent sign at the park’s entrance.  Admittedly, this steered our dog walks towards the middle of the road during the first part of our three night stay.  We are happy to report that there was plenty of asphalt ribbon to keep us exercised and entertained.

The park has lots of foot trails for fearless folks looking to wander through nature’s swampy wilds.  After the first creepy-crawly free day, we ventured a bit more off the road so Dawny could sniffle around the pine needles and greenery, leaving her two scents in the perfect spot.

Some of the best waterfront sites are for tent campers.  As a former tent camper from several lifetimes ago, I respect and appreciate that these spaces are reserved for those least likely to block the view and enjoyment of others.  For their part, tent campers probably appreciate not being surrounded by monster RVs complete with bright porch lights drowning out the stars and TVs chattering nonsense well into the night.  I remember turning my nose up at those lumbering beasts back in the impertinent righteousness of my own youth.

For those of us no longer physically able to last a night in a tent, let alone get a wink of sleep in one, there are 30-amp electric/water RV sites in the Hen House Ridge section.  Some of the asphalt pull-through pads are a bit bumpy and short, though, which might be challenging for those with a big rig.  There are 50-amp electric/water back-in sites elsewhere in the park.

It is a beautiful park with a wild flavor to it.  Splendid shade is provided by towering trees all around.  Many of the RV sites border Gum Slough–a backwater creek–their picnic table and fire ring areas providing front-row seats to their own private alligator habitat.  Be careful, though.  Sitting by one of those fires on a moonless night could well invite nightmares of alligator eyes lurking, stalking… drip-swoosh, drip-swoosh… tick-tock…  Yikes!

Back to civilization!  Not only was I able to get a strong Verizon signal for my phone and internet hotspot, my over-the-air antenna picked up several major network channels.  I am ashamed to say–but I’ll get over it and say it anyways–it was the TV signal that sealed my third night.  I was only going to stay two nights, but having the crazed civilized world crash into the serenity of the past two TV-sparse months was too much to resist.  What can I say?  I lack discipline.

For anyone looking for a good, efficient source of RV campground reviews, visit the website www.rvparkreviews.com.  I finally signed up and will do my good-camper duty by posting reviews there as often as I can, although I may still share a more circuitous journey to the same conclusions here.

Holiday Way Stations

Hello!  Just stopping by to note a couple of absolutely lovely State Park campgrounds Dawny and I have stayed at during our trek south and west.  Out of a possible total of five stars, they each earned all five.

Keep in mind that everyone has different criteria on what makes a campground great, so what I find wonderful, you may think dismal.  For starters, there is a big difference in what is required to comfortably accommodate a 35 foot fifth-wheel trailer and its tow vehicle vs. a 25-foot motorhome with no toad (my set up).

It is always a good idea to google reviews of any park you are considering.  My favorite site for that information is RV Park Reviews at www.rvparkreviews.com.  If I was a good citizen of the camping community, I would contribute my own reviews to the site and not just be a taker.  Alas, I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I plan to.

Meanwhile, just so you understand the criteria involved in my ranking system, for me a park scores high for:

  • Pretty surroundings and good roads and paths for enjoyable walks with Dawny;
  • Sites not too un-level and preferably gravel or paved so that it isn’t a muddy mess in the rain (with just a small motorhome with leveling jacks and blocks, it is usually pretty easy to find a workable site);
  • Sites not on top of one another (I’d rather look at trees than another RV 10 feet away or, worse yet, have someone’s sewer hookup just a few feet from my window or door);
  • Electrical hookup (30 amp) at the site with potable water and a dump station available on premises (bonus points when water and/or sewer is available at the site without additional cost);
  • Decent Verizon signal for phone and internet hotspot (I don’t use campground-supplied wifi, even when it is available);
  • Enough TV stations accessible with my antenna so that if I stay more than a couple of days, I don’t go crazy (nice to have at least one or two of the major networks plus a few others, like the Movie Channel, PBS, CW, Laff, or Escape–yes, when all else fails, I can quietly freak out over true crime stories);
  • Reasonably priced (no higher than $25/night with bonus points for every dollar under);
  • The intangible factor, generally communicated through friendliness, cleanliness, goodwill, and the overall aura of the place.

Based on the above, here are two five-star spots from this leg of my journey:

Lake Catherine State Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas, 501/844-4176 (https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/lakecatherine):  Heavily wooded campground bordering a small lake.  Two of the three campground loops are right on the lake.  Rates are $22/night for 30 amp electric and water hookup.  Full hookup sites available for an additional charge.  Great walking available around the camping loops, park roads, and woodland trails.  Just 12 miles north of I-30 near Hot Springs.  The picture at the top of this post is my view of the lake through my front window, graced by the start of my Christmas decorations on the dash.

Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, Pittsburg, Texas, 903/572-5531 (can’t get the link to work but easy enough to search for the park on google):  Also a heavily wooded campground, this one is on a large lake in northeast Texas (about 60 miles west of Texarkana and a tad south of I-30).  A handful of the campsites are on the water, and a boat ramp, swimming beach, and picnic areas are a short drive from the campground.  Many of the camping sites are quite short, yet the overall spaciousness between the sites is extraordinarily generous.  The rate for 30 amp electric & water hookup is $22/night, which includes the $4 surcharge for those like me who do not invest in the annual Texas State Parks pass.

The snowman picture is of Christmas decorations at one of Bob Sandlin’s campsites on the water.  One weekend early each December, the park offers free camping as long as you decorate your site.  All you need is a simple string of lights–but you are welcome to bring so much more.  Pretty nifty, neighborly holiday idea, and winner of the intangible factor, hands-down!  (I also saw something at Bob Sandlin that was jaw-dropping amazing.  Two times in less than a 24-hour period, I saw park staff walking the campground loops picking up ground trash.  Nice!)

Happy camping, happy holidays one and all.  May you stay warm, safe, and healthy, with loved ones and friends close to your heart (if not within arm’s reach).