Home » Posts tagged 'National Parks'

Tag Archives: National Parks

Golden Isles of Georgia

As a kid I went to summer camps. I think a bike tour is a lot like summer camp for adults. Fun and adventure in a new place with new experiences and new friends along the way.

I am not sure I knew that Georgia had islands. Not that I had really thought about Georgia and islands prior to this bike trip. I did know that Georgia has a coast line on the Atlantic. Now I know that Georgia has “barrier islands” on that coast line and some of them are called the Golden Isles. We discovered that the Golden Isles are almost due south of Buffalo, NY. I did not realize, before my visit, just how far inland the Georgia coast is located.

We took the Golden Isles of Georgia Charleston Bicycle tour this year. It is fun to let someone else do all the planning and just go along for the ride. This is our third tour with the Charleston Bicycle group and we really appreciate their first-rate rides, hospitality and dining selections.

Live Oaks entryway to the Lodge at Sea Island

Our travels started in Savanah; we drove south from there onto St. Simons Island where we stayed at a “base camp” (hotel) the rest of the week. We rode around all of the beautiful barrier islandsSt. Simons IslandSea Island, and Jekyll Island. We were enchanted seeing the stretches of marshland that create the appearance of a continuous stretch of land.

St. Simons Island, GA St. Simons is the largest island; we devoted two days to exploring this isle on our bicycles, including seeing the Bloody Marsh Battle Site, where, in July 1742, British and Scottish soldiers protecting colonial Georgia defeated a larger Spanish force in a battle that helped end Spanish incursions outside Florida.

Ride to the Bloody Marsh Battle Site on Old Demere Rd.

We were struck with the beauty of the tree lined entryway into The Inn at Sea Island. We had a good time exploring the hotel and grounds as well as biking around and exploring St. Simons Island.

Since I had not heard of the islands prior to the trip, I did not remember a battle from 1742 or the National Park Service Fort Frederica National Monument, which preserves archeological remnants of a  British colony and its defense against Spain. The purpose of the fort reminds me of cold war deterrence by strategically placing (weapons, missiles…forts) military installations away from population areas and near the perceived threat to protect possible invasion by that potential enemy. We enjoyed the tour and were happy to be inside during a rainstorm. The bicycle tour was timed just right for an inside visit of the fort, and then the rain passed for an outside tour and ride back to our hotel.

On St. Simons Island, we played disc golf at Gascoigne Bluff. This was not part of the official tour. We played well on the course as liked learning the history of the area. The bluff was one of the first possible landing areas for a ship entering the harbor in Georgia. Gascoigne Bluff was the headquarters for a military invasion (if you were paying attention in July 1742), a Sea Island cotton plantation, the site of a lumber mill and a shipping point for timber. We played under a forest of live oak trees. It is interesting to think that live oak timbers from this area were used to build “Old Ironsides,” the U.S.S. Constitution

Jekyll Island, GA

Welcome to Jekyll Island State Park

Home to the formerly wealthy and famous group of 50 or so industrialists, this island is now owned by the state of Georgia.

View on the bike path around the Island

We had a good time circling the island on a paved path. One of the highlights for us was seeing Driftwood Beach on the north end of the island.

After the ride around the island, we stopped at the museum and enjoyed reading about the history of all that we had seen on the ride.

Sea Island, GA

We were delighted to ride our bikes from the hotel on St. Simons Island onto Sea Island. We rode across the causeway to the island. I always think that you have to go across a “big body” of water to have an island. However, that is not the case. I found out that many of the Golden Isles are close to each other and only separated by small inlets and rivers.

View from St. Simons Island Looking at The Cloister on Sea Island

As we were biking along on Sea Island, our tour stopped to gawk at the island’s biggest home, called Entelechy II, which was undergoing some renovation. The home is not opened to the public; we just stopped by to look and wonder at this interesting house on this exclusive island.

We rode to the end of the island and then onto the sand beach.

Beach on Sea Island

From the beach we went on a tour of the Cloister hotel. This hotel once hosted the G-8 summit, and the hotel and grounds were very impressive. 

View from inside the main lobby

After riding around the island, we took advantage of the Sea Island club and enjoyed swimming and walking along the beach. We made it down the beach far enough to see the back of the Entelechy II. This was the perfect spot to break up a day of bike riding. Lunch on the grounds was delicious.

Another island bike tour: We took a short boat ride as part of the tour to Sapalo Island, GA. This island was really different from the other islands.  The Georgia Department of Natural Resources manages the island and runs the ferry service. Imagine having to take all of your groceries to your home on a ferry. A small population lives on the island full time; the lighthouse, R.J. Reynolds mansion and the Georgia research facility are the main areas on the island. Georgia research facility are the main areas on this mostly undeveloped island.

We arrived on the island and found the bikes we would be using for the day. Our bike trip on this island was on asphalt, sand and gravel roads. It was a good ride for the bikes that were provided as a part of the tour, as our road bikes would not have worked too well.

We managed to see a small portion of the island on the tour and were taken by the beauty of the island, largely unspoiled by development.

We did manage to see a few alligators; fortunately, we left each other alone.

Sighting Alligators

We had lunch at the lighthouse grounds and enjoyed the view from the top of the lighthouse.

We finished our tour with a stroll through the R.J. Reynolds mansion. We really liked the circus room and all of the modern devices in the mansion. It was similar (although much smaller) to the Biltmore with the bowling ally in the basement.

Other Fun

Running on St. Simon’s Island and seeing some of the wildlife.

Walking near Columbia, SC. On our way to Savannah, we spent the night near Columbia, SC. On our evening walk we saw some turtles swimming. A Fun sight. We tried to go to the Harbison State Forest and ended up walking on the Harbison Place walking trail. Maybe next time we will go all the way to the State Forest.

Walking and running in historic downtown Savanah.

Dinning with the tour group. We ate at several fancy restaurants as a part of the tour. We dinned in our bike clothes as well as dressing up on the last night out with our group. We shared several meals together as well as a bottle of Kentucky bourbon. Some of our favorite restaurants were Halyards and Delaney’s Bistro and Bar where I had buffalo and others had elk and duck. We enjoyed spending days biking and dining out with our new group of friends.

Walking around St Simons Island (over 10 miles on our own) and finding fun places to shop and dine out.

On our own, we found places we enjoyed (we did not have a bad meal the whole time). The Golden Isles have several great restaurants and shopping areas.  We like to have ice cream when biking or after biking…well you get the picture. We indulged our need for ice cream at both the Moo Cow Ice Cream shop and Certified Burgers and Beverages on St. Simons Island. We liked the shakes at Certified and my wife raved about the “Dixie,” a grilled pimento cheese and bacon sandwich, as well as the tots. Some in our group made fun of us for having dessert first on a few occasions. I am sure they were just jealous that they had missed the opportunity.

We biked about 100 miles in the five day biking adventure. We had a fun tour with each day being a good combination of riding, sightseeing and delicious meals.

See you on the road on our next adventure.

Smoky Mountain Retreat

Now that the long bike rides and triathlon are over, relaxing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sounded like a good time.GSMNP Sign

When we booked our cabin and planned the trip we were unaware that October is one of the busiest times for the park. We also did not know that this was the busiest National Park. One of the benefits of retirement travel is going during the week. We were surprised at all of the people gathered in the park and Gatlinburg. I guess Columbus Day is a popular time for schools to take a break; we visiting the week prior to the break. We thought traffic and the number of tourist picked up as we got closer to the holiday weekend.

View of Gatlenburg

One of the downsides was that parking to hike was at a premium. However, like a good restaurant that is always full, we found that the experience and scenery were worth the hassle.  Traffic in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge was also heavy as we went through town. We have been to the park before. This time we were happy not to see any bears as we were hiking

We had a cabin away from town and up a hill so we could enjoy breakfast and linger a little out the front porch. The cabin had large windows and offered a great view of the mountains. We did see the “smoke” in the mountains in the morning that looked inviting.

View of the smokeSM View from Cabin 3

Our afternoon hikes were good. We had spent most of our previous time in the southern part of the park (Cades Cove), so we hiked in the middle of the park this time.

Hiking in the SM Alumn Cave trail

We noticed that the signage on the hiking trails in the park was lacking or had been removed though too much use, but it was easy to find our way as several other hikers were on the trails with us.Hiking in the SM--view from the trail Kim

We enjoyed the hikes and the views. It was great to have some hand holds as we went up and down near the edge on the hikes.

The National Park Service has done a good job keeping the trails in good condition given all of the traffic on them we encountered except for the signs while on the trail. Hiking in the SM--view from the trail-4

There are plenty of hikes we have not yet taken in the park. We will have to come back and enjoy some of them on our next visit. Now we know to schedule the visit outside of October.

The colors had not yet come out to the park. We did see some of the trees turning early here and there. The week after our visit was probably a peak time for fall colors. We enjoyed the lush green views and left the pretty colors for the visitors for the following week.

We purposely went back home on the back roads from the Smoky Mountains National Park (which is in parts of Tennessee and North Carolina) so we could stop at the three state Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

CG Sign Glen

The weather on the Saturday when we arrived in Kentucky was cooler than it was in Tennessee as we were leaving. Our first stop in Cumberland Gap was at the only visitor center. This is a large park and it was important to know that there is only one visitor center.

We were happy talk with a couple making apple butter over an open fire and dressed in period costumes. It looked like hard work. They assured us that the taste was worth the work on the open fire. We liked the warmth of the open fire.

Making apple butter

We were immediately stuck by how few visitors were at this park, just a few miles (85 or so) up the road from the Smoky Mountains. The ranger we spoke to at Cumberland Gap indicated that over 11 million visitors go to the Smoky Mountains and about 1 million visit Cumberland Gap. We really enjoyed hiking in Cumberland Gap with well-marked trails and easy parking.

We took the tri-state trail and hiked up and stood in the three separate states at the same time (Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia). It was interesting to see the contour of the land and to know that many western settlers had journeyed across the mountains where we were hiking.

When looking at the road into the gap we wondered how much harder the mountain pass must be, as this was not an easy climb. We do not have wagons with all of our possessions and have no real idea of the hardship.

CG Tri state trail 2--all 3 states

The Civil War had a lot going on in Cumberland; we enjoyed the side spots where we could see evidence of the forts and the places where some of the troops moved through. It did make sense that the troops came by and through the gap in the struggle to move across the country.

CG Tri state trail 4 Civil war cave

Spot where union troops blew up ammunition

I recommend driving up the road to the pinnacle overlook, although it twists a whole lot. At one point you can see the road next to you as the road almost doubles back on itself.

CG NP MapThe paved paths along the viewing area made the walk out to the view easily assessable. Unfortunately, the view was one where we could see the clouds as the weather was not in our favor. We caught glimpses of the surrounding area and will look forward to coming back for a better view in the future.

Lessons learned:

We can get to the Smoky Mountain National park in about 5 hours. We should plan to go before or after the peak times for the park, staying away from October (Columbus Day for example) and school vacation week in the spring.

Both Cumberland Gap and Smoky Mountain National Parks do not require admission fees.

Cumberland Gap has hundreds of miles of hikes available. We are thinking about spending more time visiting this park in the future.

Other fun

We enjoyed two dinner shows and would have liked to have gone for another. We were amazed at the horse handling skills demonstrated during the show at the Dolly Parton’s stampede  and the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud. The dinners out were fun and since it gets dark in October so early we had to leave the trails earlier than we would have during the summer. DP Stampeed

Our preference was the Dinner Feud. It was a little smaller theater and we had a lively and interactive server. We found that we liked the food better at the Hatfield’s than the Stampede. The musicians for the Stampede put on a great show prior to the dinner and gave an amazing performance. Of course, the horse-riding feats were exciting to watch and they were well executed. We appreciated the good clean family entertainment at both shows.

We did not come for the town, so Gatlinburg was lost on us. A sea of people walking up and down the main street near the Park was interesting to see. I believe we would have enjoyed the walking in town had we been staying in Gatlinburg.

No bike riding in the mountains where the roads are narrow and winding. From the Cades Cove camp grounds areas you can go biking a few times per week. As we have seen bears in this area, we did not think we should tempt fate by riding bikes near the bears. It might be fun…with a group.

bike in garage

Bikes left in the garage