By Carol Antman for The Island Connection
One of the best ways our tax money is spent is on the large network of state park cabins. Nestled in scenic areas throughout the country, they offer a great way for an inexpensive family vacation. The accommodations are basic but comfortable; they’re in beautiful natural areas and the prices can’t be beat.
Generally there are two or more bedrooms, private bathrooms, equipped kitchens, linens and towels, pull out sofas, picnic tables, fire pits and grills. There is also AC and heat. Right outside, are all the amenities the parks have to offer: everything from swimming to guided boat rides. They were begun by the conservation minded president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public works program that operated from 1933 to 1942. Three million men constructed trails, built lodges and facilities in remote areas that continue to provide recreation today.
My husband and I just returned from a stay at Laura Walker State Park in Folkston, Georgia. Walking trails around a picturesque lake started at our back door and the Okefenokee Swamp, just up the road, filled our days with exploration by bike and boat. From the rockers on our large screen porch, all we could hear were woodpeckers. It was so enjoyable we stayed a fifth day. On another Okefenokee exploration, we stayed at a Stephen Foster State Park cabin near the swamp’s main entrance where a memorable encounter with bears at our picnic table surprised us.
For a weekend with our kids and grandkids, we booked two cabins at Myrtle Beach State Park.
They call that park the “last stand on the Grand Strand” because it’s the only swath of nature amidst miles of cheesy fun: a great combination for families. The park is right on the beach and set up for crowds but during our off-season visit a few of us had the run of the place.
A favorite family memory is our “staycation” at James Island County Park one December weekend. Despite a relative in a wheelchair, the cabin accommodated us well. Many of the state parks offer handicapped accessible cabins. How exciting to be there when the light show was going on! Especially on Christmas Day when we had it all to ourselves. It was magical.
When our extended family vacationed in Georgia, we rented the historic Burnham House at General Coffee State Park. This is not a rustic, basic cabin. The 19th century house features chandeliers, Queen Anne furniture and four comfortable bedrooms set within a park known for its agricultural history displays and farm animals. Three generations of family members fished, made bonfires, hiked and relaxed in a beautiful setting.
Another historic stay was at the fabulous Lodge at Walkulla Springs in Florida. This meticulously restored 1930’s Spanish style inn sits amidst the world’s largest and deepest freshwater spring surrounded by cypress swamps. The rooms are small but the lodge is full of history. As we walked along the park’s boardwalks, we were excited to spot several massive manatees lolling.
One of the Southeast’s greatest adventures is the Len Foote Inn.
It can only be reached by hiking about five miles through the foothills of northern Georgia near Dahlonega. Before heading up the mountain, a stay at Amicalola Falls State Park is convenient. A couple of days enjoying the park’s paddle board courses, fly fishing classes and guided hikes will get you in the mood for the next phase of the adventure. The path to Len Foote starts nearby. Backpacker Magazine called this trek one of the best hikes in America. Len Foote is a state park facility nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Their mission is to make experiencing nature easy while protecting it through recreation and education. It’s a pleasant, gently uphill walk through strands of mountain laurel and rhododendron, across streams and ridges. It took us about three hours. After we stashed our gear in a small private bunk room, we explored the wonderful common spaces including indoor and outdoor lounges and a dining hall where filling communal meals are served twice a day. Hot showers and Adirondack chairs with mountain views welcomed us after a day of hiking. Some visitors were planning to walk another 4 miles to the beginning of the Appalachian Trail and keep the adventure going for months!
When our family was in Myrtle Beach in March, the weather was cold. Out our window we could see a few hardy campers in tents and RV’s shivering around meager campfires. I was afraid we might be besieged by families begging for shelter in our warm, cozy cabin but we had it to ourselves. We snuggled up and made a toast: Thanks FDR.
Roadtrips Charleston highlights interesting destinations within a few hours drive of Charleston, S.C. as well as more far flung locales. Carol Antman’s wanderlust is driven by a passion for outdoor adventure, artistic experiences, cultural insights and challenging travel. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see peaksandpotholes.blogspot.com.