Camping and hiking in Cloudland Canyon

This past weekend, Derek and I did something that I never thought we would do. We camped at Cloudland Canyon State Park, but it wasn’t just typical camping in a campground.

We had a backcountry campsite, which is one of 10 campsites that are along the Backcountry Loop Trail. There is a parking lot at the trailhead, and everyone has to hike into their site. Some of the sites are closer, and some are further out than others. Our campsite was No. 5, which was not one of the closer ones, but not too far out either.

We do not have the big camping backpacks with the frames, we only have our regular school backpacks. In order to be able to haul everything we needed, we bought a little two-wheeled utility cart.

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Our campsite was totally secluded. No. 5 had a little off shoot trail from the main trail, which we liked. The backcountry trail loop is a two mile trail, and I assume regular hikers, who are not camping, frequent through there.

This overnight camping trip was not perfect by any means. In fact, it was a comedy of errors. We learned our lesson many times over. We are not too scathed from our experience, and we want to camp there again, maybe even in the winter. Now we know how to do things right.

Our first lesson is to bring a hatchet next time, and skip the bundles of firewood. Because of the wood, we had to make two trips back and forth from the car to the campsite. We learned that campers are allowed to use any wood at the site, within reason, for campfires.

Things went fairly smoothly in the evening. Rain was in the forecast, so we hung up a tarp over our tent, to keep us dry. We have a beginner’s pop up tent, that is not water proof, but it suits our needs fine. It drizzled on and off while we ate dinner, but never amounted to much. We enjoyed the evening by the fire.

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What we weren’t prepared for was how DARK it got at night. We’re used to camping near others, so you have everyone’s lantern light and campfires, and even the glow from buildings like the camp office or the bathhouse. It felt very weird, and somewhat scary, to be alone in the woods in the dark.

Before we went to bed, we opened up the top and side parts  of our tent to expose the screens underneath, to let in air flow. It was quite warm when we went to bed, at 70 degrees.

It poured on and off all night long. We stayed nice and dry until suddenly, we were quite wet. I guess the wind must have shifted, causing the rain to come right into our tent! In the dim lantern light, Derek struggled to get the tent closed up again. Another lesson learned. Leave the tent fully closed when rain is in the forecast!

Our tent is small, so we can’t put everything inside. Our shoes were outside, underneath the tarp. But when it’s raining sideways, this does not help! Our shoes got soaked. Derek’s socks and jeans also got soaked, because they were folded up in the front corner of our tent, which was a full puddle of water by the time we got everything zipped up. Another lesson we took away from this is to bring an extra change of socks, and bring plastic bags for anything we want to stay dry.

The rain finally moved out at about 6:45 a.m. We got up, and again, were shocked at how dark it was. The wood was a little damp, and so were the Duralogs. Lesson No. Four: Duralog packaging is not water proof! Keep the Duralogs dry so they light easier!

We were both worried for a minute that we would not be able to get a fire started, therefore no warmth, no hot tea, and no breakfast. Things were tense, but the fire eventually did get going. It should also be mentioned that a cold front came through after the rain, so it was quite chilly early in the morning.

Once the sun came up and we had food in our stomachs, we could laugh at our misfortunes.

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The Backcountry Loop Trail connects with the Bear Creek Trail. This is a trail that we had never been on, so we decided to check it out.

Unfortunately, we were steered wrong by the map that we had. The map listed that it was .5 miles to Bear Creek, before continuing on for another 7.1 miles. I thought to the creek and back would make a nice one mile hike. This was not so. Apparently the map was labeled incorrectly, or perhaps it was .5 miles from where it intersects with the Overlook Trail. Even the dotted line representing the direction of the trail was wrong, too.

The hike was easy at first, but then we went down a lot of switch backs to get down to the creek. We saw our first bright orange salamanders!

By the time we got back to the campsite, I think we had hiked nearly three miles total. It was a gorgeous hike, but we just were not prepared to go that far!

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Once we got back, we started to pack up our campsite. We had to be out by 1 p.m. Imagine our surprise when a bunch of Boy Scouts, Boy Scout leaders, and some parents came into our campsite. They were very nice to us, but I was unhappy that they showed up too early. We had to rush through our packing up. We left at about 12:30, a full 30 minutes before they should have even been there.

All in all, we had a great time, and it was an adventure, to say the least.

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