This weekend Derek and I challenged ourselves to 24 hours of winter camping at Cloudland Canyon State Park.
We have camped in spring, summer, and fall, so winter was the last season left to try. We honestly did not know if we would like it or not. It could have very well been a disaster!
We did a lot of research, and we were mindful of the clothes that we packed, including thermals as a base layer and wool socks. We also packed our flannel lined sleeping bag, and two extra blankets.
We reserved Backcountry site #3, which you have to hike to from the trail head and parking lot. Last fall, we stayed at #5. Comparing the two sites, we like #3 better. It is a little closer of a walk from the trail head, and the site itself is prettier. The campsite has a stream running near it, and we had our own mini waterfall all to ourselves!
Convenience was a big factor at this site as well. The fire ring was right next to the picnic table. We had brought our camp chairs, but we never used them. We set our tent up right behind the picnic table. The outhouse was also just a few steps away. This outhouse was much cleaner than at site #5. Timing might have been a factor in this though, depending on how often they get serviced by volunteers.
Overall, we managed to stay warm. We had some frozen fingers and toes at time, but we brought hand warmers, which helped out. Getting into the sleeping bag at night was rough for the first five minutes, but our body heat quickly warmed us up. When we woke up in the morning, we realized that our breath had caused frost to form on the inside of the tent!
I am glad that Derek suggested last year that we start camping. We are still very much beginners, with not the greatest equipment. We have now camped twice at campgrounds, and have backpacked in twice. There are pros and cons for both types of camping. Campgrounds have more amenities, but there is nothing like being outside in the peace and quiet with no one else around.
We want to get hiking backpacks with frames, in order to carry everything on our backs. Things like that cost a lot of money though. In due time. We probably still bring way too much with us on each trip; it’s trial and error. We would like to camp at site #3 again in the spring, which would allow us shed some weight in the form of clothing layers and blankets.
I have been enjoying making YouTube videos. I videoed during our time camping, and I made a video from it. I think this is my favorite video yet!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
At the beginning of the month, Derek and I went camping at Raccoon Mountain Campground.
I wanted to camp at this campground for over a year, ever since we saw the place when we were there for the cavern tour, which is on site.
Also, on a sillier note, I bought myself a Raccoon Mountain sweatshirt from a local apparel company, Native Made, and I just had to wear it at the campground!
There are cabins of various sizes to rent at the campground, and that is what I had originally wanted to do, but that was before Derek said he wanted to start camping, and we bought all the gear and supplies.
I am glad we ended up tent camping here, to get the full experience.
The tent sites are scattered on the edge of the woods, near the entrance of the campground. Our site had a small stream and trees on the back side, so it felt more private. Plus, it was nice to fall asleep to the sounds of the water.
The people working at the campground were helpful. When we arrived, we paid for firewood, which was then dropped off directly at our campsite. There is also ice available, and an assortment of snacks, and basic camping needs at the general store/office. After camping earlier in the spring with no amenities like this, it was nice to have these things available.
The best part about the campground was all of the campground cats. The general office has a binder with all of their pictures and descriptions. We were visited by a beautiful long haired calico named Callie. I guess she could tell that we are cat people!
The campground has various amenities such as a pool, games for rent, the cavern tour, and gem mining. Derek and I did the gem mining, because we both used to collect rocks and gems as kids. We got a good amount of nice gems in our bag, and now some of them are displayed at my desk at work.
There was also a hiking trail just across the road from our campsite. It is a two mile trail, but it was humid and steep, so we only made it half of a mile up before turning back, for a full mile.
It rained on Saturday night, but we looked at the weather forecast ahead of time so we were prepared. We covered our tent with a tarp, and lifted it up on the one end to make a fly, by tying the ends with rope to the trees. It looked silly, but we stayed dry.
We enjoyed our second time camping, and getting to experience a different campsite. We do not have any immediate plans for camping again, but there are some various sites that are in the back of our mind.
A few months ago, during the winter, Derek said to me, “I want to go camping.”
We have both camped in a number of ways. Derek was a Boy Scout. My grandparents had a camper, and they would have a reserved spot for the whole summer. We have both camped together during Civil War reenactments, in a canvas tent. However, this was the first time we have camped together on our own, with a tent meant for modern camping.
After purchasing the basic equipment, and borrowing quite a bit from my parent’s old reenacting stash, we booked a site at Chester Frost Park.
Chester Frost Park is a Hamilton County Park in Hixon, located on the edge of Chickamauga Lake. Dallas Bay is on the opposite side. The park consists of two islands, connected by a causeway.
Our camp site was right on the edge of the water. There are different types of campsites to choose from, including grass/dirt or gravel lots. Our lot was gravel. Some sites are more primitive than others. Ours came with water and electric hookup.
We bought a pop up tent, which is perfect for beginner campers like us. I was concerned that it would take forever to figure out how to fold it back up at the end of the trip, but there were directions to follow that were easy. The tent looks small, but it was just spacious enough for the two of us, even Derek who is six feet tall.
The camp site also had a fire ring with an attached grill and a picnic table. We cooked most of our meals over the fire, with the exception of dinner the night we arrived, and sandwiches for lunch the next day. We also made s’mores as well, and had plenty of cups of hot tea.
Our campsite had a two-night minimum stay. We arrived on Friday evening and left mid-morning on Sunday. I am not sure if there are other sites which allow one-night reservations.
Since we were only 20 minutes from home, on Saturday afternoon we went back home to feed our cats. I am glad we had this excuse, because we had forgotten some cooking utensils!
The only downside to Chester Frost Park is that there aren’t many amenities, activity-wise. There is a sand beach and a few playgrounds, but that was it. I think there may be more programs during the summer high season. I wish, being on the water, that there was a place to rent kayaks. You could only go on the water if you had your own and brought it from home.
However, we still had a good time, and it was a good first trip for us to work out the kinks.
For instance, we’re going to have to figure out the bedding situation. We both had ground mats, but those, with a ground cloth underneath, did not help to make the gravel pebbles any less hard under our backs. On the second night we slept on top of the sleeping bag and used our extra blanket as cover, which seemed to help a bit, but then the new problem arised of being cold! This will not be an issue as the temperatures rise, though.
Also, we want to figure out a better way to organize camp. Coming from a reenacting camp site, Derek and I are used to hiding all of the modern items with wooden boxes, bags of burlap, etc. We had items in various Walmart bags, and it looked trashy! We would like to buy wooden crates or something similar to hold everything.
We enjoyed walking around the park and checking the surroundings out. There is a disc golf course, if you have your own frisbees. There were also multiple pavilions, and even a little stage, where I imagine bands play in the summertime. A lot of people were fishing, either on the beaches, off the docks, or in boats. We spent a lot of time just relaxing by the campfire. I read a book and Derek watched a movie on the laptop. By the way, Chester Frost Park has WiFi, if you need to get some work done, or just want to stay up to date on social media.
I am glad that Derek spoke up and suggested camping. This is a new activity that we will certainly enjoy for years to come. I am looking forward to booking the next campsite!