Sunday, July 27, 2014

High Shoals Falls Trail - Review

While enjoying a tremendous breakfast at the Hole in the Wall in Blairsville, Ga., my wife and I were finalizing trip details for a waterfalls hike over near Blue Ridge when I asked our server if she had ever been there and if she'd recommend the falls that we had picked out.  She quickly nodded with approval but then suggested that if we wanted a better option that we should try the High Shoals Falls trail over near Helen.  "Just take 180 over until it dead ends into Ga 75 then take a right.  The trail will be down a couple of miles on the can't miss it."  Her enthusiasm and her eloquent description painted for us a picture that we had to see in person.  It was a great suggestion!

As her directions suggested, we took Ga 180 from Blairsville over until it dead ended into Ga 75 (south of Hiawassee and north of Helen).  We then turned right and traveled until mile marker 2 and veered off to the left onto Ga FR 283 (see the signs above).  Once on 283, after a short distance, you will encounter a washout/shoals type of crossing on the road.  This may present difficulty for lower profile cars, but we were able to pass through with no problems in our 2003 Toyota Camry.

Once on FR 283, you will travel a little over a mile (1.2) until you see a parking area for the trail on the left.  The trail is also well-marked with a sign letting you know that you are at the right place.

So now that we've illustrated what it looks like to get you where you need to be to start your hike, let's get to the good stuff!  As the above pic shows, your hike will be a descending 1.2 mile hike down to the High Shoals Falls.  We found the hike in to be moderately easy due to the slight decline in elevation.  You can expect to find certain instances where the trail narrows to about 18-24 inches, but for the most part, there is plenty of room.  There are a few switchbacks that you'll have to contend with, as well as rutty/rocky terrain from time to time.  Footbridges are also common along the trail and provide excellent photo opportunities.  The creek will also become visible at about the half way point.

Once you have made your way down the trail to the falls, you will start to hear the unmistakable sound of rushing water.  If you're like us, your excitement level will rise and you will soon find an extra amount of energy that you may not have thought you had.  That excitement and anticipation will soon be rewarded with a spectacular series of cascading water tumbling violently downward creating what we now know to be called the High Shoals Falls.  At the base of the falls, you can expect to find an observation deck and ample opportunities for photos.

As an added bonus to the hike, there is another set of falls which you'll actually come to first (if you are paying attention) on your journey down to the High Shoals Falls.  The Blue Hole Falls can be accessed at approximately the one mile mark from the trail head.  There is also a viewing platform and a large pool of water that I've been told is open for swimming, but I did not confirm that.

Once you've had your fill of waterfall eye-candy, it will be time to make the hike back out.  Obviously, since the hike in was a descent, you'll find the hike out to be quite a bit more strenuous since you'll be dealing with a moderate ascent.  Fear not; however, there are quite a few places in which the trail levels out, thus affording one ample rest if it is needed.

In summary, my wife and I would not hesitate in rating this a 5-Star hike on a scale of 1-5.  The trail itself was full of natural forest beauty, and the spectacular falls were a reward worth pursuing.  We gladly recommend this trail to anyone heading to the Blairsville-Hiawassee-Helen area!

If you'd like more information on this trail, please check out Eric Champlin's excellent review (Atlanta Trails).  Click here:  Atlanta Trails

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wenzel Blue Ridge Tent - Review

So, what do you look for in a tent?  Price?  Size?  Ease of setup?  Durability?  Style?   While I'm sure that there are a variety of preferences, these few would probably sum up most everyone's checklist, or at least be near the top.  All are at the top of ours, and we found that our new Wenzel Blue Ridge satisfied us in each of those preferences.  In fact, it exceeded our expectations and that's always a good thing.

For starters, let's talk about the price and size.  My wife and I have long camped with a Coleman dome style tent measuring 9x7, and while it was adequate for our needs, we found that it lacked a bit in ventilation and overall roominess.  Actually, due to our desire to add a new Coleman double stack queen-sized bed, we just felt that we needed a bit more room.  We also wanted the added comfort of allowing others, particularly our grown sons, to camp with us too without the need for them to bring another tent.  Upon initial review of the Blue Ridge's specifications, we felt that it would be well suited to meet our desires.  We were right.  In fact, what we discovered is that our tent will easily fit two Coleman double stack queen-sized beds, and with a bit of compromise on additional leg/storage room, would probably fit a twin air mattress too.  Simply put, it is cavernous.  It also comes with a divider in case you want to create two separate rooms.  We chose not to use it.  The total price that we paid for this tent, including free shipping on Amazon Prime was $134.21.  After one four day camping trip, we feel that it was money well spent.  I'll give it a 5 out of 5 stars for value and size.

Now let's talk a bit about ease of setup.  I'm gonna talk here about our experience setting this tent up, but it must be understood that we have set up tents before.  Assuming one's ability to comprehend instructions which may be a bit foreign at times to a newbie, setup times could take quite a bit longer (allowing for a bit of trial by error).  We've yet to find tent setup instructions to be perfect, or would we classify any of them as very easy to understand, but we found the Wenzel Blue Ridge's instructions to be fairly simple to understand. I really can't think of any stumbling blocks that we discovered comprehending the instructions.  In any case, after an initial setup at our home for practice purposes, we were able to put our tent up in less than 30 minutes.  This included putting tarps down underneath the tent (we had to use two of them due to the footprint of our Wenzel).  It may be possible for one person to set this tent up, but I would highly doubt it.  Be sure to have at least two people.  A third person would be perfect for reading the instructions during the initial few setups.  The only hint of difficulty that I found that may be encountered is bending the poles enough to fit them into the feet of the tent.  Quite a bit of force is necessary, but it is pretty common with other tents too.  Due to the fact that the instructions aren't perfectly clear, and it takes two people to set the tent up, I'd give it 3.5 stars out of 5 for initial setup, but then a solid 4 out of 5 after that.

Lastly, I'd like to talk about durability and style.  I'll also include some of the features that we particularly liked, and I'll also address the issues that we had that were less than desirable.  To start with, I'd like to tell you that I pre-treated our tent seams with Kiwi Camp Dry.  It is a tip that I've learned about camping, and if you're not doing it, you should.  You'll find that it will aid in repelling water in case it rains.  And speaking of rain, we had quite a bit.  In fact, we had a very significant down pour one afternoon that lasted for about 20 minutes.  Beyond that, we had sporadic sprinkles here and there.  Throughout it all, we only noted about two-three leakage areas in our tent, and all of them were around the foot peg areas of the tent (the part that is stretched out and staked into the ground).  I'm not even sure that I treated those areas with the Kiwi, but in any case, the leakage was really insignificant and amounted to about three to four inches in area size.  It was easily wiped up and contained.  We did not notice any leaks around our window or door seams, nor did our rain fly leak.  With the amount of rain that we had, we were very impressed with how our tent held up!  In addition to holding up well to the rain, the floor and the walls of the tent held up well to traffic and stress.  We found no tears or rips anywhere on the tent.  I was particularly concerned with the flooring due to it's thinness, and the outer walls due the stress put on them by the frame poles.  Thankfully, everything held up well.  Items of particular note that we found extremely useful is the rain-fly and the ample amount of storage pockets throughout the tent.  In the case of the rain-fly, I really liked that fact that you can peel back part of it on either side (or both sides) of the tent to expose the nylon mesh panels that make up the roof of the tent.  This greatly aids in ventilation and is an added bonus if you want to look up at the nighttime sky while laying in your tent.  In our case, we enjoyed watching the fireflies flutter throughout the trees.  For the most part, we kept our rain-fly folded back, but there were times during the cool night that we had to close it up.  There are also two large windows on either end of the tent, and there is also one on the door.  Each can be unzipped, but they all contain nylon mesh so that you don't have to worry about the bugs getting in.  There is no window on the back side of the tent.  With all of the windows and the different configurations of the roof panels, we found the tent to be extremely well ventilated, but due to its size and thin material, it may present certain challenges in very cold temperatures...especially temps at or below freezing.  On a different note, there was one issue that we found to be a bit annoying.  On the door of the tent, there is a flap in the fabric that covers the zipper that tends to get caught in the zipper when opening and closing the door.  Be watchful and very careful of this.  My wife found that when you utilize both the inside and outside zipper at the same time when zipping and unzipping, this can be avoided for the most part.  While it certainly isn't a knock against the overall design of the tent, I do share it with you as a mere caution.  For overall durability and style, I would have to give our tent a 4.5 out 5.

(Notice the roof panel configuration)

(Notice the large side window)

In closing, I'd like to say that we are very pleased with our purchase.  And while this was our maiden camping trip with the Blue Ridge, I feel very confident that we will continue to be satisfied with it each subsequent trip.  Also, one tidbit that I failed to mention is that we had our tent configured with a queen double stack air mattress, as well as a twin sized air mattress.  Even with that, there was ample storage within the tent for suitcases and overnight bags.  We gladly recommend the Wenzel Blue Ridge to anyone looking for a nice, spacious, family-sized tent...beginners, experts, or those that are between.

**The following descriptions are taken from

Product Description

The Wenzel Blue Ridge 2 Room Family dome tent will sleep up to 7 happy campers. It has a zippered removable Room Divider that allows you to have 1 or 2 rooms depending on your needs. The sturdy shockcorded multi-diameter fiberglass poles are easy to set up and create more interior space in the tent than do conventional pole sets. 1 large side entry door makes getting in and out simple. The Fly Rod creates a protective awning over the front door/window allowing you to keep it open even in rain for great ventilation and reduced condensation. The welded polyethylene floor is super tough and will last for years. Set up is simple and fast with a combination of sleeves and clips.3 windows allow for great ventilation - all with storm flaps.Mesh roof aids in ventilation and reduces condensation - stargazing??- you can if you want to.Shockcorded fiberglass frame for easy set up.E-Port for electrical appliances.Interior storage pockets for extra stuff - helps keep the tent neat and organized.Easy convenient sleeve and clip construction.Simple pole to body connection is fast and simple.External guy points to keep the tent stable in storms and high winds.All carry sacks and stakes included.Multi-diameter pole set creates more interior space.Fly Rod creates a protective awning over the front door/window so you can leave it open in rain.Fire retardant.Import.
  • Floor Area: 117 square feet
  • Peak Height: 72 inches
  • Weight: 18 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Number of Doors: 1
  • Number of Windows: 3


Sunday, June 15, 2014

On the Water at Reed Bingham State Park

While the Summer temperatures may be too extreme for many here in South Georgia, as a life-long resident, I've learned to live and cope with them.  Notice that the emphasis here is on "live".  Life doesn't stop just because it is hot.  Though I prefer the cooler temperatures of the Fall, there's plenty to do during those long, dog days of Summer.  This post deals with one such thing that I did on Saturday prior to Father's Day 2014: Canoeing at Reed Bingham State Park.

The park itself is no stranger to us.  In fact, we've spent countless hours there camping and hiking. We've also fished and picnicked.  What we'd never done, prior to yesterday, was take a canoe trip out on the lake. Even in the midst of 90 degree heat, there was something magical about being out on the water.  Perhaps it was the fact that my eldest son had come home from Athens to spend Father's Day weekend with us.  Being together with family always makes my adventures better!  Or perhaps it was the fact that my wife had recently recovered from an illness and was finally able to get out and enjoy time in the outdoors for a change, instead of being couped up in the house taking meds.  Maybe it was the fact that we took our adventure seeking canines, Walker and Spencer, with us...that's always an adventure!  Most likely; however, it was a combination of all of these things.  As I said previously, being together with family always makes things better for me!

We don't have our own canoe or kayak, but the Georgia State Parks make them accessible for a small fee.  And though our original intent was for all three of us, plus the dogs, to be in one canoe, we found that it would have been a bit cramped, so we opted to rent a kayak also.  My son used it, while my wife and the dogs and I used the canoe.  Those arrangements made us much more comfortable and were more conducive to picture taking (mostly by my son).  There were a few hairy moments; however, when one of my dogs barked excessively at an alligator that passed nearby.  Thankfully, the gator must not have been hungry, otherwise, he may have decided to come have a snack.

The beauty of being outdoors is about sharing the experience.  Whether it is with loved ones, the camera, or on the pages of a blog, there is something about the outdoors that makes everything okay.  Long work weeks seem to fade into the past with a trip such as this.  Healing often replaces sickness.  Financial burdens lessen.  Worries simply disappear.  Again I say to you, there is just something magical about being in the outdoors!

So what are you waiting for?  Get outside and enjoy Life Outside YOUR Door!

For more pics from this adventure in the outdoors, please head over to my Life Outside My Door Facebook page to check them out.  

Do you share my feelings about the outdoors?  I'd love to hear from you.  Please feel free to leave a comment.