Legend has it Mom checked out this campground years ago and swore it off immediately because of the arrangement of the sites. I happen to be persuasive when I want to go camping though. On a visit to her home in Tennessee weather forecast suddenly improved from muggy 90 degrees to dry low-eighties with lows dropping into the fifties at night – perfect summer camping weather!
We had been planning to kayak Burgess Falls one day so I checked out the surrounding area for open sites. Of course, it is 2022 and there was hardly a free campsite in the state. On Wednesday afternoon I checked again, and holy cow, not one, but two adjacent sites had opened up at a state park on Center Hill lake! This was perfect! Mom was very skeptical, but we decided this would be the best time to try it out. The warning on the reservation website was kind of scary, but the pictures didn’t seem that bad. We would have each other for support and as spotters. And if it was awful, we could always come back to their place.
So we booked sites 18 and 19 at Edgar Evins State Park for Thursday through Sunday nights. The odds of getting out on Thursday night were low, but we weren’t a fan of the published 4pm check-in time. We wanted the flexibility to arrive early.
By the time we pulled out on Friday morning, we were targeting an arrival just after lunch. The plan was for me to dump, while Mom parked and made sandwiches. Sites 18 and 19 are actually the two closest to the dump station. Immediately, we realized the pictures had been deceiving. Each site entered by a rather steep ramp.
The engineers who designed and built this campground deserve quite a bit of admiration for their vision and execution. I can’t believe someone looked at this steep hillside and decided it could be a campground. Of course, like most campgrounds designed and built in the mid-to-late 20th century, there was not anticipation of how prevalent large RVs would be today. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Either way, they carved steep, winding roads parallel to the hillside and built huge wooden decks as the campsites. The decks feel surprisingly sturdy. And despite the back end towering 30 to 50 feet off the ground for many sites, we agreed that they actually felt pretty safe for kids. Fortunately, the sites are also very wide, with plenty of sitting space.
So when we arrived, we quickly got Mom backed into the less-sloped site. It was a little dodgy, but pretty easy overall. We won’t talk much about how I got into my site. It took six tries, alternating directions, a couple times of being convinced I was stuck, and the help of a very kind fellow camper to get me in. For the first time ever, I had thoughts that it may not be doable. I ended up only a couple feet from the passenger side railing, so if I had been solo, would have been hanging out on the side without the door. We also needed to use some wood planks under the tires for the last little bit. But after more than an hour of trying, I was in and just happy to be done!
This may or may not have been a scene from backing in:
Me: I’m stuck! I can’t pull forward.
Spotter: (Looks under the trailer) I don’t see anything you should be fine!
Me: (Hits gas and goes no where) Are you sure?
Spotter: (Walks all the way around) Oh! You hit the pole!
The pole was only slightly worse for wear and I don’t think I was the first person to get close to it.
Once we had time to deconstruct, we had a couple thoughts on things we would have done differently. We probably should have traded out sites. Mom’s trailer has a much higher clearance and would have done better on the site with the steeper ramp. We also definitely should have taken off the weight distribution hitch bars before backing in. Getting those off with the angle of the truck was an adventure in itself. I did have the foresight to remove the bike and rack before starting, so at least that was a win. Overall, some lessons learned, but I think the only reason we were successful was that no one got over-stressed. In the entire hour, the only person to get angry was the pre-school daughter of our helpful neighbor spotter; apparently the process was cutting into her playground time. Perfectly understandable!
A few other things to be aware of that are a little different at the campground:
- Hook ups are on the passenger side of the trailer. Bring extra hoses and cords
- Campfire rings and grills obviously can’t be on the decks. Many sites have a ring nearly on the road.
- The roads are STEEP. Walking around here is a workout!
- The campground is on a busy recreational lake. Boats can be heard zipping past all day.
- Despite that, there is no good lake access from the campground. Some people descend the steep hill between some of the water-front sites, but we drove to one of the nearby boat ramps.
- A sign at the entry warns of high water pressure. Be sure to have a regulator
This is definitely a park aimed at water sports. The hiking is very minimal. We decided to check out the Highland Nature Trail. Depending on the source, this is a 1.3-2 mile loop that leaves from the park office. Our apps split the difference at about 1.7 miles. It is slightly overgrown and there is no destination to see. But it is a pretty trail that winds through some ferns and large sycamores. If you go counter clock-wise, it is a very steep descent at the very beginning with gradual switchbacks at the end. Those with terrible knees may prefer to start from behind the office at the “end” marked only with white blazes. I gave the trail a “B”, but Mom graded it as a “C” due to some difficult log crossings and one switchback that was very unclear – there is a trail marker on an old trail that is very deceiving.
When finishing the trail, we had hoped to climb the observation tower, but Blue was feeling the heat. Leaving her in the truck with the windows down was not a good option. But others visiting the park should make a point to visit the tower that is literally in the center of the park office. Looked to be worth the stop!
One of the highlights of this park was definitely the birding. Admittedly, we never once pulled out our binoculars. But one of the advantages of the deck camp sites is that we are literally camping in the tree tops. Some amazing canopy birds came within feet of the railing. We got one of the best views of a scarlet tanager I have ever seen. Other birds that came in close were summer tanagers, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice and blue jays. It was such a joy to hear and see them.
This park posed so many challenges, but overall we really enjoyed our stay. We did make the time to note which sites were ideal and which were not worth the hassle. I think we would like to spend more time on the lake and there is supposed to be a great day paddle nearby in the Caney River. So I think it is definitely a possibility for a revisit – IF we can get some better sites!