Jekyll Island, Georgia Beach Vacation

Twisted oak trees dripping with Spanish moss…. Sea grass glistening across sun splashed marshes (say that five times fast)…  Sounds like Jekyll Island, Georgia to me! (And sounds like I need to work on my creative writing skills – ack!)

We recently got back from Jekyll Island, Georgia, a little barrier island off the coast just a little south of Savannah (also a fun spot). We decided to take a break from road tripping this year. For those that don’t know, we’ve gone on a big cross-country trip every summer for the last three years. And we hadn’t had a vacation yet so we found a little rental apartment less than a block from the beach and headed on down.

Jekyll Island Georgia Getaway

A Week at Jekyll

This was the first time since I can remember that we’ve spent a whole week at Jekyll. While our bums were a little sore from all the bike riding (there are loads of paved and dirt trails, all relatively flat that make it ideal) we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. David and I agreed that Jekyll is more of an “adventure” beach trip. What I mean by that is that Jekyll’s beaches, while nice and wide and pretty, end in brown, sometimes mucky water.

Jekyll-Island-Water

So don’t get me wrong, we went to the beach everyday, but it’s not what we think of as a quintessential beach trip (clear water, bright white beaches a la the Florida panhandle). So we go to Jekyll not so much to get our classic beach fix, but for everything else.

What We Like About Jekyll Island, Georgia

No high-rise hotels! Nope, they only allow a certain amount of development due to agreement they have with the state of Georgia. Also, because the island is a sea turtle nesting site, they keep things nice and low-key hotel-wise so the lights from the hotels don’t disturb the turtle mamas and babies.

Miles of bike trails, of course! You can ride from one end to the other and all in between. One of our favorite trails goes through the historic district. Jekyll was the winter home to the Rockafellers, Carnegies and other wealthy Americans during the late 1800s-1940s who formed the Jekyll Island Club. Many of the residences and buildings still stand and are open for tours, and you can also book a room at the posh Jekyll Island Club hotel. Huge Plantation Oaks dot the district which overlooks the beautiful Jekyll River and the lovely marshes.

Jekyll-Island-Live-Oaks

It’s low-key. There are lots of older homes-turned-rental properties, so it’s kind of like riding around your grandma’s old neighborhood (well, maybe mine 😉 ) with lots of 1950s bungalos – very retro. Also, because it’s small there aren’t a ton of people, so it’s easy to find your own little patch of beach to play, relax, build sand castles or dig gigantic holes…

Jekyll-Island-Digging

The water park. We got a Groupon deal for a day at the park for under $100 for all five of us. We spent the day slip sliding away, chilling in the lazy river, munching on delicious Larry’s Subs (totally yummy and big enough to share!) and splashing in the wave pool. The park is small enough that my older two boys could pal around together – something they don’t do too often, but when it comes to water and slides, they are two peas in a pod. David and I got some good one-on-one with our little guy and overall had a very enjoyable day.

The wildlife. Turtles, alligators (we saw 3!), deer by the droves, birds galore, dolphins, raccoons (we saw 2) – Jekyll is flush with wildlife which makes fun to see and explore as each day we saw something different. I’ll add that wildlife on this trip included a pack of wild kittens that my oldest was dying to bring home.  We didn’t. 🙂

Jekyll-Island-Pier

The history. I mentioned the Historic District and highly recommend the trolley tour. We got to see the insides of two of the millionaire’s “cottages” (their idea of a cottage anyway!) and got a pleasant tour around the grounds via trolley by a very knowledgeable guide. Even the kids thought it was fun and interesting.

Fresh seafood. We loved Zachary’s by the marina. If you go at peak times we hear there’s quite a wait, but we went later – around 8 – and got right in. I got the crab cakes – yum, David got a seafood sampler, also yum and the boys enjoyed shrimp po’ boys and crab cake sandwiches. Five thumbs up, plus an extra for nice views overlooking the marsh and the pleasant wait staff.

The Things We Don’t Like about Jekyll Island (as much)

The distance to grocery stores. If you forget something or need to restock the nearest store is a 6 mile drive and you have to pay to get back on the island (unless you buy a week pass which you might do if you want to explore the other islands/towns in the area). There’s a market on the island, but as you would expect, prices are exorbitant – $10 for a gallon of milk?!? So… plan accordingly.

The water. Like I said, it’s brown. It was brown all week. I want to say that Cumberland Island next door wasn’t so mucky last I visited (back in, ahem, 1993?) It may be further away to where the dredging doesn’t affect it as much, so if you’re craving clearer waters, you could plan a day trip there.

The place we stayed. I’m not a snob, although maybe only snobs say that 😉 but the place we stayed felt like Grandma’s 1970s basement called and wanted its macrame door decoration back (see below).

Jekyll-Island-Macrame

(Seriously. Is that a cat toy? What is it???) The place was dank and dated and the air conditioner was LOUD. But at least it had air conditioning we told ourselves – that’s a step up from camping, lol. Ok, so note to self, you usually get what you pay for and if you want cute and updated you gotta pay for it. Lesson learned.

That’s pretty much it. Jekyll is eye candy all around. The trees, marsh, dunes. grasses, wildlife, all add up to a peaceful place to relax and spend time as a family. If you like golf, there are two golf courses (with ocean views!) Sunbathing and feeling glam more your thing? There’s the Jekyll Island Club and it’s posh heated pool overlooking the river. Fishing? Check! Shell collecting? Check! Wildlife watching? Check! History? Double check! Jekyll Island is also a great (and I forgot to mention affordable) hub from which to explore other spots along the Georgia coast, such as St. Simon’s Island with it’s lighthouse and bustling shopping/restaurant district, historic Savannah with it’s river front and extensive history as the oldest city in Georgia, and Cumberland Island which is a National Seashore with pristine beaches and even… wild horses!

We loved our time in Jekyll and having that time as a family reminded us why we’ve gone on road trips for the last three years. We’re already planning next summer’s adventure… Maine anyone? 😉

 

 

 

 

 

Top Tips for an Amazing Glacier National Park Adventure

Glacier-National-Park-Tips

*This post may contain affiliate links to products we love and recommend. Please see our disclosures for more information.

If Glacier National Park is on your list to hit this summer, we’ve got you covered with our top tips for an amazing Glacier National Park adventure. If Glacier is not on your list, it should be! Many people overlook this gem, often referred to as “the crown jewel of the Rockies”, but this lush paradise is full of surprises and delight around every bend and  rocky mountain peak. If you are on a lean budget or just love roughing it a little , Glacier’s campgrounds are an excellent way to stay onsite and maximize your time. The first few tips we have are practical, good-to-know-type things we learned from our experience. The last few are more on the lines of fun activities and maximizing your time.

Tip #1: Timing

Timing is everything when planning your trip to Glacier National Park. While the early summer season may offer less crowds, there is a greater chance you will miss one of the biggest “attractions” at Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun Road. This 55 mile road takes you over and across the mountains (through many hairpin turns) for breathtaking views, sweeping vistas, and more often that not – snow! If you are southerners like us, you might be very excited to see snowed piled up higher than your head and to have the opportunity to hike across a snowfield in the middle of summer.

Glacier-National-park-tips-Going-to-the-sun-road-snow

Glacier-National-park-tips-Going-to-the-sun-road
Snow can also be a hindrance, however because if enough hasn’t melted, Going to the Sun Road will be closed. Plan your trip for mid July or August. It’s not a guarantee, but your chances are better the later you go in the summer. We timed our trip to be there a week before July 4th and the road opened our very last day there (whew!) The rangers told us sometimes it can be well into July when it opens (and sometimes not at all), so if you can plan your trip to give you the best opportunity. Just don’t wait too long, the road typically closes for the winter season in October. The short tourist season is the reason for the large crowds in the summer.

Lastly, reserve your campsite as early as possible, but don’t give up hope if everything is booked online. We waited a little too long to book online, but my husband called the park and a spot had opened up that hadn’t shown up on the website. So if you don’t see anything online, calling can be a good way to snag a primo spot in the park if you are trying to plan last minute. 

Tip #2: Keep a Tidy Campsite (or Picnic Spot, etc.)


Glacier-National-park-tips-camping

(We use an Instant Tent like this one to make setting up and taking down camp a breeze.)

By this we mean you’re going to have to pack every scrap of food and food-related items away each night to avoid attracting wildlife (ahem, bears). You will also be required to wash your dishes in a wash tub (you can buy one for cheap at the dollar store or sometimes the rangers will have one you can borrow). The water has to be dumped at a dumping station which was conveniently located at the bathroom. You can’t leave trash laying around or fling food out into the woods because the smell will attract critters.

Tip #3: Buy Bear Spray

Speaking of wildlife, we saw two bears on our visit to Glacier – during the day – so they are definitely there. They kept to themselves, but wild animals are unpredictable, so carry bear spray. You can order it online at Amazon or buy it or rent at the Ranger Station. It’s one of those things you hope you don’t have to use, but would be sorry if you didn’t have it if you needed it.

Tip #4: Bathrooms

So obviously, if you’ve been camping before you know that campground bathrooms are rustic at best. The campgrounds we stayed in at Lake MacDonald weren’t bad – fairly clean and showers were on site and free. While I believe the bathroom provided hand soap it’s good practice when National Park camping to pack your own, as well as a hand towel as some bathrooms don’t offer anything but a hand dryer.

Now that we’ve got the practical tips out of the way, it’s on to the fun!

Tip #4: Take a Boat Trip

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If you can afford it, a boat trip on one of the glacial lakes is an amazing way to enjoy the park. You get a guided tour from a ranger and they are a delightful, low-key way to really get into Glacier (great if you have little ones in tow or aren’t up for hiking). Our trip on Lake St. Mary took us to a hiking trail where a ranger led our group across wildflower-filled slopes to a gushing glacial waterfall. But those who did not want to hike took the boat straight back to the dock.  It was well worth it. There are several boating options and these do sell out so book as soon as possible. Kayaks can also be rented in several locations in the park. 

Glacier-National-park-tips-glacial-waterfall

Tip #5: Pack a Picnic

There are restaurants in Glacier, but camping is about spending time in the great outdoors, so make the most of the many lovely picnic areas in Glacier. Just as you get to the boat launch at Lake St. Mary there is a lovely camping spot with picnic tables and bathrooms that is right next to the lake. It has a grassy space for little ones to stretch their legs and/or you can take them down to tip their toes in the glacial waters. 

Another neat spot is the Avalanche Creek picnic area where Avalanche Creek meets McDonald Creek just north of Lake McDonald. There are fire pits with grates so you can grill out a delicious dinner overlooking the creek and maybe even spot a bear or two like we did (from a safe distance of course! ;-)) 

Tip #6: Get Out and Hike

Glacier-National-park-tips-wildflowers
Make sure to get off the road and stretch your legs on one of the many trails in this vast park. One of our favorite hikes was the Lake Avalanche Trail. This trail begins at the end of the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail which is itself is a majestic stroll through towering cedar trees of all sorts of interesting shapes (one even appearing to have a huge nose). As you approach the Avalanche Trail, you’re immediately greeted with the shooting rapids of Avalanche Creek. Careful hear as you’ll want to keep a close eye on your little ones if your near the banks. 

As you wind your way through the 2.25 mile trail you’ll pass through woods with numerous fallen trees (victims of the trail’s namesake) and various waterfalls as you parallel the rapids. Then, almost out of nowhere, the woods open up to an amazing site – Avalanche Lake. This is the end of the line. You will be in awe over the natural beauty of this crystal clear lake with it’s surrounding craggy mountains with dozens of waterfalls tumbling down the sides. 

This trail is 4.5  miles round trip so make sure you bring plenty of water and bear spray… 

Tip #7: Go on a Wildlife Hunt

If you go to Glacier, you have to come home with at least one wildlife story. Luckily, there is no shortage of wild beasts in this untamed country but below are the areas where we had the best luck sighting animals.

Two Medicine 

We stopped here on our first day at the park and were delighted to find our first and only moose of the vacation. We took the Aster Falls Trail (2.8 miles round trip) where we spotted a moose leisurely drinking  in one of several ponds.

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Many Glacier Lodge, on the north side of the park

There are several families of mountain goats that have made their home at this beautiful lodge.

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We can’t blame them – the view over the Swiftcurrent Lake is spectacular.

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Additionally, the hillside behind the Swiftcurrent Lodge is known to be prime bear spotting area as they forage for wild berries.
You can also take a boat ride to Many Glacier or rent a kayak for a dreamy glide over this crystal clear glacial lake.

McDonald Creek

Speaking  of bears, as mentioned above, we had our bear encounter on the banks of the McDonald Creek  at the Avalanche Creek picnic area. It may have been the steaks we were grilling, but we saw two bears (a grizzly and a black bear) roaming the creek – luckily on the other side from us! We would highly advise making a trip here in the evening – the fishing here isn’t bad either… 

Glacier-National-Park-Tips-Bear

Tip #8: Leave Something to Come Back For

As you explore a place for the first time, it is inevitable that you will go away with at least one thing you overlooked. But that just give you a reason to go back  (not that you need one here). That one thing we overlooked was the Many Glacier Valley – we just didn’t allow enough time here. We were able to visit the Many Glacier Lodge (a remarkable piece of architecture) and take a short walk along Swiftcurrent Lake but there is soooo much more to do and see here.

The main thing we missed was visiting Many Glacier – one of your only chances to actually get out on a glacier in the park. To do this you need to take a boat across two lakes and hike some 11 miles. As you can imagine this is an all day affair, but from everything we have heard and seen  it is well worth the trip.

PRO TIP: of all the activities at Glacier, the Many Glacier Boat trip needs to be booked the furthest in advance as it fills up fast.

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Kayaking Swifcurrent Lake looked like a lot of fun. Something else we’d like to go back and do.

We can assure you, we’ll be back again to Many Glacier and take in much more of this beautiful piece of creation again. If you liked these tips or have any questions about Glacier National Park, leave us a note below and we’ll try and answer as best as we can. Now, go plan that trip! 😉

Best Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip

 

Looking for the best ways to save money on a road trip? You’ve come to the right place. We’re sharing the ways we’ve saved money while traversing the country. From the Saguaro Desert to Glacier National Park, we’ve packed in a lot of sites and haven’t broken the bank.

So here are some of our road trip tips to not only make road tripping affordable, but fun, too!

*This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

Road Trip

Plan ahead

But aren’t road trips supposed to be spontaneous? Yes… but you don’t want to be disappointed when you get to, say, the Grand Canyon and it’s closed for renovation. Ha ha. Of course they don’t close the Grand Canyon, but during the peak season you might not get a camping spot if that’s your plan and you’ll having a hard time finding a hotel room. And then you’ll be paying out the wazoo because your choices will be limited. Planning ahead lets you find discounts and deals, as well as get a realistic idea of how much everything is going to cost.

Plan your route

I KNOW, this is all boring adulting sounding stuff, but it’s essential. This will help you calculate your budget for gas and food, and allow you search out nice picnic spots and inexpensive restaurants in advance. A note on gas prices – I would err on the high side since they fluctuate. I would also pad your food budget with a little extra money for the occasional spontaneous stop for ice cream

Will you stay in hotels or camp or both?

My family likes to mix it up when we road trip. We stay on hotels along the highway, but when visiting National Parks we camp because it’s cheap (around $30 a night) and saves time since you’re already in the park. Camping also allows for unique views and experiences:  watching shooting stars from our campsite at Mesa Verde National Park, walking by gentle mule deer on our way to the shower at the Grand Canyon, and waking up to coyote puppies howling from a cliff at Palo Duro Canyon.  Again, plan early to be able to pick and choose where you want to say (campsites close to the bathrooms are essential for us with three young kiddos).

Use hotel points

My husband travels some for his job and tries to stay in hotels that have rewards programs (Marriott has one of the best programs right now). We use the points to cut down on hotel costs and sometimes save money on food if the hotel includes breakfast.

Invest in a good tent

We get asked if we take an RV or use a tent. Well, an RV is something we might invest in one day, but for our road trips tent camping is the most cost-efficient for now.  To make it as easy and enjoyable as possible, we have invested in an “easy up” tent from Coleman like this one that literally pops up in two minutes, saving us time and hassle when we are camping in several different spots. The only downside is that it’s bulky. We have to strap it to the roof of our minivan, so if you have a small car that might be an issue. Then again, if you have a small car, you probably have a small family and don’t need a huge tent! 😉

S'more

Plan your food

We keep a small cooler filled with lunch items and snacks and a large one (this one like ours has wheels making it easy to drag to your camp site) with dinner items that I have mostly pre-cooked, packed in freezer bags and frozen. Good stuff like fajitas, bbq, spaghetti and chili. Then we use our Coleman stove to heat it up when we arrive at our destination (sometimes we’re pulling in there late, so it’s nice to just be able to heat and serve with out having to gather firewood, light a fire or mix up a bunch of ingredients. Plus, it’s healthier and cheaper than fast food.

Have kids use their allowance for souvenirs

It’s hard for them at times to be disciplined leading up to the trip, but so worth it when they have money of their own they’ve saved for souvenirs. And then you don’t constantly have to say no to every little trinket or stuffed animal they want to buy.

Use washable cups and plates, especially on long road trips

Also, we have a small drink cooler and fill it with water or powdered lemonade mix. Saves on space (no individual cans or bottles) and cost.

Buy a National Park Pass if you plan to see several parks

The park pass pays for itself if you’re seeing several parks, plus in our area there are several places the pass will get you in for free (National Battlefields and Memorials, for example). The National Parks also have many fun free things to do like ranger-led hikes and talks and especially for kids, the Junior Ranger program. Kids fill out a little educational workbook while you tour the park and when they’re done they are “sworn in” as Junior Rangers and get a free park pin – it’s a souvenir and fun all wrapped into one!

So those are some of the best ways to save money on a road trip. You can make wonderful memories and see amazing sites on a budget. How does Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park sound? Like the stuff of dreams? If you plan ahead and are wiling to give up a little luxury you can do it too!

Wishing you blessings and happy trails!

Susan

Cut-Your-Own Christmas Tree Farm Review

Christmas Tree Farms
A fun tradition of ours is hunting down the perfect Christmas tree at a North Carolina tree farm. Since our budget is tighter than usual this year, we decided to forgo the trip and shop at Lowes. But there is nothing quite like being out in the crisp mountain air amid the rows and rows of Christmas trees and coming upon the perfect one (like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation).

Most farms we’ve visited offer basically the same services – you hunt down your tree on your own and either cut it down yourself or wait for a helper to come cut it for you. They then haul it away, wrap it and tie it to your car. There are many within a few hours’ drive of Atlanta (our home base). Some are bare bones where you just find your tree and go, but others offer food, visits with Santa and more. Here are a few of the farms that my family has tried and enjoyed.

Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm
www.boydmountainchristmastreefarm.com
Boyd Mountain Tree Farm offers a nice selection of trees and a fairly straight-forward operation. Though it was a long wait from cutting down our tree to being able to pick it up, our kiddos enjoyed the hot chocolate and visiting with Santa. Since it’s close to Waynesville, you can make a day of it by enjoying lunch in town before heading home.

Sandy Hollar Tree Farm
sandyhollarfarms.com
Sandy Hollar is a laid back operation and a little more rustic. You take a wagon ride through the farm up to the orchard and while they have some helpers to assist you in cutting your tree, most people use one of the provided hacksaws to avoid having to wait. They offer hot chocolate and snacks along with a small gift shop.

Tom Sawyer Tree Farm
http://www.tomsawyerchristmastreefarm.com/
Tom Sawyer has been our go-to for several years because it offers one of the most picturesque settings, as well as many activities. While the prices have increased in recent years, the kids have enjoyed the “Elf Village” where they can dress up as elves and enjoy face painting, crafts, stories, roasting marshmallows and a scavenger hunt ending with a personal visit with Santa. There is also a gift shop, snacks, horse-drawn carriage rides and more.

There are, of course, many more tree farms out there to try – visit http://www.ncchristmastrees.com/ for a comprehensive list. Some friends we know like to stick with the same one year after year while others bounce from place to place. It’s an adventure no matter where you go, and where there are adventures, there are always memories to be made. Happy Christmas tree hunting!

Blessings!

Susan