Friday, March 31, 2017

Campground Review: Andrew Jackson State Park

Last May I decided I would start keeping track of which campgrounds we visited and what we liked and maybe disliked about each. Hotel reviews and excursion reviews and reviews for basically anything else are so easy to come by. But for whatever reason campground reviews are not. And the ones you do find are typically negative so it makes booking a new place nerve-wracking because the negativity scares you. I'm not sure why this is - maybe people just aren't campers and their expectations are not realistic.

And then, I didn't even keep it up. Since last May, we've visited 5 other campgrounds that I could have reviewed - but I never did. So this is me giving it another go as this year's camping season begins.

Our first camping trip of 2017 was to:

This was our second visit to this campground. It is a very short drive from our home so it's easy for a quick weekend trip. The drive for us is just 35 minutes so we are able to not take any time off of work and still enjoy a little weekend away without much trouble at all. It's far enough away though that it doesn't feel like we are taking the camper 5 miles down the road. 

Both times we've camped here we've stayed at the same site - site #21. Our ideal sites would be #16-#19, but those 4 get booked well in advance in my experience. Those 4 are more waterfront, which as I've said before, is a major consideration for our family. We always prefer campgrounds WITH a body of water, and then we'd like our site to be BY the water as well. 

However, 21 is actually pretty decent also, despite what it looks like on the map. The path to the water is wide open from the back of our site and is still very visible. This was Charley on our trip in 2016 walking back to the camper from the lake. The reflective area in the background is the water. So, still very accessible and visible.

All sites are spacious and semi-private though. It didn't seem that anyone had much trouble due to grade of the land or just space in general backing into their lot, either. A few sites were also pull-throughs.

This year we spent a Mid-March weekend here. The weather was rainy a couple times and in general, unpredictable, as weather typically is during the month of March, but we were comfortable in jeans and hoodies most of the day. During the afternoon we could lose the sweatshirt and just wear a long sleeved tee, but sweatshirts and a warm fire were needed in the evenings. Last year our weekend visit was in May and was very warm . I still think we needed sweatshirts and pants in the evenings, but during the day Charley was playing in the water and wearing sleeveless dresses.

Another thing we look for in potential campgrounds are amenities. Whether in the campground or near the campground - we at least want a couple options of things to do rather than sit around the entire day. This campground doesn't have much of anything outside of it, so I'm glad there are enough things in the campground itself to keep us entertained for a weekend. Here are the activities we've tried:
  • Boat Rentals (just aluminum fishing boats/oars)
  • Geocaching (we've found all 7 in the entire park!)
  • Playground
  • Ranger Informational Programs
  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • & just playing along the water's edge
There are also horseshoe pits, but we haven't used those. I don't remember seeing horseshoes in the pits, so you may need to pick them up from the little museum/store, or maybe just bring your own.

There is a very easy trail all the way around the lake. The only difficulty is the length of it, especially when carrying a temper-tantrumming almost 2 year old. Or so I've heard. ;) There are several other hiking trails as well. I would think there would be a trail map somewhere, but I never saw one.

The playground is great and often times we were the only ones on it. But, on Saturdays when people are likely to rent the shelter next to it for a kid's birthday party you do end up sharing the playground with the birthday party children. I prefer to go early in the morning and take a towel to wipe the dew from the slides so that my kids had the playground to themselves. Then again, I am an introvert so take that for what it's worth!

Last year we saw a sign for Bird Program at 1:00 or something like that. We had NO IDEA what it was, whether we'd need to bring our own personal bird-watching binoculars or what, but me, my mom and Charley showed up anyway. It ended up being a kid's program about local birds and we were the only three in attendance. So, my mom and I got to color and make pipe cleaner bird feeders too. Ha! It was pretty informative, too!

This year Charley insisted we try out the boat rental also. So, at 4:15 on Saturday afternoon I drove to the museum/store within the park to rent the boat/oars. However, I found out they closed at 5! They did hourly rentals, so I told the guy that was fine, we'd just pay for the whole hour anyway. That cost us a whopping $3! Haha. John and Charley got about 30 minutes of rowing around before it started to pour down rain. It was the perfect amount of time anyway so we did not request a refund for the $.75 they missed out on. ;)

The Geocaching was a lot of fun, too. There are 7 total hidden throughout the 365 acres. Last year we found 3 of them, and this year we were able to find the remaining 4. I will say that the two that were the most difficult and furthest out were REALLY FAR OUT. I'm used to taking a marked path through the woods until you get pretty close to the actual cache, and at that point stepping off of the trail into the woods for just a little bit until you find the hidden treasure. However - there are two in this park that were SO FAR OFF OF THE TRAIL! One time we crossed an actual road to make our way to the cache and walked for what seemed like a pretty long distance. When we finally found the cache and went to return to the campground, we came back to the road we crossed on our way and instead decided to call my dad to come and retrieve us with his truck since we were next to an actual road. Ha! So, we cheated a bit on the hike back but we definitely weren't expecting to walk that far into the woods. Another note - we would not have hiked that far into the woods either had it been snake season yet.

Back to the actual campground itself - all sites have water and electricity, but only 3 sites have a sewer hookup. Those three full hookup sites are on the inside of the loop next to the bathhouse, so we opt to not book those and instead use the dump station on the way out. The sites are paved and have little to no grade. They all have a nice sized picnic table and fire ring. Also, I appreciate the actual picture of each site on the website and the fact that you can fully book online. Each site rents for $18/night.

And finally - this is more a personal experience story, but just goes to show the level of customer service here. My parents joined us on this year's trip and booked the site directly next to us. They were able to arrive on Friday morning while we had to wait until the evening after we got off of work. While they were setting up, my dad talks to a park ranger and mentions that we were arriving later that evening. Then, the next day another park ranger came up to our site and said another person was claiming they had booked our site for that evening. I thought that was impossible because I booked both sites (while separately) myself for Friday and Saturday nights. Immediately after the ranger left I pulled up my booking email, and, whoops - I accidentally booked Thursday and Friday instead of Friday and Saturday on our site. Argh! So, while we waited we talked about having to go home a day early or if we'd just stay with my parents in their camper or what. I was pretty certain the campground was fully booked. But, when the ranger came back he said the other ranger, the one my dad talked to while setting up, said he could tell it was an honest internet booking mistake and he wasn't going to make us move. He apologized to the other guy but he did have a site by the bathhouse open for him. I felt really bad for that guy, but at the same time grateful for not having to move. It's not a quick process to move a camper and set it all back up again.

We didn't utilize the bathrooms or showers so not able to give a review on those.

Overall, it is a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors for a couple of days! I would recommend!

For the remainder of 2017 we have 3 more camping trips scheduled, and several more months where nothing is scheduled yet so we will likely book some more - I like to go once a month in the warmer months. If you are local and have a favorite place I'd love to hear about it!

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