March 3rd to March 25th
Georgia: 1st stop Cumberland Island National Seashore. This island is known for their wild horses, no cars, tropical landscape, and it’s history. We took the ferry over to explore for the day. You can camp on the island but, it’s tent camping only and you must pack everything in/out. Bike rentals are available on the island for a reasonable price, or you can ferry your bike (the rental bikes aren’t the greatest, so if you can bring your own I would). Off we biked in search of wild horses and it didn’t take too long to find them! The Dungeness ruins, which are the remains of a mansion built in 1736 have a hauntingly beautiful feel to them. Also on the island, and well worth the long bike ride, is the Plum Orchard mansion. Free tours are available a few times a day (just show up to the mansion 15 minutes early). The mansion is massive, with so much history, and a MILE OF CARPET in the place!
After Cumberland we trekked into Savannah. Oh my, I unexpectedly fell in love with this city! Wormsloe State Historic Site with its canopy of live oaks was absolutely breathtaking! There is a fee, but it is definitely worth it. Downtown Savannah feels small even though it is a bustling city. Little parks on city blocks strewn among the vine covered historic homes made this nature lover very happy. Speaking of happy, the one thing I wanted to do in Savannah was to go to Pounce Cat Cafe, and it didn’t disappoint!
A glorious hour was spent loving on adoptable cats with a glass of wine in hand. Jason is lucky we live in a van or we would have had a furry companion with us! A few other Savannah recs, Treylor Park restaurant for their funky vibes and food. Specifically the PB & J chicken wings, tossed in peanut/pecan butter and served with a peach jelly sauce, unreal.
Also, a stop at the Perry Lane hotel (if you have a job and don’t live in a van I would recommend staying there). Head up to their rooftop bar just before sunset for the most perfect view of the city and amazing cocktails!
Charleston: A breakfast must (be prepared to wait in line) is Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit for some drool worthy breakfast sandwiches! A walk down by the waterfront and you will pass the colorful houses of Rainbow Row. For all of my lovers of The Notebook, part of it was filmed at Boone Hall Plantation. Jason and I couldn’t pull the trigger on the $24 per adult price tag, but damn it looked amazing. Sullivan’s Island is where you need to go for some beach time in Charleston, the downtown has all the small, fun, beachy vibes. Jason’s “must” in Charleston was a drink at Harold’s Cabin, the restaurant co-owned by Bill Murray, the Bill Murray.
The staff make you feel like a local, the inside has all of the vibes of the northwoods and there is a roof top garden that you can check out. It was perfect. I needed raw oysters and Jason did not but, he loves fried chicken so, Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop was a perfect dinner combination.
One of us left with an ice cream cone too, spoiler… it was Jason. One unlucky van mishap in Charleston, our spare tire mount broke while we were driving. A day of driving with our spare tire riding on the inside and a $65 weld the next day and we were back on the road!
Congaree National Park: Well, we are unsure how this made it to “National Park” status. It is known for it’s board walks, kayaking the water, and mosquitoes. Part of the board walks were flooded and impassable when we were there (apparently this is a common occurrence). There is a beauty among the flooded swamp land along with snakes and crawdads. As we were going to sleep, fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances drove by with sirens and lights. We found out the next morning that two kayakers were lost on the river, one found sometime in the middle of the night and the other made their way back to the visitor center the next morning after being lost all night. So scary but I’m glad there was a happy ending to this.
Simpsonville: The highlight of South Carolina as we were greeted by Andy, Sam, and their two amazing girls Evie and Addie! Andy is a family friend from northern Wisconsin so we were very happy to see a familiar face on the road. He took us around Simpsonville/Greenville. Sidewall Pizza, is a great neighborhood pizza place with ungodly large bread sticks. Followed by local beers at Bids Fly South Ale Project, and killer dance moves during shuffleboard. The next morning, after a game of ‘Sorry’ with Evie and Addie, we were treated to homemade pancakes before going to Jones Gap State Park to hike with the crew. This was the first time hiking and seeing it through the eyes of a child. It was beautiful, hilarious, and a bit slower pace than usual ;). Thank you guys so much for letting us stay with you (and for letting us take over your washer and dryer)!
Columbia: We scored nose bleed seats to the second round games of the NCAA tournament! I’ll just say sporting events are a lot more fun when you don’t care who wins (and you can order chicken and waffles from the concession stand).
Natahala National Forest: This area of the country is a forest lover’s dream. We did a grueling hike up to Yellow Mountain Lookout Tower. 11.9 miles with 3,000ft of elevation gain gets you two an abandoned fire tower. We had the place to ourselves with 360° views of the blue ridge mountains. Obviously, the best way to reward ourselves after a long hike is with pizza and we found a small joint in Highlands, the cutest little mountain town.
Asheville: Wow is this a fun and vibrant city! This city is known for their breweries and we did a Saturday brewery tour with Andy and Sam. A few of our favorites: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Wicked Weed Brewing and Green Man Brewery. A great place to camp, that is a short drive to Asheville, is Lake Powhatan.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: I would like to rename this park “Great Foggy Mountains NP” after our attempt to hike Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte. 10.7 miles with 3,000ft elevation. Quickly after we started the hike it began to rain and continued to rain/drizzle the entire hike. As we hiked higher the fog became so dense we couldn’t see a single blue mountain and the winds gusted between 30-50mph. This is the first (and hopefully the only) time we have ever turned around on a hike due to safety and we were so close to the top. Slippery rocks, dropping temps, unbelievable wind gusts, and continual rain made our decision pretty easy. Another popular hike is the Chimney Tops trail which we, unfortunately, got to hike with an entire group of high-schoolers. The point of hiking is to enjoy nature, instead we got to listen to the sounds of teenagers yelling, selfie-ing, running, and playing music (my #1 pet peeve on hikes). To my parents, you two are saints for putting up with me while I was a teenager!
If that encounter wasn’t enough we made the mistake of driving into Gatlinburg where every chain, gimicky, touristy place exists. Sensory overload. But, we desperately needed showers and the community center has a pool that is $2.00 per adult… a locker room shower never felt so good. Next to the community center is the public library where I had the pleasure of meeting their resident cat, Porter C. Bibliocat, aka the best thing about Gatlinburg.
Nashville: A fun two nights were spent with Jason’s cousin Aaron and his wife Bethany. Lots of catching up and many laughs while they showed us all the fun spots of East Nashville. Just to name a few places worth checking out: Party Fowl, Tennessee Brew Works, Nectar: Urban Cantina and Phat Bites. MichelVangleo got a deep (much needed) interior clean in their driveway, and we got gifts of cheese and beer! Thank you two so much!
Chattanooga: Just one night in Chattanooga, but I can’t wait to go back. We checked out Naked River Brewing Co. A great outdoor space, excellent beers, and mouth watering BBQ. For breakfast the next morning we went to Aretha Frankensteins for the best pancakes of my entire life. Seriously, they were the thickest and fluffiest pancakes, that I have since had dreams about. You can buy their mix (that’s how amazing they are) which I will be doing as soon as we have a real address again. Also, we didn’t know how big the pancakes would be, so we each ordered our own and “split the pancakes,” we left VERY, VERY FULL.
Alabama: A quick dip into Northern Alabama from Tennessee to explore Natural Bridge Park. This is a privately owned park, but the admission fees are very reasonable. You walk below beautiful rock formations that make natural bridges. Easy trails lead you around the park to explore the bridges from below. The next morning we drove to Stephen’s Gap Cave to hike. You need to secure a permit ahead of time, but it’s free! A short .8 mile hike gets you to a 150ft cave complete with a waterfall. This area is popular for rappelling by rock climbers, but there are still stellar views for us non-rappellers.
Cheers to zig-zagging our way up the east coast!
Below: Another epic adventure recap video by Jason!