Local sites offer ample camping chances for metro Atlanta seniors

If you need to find Laine Kirby Wood, don’t even try her house. You’d have a better chance on a river somewhere or in the woods.

The 70-year-old Canton resident and Dunwoody native is more comfortable outdoors than anywhere else. She’s the executive director of the Upper Etowah River Alliance, which means her passion and play are off the beaten path.

“When you start aging — I don’t say maturing I say aging — you start realizing that you only get one turn,” she said. “I’m making the most of my turn.”

Five weeks ago she was paddling on the Satilla River with a couple of gal pals, one 65 and one 75.

“We paddled on the river and then set up camp where we felt like it,” she said. “Screw the alligators. This is our river too.”

In June, she’ll camp on the Savannah River with Georgia River Network. And she wants other metro Atlanta older adults to know that those trips are fantastic opportunities to get outdoors and camp with others.

These trips are supported by GRN. Meals are provided and participants can enjoy the beauty of the outdoors while reassured by the relative safety of the group.

At 70, Laine Kirby Wood is an avid camper and paddler and encourages other metro Atlanta seniors to consider a paddle and camping trip with the Georgia River Network. Participants on those trips are provided with meals, shuttles, camping/paddling support and the relative safety of a group excursion.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

The big adventures are called Paddle Georgia and the next one will allow participants to explore more than 70 miles on the Savannah River as well as shorter distances on Brier Creek in Screven County, Ebenezer Creek in Effingham County and Abercorn Creek. The trip will last seven days.

“We love doing these supported trips with Georgia River Network,” Kirby Wood said. “Your meals are prepared so you don’t have to cook. A shuttle takes you to and from the put-in where you’ve left your kayak, and you just set up your tent and have dinner with friends.”

She said at her age and being five feet tall, there are some instances when in the outdoors that she needs a little help. And having the support of the GNR means there are always people around to help in a camping or paddling setting.

“These are amazing trips,” she said. “You see raccoons, deer, wading birds, otters, and sometimes even bears.”

Laine’s picks:

Here are a couple of camping locations Laine suggests for other senior metro-Atlanta residents.

Along the Conasauga River in Northwest Georgia: “There are so many places to camp near the river which is so clear and beautiful in places,” she said. “You can do a day trip or an overnight camp.”

Len Foote Hike Inn, Dawsonville: An ecotourism facility near the peak of Frosty Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Dawson County. The lodge is open year-round and is only accessible via hiking trails.

“You have to have a reservation,” she said. “You park at the top of Amicalola Falls, you leave your car, and hike to the lodge. It’s a 5-mile hike carrying everything you need. It’s a moderate hike. There are benches along the way and amazing views. When you get to the inn they have snacks and muffins and tea and hot chocolate. That hike is one of the most beautiful walks in the woods. It’s very doable for a moderately healthy senior.”

John Durden and his fiance Amy Lynch recently camped at Lake Winfield Scott in Union County and said they enjoyed the tranquil setting and spectacular views.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

John Durden’s last camping trip was to Lake Winfield Scott, a mountain lake 10 miles south of Blairsville. He was there in the fall and the colors were spectacular. But he also enjoys camping at Indian Springs State Park south of Atlanta and anywhere in the Cohuttas.

“When I camp I like to take my road bike and ride the back roads around where I camp,” he said. “But my absolute favorite thing to do when camping is cooking. Camping’s just a great activity for the family. I try to take my daughters and their friends. The last camping trip was with my fiancé and her daughter.”

The 52-year-old said one of the best resources for metro-Atlanta residents to find out about camping locations is the georgiastateparks.org/camping, which details camping information at state parks all around Georgia and lists each park’s fees and amenities.

John’s picks:

Dahlonega: “Atlanta folks who camp anywhere near Dahlonega will have a great time,” he said. “You’ve got the mountains, waterfalls, the small mountain town atmosphere, and the Georgia gold rush history.”

Unicoi State Park in Helen: “This place has some really great hikes and easy access to Helen if you’d like to do something in the town,” Durden said. “The camping is wonderful, and in the summer you can also go tubing.”

Fifty-six-year-old Kim Hatcher knows camping and great places to do it. She’s the public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites and has worked with the parks system for 30 years.

You could say she’s somewhat of an expert.

Many of Georgia’s state parks have amenities that suit campers of all ages and particularly older adults.

Fort Yargo State Park in Winder is a good choice, she said. It offers sites for tents as well as RVs and even yurts.

“So if someone doesn’t have the gear to camp or maybe they’re by themselves, yurts are a great option.”

Don Carter State Park in Gainsville is on Lake Lanier and is a fairly new park, she said. It’s on the northern end of the lake, so it’s a little quieter and many older campers might enjoy that.

Another park she likes to recommend is Sweetwater Creek in Lithia Springs.

“This would be closer to metro Atlanta residents but there’s no camper accessibility,” she said. “It’s tent camping only. They do have yurts too.”

With any state park, she recommends making reservations in advance. Some of the more popular parks and campsites are booked out up to a year in advance. If folks can get away during the week they have a better chance of getting their favorite spot.

And for those who camp in an RV, Hatcher said they’ve upgraded many parks with full hookup including sewage and a higher amp. Those are at locations such as Red Top Mountain State Park on Lake Allatoona, Vogel State Park in Blairsville, and Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn.

“Senior adult campers may want to look for sites that are ‘pull through’ meaning you don’t have to back up the camper,” she said. “And we have camp hosts in all our campgrounds. Quite often those are senior adults who you can get advice from about that particular site.”

One of the advantages of Georgia state park camping, she added, is that most parks have ADA-accessible facilities such as campsites, bathrooms, yurts, cabins, and even some trails.

When asked where she herself enjoys camping, she said she’s drawn to sites in southern Georgia with its beautiful backwater lakes filled with towering cypress trees and easy kayaking as well as easy hiking trails.

Cypress trees tower above a kayaker on George L. Smith State Park's black water. The park offers beautiful scenery and an abundance of wildlife for campers to see.

Credit: Georgia State Parks

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Credit: Georgia State Parks

Kim’s picks:

Stephen C. Foster State Park in South Georgia: The primary entrance to the Okefenokee Swamp. It’s known for black swamp waters, trees dripping with Spanish moss, towering cypress trees, and an abundance of wildlife including turtles, alligators, black bears, raccoons and herons. It also has especially dark skies, which stargazers can appreciate.

George L. Smith State Park in Twin City: Cottages and lakeside camping are among the attractions here. The refurbished Parrish Mill and Pond, a gristmill, sawmill-covered bridge, and dam that was built in 1880, is what it’s most known for.