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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Grayling, Michigan / Hartwick Pines State Park

October 2016, Weekday-weekend, 3-nights, Hartwick Pines campsite 71


This was our third stay at Hartwick Pines State Park. This is a brief post to share new information we have learned about individual campsites within the park, and making changes to reservations. You can find more park and area detail in the following blog posts: May 2016, Bicycle Trail October 2015, Hartwick Pines October 2015, and in the Grayling Facebook album.

Making changes to advance reservations at a Michigan State Park

We had made an advance reservation for two nights, and decided we wanted to arrive a day early. Our campsite was available, and I hoped to make the change before our arrival, as the campground was quite full, and we would not be arriving until evening.

Colors in the park were just starting to change in early October

The state of Michigan website says there is a $10 fee to change a reservation. I knew from previous experience that a park ranger can make changes in the park without charging a fee, so I called the park. Unfortunately, the person who answered the call told me she could only do this after we arrived. I then decided to place a call to the State of Michigan reservation line, and hoped for the best. The person who took that call made the change for us, and we were not charged a change fee. Our reservation had already been updated when we arrived at the park, so check-in did not take long.

Hartwick Pines Campsites 71 and 77

We were on campsite 71. This a grassy and spacious site. It is private on the backside with many trees. There is one tree between this site and site 72. The fire pit is quite a distance away, since the site is so large. We were closer and more level for full hookup on this site, than we had been on site 99 in May 2015.

Site 71

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Grand Rapids, Michigan / Homewood Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown

September 2016, Weekday, 1-night, 2-bedroom suite #627


The Homewood Suites by Hilton Downtown Grand Rapids opened the summer of 2016, and I had won an overnight stay during a Facebook promotion.

View from bar on floor 2, which is above the Ottawa Ave. entrance

Arrival and check-in

When we entered from Ottawa Ave., we were a bit confused about where to check-in. We observed a baggage storage sign, and a hotel elevator sign for the guestrooms; however, we did not observe any signage for the check-in area. ArtPrize was going on during our stay, and it is possible we missed a sign, as there were many pieces of art in the lobby. Check-in is located on floor two, and you can get there via the guestroom elevator, or the stairs (straight ahead when entering from Ottawa Ave.) shown in the photos here.


Another view of the lobby from the bar on floor 2
The check-in process was efficient, and I received two bags with bottled water and Oreo cookies for being a Diamond member. The front desk agent told me I had received a room upgrade, although she did not tell me what kind of room she was assigning us. I did not realize there was any confusion with the upgrade until we checked out (more about this later). The room I had won was for a studio suite. After I made the reservation through the hotel, I looked at the upgrade options online. I then contacted the hotel manager to ask if I could upgrade to a two-bedroom suite and pay the difference. At that time, I was told I could not do that, as the certificate was only good for a studio guestroom. When I was told about the upgrade during check-in, I assumed it was a complimentary upgrade because of my status.

Guestroom 627

I learned suite 627 is a two-bedroom suite when we arrived at the guestroom. It was spacious and comfortable. The entrance door opened into the kitchen and living area. The kitchen contained a full size fridge, electric burners, microwave, dishwasher, table with two chairs, cupboards stocked with dishes, and a coffee maker with supplies. There was a welcome letter with a bag of bottled water and Oreo cookies on the table for another guest who had Gold status. I do not know if this was left behind, or if there had been some kind of guestroom switch at the last minute. I did not really think much about it at the time.

Suite 627; view from entrance

Monday, October 24, 2016

Battle Creek, Michigan region / Fort Custer Recreation Area

September 2016, Weekend, 1-night, Campsite 218


Arrival

Our decision to camp in Fort Custer Recreation Area was last minute, so we did not have an advance reservation. We had never been to this park before, and the campsite photos would not show on my phone when I tried to view the available sites before our arrival. The ranger picked site 218 for us, which she said is a corner site. She had told us we could drive through and pick our own site if we wanted; however, there are over 200 sites in this park and it was late in the day. It was not dark yet, although we had not eaten dinner, and we did not want to spend another 20 minutes or so driving our 5th wheel through the park and then returning to the office.  

Sun rising over Jackson Hole Lake

Campsite 218

Looking at the campground map, it did not look like site 218 is a corner site; however, it basically is. The corner between this site and site 125 is all trees - site 125 is not actually on the corner like it is shown on the map. The campsite photo on the DNR reservation site for campsite 218 is accurate looking straight in from the road. I have included more photos below, which can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Slade Kentucky ~ Natural Bridge State Resort Park: camping, hiking, and more

September 2016, Weekdays-weekend, 3-nights, Whittleton campsite A029


View of Lookout Point from Natural Bridge

Advance reservations, arrival and check-in

When I looked at the campgrounds online in Natural Bridge State Resort Park, I thought we would want to stay in Middle Fork Campground along the stream. By the time we were ready to make our reservation, all of those sites were either reserved or not suitable, so we reserved a site in Whittleton Campground.

Labeled map
We arrived via Highway 11 from the south. The Whittleton campground sign is a short, small sign at the entrance with no forewarning, and we missed it. We pulled into the next drive north of Whittleton, which was the entrance to the skylift and lodge. We turned around after driving over the entrance bridge because the sign clearly said "No RVs" to the left. We could have also turned around by the skylift, if we had turned right. Even though the map shows a road through the picnic area after turning left, you cannot get through on that road with an RV. There is also a drive into Whittleton campground on the south side of the stream, which is a dead end with no turn around. If you happen to miss the main drive arriving from the north with an RV, I do not suggest pulling into that drive. You can enlarge the labeled map I have inserted here by clicking on it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

September 2016, Weekday, Afternoon visit

View from road shortly before we arrived at Cumberland Falls

On this trip, we stayed at Mammoth Cave National Park, Dale Hollow State Resort Park, and Natural Bridge State Resort Park. We stopped at Cumberland Falls between Dale Hollow and Natural Bridge.

Cumberland Falls Campgrounds

When we starting planning our Kentucky vacation, we initially thought we would stay a couple of nights at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. When I began to make reservations for the trip, I discovered there are no large RV sites in the campgrounds. There is only one 30' site in the Ridgeline campground, RV site #33. The size dimensions for this site are 30 x 15, and there were no pictures of the site online. I did not think our 30' 5th wheel, which is actually a bit longer, would fit, so I called the campground to make sure the information I had found online was correct. As I am writing this blog post, I see the reservation site now has the following language under Alerts and Important Information: No camping equipment or vehicle over 30 foot will [be] allowed in the Camping Area. 

Following are some RV campgrounds nearby:
- Falls Creek Cabins and Campground is the closest RV campground I could find. I do not know why this campground did not show when I searched online before our trip. We passed it when we left the falls, and I easily found the website when I searched after returning home. It is just over five miles east of the falls.
- Corbin/Laurel Lake KOA is about ½ hour northeast of the falls, near I-75. We were going to be arriving from the southwest, so we decided this was too far away to stay a couple of nights and drive back and forth.
- I found General Burnside Island Park after we had already made reservations at Dale Hollow State Park. This park is about ½ hour west of the falls. Since this park is located on the west side, more in line with our route than the KOA, we would have stayed at this park instead of Dale Hollow, if I had found it earlier. The drive from this park to Natural Bridge would have been less stressful than the route we took! By the time I happened upon this campground, it was less than 15 days before our stay, and we would have lost more than just the cancellation fee to change parks. 

Parking at Cumberland Falls

There is plenty of parking at the Visitor Center for large RVs. I was glad I had researched the park before our trip, and we knew where to pull in when we arrived. If you are arriving from the west, I suggest pulling into the first drive, directly on your left, after crossing the river. The entrance is located on a sharp turn in the road, and the speed limit is only 15 MPH on this corner. There was no sign designating this as the RV lot, and we hoped the information I had found before our trip was correct. It was, and the next entrance would have been more difficult to pull into from the west. The turn is even sharper at the second/main entrance from the west, and you will have to drive back to the first lot next to the river, if you have a trailer or RV.

View from RV lot above the falls

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dale Hollow Lake Reservoir in Kentucky/Tennessee - Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park

September 2016, Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park, Weekday, 2-nights, Campsite L005


View of reservoir from the lodge

Reservations and arrival

We made an advance reservation at Dale Hollow State Resort Park online. The rate was reasonable, and we got a AAA discount. There are photos of most of the campsites online, although I thought it was difficult to choose a site before we actually arrived at the park and saw the entire layout. You can find more campsite and park photos in the Dale Hollow Facebook album.

We stopped at the IGA in Burkesville after arriving on KY-90 from the west. We were able to get some supplies at the IGA, although food selection was limited. Before we entered the store, I had observed a Dale Hollow State Park sign across from the store, directing us to KY-61. Our GPS was telling us to go to the next road, Hwy-49, so I asked the cashier which route was best. She said KY-61 has less curves. We took KY-61 to the park, and there are many curves on this route. Looking at the map overview afterward, there are just as many curves on this route as on Hwy-49. We should have followed our GPS, because taking KY-61 was over two miles longer. A measly two miles does make a difference when you are towing something on skinny roads through curves at slow speeds.

We arrived on a Monday, and the camp store/registration office was not open. The sign on the door said it is closed on Mondays. I assume the sign pertained to off-season hours. There was a self-registration box at the entrance booth after the camp store. There were less than 10 campers in the campground when we arrived. We observed reserved signs on some campsite posts from previous guests, although there was no sign on our site. We would not have been too happy, if we had found someone on our site when we got there! We waved when we passed park rangers during our stay, although we did not speak with any workers our entire stay (other than at the marina).

Campsite L005

The campsites in this park are on circle loops, and Loop L is near the outer edge with woods along the edge. We had a private and beautiful view from our fire pit and table. It was not windy during our stay; however, we heard a startling noise one night of our stay - a huge tree fell down in the woods! There are many large trees in Kentucky, and the tree we heard made a tremendous crash/thud. We were in bed when this happened, and did not hear if there was any cracking or other noise beforehand to indicate this was about to happen.

Campsite L5
View out window toward L4
Fog in the morning, just like Mammoth Cave










Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky / National Park Campground, Cave Tours, and more

September 2016, Weekend-weekday, 3-nights, Campsite 71


Domes & Dripstones Cave Tour; info at the end of this post

Reservations, arrival, check-in

We wanted to reserve a campsite at Mammoth Cave National Park before our arrival; however, the park stops accepting campground reservations for the season on September 15th, which was a few days before our stay. You can still make reservations for the tours, although not the campground.

When we arrived, the ranger told us to turn in Loop C, find a site that we fit on, and then come back and pay. The cost was $20 per night, and we could pay by check or credit card.

Campground map; click to enlarge

Campsite 71

We had walked through this campground a year earlier when we passed through the area. At that time, we had thought sites 71, 73, and 80 were all good sites. We did not notice the traffic direction until we drove into the campground; all of the perimeter sites in Loop C are on the wrong side of the road to pull in with an RV (unless you want to face the road instead of your fire pit!). We decided to turn around through site 72, and then we chose site 71. Fortunately, there was not much traffic when we left, because we did not try to turn around again at that time. We passed one non-camping vehicle on our way out, and he pulled off the road to let us by.

View from our camper on site 71