Monday, August 23, 2010

Unicoi State Park, Georgia

The young couple who pulled into the adjacent slot to us in Unicoi State Park near Helen, Georgia, told us this was one of their very favorite parks. They were hikers and loved the access to the many trails. My wife and I saw the park a little differently, but then everyone has different expectations from their camping experience. As far as hiking trails go, Unicoi offers a wide variety, although we found walking on the highway across the dam as part of the lake trail disconcerting. 

Our initial dissatisfaction with the park came when we found there is no parking at the toilet facility, except for one disabled, sticker-only slot. Campers simply park in the roadway to use the laundry or shower rather than walk the hilly paths to the facility. There were no signs to mark the access trails to the toilet, you just have to know where the trails are ahead of time. Thankfully, they are ground-lighted at night. There was a washer in the laundry with an out-of-order sign that looked like it had been there for awhile.

Rain, Rain, go away!  Campsite at Unicoi State Park
We tried to find a launching point on the small  but pretty lake for our kayaks, and even though there is a beautiful, sandy beach for swimmers, there isn't a way to easily put in your own kayak. There is a staircase but it isn't easy to wrangle a kayak or canoe from the parking area to the water or back. You can rent paddle boats or canoes at the beach, but using your own self-propelled craft is apparently discouraged.

We were surprised by traffic zipping past on the highway one must walk on if you take the 2.4 mile Lakeside Trail. We started walking with our two dogs at the visitors center and walked the well-worn trail counter-clockwise all the way to the dam, where we discovered we had to share a highway with oncoming traffic. While the speed limit is 35 miles per hour, few drivers bothered to go anywhere near that slow. We felt like sitting ducks as they flew across the dam toward us. 

Additionally, there is no sign at the other side of the dam to show where the trail resumes! After a false walk down to a dock, we started across the parking area trying to stay on the forest side of the guardrail. That soon washed out and we once again crossed into the small area between the guardrail and a painted white line that supposedly keeps you safe from cars barreling down the curved hill. It was not the highlight of the park.

Anna Ruby Falls, near Unicoi State Park
The highlight for us is the nearby Anna Ruby Falls which is run by the non-profit Cradle of Forestry under lease from U.S. Forest Service. The pretty falls are formed by the unique confluence of Curtis Creek and York Creek which then form Smith Creek. As Federal property, Anna Ruby Falls have nothing to do with Unicoi State Park which is run by the State of Georgia. Golden Passports, or other senior passes for National Parks waive the $2.00 per person entry fee.


Next: Headed home- another stop at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park in Florida at:

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