I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we don’t take for granted that during a pandemic we’ve able to still travel and explore with our camper.
COVID-19 changed the way we travel: no wandering around a gas station to stretch our legs or buy junk food, restroom breaks in the camper, no eating inside restaurants even though we really want to. We skip touristy things we might have visited in the past.
We are a pretty self-contained little caravan. Camp in the forest, hike with masks in case we pass others, and bring our own food.
Even with all the changes, fall break in the North Carolina mountains was perfect.
We arrived Saturday afternoon to Lazy J Campground. Over five years of camping with a travel trailer has brought us a wide variety of campground experiences. We tend to stay away from places that have long-term camping; we’ve learned those places aren’t where we like to be. Truthfully, if I had seen Lazy J ahead of time, I wouldn’t have made a reservation. I’m so glad I didn’t see it though, because we would have missed out on some pretty great rustic camping.
Our lot was wooded and secluded; we could hear the French Broad River as we sat outside; we were near all the places we wanted to be. If you wanted a weekend in a tent, this would be a pretty great spot too. This is a low-frills campground; don’t expect nice bathrooms, wifi, or a place to do laundry. You’re paying for a spot and that’s it. (It’s $30/night for full hookups which is crazy cheap. We’re used to paying around $60/night for most places.) The lack of amenities was fine for us since we shower in our camper, but we only packed enough clothes for six days, because I normally do a load or two of laundry if we’re gone for more than a week. Probably more information than you need, but the socks and underpants situation got dire near the end of our trip because I didn’t do laundry as planned.
Sunday we spent the day exploring the Pisgah National Forest. Our campground was right on the border of the forest and driving through the park for trails was fun. The Cradle of Forestry was worth the $6/person visit. We got to see the nation’s first forestry school and the grounds where the foundations for America’s forestry programs were laid. The CoF also has paved walking trails on 1-3 mile loops if accessibility is a concern.
After exploring all day, we had a movie night at home. A Redbox and boxes of movie candy and popcorn with the windows open as the cool mountain air blew through was the best way to end the day.
Monday was my birthday. We took a 3-hour morning hike to a waterfall we never found. Happy birthday to meeeee. It was fine; it was a beautiful hike even if Harper cried for most of it.
We drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped at lookouts as long as others weren’t around. I know I’m not the first person to say this, but the BRP is breathtaking. The fall leaves were unbelievable. It feels like you’re driving in a movie that never ends.
We got sushi takeout for an early dinner. We rely on Yelp a lot when we travel; we try to eat local when visiting a place and Yelp said Sora Japanese was a good stop. I agree. First time eating sushi on a picnic table at the camper; we so fancy.
After dinner, we had a game night. I bought two new games for the trip: Uno Flip and Monopoly Deal. The girls loved Uno Flip so much we never even opened Monopoly Deal. They played it every day, multiple times a day.
Tuesday we drove into Asheville. It was about a 45-minute drive from the campground. The girls shopped at Dancing Bear Toys, we walked around the downtown shops, we picked out treats for the dogs at Patton Ave. Pet Co., and Chris Graham bought a new pipe and tobacco at the Carolina Cigar Company. There were a few stores downtown that had signs restricting out-of-state customers. One was a bookstore we really wanted to visit, but I understand the majority of people traveling right now might also be the people who aren’t making choices to keep others safe. This was the first trip we’ve ever taken without a bookstore stop. Sad trombone.
On our way out of Asheville, we stopped for a late lunch at Moe’s BBQ. It was our 14th wedding anniversary, and we knew we wanted to eat some Carolina BBQ to celebrate. We ordered Moe’s to go then sat on their patio. The weather was sunny and perfect, the BBQ was amazing, and Harper declared Moe’s her second favorite restaurant of all time. (First favorite is City BBQ.)
Once our bellies were full, we left the city and headed to DuPont State Forest. We did the Triple Falls Loop to see where they filmed part of the first Hunger Games movie. This late afternoon hike was full of stuff to see, places to get into the cold water, and not a lot of people.
Wednesday we spent a lazy morning at the camper. Chris slept in, I drank lots of coffee, and the girls played on the dangerous old slides the campground had. Mid-morning we left the girls on iPads and took the dogs on a hike a few miles up the road. They loved it; Mac has boundless energy and no fear. Blue is more timid and cautious. They both traipsed through the river and swam in the cold, cold water.
After lunch, we drove a few minutes down the road to Headwaters Outfitters. We rented kayaks, and they dropped us off on the French Broad River for a 3-hour trip. The river was cold and clear. We made reservations for Wednesday, knowing it would be the warmest day all week, so we enjoyed mid-70s and clear skies as we manned the river. The section we were on is Class A, so it was a pretty calm, manageable trip. There was enough current to keep you going without too much effort. I’m not sure we could have asked for a better afternoon on the river.
We finished up the day with more rounds of Uno Flip and Gin Rummy. (I won, thank you.)
Thursday we spent the day at the Biltmore Estate. This was the most peopley part of our trip, and I was a little anxious it would feel too crowded and unsafe. But the Biltmore was ready: limiting attendance, hand sanitizer stations everywhere, constantly reminding people to leave space between groups, and firmly telling every person wearing a mask below their nose to cover up or leave. (This is my dream, to be able to tell people how dumb they look wearing a mask that doesn’t cover their nose. I’m not saying it’s a good dream, but it’s a dream.)
If you’re going, especially in the fall, buy tickets in advance. I bought them a few weeks before we left and tour times were already slim. Nine and under are free, so don’t buy your nine year old a ticket like I did. (They gave me a refund at will call when I picked them up, but they didn’t have to. It’s all over the website that refunds and transfers are not allowed. It was very kind of them to do it anyway.) We knew we were going to visit the Biltmore so I was prepared for the ridiculous tickets even though it still killed me to buy them. We spent all day touring the grounds, house, and buildings. I don’t regret spending the money, but I understand how it also feels really crazy to spend that much money on tickets. We packed a lunch and ate there; you could spend hundreds of dollars eating a nice meal at one of their farm-to-table restaurants, but we chose to spend $30 on three ice cream cones instead.
Friday we slept in, had biscuits and gravy, and packed up the campsite. Around noon we headed toward home. We made it to Norris Lake in Tennessee and stayed the night at Mountain Lake Marina and Campground. It was just a place to sleep, but I’m not sure I’d pick that campground again. It was full of long-term campers, you had to walk ten minutes to the dumpster to get rid of trash, and our view was crappy. Obviously, we don’t own a boat and so a marina campground isn’t the place for us anyway. But Norris Lake is amazing; we camped there years ago with friends and loved the long weekend.
Saturday afternoon we pulled into home dirty, tired, and happy. I love traveling and exploring, but I really love coming home too. On this trip, we reminded the girls a few times how this fall and winter might be hard with the pandemic so we were grateful for the traveling we got to do and the things we got to experience. Infection rates in Indiana (and many other states) are spiking so we’re mentally preparing for schools to be shut down again. We’re not trick-or-treating this year; the girls are okay with it, and I’ve promised to make the 31st a day full of fun, but it still stinks that so much of what we’re experiencing now could have been avoided.
I think it’s time to winterize the camper. We thought about camping a few times in November, but we’ve got a summer porch project to wrap up, a few more trees to cut down in our yard, and a garden to ready for winter. This was probably the last trip of 2020 for the Grahams. Definitely ending on a high note.
DISCLOSURE: AFFILIATE LINKS USED.
I’m always looking for food ideas when we camp. Below is the meal plan for the trip. We were gone 9 days and I planned food for 6 days. With leftovers and a few meals out, 6 days worth of food was more than enough food. (We don’t cook too much over the fire; no one has time for that. We have a grill and an electric skillet. I do most of the cooking outside on a table, but the fire is mostly for warmth, hot dogs, and s’mores.)
-waffles/French toast sticks
-bacon, eggs, and fruit
-biscuits and gravy
-banana bread and yogurt with granola
-charcuterie board x2
-dinner leftovers x2
-tomato soup and grilled cheese
-Crockpot pulled pork sliders
-broccoli cheddar soup and grilled turkey sandwiches