On November 7th it was time to reluctantly leave James Island and the County Park. What a wonderful time we had there – now we know why everyone raves about the park, particularly around the holidays!
We had made reservations at Fort McAllister State Park in Richmond Hill, GA. It would be a relatively short driving day – a distance of 178 miles or about 2.5 hours.
We left James Island County Park around 10:30 a.m., turning left onto James Island Parkway and then right on Riverland Drive, dodging the low hanging branches once again. After several more turns, we eventually found our way to US-17S which comprised almost half of the miles we would drive today. This section of US-17 is a four lane divided road and an easy drive once you get out of the Charleston burbs. We merged with I-95S at exit 33 in South Carolina.
I-95 was uneventful and mostly easy driving as well and we exited at exit 90 in Georgia onto GA-144 heading towards Richmond Hill. After turning onto Savage Island Road, we arrived at Fort McAllister Historic Park.
We’ve only stayed at one other state park in GA and have mixed feelings about their reservation system. Unlike Florida, in the GA State Park system when you make a reservation you don’t reserve a specific site. With the GA system you can only book a type of site which could be a pull-thru, full hookup, 50A etc and depends on the specific park.
That’s a good thing if you want to extend your stay (assuming there are sites available) because theoretically you wouldn’t have to move to another site, which is often the case with the FL system and can be a pain.
Now the bad thing about the GA State Park system is that you don’t reserve a specific site – huh, how can it be good and bad at the same time?
The issue is that without a specific site reservation that can create kind of a frenzy as everyone races around the campground loops looking for the most desirable site. This can be particularly stressful if you are arriving at the park on a weekend. Even worse, small rigs or tents often occupy large sites that would be most appropriate for big rigs which in turn can create a difficult or impossible situation for a beast like ours. In the FL system you at least know ahead of arrival the size of the site you have booked. Oh, dear, here we were arriving on a Friday, definitely poor planning on our part. Although due to lack of availability at James Island for that weekend, we didn’t have much of a choice.
But at least it was a short drive so we arrived around 1:30 p.m. When we made our reservation, there were only 3 types of sites to choose from at Fort McAllister – tent only, a 50 ft. pull thru site with water and electric (30A only) or a handicapped site. Obviously, we booked a pull thru site. We checked into the office where we were given a map of the campground. The campground is gated so we were told we would have to enter a code to open the gate. Not a problem although there was no way anyone could reach the keypad from the window of a big rig so I had to walk over to key in the number for Rob, then he picked me up on the other side of the gate.
It was about a 1/4 mile drive past the gate to the campground. At first it didn’t seem too bad but the roads in the campground proper were narrow, twisty and bordered by large overhanging trees on both sides. Oh, oh, this was going to be fun.
As you can see in the upper right hand corner of the campground map above, the campground has three loops (purple) for the pull-thru’s and two loops (yellow) for the tent sites. It looked as though there weren’t many open sites. Now yours truly isn’t particularly good at reading maps, even the most simple ones, and today was no exception. Believe me, that modern invention of a GPS has saved us from many domestic squabbles! We had decided to head for the third loop since these sites looked bigger on the map (turned out they weren’t really) but I neglected to point out the turn to Rob. Do you suppose that it was because the inset on the map was upside down and I didn’t realize where we were? Okay, maybe that’s why – I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s all due to my lack of spatial awareness according to this article which also offers an explanation as to why guys won’t ask for directions!
Anyway, we ended up in the tent area where the roads were even narrower. Wonder why all the tenters were looking at us – did they think we wanted one of their sites? Not hardly. Luckily it just looped around so we eventually ended up at the beginning of the campground. Of course, when we checked into the office, there was a 5th wheel behind us so now we figured that they would grab one of the best spots. Drats!
When we came around again to the third loop road we originally wanted to take, Rob had to make a very tight left hand turn and negotiate around several trees – I mean like really tight. The beast has a 55 degree turning radius but would that be enough, maybe 90 degrees was what was really needed here? Yikes, hello tree! Wish I had done a selfie showing my look of panic, head and body leaning to the left, eyes half closed in a squint, not wanting to look, all the while holding my breath as we got up close and personal to that majestic bark shrouded force of nature standing at attention on the corner! Egads, that was close! Is it okay to breathe now? Hmm, what was that noise? Ah, it was just the captain exhaling deeply with a big sigh of relief, knowing that the beast had escaped being scratched or dented by that nasty ol’ tree! I think the passenger side mirror only cleared a tree by about an inch or less. Not sure how he did it but he did! Way to go, hubby! Despite the ranger’s advice that we did not need to unhitch the tow vehicle, we would advise big rigs arriving here to unhitch back at the check-in so they can back up if needed to maneuver within the campground.
As previously mentioned all of the campsites were technically pull-thrus but of the less desirable “hoop” variety which are parallel to the road and more or less formed into a half circle, so we expected some would not be suitable for us mostly because of the trees – most weren’t too bad but we would not have made it into some.
The campground loop roads are all one way (good thing for that!), so the pull-thrus on the right hand side here are preferable because they have the living area (the side with the door/awning, picnic table and fire ring) facing the woods and offering more privacy from passers-by. Those on the left hand side of the loop road have the living area between the RV and the road and offer little to no privacy. We went by one or two sites that were available but were either on the wrong side of the road or had too many trees. Finally, site #48 on the right looked like it had possibilities. Rob pulled partially in, then unhitched the van so he could jockey the beast into the best position.
Located on the banks of the Ogeechee River, Fort McAllister Historic State Park sits on 1,725 acres and has 65 tent, trailer, RV campsites ($27-$30) with electricity and water, 7 cottages ($185-$200), 2 picnic shelters which ($40), a group shelter (seats 150 – $220), a pioneer campground ($50), an earthwork fort, a Civil War Museum and Gift Shop ($3.50-$5), boat ramps, dock and fishing pier and hiking/biking trails.
According to the official website, “this scenic park showcases the best-preserved earthwork fortification of the Confederacy. The earthworks were attacked seven times by Union ironclads but did not fall until 1864 — ending Gen. William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” “ On the website, there is a video about the fort.
Since we wanted to spend some time exploring Savannah, we had tried to get into Skidaway Island State Park, another very popular state park a bit closer to to the city but there was no availability for that weekend. Fort McAllister was our second choice. Like our previous experience with Charleston, we had driven through Savannah several times but had never stopped to explore the city. Well, as I often have said before, the best laid plans…
That night, as we listened to the local news, we found out that a Rock ‘N Roll Marathon was scheduled on Saturday with an expected 20,000 runners and downtown road closures beginning at 7:00 a.m. On Sunday, there would be a 5K race. Well, I guess touring Savannah will remain on our bucket list for now! Maybe it’s just as well to let some time pass – Savannah might have been overshadowed by our wonderful experience in Charleston. We’ll try again another time.
As previously mentioned, Fort McAllister Campground has paved but narrow roads with lots of trees and turns making maneuvering a big rig difficult, but not impossible. Sites were fairly spacious and had good privacy, especially if your living area wasn’t facing the road. Each site had water and electric service (30 amp), a picnic table and fire ring. Due to all the trees we had no satellite reception but we did have very strong signal on all the major network OTA channels. Verizon LTE was fair but we had no trouble staying connected. Our site bordered the tenting area so it was fairly noisy over the weekend, but once the weekend warriors departed on Sunday it was relatively peaceful and quiet. Older, but clean bath houses and laundry. Shopping and restaurants nearby (15 minutes).
After we settled in, we decided to take a walk over to the river. We stopped to talk to an older couple sitting on their site across the road from us. Turned out they are avid geocachers from the local area who have traveled to every state except Hawaii and have logged over 3700 geocaches in 4 years. Wow, that’s pretty impressive – we had a mere 22 when we arrived at Fort McAllister! They asked us if we were here for the GA geocaching weekend there at the fort. Uh, nope, we didn’t even know about it. Guess there is a GA chapter of geocachers and this was one of their planned events.
Well, with both Savannah and the Fort being busy, I guess we’ll have to find other things to do during our brief 3 night stay here. More later!