Tired of the Winter? These 7 Southeast Adventures Will Warm You Up

If you’ve had enough cold and snow for the season, why not plan a late-winter/early-spring vacation in the Southeast? In just a few hours you can fly into Atlanta, Georgia, or Jacksonville, and feel the sun on your face! Whether you’re a hiker, paddler, cyclist, or camper, you’ll want to check out these seven Southeast activities that are sure to warm your spirit for adventure during the Northeast’s coldest part of the year. 

Joe King gets his feet wet on the Florida National Scenic Trail. This 30-mile section of Big Cyprus is located at the southern terminus, and borders the Everglades. | Courtesy: Aaron Landon
Joe King gets his feet wet on the Florida National Scenic Trail. This 30-mile section of Big Cyprus is located at the southern terminus, and borders the Everglades. | Courtesy: Aaron Landon

Get Your Feet Wet at Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress, bordering Everglades National Park, is the southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail and offers a very challenging 3-day, 30 mile hike through an otherworldly wet cypress forest. This is considered the toughest backpacking trip in Florida, but if you can handle being wet most of the time, and don’t get too freaked out by the vast loneliness of hiking through a swamp, you’ll come away from this experience a changed person. If you want to continue north on the Florida Trail, keep going and you’ll reach Billie Swamp Safari within the Seminole Indian Reservation where you can sleep in a real Seminole Chickee hut.

Cumberland Island’s 50 miles of trails meander through pristine maritime forests under live oak canopies. Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
Cumberland Island’s 50 miles of trails meander through pristine maritime forests under live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, featuring pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marsh views. There are many miles of rustic hiking trails, backcountry campsites, historic sites, and lots of wildlife, including sea turtles, turkeys, wild hogs and horses, armadillos, and abundant shore birds. To make the most of your time on the island, set up camp at Yankee Paradise, a primitive campsite located in the middle of the island. From there you can explore Cumberland’s breathtaking seashore, Plum Orchard Mansion, Dungeness Ruins, and the Settlement, an area located in the north end of the island that was settled by former slaves in the 1890s. Make your camping and ferry reservations in advance because the number of visitors to the island are limited.

The Dirty Pecan ride and Thomasville Clay Classic are two gravel rides featuring stunning scenery beneath live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Phillip Bowen
The Dirty Pecan ride and Thomasville Clay Classic are two gravel rides featuring stunning scenery beneath live oak canopies. | Courtesy: Phillip Bowen

Cycle Through the South

The 40th Annual Florida Bicycle Safari will be held April 18-23 this year, and includes six days of riding in North Florida and South Georgia. “The Florida Bicycle Safari is much more than just a ride,” says Louis McDonald, Safari Director. “We’ve planned six days of cycling, food, games, live entertainment, and plenty of Southern hospitality at Live Oak and Cherry Lake. Our riders are from all over the country. Different routes are offered each day, including two century rides. Being the 40th anniversary, this year’s event is going to be our biggest yet!” 

And if gravel riding is your thing, the Dirty Pecan ride will be held on March 7 in Monticello, Florida, followed by the Thomasville Clay Classic on April 13 in Thomasville, Georgia. “I really love being off paved roads where there is little to no traffic,” says cyclist Cheryl Richardson, a member of the North Florida Bicycle Club. “Both of these rides feature beautiful tree canopies and spectacular scenery the entire route.”

The Okefenokee Wilderness Area offers over 400,000 acres of wetlands and swamps to explore with seven overnight shelters. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
The Okefenokee Wilderness Area offers over 400,000 acres of wetlands and swamps to explore with seven overnight shelters. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Paddle the Okefenokee Swamp

A multi-day paddling trip though Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a bucket list must do. There are wooden platforms throughout the swamp where you can pitch a tent at the end of each day of paddling. You’ll see lots of alligators, birds, and rare plants—The swamp is a photographer’s dream come true. You can bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent them at the park’s concessioner. They also offer guided paddling trips to suit your needs. Other activities include fishing and hiking. The Okefenokee will leave you spellbound.

The Pinhoti Trail’s Cheaha and Dugger Mountain Wilderness areas offer an otherworldly hiking experience. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
The Pinhoti Trail’s Cheaha and Dugger Mountain Wilderness areas offer an otherworldly hiking experience. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Hike Alabama’s Pinhoti Trail

Start your 335-mile hike at the southern terminus, Flagg Mountain, and meet famous hiker and author, Nimblewill Nomad, who is now the caretaker there. The Pinhoti traverses through Talladega National Forest, Cheaha Wilderness, and Dugger Mountain Wilderness before entering Georgia, where it eventually meets up with the Benton MacKaye Trail, and onto Springer Mountain. Appalachian Trail hikers consider the Pinhoti a great practice hike before attempting the AT.

Providence Canyon is a hidden gem in the state of Georgia, with just enough elevation changes and glorious scenery to make it fun for all ages.
Providence Canyon is a hidden gem in the state of Georgia, with just enough elevation changes and glorious scenery to make it fun for all ages.

Visit Georgia’s Providence Canyon State Park 

Called Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, Providence Canyon is a hidden gem. Massive gullies as deep as 150 feet were caused by poor farming practices during the 1800s, yet today they make some of the prettiest photographs within the state. Hikers who explore the deepest canyons will usually find a thin layer of water along the trail, indication of the water table below. The hike is not strenuous but has enough elevation changes to make it fun! Guests who hike to canyons 4 and 5 may want to join the Canyon Climbers Club. Backpackers can stay overnight along the backcountry trail which highlights portions of the canyon and winds through a mixed forest. This is a great trip for families who may prefer to stay in the developed campground and take day hikes. 

South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail includes the mysterious Swamp Fox Passage, where you can expect to do a little wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair
South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail includes the mysterious Swamp Fox Passage, where you can expect to do a little wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps. | Courtesy: Troy Allen Lair

Hike South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail

South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail is a new trail, and still in progress (350 miles of the trail are completed; the entire trail will be 500 miles long). Swamp Fox Passage is the longest section of the cross-state Palmetto Trail at 47 miles, and traverses four distinct ecosystems through Francis Marion National Forest, including swamps made famous as hideouts of Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion. This trail is both dry and wet, and hikers will enjoy wading through Wadboo and Dog Swamps, along with Turkey Creek. Swamp Fox Passage is close to Charleston, so be sure to give yourself an extra day or two to explore the city.


Video: An In-Field Review of the EMS Compass 4-Points Pants

We brought the comfortable, lightweight, stretchy Compass 4-Points Pants to the Utah desert to put them to the test.


Video: Banking on Bailey

“It’s smaller than a tiny home.”


6 Tips for Finding Free Car Camping

Tired of camping at crowded campsites in your favorite National Park? It might be time to put in some work to provide you and yours with that wild and free car camping experience you’ve dreamed of. Yeah, campgrounds have hookups, potable water, and restrooms, but with these conveniences comes crowsd, fees, and loud generators. If you’re willing to give up some of these conveniences you’ll save your wallet a pretty penny and find a plethora of beautiful free campsites all over the U.S. that give you that solitude and wild camping experience you’ve yearned for. With some prep work and research you might find the new go-to spot for your weekend getaways.

1. Look for Public Land

Look at the area you’ll be visiting and check for public land designations such as National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land. Usually these two designations offer dispersed camping and are the most lenient with campers looking to stay for a while (up to 15 days in many places).

If there are National Forest or BLM lands in the area, check their websites (fs.fed.usand www.blm.gov, respectively) for info specific to the place you’re visiting. These websites often provide ample information on things like stay limits, fire restrictions, dispersed camping rules, weather in the area, and info on food containment for rodents and bears. You might also stop by the local Forest Service or BLM office to ask further questions or look at Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM). If these are not available at their office, it may be available online at the previously mentioned websites. These MVUMs provide free campers with valuable information on land designations in the area, National Forest, BLM, Wilderness, and Residential boundaries as well as a detailed view of the roads that allow us access to these wild places.

EMS---BIG-SUR---camp-tent-015981_1

2. Check free campsite databases

Take a peak at websites like freecampsites.net. This user-driven database allows you to find free, paid, and boondock camping all over the U.S. on a map; You can even plug in your location and it will populate sites near you. We’re looking for green tent pins; these are free campsites. What’s also so handy about this database is the info about the sites you’re interested in. Each site has its own page with GPS coordinates, directions, weather info, cell service info, best sites in the area, and reviews/tips from previous campers. They may even provide info about the road to the site which is helpful if you don’t exactly have your dream rig just yet.

3. Seek the road less travelled

Super psyched on finding free camping in Zion this fall? So is everyone else. Consider locations that you think may be less popular during the time you plan to visit. This doesn’t mean rule out your dream location, just do your best to use the tools provided here and maybe make some calls before shooting out there and coming up empty handed. You might also consider campsites just outside of the National Park or attraction you’re hoping to visit on your trip. Yes, it may add a longer drive but, you’ll find the solitude you were looking for and may even discover a new go-to campsite for you to come back to in the future.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

4. Arrive early

Do what you can to get to that dream spot as early as you can. This will ensure that you have a place to sleep for the night. If you need to run errands later, leave members of your group or items that indicate you are reserving this spot for the night such as a tent, car, etc. Opt-out of leaving items that make it look like you left trash and ditched the spot as this will damage the trust that locals and Rangers have for visitors. Again, consider asking your local Forest Service or BLM office if this it is recommended to leave a vehicle unattended as certain places have a high frequency of break-ins.

5. Ask around

Talk with locals in the area or folks at the local gear/camping store. Depending on the amount of traffic in the area, they may be willing to spill the beans on the locals-only spots. Be sure to be kind to these folks, they may be giving you the deets on some of their most prized locations. Treat these people and the sites they recommend with respect!

EMS-SP-17-CAMP-VAN-009827_edit

6. Make your own database

Take the info you’ve gathered and save pins into your daily navigation apps. Google Maps works best, as it has more accurate navigation on backcountry roads than other apps such as Apple Maps or Waze. Google Maps also has a Satellite layer that allows you to preview the road leading to your site and may give you a sense of what type of road it is (paved, gravel, rock, etc). Using Google Maps, you can save pins allowing you to build your own database for yourself of prospective sites in the places you may wish to visit. Find a Plan A, B, C, etc., to ensure you find a place to rest your head at the end of the day. This will also make it easier to visit the area in the future, as you’ll have an array of options without having to do research all over again.


Video: 'Roadless' Trailer

Stoke season comes before snow season and the trailers are here.


5 Reasons to Plan a Trip to Gros Morne National Park

Soaring fjords, sandy beaches, barren cliffs, boggy tundra, thick forests, and the Earth, naked. That’s Gros Morne National Park. Situated on the western coast of Newfoundland, the park was established in 1973 to protect a nearly 700-square-mile area of glacial and geological significance. It was later designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the best examples of the effects of continental drift. The isolated mountain tops are home to the physical remnants of ancient collisions and separations, further shaped by massive glaciers. But even if you’re not into geology, one look at any of the best-known spots in the park makes it easy to see why it’s worth the trip. And thanks in large part to the park’s geological wonders, there’s an incredible variety of outdoor fun to be had.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

1. Explore Massive Fjords

This spot at the top of Western Brook Pond is one of the most famous views in Gros Morne National Park. And it’s one of a few similar views depending on how hard you’re willing to work to get to them. Gros Morne’s fjords were carved by ancient glaciers, and when the glaciers receded, the land rebounded, free from an incredible amount of pressure, cutting the ponds and lakes off from the sea.

Just driving along route 430 gives you glimpses of the fjord, but there’s more than one way to get up close to Western Brook Pond’s towering cliffs. Take a boat tour if you only have a few hours, or sign up for a guided hike if your goal is to stand near the top of the fjord. If you have multiple days and wilderness navigation experience, reserve a permit for one of the backcountry routes to go beyond the top of the fjord. Views of Ten Mile Pond are equally spectacular and can be seen from the top of Gros Morne Mountain, a 10 mile round trip day hike.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

2. Have a Real Wilderness Backpacking Experience

If backcountry experiences described by Parks Canada as “mentally and physically challenging” sound appealing, then you’ve come to the right place. Exploring the Long Range Mountains isn’t for the faint of heart, and requires hikers to be completely self-sufficient. Proficiency in GPS and map and compass navigation is paramount; There are no maintained or marked trails, and plenty of game trails to throw unsuspecting hikers off route. Terrain can be muggy, boggy, snowy, rocky, and slippery, and depending on the season, the bugs are relentless. Weather can change in an instant, and if you get yourself in trouble, rescue can be days away.

Aside from the many hazards, the scenery is incredible. The Northern Traverse, Long Range Traverse, and a combination of the two are the best ways to see the most of the wilderness in the Long Range Mountains, but choose wisely, and read up on documentation from Parks Canada before you go. The more prepared you are for the terrain, weather, and navigational challenges, the better. Permits are required and must be reserved in advance.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

3. Take a Walk on the Earth’s Mantle

“This rock I’m standing on used to be at the bottom of an ancient ocean,” is a pretty incredible realization to have on a hike. Gros Morne Tablelands were once thought to be remnants of molten rock, but when geologist Robert Stevens discovered rocks much older than other rocks in the area lower in elevation, he proved otherwise. The rocks had eroded from the Tablelands, illustrating that the Tablelands aren’t old molten rock. They’re really old remnants of an ancient ocean, pushed up from below during the collision of two ancient continents.

The rock is high in toxic heavy metals and other minerals, making it challenging for things to grow and leaving the majority of the terrain completely bare. But there’s still so much to see. Choose an out-and-back hike ranging from 1.8 to 5.6 miles in length, or a 7.5 mile off-trail loop, all starting from the Tablelands Trail parking area, to get up close and personal with this fascinating landscape.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

4. Watch Beautiful Sunsets Beachside

Whether you’re winding down after a long day of hiking or just love hanging out near the water, there are plenty of beach spots to watch the sunset from. Green Point, home to the park’s northernmost campground, is known for long sandy beaches and beautiful views. After dinner in camp, wander the Coastal Trail for a 3.7-mile round-trip hike as the sun sets. Though less beach and more rock pile, Lobster Cove is a spectacular sunset spot. Explore Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse and take the trails down to the water.

Interested in a more rugged, hard to reach beach? Make the 5.6-mile round-trip on the Green Gardens Trail to Old Man Cove, just be sure to check tidal charts before you head down to the beach or explore the sea caves along it. And just outside the park boundary in Trout River, the short Eastern Point Trail is all beautiful ocean scenery all the way.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

5. Day Hike All Sorts of Different Types of Terrain

Whether you’re a waterfall seeker, wildflower lover, summit chaser, or just looking for a leisurely stroll, there a day hike for everyone. Start with a day in the southern end of the park on the Green Gardens Trail to see Tablelands rock, deep forest, beach views, and sea caves all in one 5.6-mile hike. Then, another day on a landscape that looks and feels like another world in the Tablelands on the off trail loop (7.5 miles round-trip), or one of the shorter out and back routes.

Next, spend a long day climbing Gros Morne Mountain (10 miles round-trip) for spectacular views on a rocky, tree-less summit before heading to the Berry Hill Campground for a shorter day on the Baker’s Brook Falls Trail. The walk to the falls traverses deep woods on narrow boardwalks, perfect wildflower spotting terrain, and ends at a stunning cascade. Finally, finish your multi-terrain hiking adventure with a walk along the beach via the Coastal Trail or Old Mail Road.


The Best Gear for Living Out of Your Car

Creature comforts are the key to well-being and longevity when living out of a car. Past multi-week road trips had left my husband and I exhausted, so as we planned for a yearlong motor adventure across North America, we focused on bringing the comforts of home into nature. A tricked-out Sprinter van would have been the homiest option, but not having $50,000 under our mattress, we retrofitted our Nissan Xterra and became first-time homeowners. We christened it “Tupperware World,” a nod to the Tetris-style stack of boxes filling the interior.

And now, having spent 8 full months in our home on wheels, it’s safe to say we know a thing or two about the best gear for car-life.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Multi-Purpose Room

Living out of your car is a euphemism for living outside. While the vehicle enables your nomadic lifestyle, the valley, overlook, or beach where you park it is “home.” When home is buggy, crowded, or rainy, you need a place to escape.

The solution: Wherever we park it, up goes a screen room. It’s kitted out with multi-purpose furniture, suiting our needs whether we’re cooking, shooting the breeze, or working. It’s important to choose a screen room that protects from sun, rain, and insects, like the MountainsmithShelter House. Complete the basic layout with a table and chair, like the Eureka Camp Tableand the Travelchair Easy Rider Camping Chair. Be a little extra, and liven up the space with portable speaker like the Goal ZeroRock Out 2 Portable Speaker.

One of the best pieces of gear we’ve bought in years is the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights, which provide ambient light hanging from the “rafters” of our screen room. Extending short winter days and lighting up the night during summer camp-outs, they make the space warm and homey. For lighting outside of the tent, I rely on the Petzl ReactikHeadlamp.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Outdoor Kitchen

Granola bars and Chef Boyardi may work for a night or two, but for me, having a kitchen on the road was a must. When we were young and stupid, my husband and I used our backpacking stove during extended car camping trips, which made cooking uncomfortable before we even began. If you plan to live in your car, do yourself a favor and outfit a portable kitchen.

Most outdoor kitchen gear is the same as what you’d find indoors, however, there are a few exceptions. Whet your appetite with cooking gear like the Primus Profile Stove, the MSR Quick 2 Pot Set, and the LMF Titanium Spork. My husband has owned this spork since before we met in 2012, so believe me, it’s bombproof. And while we avoid buying food that requires refrigeration, the Yeti Hopper Flip 8keeps our small supply of perishables fresh.

Most nights we camp at primitive sites, making water a scare resource. Fortunately, you can buy a few specialty pieces that make meal clean-up efficient and earth friendly. We use Sea to Summit’s 10-liter Kitchen Sinkand biodegradable Wilderness Wash. A refillable water jug, like the Reliance Fold-A-Carrier, provides enough water for 1 to 2 days of primitive camping.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Mobile Office

Search the term “digital nomad” if you’ve ever wondered how people afford to travel for months on end. We mostly work in libraries and local coffee shops because they have internet and power, things that our car does not provide. We’ve met a lot of people this way, a perk to a life that can be lonesome at times.

To be honest though, I envy the van lifers who have portable power sources, such as theGoal ZeroYeti 150 Portable Power Station. Maybe on our next road trip?

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Hygiene

Traveling on a budget requires “boondocking,” or camping at free, primitive sites. It’s a cheap way to travel, but unless you’re Pig-Pen, you’ll need a few pieces of gear to keep clean.

People ask all the time how we shower, to which we respond, “Does jumping in a river count?” When rivers are scarce, we use a solar shower like the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower, which has enough water to rinse two people once. Otherwise the refillable water jug mentioned under the “Outdoor Kitchen” section provides what we need for brushing teeth, washing hands, and other campsite chores.

And what about those campsites without toilets? When not required to pack it out, you’ll need a trowel like the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowelfor burying poop and toilet paper. FollowLeave No Trace Principle #3to scout the perfect cathole location.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

Sleep Well

To make long term travel comfortable, we built a custom sleeping platform in the back of our Xterra using scrap wood. The internet doesn’t sell mattresses in “Back of Xterra” sizes, so we cut a 3-inch mattress topper down to size, covering it with hand-sewn mattress cover, upcycling fabric from an old top sheet.

Our bedding ranges from 20 degree sleeping bags for cold weather to light blankets for warm weather. Year-round, we use stuffable pillow cases, like the Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow.Most importantly, bedding needs to be compact and packable for storage purposes

If your car is too small to sleep in, consider something like the TepuiHyBox Rooftop Tent And Cargo Box, which offers protection from the elements and keeps you from sleeping on the ground. For others, sleeping in a traditional tent may suit your needs, just be sure to pack comfortable bedding.


Video: Deep Water Trailer

No ropes. No belay. Just water.


Video: The Dream of Everest

Four Arab women embark on their journey to climb Mount Everest.


Video: Powering a Home with BioLite

Traveling to the US for a race was a lot harder before her family could charge their phones.