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We live in Orlando Florida
The vacation capital of the world
If you are like many people, you probably can't wait to come to Florida. We have great beaches, a lot of water for swimming, boating and fishing, and of course more theme parks and tourist traps than anywhere else in the world. You can always find something to do down here, especially if money is no object.
Then there's the sunshine. While our friends up north are "enjoying" their snow each winter, we have sunshine. Unfortunately, we also have sunshine all summer long; very intense, hot sunshine, along with an overabundance of humidity! By the time autumn arrives, we've had enough of Florida's sunshine and are ready for a change.
The beaches are among Florida's favorite attractions for both residents and those on vacation here
Sometimes we just have to get away for a bit
We generally escape to the Deep South each fall (which is ironically up north to us). This year we're spending three weeks in Alabama. While it's not that well known as a vacation spot to non-Alabamians, it is clearly one of our favorite places to go. It has mountains, rivers, waterfalls and lots of southern hospitality. But especially important to us at this time of year, it offers a change of seasons with cooler weather.
The temperature was in the upper 80s when we left home with our small travel trailer during the first week of October. We spent one night on the road, then settled into Birmingham for the weekend. The only good place to stay within the metro area is the city RV park in Hoover. It is a large parking lot with RV hookups, adjacent to their sports complex. While the atmosphere is not really enticing, the convenient location is. Unfortunately, it was over 90 degrees while we were setting up our small travel trailer on that hot asphalt. Had we actually driven over 500 miles for this? Obviously, we had not yet found the cooler weather we were anticipating in Alabama, but at least we made it to one of our favorite cities.
Hoover Met Complex RV Park in Birmingham, Alabama
Visiting in Birmingham and the Greek festival
Fay grew up in Birmingham and I spent several years there when I first started my career. In fact, it's where we first met, so we always look forward to going back to visit. Birmingham's Greek Festival was the weekend we were there. With Fay being Greek and a long time member of the Greek community, the festival was our main focus for a few days. While we've made many visits to the Greek church over the years, this is the first time Fay had attended the festival since we were married over 30 years ago. Needless to say, we had a great time and got to do a lot of visiting at the festival, as well as visits with some of Fay's high school friends and buddies of mine from the sports car club back in the 70s.
Fay having a great time seeing old friends at the Birmingham Greek Festival.
On to the mountains in search of cooler weather
We left Birmingham with high hopes. The last day there was much cooler, and we were now heading further north to the mountains. Our first stop was DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne. Fort Payne is located near the southern end of Lookout Mountain and is often referred to as the "Gateway to the Appalachians". The state park is large, on a mountain, in the woods, with lots of nature and hiking trails. We even saw deer right in the campground on several occasions. It's pretty much the opposite extreme from the big parking lot in Hoover. Best of all, the weather was really starting to cool and the smell of campfires was in the air the entire time we were there.
DeSoto State Park campground in Fort Payne, Alabama
A day trip to Cloudland State Park in Northwest Georgia
The location of the DeSoto State Park is perfect for taking some short day trips. Our first was up to Cloudland State Park in NW Georgia. It's further north on Lookup Mountain and offers a great view of the adjacent mountain ridges. There are two campgrounds in the park, along with numerous hiking trails and waterfalls. Cloudland is only about 30 miles from Chatanooga, TN, making it a good place to stay and take a day trip into the city or to see Rock City or Ruby Falls.
A view of the adjacent mountain ridges from Cloudland State Park in Northwest Georgia
Off to see some waterfalls
The following day we ventured off from DeSoto to see some waterfalls. While there are many within the mountain areas, quite a few require hiking to get to them. Unfortunately, I've been having some trouble with my back this trip, so hiking was out of the question. Luckily there were some great destinations a short drive from the park.
We first went to DeSoto Falls, just a short drive north of the campground. This is one of the highest falls in Alabama. There is a paved walkway from the parking lot to the viewing area. Above the falls is the historic A. A. Miller Dam which in itself is interesting to see. Next comes the upper falls which can easily be seen from the main viewing area. But by following a short set of concrete stairs to a lower overlook, we were able to see the entire 107-foot drop of the main falls.
DeSoto Falls in northeast Alabama
And on down the road a bit...
From DeSoto Falls we drove to Little River Canyon. This is a 15,000-acre national preserve also located atop Lookout Mountain, sometimes said to be the nation's longest mountaintop river, the Little River. There is an 11-mile drive along the rim of the canyon, with several great overlooks. At the northeast end, there is a gorgeous waterfall. From the parking lot, we followed the boardwalk down to the main viewing area, where we could see the falls, as well as the beginning of the river that winds its way through the canyon. If you're a bit more adventurous than we are, there is also a path which you can follow out to the rocks above the falls.
For more info and some gorgeous photography of Little River Canyon, check out this great article by Frank Emory.
A view of the falls in the distance from the rim of Little River Canyon in Alabama
A closer look at the Little River Falls
Back to the city...well, sort of
After three days of relaxing around Fort Payne, we packed up and headed up to Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville. While this park is only 15 minutes from the center of town, it is buried in the woods on top of a mountain that borders the east side of the city. The campground is really great and even more wooded than DeSoto. We were once again getting the cool weather we were seeking, with evenings now down into the 50s. We mostly just spent time relaxing in the park, but did make two trips into Huntsville...one to catch a movie and one for a run to Costco to pick up supplies and have a few snacks!
The campground at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama
Absolutely our favorite place to camp
Our final destination for this trip was at our all-time favorite place to camp. Honeycomb Campground on Lake Guntersville in Grant is in a class by itself. It is well maintained and offers a swimming area and boat rentals for fishing or just touring the entire lake. As I sit here now finishing up this article, I'm gazing out at the incredible view of the lake surrounded by mountains in all directions. Our campsite is only about 10 feet from the water's edge.
We really do love this place and have managed to make it up here from Orlando quite a few times in the last several years. Staying here on the lake in our own "Tiny Towable" is like being in a cottage away from home. George, Cindy, and the entire staff that manage the park are like old friends, always making sure we have a great visit. This time was particularly special. We've had Steve and Patti, our close friends from Michigan, camped here on the site next to ours.
Honeycomb Campground on Lake Guntersville in Grant, Alabama
Spending a day on the water at Lake Guntersville
About time to head home
We had planned to be away for about three weeks this trip and it will soon be time for us to pack things up and head home. Hopefully, we've been gone just long enough for the weather to start cooling off. While it's been great to get away, it will be nice to be back home. Winter will be coming soon...no snow, just sunshine...the best part of the year in Florida!