Three Awesome Hotel Packages Kids will Love

Just staying in a hotel can be a treat for a child. A TV right across from the bed, a pool to swim in, and perhaps even early evening cookies or a fun waffle machine to make a quick, sweet, delicious breakfast. But these Georgia hotels go above and beyond the simple kid-friendly amenities to offer packages truly unique and special that even parents can enjoy.

Celebrate American Girl-style at the Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta

American Girl Doll Room

Treat your princess to a stay in an American Girl-themed hotel room in Alpharetta. Photo courtesy of Marriott

A trip to the American Girl Store is a rite of passage for many little girls. To make it even more exciting, book an American Girl room at the Marriott in Alpharetta. Girls have their own check in, with a special welcome packet. Rooms are decorated for both girl and doll and offer a few surprises, too.

Sensational Kids at the Omni Hotel Atlanta

Kids receive cookies and milk on their first night at the Omni Hotel Atlanta.

Kids receive cookies and milk on their first night at the Omni Hotel Atlanta.

The Omni Hotel is located in CNN Center across from Centennial Olympic Park and within easy walking distance to Atlanta’s Downtown attractions like the World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium, Center for Civil and Human Rights, College Football Hall of Fame, Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and the Inside CNN Studio Tour. When kids check in to any room type, they receive their very own backpack that includes games and treats. In addition, they’ll receive milk and cookies, delivered to the room on the first night of their stay.

Say Good Knight at the Hampton Inn, Lawrenceville

The breakfast buffet at the Hampton Inn Lawrenceville. Photo from Facebook.

The breakfast buffet at the Hampton Inn Lawrenceville. Photo from Facebook.

After visiting the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament at Sugarloaf Mills Mall in Gwinnett County, junior knights can retire to The Hampton Inn castle across the street. The hotel’s Good Knight Package includes a fully themed hotel room, which includes goodies the kids get to keep, as well as toy knights on horseback and a castle to play with during their stay. All that sword fighting can make you hungry, and the Hampton Inn has an impressive morning breakfast buffet that is included with the room.

SueSue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.

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Daylilies: Stars of Summer Gardens

Daylilies at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Daylilies at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

When it comes to summer color in Georgia gardens, daylilies are hard to beat. They are easy to grow, prolific, offer brilliant blooms over a long period of time, tolerate some drought, are mostly free of pest and disease problems, and look great in all types of gardens. These hardy perennials persist in the landscape for years with a minimum of care.

At Gibbs Gardens, there are 300,000 daylily blooms of more than 500 varieties. The early blooming selections begin flowering in June, and the latest flower in August. By planting early, mid and late blooming types, you will have color for months.

Daylilies at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Rick Cannon.

Daylilies at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Rick Cannon.

It’s interesting to note that the scientific name for daylily, Hemerocallis, comes from two Greek words meaning “beauty” and “day.” This aptly describes daylily blooms, which last for one day. The good news is most daylily plants produce a multitude of flowers (from a single plant) over a period of weeks. Some varieties are repeat bloomers, while others flower once in a season.

A Rainbow of Colors

Daylilies at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Rick Cannon.

Daylilies at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Rick Cannon.

Beyond yellow and orange, which many people associate with daylilies, these beauties come in a rainbow of colors. From the palest (almost white) to the most vibrant, blossoms may be pink, red, crimson, purple, almost true-blue or a blend of colors. There are both single and double flowering types. Both the plants and blooms may be dwarf, tall, large or small.

Daylily-with-dark-center-and-lavender-petals--June-24-web

Companions

vertical-dayliliesDaylilies are effective in groups or as companions with shrubs, perennials and annuals. If planted under trees, make sure they receive adequate moisture (due to root competition from trees). Daylilies provide an effective groundcover for a sunny slope.

In the summer garden, combine them with roses, butterfly bush, Chaste tree or perennials like Asteromea mongolica, the Mongolian aster, garden phox, Phlox paniculata, lambs ears, salvias or wormwood, Artemesia ‘Powis Castle.’ Add them as a complement for annuals including spider flower, Cleome, Pentas, also known as star flower, Scaevola, called fan flower,  and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost.’

Care and Feeding

  1. Choose a site that receives a minimum of 4 to 6 hours of direct sun per day.
  2. Plant them in soil that is moist but well drained. Avoid soggy soils.
  3. Space individual plants 18 to 24 inches apart.
  4. Plant early, mid and late blooming types for a long season of flowers.
  5. Add compost if the soil is too sandy or has a high percentage of clay (does not hold water or holds too much water).
  6. Apply 1 to 2 inches of mulch to help control weeds.
  7. Take a soil test. This will help you decide which fertilizer to use.
  8. Apply a granular 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring. Apply another application in late summer or fall if needed.
  9. Water plants deeply (8 to 10 inches) in the early morning. Avoid overhead watering, especially late in the day. This reduces spots on flowers and potential problems.
  10. Daylilies will grow happily in pots; just make sure to give them plenty of space and water on a regular basis.
  11. Divide clumps every three to five years. This keeps plants vigorous and productive. The best time to divide mature clumps is in late summer after they finish blooming.

Daylilies-July-6-2014-web

Visit Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga., June 15 through December 11, Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check the website at www.gibbsgardens.com for a full schedule of events.

ericaErica Glasener is the marketing manager for Gibbs Gardens. A horticulturist, author and lecturer, Erica was the award-winning host of HGTV’s “A Gardener’s Diary” for 14 years. Erica is the author of “Proven Plants: Southern Gardens.” She is also the co-author with Walter Reeves of “Getting Started with Gardening in Georgia,” and “Month-by-Month Gardening in Georgia,” revised edition.

Chehaw: Nature’s Playground in Albany

See cheetahs and many more species at Chehaw in Albany. Photo by Candy Cook

See cheetahs and many more species at Chehaw in Albany. Photo by Candy Cook

Get outside and enjoy nature’s playground in Albany. Dedicated to affordable family adventure, Chehaw is a rare gem among today’s modern attractions, and it truly ranks high among Georgia’s “can’t-miss-this” list. The main event is an amazing zoo experience, but Chehaw’s adventure doesn’t end there. The park also features overnight accommodations, an 18-basket disc golf course, and over 10 miles of mountain biking trails.

Visit the Zoo

The Southern Black Rhinoceros is one of nearly 90 species at Chehaw in Albany. Photo by Candy Cook

The Southern Black Rhinoceros is one of nearly 90 species at Chehaw in Albany. Photo by Candy Cook

Home to nearly 90 unique species, “a walk in the woods” takes on new meaning at this AZA-accredited zoo. Winding through the shady trees, the path includes views of endangered cheetahs and red wolves, as well as many of Georgia’s own elusive animal residents. An open-air reptile house stands near the entrance showcasing colorful chameleons, snakes and lizards. Adapting to its inhabitants, Chehaw offers a boardwalk that leads into a mysterious alligator swampland, and an African Veldt Ride through the largest exhibit where seven species roam in natural herds.

Stay Overnight

Visitors can camp or sleep in cabins at Chehaw in Albany. Photo by Candy Cook

Visitors can camp or sleep in cabins at Chehaw in Albany. Photo by Candy Cook

Chehaw’s overnight experience covers all walks of life with modern amenities serving tent campers, RV road trippers and glamping guests. This is a full-service campground with comfort stations, utility hookups and a laundry room. Air-conditioned camper cabins cater to glampers, and every site has its own fire ring and picnic table.

Play Disc Golf

Try your hand at disc golf. Photo courtesy of Chehaw

Try your hand at disc golf. Photo courtesy of Chehaw

Disc golf adds a fun twist to a hike in the park. Players make their way around the course tossing discs into baskets rather than using clubs and balls. Chehaw’s meandering disc golf course is a favorite among regional players. The fairways include trees, shrubs, and changes in terrain that provide  a fun, challenging experience on the par 54 course.

Ride Mountain Bikes

Explore the scenic trails. Photo by Candy Cook

Explore the scenic trails. Photo by Candy Cook

Twisting and turning through the natural landscape of Chehaw, cyclists experience the serene conservation park on a series of loops designed to accommodate riders of any skill level. Beginners and families appreciate the opportunity to opt-out of technical challenges and difficult sections. The trail makes up for south Georgia’s lack of elevation change with interesting obstacles and gorgeous scenery.

candycookCandy Cook is Georgia’s official Outdoor Explorer and the author of the blog “Happy Trails Wild Tales.” Click here for more Outdoor content from Candy.

The Ultimate Art Experience in Watkinsville, The Artland of Georgia

Chappelle Gallery in Watkinsville. Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

Chappelle Gallery in Watkinsville. Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

Watkinsville, deemed The Artland of Georgia for having more artists per capita than any other town in the state, is populated with unique art galleries, museums and exhibits showcasing local and national talents. Artists flock to this creative town to create, show and sell their work. Located just a stone’s throw from Athens, this artistic gem is worth a detour on your next trip to Georgia.

Get Fired Up about Pottery

Watkinsville is home to the largest pottery show in Georgia. In August and September, Perspectives: A Georgia Pottery Invitational showcases creations and demonstrations of 50 potters supported by the nonprofit Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF). A Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event, Perspectives attracts visitors from throughout the Southeast.

Happy Valley Pottery. Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

Happy Valley Pottery. Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

For an out-of-the-ordinary art experience any time of year, visit the quirky dwelling of Happy Valley Pottery. Home of art demonstrations like none other, at Happy Valley Pottery, you can see artists demonstrating glass-blowing, pottery-making, Raku firing and more.

Browse Art Galleries

The Main Gallery at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF). Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

The Main Gallery at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF). Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

The OCAF features art exhibitions like Southworks (in April), Georgia Small Works (October), and its Members Exhibition (June 3 – July 8, 2016) in its open gallery each year. The organization welcomes artists to submit their work and art lovers to enjoy the unique displays. The art museum also hosts classes on painting and drawing, pottery, sculpture, performing arts and more.

Farmington Depot Gallery. Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

Farmington Depot Gallery. Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

The historic Farmington Depot Gallery was once a train depot, but it now creatively houses fine arts exhibits for regional artists. Owned and staffed by local artists, the gallery features paintings, sculptures, folk art, ceramics, glass, fine furniture and jewelry.

The Chappelle Gallery, an extension of Happy Valley Pottery, is housed in the Historic Haygood House in downtown Watkinsville and also sells artwork created by more than 125 local artists.

Discover Public Art

"Rainbow Turtle" by Stanley Bermudez and Bill Pierson is one of the public art panels on display in Watkinsville this summer. Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

“Rainbow Turtle” by Stanley Bermudez and Bill Pierson is one of the public art panels on display in Watkinsville this summer. Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

This summer, you will find public art exhibitions throughout Watkinsville and Oconee County that feature art panels and sculptures created by local artists, including students. This collaboration between the city and OCAF gives visitors a glimpse of Watkinsville’s vibrant art scene. Download a map of the installations so you can be sure to see them all.

Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

Photo courtesy of Oconee County Welcome Center

Among those top attractions, Watkinsville is home to numerous other shops and galleries that cater to artists and art lovers. Visit the Artland soon for an experience of a lifetime!

raquel-cobb-crop2Raquel Cobb is the marketing coordinator for the Oconee County Welcome Center. Graduating from Clemson University in 2015 with a degree in communication studies, Raquel is the voice behind Oconee’s social media channels and travel blog. Growing up a few miles outside of Oconee County, Raquel enjoys the small town charm Watkinsville and her hometown offers.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia: Where to Go and What to Bring

Appalachian Trail Marker on Springer Mountain via Shutterstock

Appalachian Trail Marker on Springer Mountain via Shutterstock

The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses 14 states on its journey up the East Coast, but it begins (or ends, depending on your direction) in Georgia. Springer Mountain has served as the starting point for countless adventures and as a celebratory finale for those completing the 2,200-mile hike from Mount Katahdin in Maine.

In Georgia alone, the AT crosses seven counties over 76 miles. That’s enough to fill several weekend trips or a solid week of hiking. I’ve hiked significant sections of the AT in North Carolina, Virginia and Maine, and the 30-mile section I’ve walked in Georgia is among the most beautiful. It certainly helps that many of the people you meet are either cheerfully completing their trek or optimistically setting out on an adventure.

Every good hike should include a summit. Although the trail in Georgia crests 26 named mountains and knobs, three stand out as the most significant: Springer Mountain, Blood Mountain and Tray Mountain. Each can serve as a long day hike or a perfect weekend overnight.

Springer Mountain

Trail on Springer Mountain via Shutterstock

Trail on Springer Mountain via Shutterstock

Apart from nearby Brasstown Bald (the highest point in Georgia), Springer may be the state’s most famous mountain, due to its position as the southern terminus of the AT since 1958.

Day hikers have two options to summit Springer. Just under a mile into the AT, the trail crosses Forest Service Road 42, making for an easy 2-mile up-and-back to the summit. Most hikers, however, begin at Amicalola Falls State Park, where an 8.5-mile approach trail to Springer provides a first test to long-distance hikers setting out on their journey. Many pounds of gear are shed along this trail — before hikers even reach the actual AT.

For a relatively easy overnight trip, hike out and back from Amicalola and camp at the Black Gap shelter, located 6.2 miles into the approach trail. Or, arrange a pickup or drop a car, and hike out to Road 42 for a comfortable one-way 9.4-mile day hike.

Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain sign via Shutterstock

Blood Mountain sign via Shutterstock

At 4,458 feet, Blood Mountain is the highest point along the AT in Georgia. Don’t let the name scare you — it’s likely derived from a Native American battle or a red lichen that grows at the top.

A perfect 4.3-mile round trip day hike (short, but steep) is to head up the Byron Reece Trail (directions here) to the AT and then continue to the summit. You’re guaranteed to break a sweat, and for nature photographers, the views are among the best in Georgia.

Overnight and shuttle options include hiking the 10.5 miles between Woody Gap (at State Route 60) and the Byron Reece Trail parking area, or a 17-mile trip from Woody Gap to Hog Pen Gap (trail crossing along State Route 348 — also known as the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway).

Tray Mountain

From Tray Mountain’s 4,430-foot summit, hikers willing to put in the effort enjoy arguably the best views on the trail of the Georgia and southern North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. From the Indian Grave Gap parking area on Tray Mountain Road (off of the Unicoi Turnpike — directions here), it’s a 5-mile up-and-back trek to the summit. With a 1,250-foot elevation gain, it’s a doable hike and offers a great photo op for families.

Weekend overnighters can expand the trip by tackling the entire 16 miles between the Unicoi Gap (at Unicoi Turnpike) and Dicks Creek Gap on State Road 76. There are two shelters along the route, so it’s possible to hike without even bringing a tent.

Trip Essentials

Speaking of which, when heading out on the Appalachian Trail, what should you bring?

If You’re Headed Out On a Day Hike, Bring This: 

  1. A paper map, ideally waterproof, of your section of the trail.
  2. A manual compass. Even on the well-marked, white-blazed AT, it’s possible to get lost if you wander off trail.
  3. A GPS unit or cell phone with an external backup battery and charging cable. If you sprain an ankle or get turned around or caught in the dark without overnight gear, finding the closest road and the ability to call for help are critical.
  4. A warm layer (it can be chilly at the summit of Georgia’s mountains, even on summer days).
  5. A lightweight rain jacket.
  6. Sunscreen and insect repellent.
  7. A first-aid kit that includes an ACE bandage.
  8. A headlamp.
  9. A pocket knife.
  10. A lighter.
  11. Two liters of water, per person.
  12. Snacks.
  13. A lightweight digital camera with an extra battery and memory card. Shockproof, waterproof point-and-shoot cameras are ideal for hiking trips.

 If You’re Headed Out On an Overnight Hike, Bring This: 

  1. Everything in the Day Hike list.
  2. A sleeping bag with a temperature rating at least to the forecasted low (remember that at higher elevations, it can be much, much colder than the forecast for nearby towns).
  3. A foam or inflatable sleeping pad (provides warmth as well as cushion).
  4. A tent or hammock with a rainfly and waterproof ground cloth.
  5. Two sets of extra clothing appropriate for the weather and season, including socks and underwear. Don’t pack cotton for backpacking — it will hold water and add weight to your pack if it rains.
  6. A water filter or purification tablets.
  7. A lightweight stove, fuel and cook set.
  8. Parachute cord for stringing up a bear bag, drying clothes, etc.
  9. For backpacking, look for dehydrated food like “just add hot water” soups, ramen and dried bean, hummus and falafel mixes. Instant oatmeal is perfect for breakfasts. Don’t carry heavy cans and packaged food that already contains water on the trail.
  10. A lightweight backpack to carry everything in.

Although not critical, you may also want to carry:

  • A paperback book
  • A journal and pen
  • A packable towel
  • Playing cards

And don’t forget your toothbrush!

All together, try to keep your pack at or near 30 pounds. That may seem difficult, but audit yourself and remove non-essential items. You’ll be grateful for a lighter load as you head up your first steep ascent.

Georgia Appalachian Trail overlook via Shutterstock

Georgia Appalachian Trail overlook via Shutterstock

Finally, remember that even in Georgia (and even in the spring and fall), temperatures can be below freezing at night near the tops of mountains like Blood, Springer and Tray. Don’t be caught unprepared! Bring warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag.

Hiking and backpacking are among the most rewarding outdoor pursuits, and Georgia offers incredible opportunities to set foot into the wilderness and discover its stunning natural beauty. Next weekend, head to the Appalachian Trail and discover the natural wonders of this incredible state.

Stratton Lawrence HeadshotBased in Charleston, S.C., Stratton Lawrence is an avid hiker, biker, runner and outdoorsman. With his favorite four-legged friend by his side, Stratton can often be found chronicling his latest travels as an adventure writer for eBay and typically captures some spectacular scenic photography along the way. When he escapes the low country, it’s almost always to head to the mountains for a long walk in the woods.