Find Out How to Get Unlimited Access to Georgia State Parks

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Georgia has more than 50 state parks spread all over like peach jam on a country biscuit. Park visitors experience all the wonders of our state, from waterfalls and majestic mountain views to blackwater paddles and coastal campouts, There’s one membership that offers them all to tourists and local explorers, while supporting a worthwhile mission to promote and preserve these treasures.

A Friends of Georgia State Parks membership is the only membership that offers unlimited annual access to over 50 fun destinations in the state. In addition to showcasing Georgia’s most beautiful places, Georgia State Parks invite visitors to participate in a variety of recreational activities and schedules hundreds of outdoor programs. Nature lovers and families enjoy exploring Georgia on birdwatching tours, guided hikes, Junior Ranger days, and more. Adventurers, travelers and locals all get a kick out of paddling kayaks through the salt marsh, camping out, and climbing canyons. There’s so much to do in our beautiful Georgia State Parks that it’s impossible to list it all. Become a member of Friends of Georgia State Parks and try them all.

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In addition to the unlimited park access at over 50 locations, the membership tiers offer many other benefits. A Membership grants free camping stays or rounds of golf. Members also see discounts on lodging, merchandise, and train tickets for SAM Shortline! The included subscription to the Friends’ magazine, Georgia’s Great Places, helps members plan trips and discover more of Georgia’s hidden gems.

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

4 FREE Things to do on St. Simons Island

Photo courtesy of @brantdavis_ssi via Instagram

Photo courtesy of @brantdavis_ssi via Instagram

As the weather gets warmer, thoughts turn to spending time at the beach, but creating an affordable beach vacation isn’t always easy.  St. Simons Island is part of the Golden Isles on the coast of Georgia, and offers lots of budget friendly entertainment. Here are four free things to do on St. Simon’s Island.

  1. Play in the Sand. Of course, who comes to a beach town without going to the beach. Erosion has taken a lot of St. Simon’s Island’s sand and deposited it on the East Beach area of the island, so no matter what the tide, you’ll find beach here. This mostly residential area has several public beach accesses, but you’ll be hard pressed to find parking. The Coast Guard Station on First Street has a good deal of parking, as well as public bathrooms, a small maritime museum and in season, a snack bar.
  2. Find Natural Treasure. Look carefully around the island and you’ll see tree spirits carved within the majestic live oak trees. At one time, the large ships that sailed these waters were made with wood from the live oaks around the island. The tree spirits pay homage to the salty sailors that lost their lives aboard these ships.
  3. Count the Fish. A visit the St. Simon’s Island pier is a must during any vacation. Walk the pier and see what the fisherman pull in, or say hello to the pelican’s that wait for left over fish. If you’d like to get into the action, the St. Simon’s Island Bait Shop is just down from the pier and sells fishing license, crab nets and whatever else you need for an afternoon angling. While you are there, say hello to the resident parrot. If you’re lucky, he may sit on your shoulder.
  4. Climb a Whale. At the base of the St. Simon’s Island Pier, there is a small playground. Walk less than 100 yards toward the Lighthouse and you’ll find an even bigger playground that sits just outside the gates to the public pool and a mini-golf course. You’ll also find a sculpture of a mother whale and her baby. It will likely have lots of other people’s babies climbing and crawling on it as well.

For discounts on hotel accommodations within the Golden Isles, visit Explore Georgia’s Deal page.

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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Guide to Camping on the Georgia Coast

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Camping Cumberland Island National Seashore is one of our favorite outdoor adventures. For a couple glorious days and nights, the island becomes our personal playground. Our Cumberland Island days are filled with playful escapades in the crashing waves, hiking under the canopy of live oaks and watching the wild horses roam. We’ve been the only couple on the beach for brilliant sunrises, romantic sunsets and nights full of twinkling stars.

A Cumberland Island camping trip is a treasured experience for outdoor enthusiasts. But, the camping adventures, along Georgia’s coast, don’t begin or end there. Georgia’s thirteen barrier islands, with hundreds of miles of shoreline, offer amazing camping experiences unlike anywhere else.

Jekyll Island Campground

A popular getaway for families, Jekyll Island is home to some of Georgia’s most popular beaches. The Jekyll Island Campground offers 208 campsites near Driftwood Beach. Campsites range from primitive tent sites to full-service RV hookups including electricity, cable tv and wi-fi. Jekyll’s coastal greenway is a network of bicycle trails that make it easy to get around the island! Click here to see a video of the Jekyll Island trails.

Sapelo Island – Cabretta Campground

Gather your group, of 15-25 campers, for an unforgettable adventure camping at Sapelo’s Cabretta Island Campground. Shaded by live oaks, this pioneer campground is short walk from the beach.

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Tybee Island – River’s End Campground 

Nicknamed, “Savannah’s Beach,” Tybee Island offers a great option for campers who want to be close to the beach and downtown Savannah. River’s End Campground has a hundred campsites that offer everything from primitive tent camping to full-service hookups for RVs.

Little Tybee Island Camping 

The only way to get to this uninhabited land is by boat, or kayak, ensuring a special camping experience to explore the undisturbed nature preserve!

Cumberland Island National Seashore – Campgrounds & Backcountry

In addition to, “Sea Camp,” and “Stafford Campground,” which offer restrooms and showers, there are several backcountry sites. Hiking 5-10 miles will land backpacking campers incredible seclusion with opportunities for exploring different ecosystems and possible sightings of dolphins and manatees. Read more about camping Cumberland Island as a family..

Ossabaw Island Camping 

Come explore unspoiled maritime forest, tidal wetlands and beaches while learning something new about Georgia’s coast. Keep an eye out for scheduled overnight camping events or propose your own group experience to visit Ossabaw’s natural wonders.

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

Guide to Georgia’s Literary Landmarks

Jump into the pages of your favorite books at these Georgia literary landmarks.

Photo courtesy of The Wren's Nest

Photo courtesy of The Wren’s Nest

The Wren’s Nest: Located in Atlanta’s historic West End, the Wren’s Nest is Atlanta’s oldest house museum and is currently in its 100th year of operation. The mission of the Wren’s Nest is to preserve the legacy of Joel Chandler Harris and the heritage of African-American folklore. Docents provide tours Tuesday through Saturday, and storytellers tell every Saturday at 1 p.m. and by appointment. Admission is $8.

Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home: From 1925 to 1938, O’Connor lived on 207 Charlton Street. In 1989 the property was restored and turned into a museum with a book collection, toys, family pictures of O’Connor and a tiny desk that was especially made for her as a child. Admission is $6.00.

Mercer Williams House/Creative Commons

Mercer Williams House/Creative Commons

Mercer Williams House: When journalist John Berendt visited Savannah, he was inspired to turn a local murder case into the acclaimed novel, “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil.”  The Mercer Williams House, the location of the murder, is open to tourists 7 days a week. Admission is $12.50.

Georgia Writers Museum: The Georgia Writers Museum in Eatonton focuses on promoting the rich, literary heritage of the state. Permanent exhibits honor the three most famous local authors, Alice Walker, Flannery O’Connor and Joel Chandler Harris. Works and artifacts of the other authors are featured in the museum on a rotating basis.The museum is open Friday – Sunday.

Margaret Mitchell House/Photo by Lauren Cleland

Margaret Mitchell House: Tour the apartment where Margaret Mitchell penned “Gone with the Wind” in Atlanta. Guided tours of the Margaret Mitchell House are offered daily and include visits to her Crescent Avenue apartment, which she affectionately nicknamed “The Dump.” On your visit, you can also explore two exhibitions, “Margaret Mitchell: A Passion for Character” and “The Making of a Movie Legend: Gone With the Wind.”

Uncle Remus Museum. Photo courtesy of Lauren Cleland

Uncle Remus Museum/Photo by Lauren Cleland

Uncle Remus Museum: Gather around the fireside for the adventurous tales of Brer Rabbit, and learn about the life and writing of Joel Chandler Harris at the Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton. The museum is open 7 days a week and adult admission is only $5.

Photo courtesy of Andalusia

Photo courtesy of Andalusia

Andalusia: Explore the picturesque farm where Flannery O’Connor lived with her mother for more than a decade in Milledgeville. It was on this 544-acre estate that she wrote her last book. Andalusia is only open Sunday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Click here for a virtual tour of Andalusia.

LaurenLauren Cleland is the voice of Explore Georgia on social media. She loves ice cold sweet tea, anything peach flavored, channeling Scarlett O’Hara in her daily life and sharing the wonders of her beloved Georgia with all of you!

Savannah St. Patricks Day 2015 Guide

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Historic Savannah square with springtime azaleas. Photo courtesy Sandy Traub

If one Irish tradition — the day begins after sunset – holds true, then St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Georgia will begin at 7:33 p.m. on Monday, March 16, 2015.  We can say assuredly, though, that upwards of 200,000 revelers won’t be watching for a St. Patrick’s Day clock to begin their party! In fact, a few days beforehand, the city’s public fountains – from staid, simple ones like that in Orleans Square to the elaborate Victorian confection of a fountain in Forsyth Park — begin to flow a brilliant green in a visual nod to the Emerald Isle.

It will be 10:15 a.m., Tuesday, March 17, 2015, when one of America’s biggest Irish heritage parades — resplendent in shamrock green and lilts of Irish music and fetching laughter — departs from Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah, Georgia USA.

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Green Palm Inn’s Irish Dinner with inspired desserts from “Gone With The Wind”. Photo courtesy Diane Crews.

Rich Old Irish Traditions: Intimate, Generous Hospitality Is Revived in Historic Inns

Amid the St. Paddy’s Day good humor and tomfoolery, the simple, authentic Irish farmhouse foods will be showcased on the historic home tables at many of the small Romantic Inns of Savannah. Winsome cooks and chefs at the restored stately and cottage inns rally to serve up the charming hospitality reminiscent of Ireland, where “the best food was generally for guests, and the warmest hospitality was often to be found in the most humble cabins.” – Source: The Complete Book of Irish Cooking by Darina Hall, owner of Balleymaloe Cooking School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland.

Even if you’re not Irish by birth, in friendly Savannah’s hospitality style — famously “The Hostess City of the South” — the intriguing cues to be energetically Irish or celebrate as though a Colleen or Patrick during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are not by accident. Thomas Paul Thigpen writes in his “Lay Leaders as Cultural Mediators: The Catholic Experience in Nineteenth-Century Savannah, Georgia” of the “cultural mentors” and the “aristocracy of the heart” which welcomed nearly arrived Ireland immigrants into Savannah. “Catholic lay leaders in Savannah built for themselves and their fellow parishioners a home where they could think, speak, and act confidently as Catholics, Americans, and Southerners.”  We read in Ancestry.com that “many of the Irish who came to America in the mid-19th century did not speak English, an obstacle to smooth adjustments. Groups such as the Hibernian Society helped to teach newcomers the English language.” (Source: Heritage Quest, Ancestry.com, “Irish to Georgia (USA) — 1700s and early 1800s.)

This inclusive, orientated, welcoming spirit of welcoming every stranger as “a kin” drives the celebration of Irish heritage in Savannah, Georgia USA.

Diane Crews at Celtic Cross Monument, Emmet Park, downtown Savannah GA. Photo courtesy Green Palm Inn

Diane Crews at Celtic Cross Monument, Emmet Park, downtown Savannah GA. Photo courtesy Green Palm Inn

Generous Savannah Hospitality: Small Inns Honor Irish Ancestors

“Wide open is the door of the little cottage.” – Irish Saying

Helping newly arrived travelers get closer to the culture and learn Savannah’s ways are happy traditions.

Behind the scenes at Zeigler House Inn (121 West Jones Street), the Kentucky-born caterer-turned-innkeeper is preparing her traditional Irish fare. “Grandma and Grandpa Carroll were both Irish and she is the inspiration for my cinnamon rolls, biscuits, scones and the Colcannon I make for St. Patrick’s Day,” shares Jackie Heinz. Jackie uses an antique potato masher, reminiscent of the one she and her cousins scrambled to use in her grandmother’s kitchen.  The mid-day St. Patrick’s Day menu is an annual tradition featuring Irish Coffee, Irish Colcannon, Reuben Quesadilla, and Irish Pancakes with maple syrup and Kerrygold® Irish butter. Jackie’s Irish recipes are here.

Kindness was the currency amid Irish farm cottage families, for the humble Irish in Savannah welcoming potato famine immigrants, and for Irish heritage celebrants on St Patrick’s Day today. Fleeing the Great Potato Famine in Ireland (1840s), Irish immigrants lived in the most humble of housing in the Old Fort District east of East Broad Street near Savannah’s historic Trustees’ Gardens, and in the shanty towns off of West Broad Street (today’s MLK Jr. Boulevard) near Yamacraw and Frogtown. The Celtic Cross, located in Emmet Park is near the old Irish neighborhood along the Bay Street strand, reminds daily travelers of the hearty Irish pioneers of the American south who exemplify still random acts of kindness.

Near the Old Fort District today, there is welcoming old Irish charm at Green Palm Inn (548 East President Street), a 4-bedroom cottage inn, once townhomes to sea captains.  Innkeeper Diane Crew’s Irish ancestry comes through her mother’s paternal Skelly family — O’Scolaidhe in Gaelic. “My farming grandfather came to the United States, settling in Minnesota, by way of Nova Scotia and Canada.”

THE O’HARA’S “GONE WITH THE WIND” DESSERTS IN SAVANNAH

In tribute to her Irish heritage, the St. Patrick’s Day holiday lunch menu (called dinner in Ireland) at Green Palm Inn features three “Gone With The Wind” inspired desserts from the O’Hara’s table – Four-Layer Chocolate Cake, White Chocolate Pudding (mange blanc), and Champagne Pound Cake Minis with Champagne Glaze. In Irish style, the inn’s hearty menu – complementary to lodging guests — will include also Poached Salmon, Leek and Bacon Potato Soup, Pear and Dried Cranberry Chutney, and market plates including pork loin marinated in garlic and honey mustard, banger sausage, smokehouse ham, Murphy and Kerrygold Irish cheese, butter, and Irish Soda and brown breads. Beverages are red wine, sparking wine, and Emmet’s Irish cream.

Celebrate all of March, Irish-American Heritage Month, with festive homemade desserts. Photo courtesy Jackie Heinz, Zeigler House Inn.

Celebrate all of March, Irish-American Heritage Month, with festive homemade desserts. Photo courtesy Jackie Heinz, Zeigler House Inn.

40 SHADES OF GREEN ARE IN SAVANNAH STREETS ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

Savannah lacks Ireland’s green mountain cliffs and rolling hillsides, renowned for the island’s “40 shades of green” nature-scapes. However, on St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah anyone who meanders along the 191st Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade route through the National Landmark Historic District is sure to see 40 shades of green and more.

The “Wearin’ of the Green” in Savannah is quite the picturesque scene, with shades of Clover Green, Emerald Green, Kelly Green, and Shamrock Green trumping Army Green, Tea Green or Screaming Green for the day’s favorites.

Led by Irishmen walking with fashionable shillelaghs, Savannah’s Irish families join hundreds of parade floats and invited bands playing heritage-conscious tunes like “McNamara’s Band” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” The crowd-pleasing Irish farm horses, now America’s iconic Budweiser® Clydesdales, prance majestically along old town streets under live oak tree canopies dancing with Spanish Moss (which is gray, not green!). Early rising revelers attempt to temporarily homestead the choicest of spots in the historic squares (small garden parks) and line the parade route for the front-seat vantage points to watch a three-hour long parade.  Reserved bleacher seating is available at Bay Street, Colonial Cemetery, and Cathedral locations.

WHAT IF IT RAINS ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY?  

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a rain or shine event, all the more akin to a Top o’ the Mornin’ day in Ireland, we’d say!

“…I live in Ireland every day in a drizzly dream of a Dublin walk….”
― John Geddes, A Familiar Rain

IS SAVANNAH GA AT THE END OF THE IRISH RAINBOW?

Both Savannah and Ireland are celebrated for natural beauty, golf, romance, religious traditions, historic heritage, and food.

If Guinness in Dublin Ireland is where the Irish rainbow begins, then Guinness ice cream could very well be the end of that dreamy rainbow in Savannah, Georgia USA. The annual Irish favorite is served during the month of March each year from the nostalgic Leopold’s Ice Cream shop (212 East Broughton Street; closed St. Patrick’s Day).

One critic dubbed author Margaret Mitchell’s Remington typewriter the harp, the official symbol of Ireland. It is the Irish harp music that was played by traveling bards reading the Psalms.

This trail of Irish music and faith reminds us, too, of Irish worship observed at Savannah’s majestic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Lafayette Square) during the St. Patrick’s festivities. John Paul Thigpen relays the story of brawny and charismatic Irishman named John McMahon, a captain in Savannah’s Irish Jasper Greens. “[W]hen McMahon marched his whole company to the Catholic Church for Mass on Sunday morning, the Jasper Greens felt a sense of pride: Under McMahon’s leadership, as one said, they were ‘testifying their respect for religion, and proving to all that soldiers should not blush to bend the knee to their Creator.’”

GETTING HERE

Airlines at Savannah/Hilton Head International airport offer over 45 daily nonstop flights – American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United, and U.S. Airways. Allegiant begins service in May 2015.

ST PATRICK’S DAY DINING TIPS

Ask any Romantic Inns innkeeper where the best Irish pubs in Savannah are. Expect the hearty Irish drinking songs, including “Wild Rover” and “Beer, Beer, Beer Tidily Beer, Beer, Beer”.  Everyone has favorites!

Make dinner reservations early. Or, plan ahead or stop in spontaneously at The Fresh Market (5525 Abercorn Street, Savannah) to fill a last-minute picnic basket with a wide variety of Kerrygold® Irish cheddar cheese and butter, fresh-cut corned beef, deli Rueben Panni, mustards, St. Paddy’s Day cupcakes, pretzels, cookies, Irish Soda Bread, Moonstruck’s Bailey’s Irish Truffles, Guinness® Draught, and the freshest of seasonal berries.

Wishing all a happy St. Patrick’s Day, and hoping you are in Savannah, Georgia, on March 17, 2015!

““These things I warmly wish for you:
Someone to love, some work to do,
A bit o’ sun, a bit o’ cheer,
And a guardian angel always near”
– Irish blessing.