“Come forth into the light of things; let Nature be your teacher.”

BRITISH ROMANTIC POET WILLIAM WADSWORTH (1770-1850) was captivated by the mystical and dynamic relationship between the individual and the outdoors, penning such lyrical classics as “Tintern Abbey” and “Lines Written in Early Spring.”  

CENTURIES LATER, the bard’s work is still lauded by literati in classrooms the world over. But practically speaking, Wordsworth’s exquisitely expressed sentiment of an alliance between the soul and natural phenomena is in danger of losing relevance in a concrete-silicon jungle teeming with new development, highways, computers and iPhones. The 21st-century lifestyle has bred more “Internet Explorers” than actual explorers, those unafraid of tactile territory, of experiences that marinate in time, contemplation and serenity. But if you’re ready to rekindle that raw sense of adventure and wonderment, then a trip to Mistletoe State Park, about 40 miles northwest of  Augusta, should top your getaway list this fall. The weather is perfect, the drive is easy, the vistas are stunning and nature is waiting.

Guests have a variety of accommodations from which to select and can customise their stay to be as rugged or as comfortable as their spirit desires.   

IDEALLY SITUATED ON A PENINSULA, the campgrounds at Mistletoe offer soul-stirring views of sunsets and sunrises over sweeping open waters, a natural mirror that holds tingling images of the sky and surrounding landscape. Guests have a variety of accommodations from which to select and can customize their stay to be as rugged or as comfortable as their spirit desires.

Frazzled folk seeking a more quaint experience should reserve their nights at one of 10 fully equipped cottages, five of which are waterfront log cabins with two bedrooms and a cozy loft. They comfortably sleep eight and include a full bath, kitchen, fireplace, TV, heat/AC and linens. The furnishings are simple in design and practical, turning the full stage over to the snug architecture and gleaming wood throughout. The outdoors (sans bugs) are truly brought indoors with an ambiance and construction to remind you that the world is left behind and the forest hugs from all sides. Though equipped with many amenities, you’ll find no phone here. If you dare, leave your own uber-connected device at home and spend easy evenings with your cabin mates, playing cards at the kitchen table, watching TV together or rocking the night away on the front porch chairs. Facebook can wait because you have a date with the stars, which haven’t seen you in a while and are all a-twinkle that you’re here. 

Visitors ready to strip away just a few more pieces of their daily lifestyle might be better suited to a vacation in the camper cottage. This rustic, lake-facing cabin of all-wooden construction and a front porch includes four single beds with no mattresses (it’s recommended that you bring sleeping bags or bedrolls). One electrical outlet is available inside and two outlets are outside, along with water and a grill. Although there is no heat, average low temperatures in the Augusta area during October and November are only in the 50s and upper 40s, so a quality sleeping bag with down insulation should do the trick.

setting the scene 2

Guests have a variety of accommodations from which to select and can customize their stay to be as rugged or as comfortable as their spirit desires. 

FOR THOSE INTERESTED in more traditional family camping that gets you out of a fixed structure and allows you to utilize all of your cool RV and/or tent gear, Mistletoe has 92 campsites that easily accommodate tents, trailers and/or motor coaches. At only 27 to 32 dollars per day, each site has water, electrical service, a picnic table, grill, fire ring, access to other parts of the park (like playgrounds, trailheads and beaches) and, of course, tranquil views. 

While these types of sites tend to be the most popular, Mistletoe recognizes that there are also more hardcore adventurers yearning for a the next level off-the-grid experience. The pioneer campsite is an isolated spot with water but no electricity, and the backcountry campsite reigns as the most primitive of all options at Mistletoe. Open to hike-in campers only (there is no vehicle access), the backcountry campsite is simply a clearing in the woods with a table and tent pads. There are no facilities—even water must be carried in. It’s important to come prepared and best to rough it with a group. Although there are obvious challenges that come with such rugged conditions, it’s truly an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your fellow campers, survival and the natural world.

Explore the Trails

NO MATTER WHAT accommodations you choose, you’ll have access to the park’s many attractions, including canoe rentals, hiking and biking trails, geocaching and bird watching. Mistletoe is one of 11 Georgia state parks that is part of the Muddy Spokes Club, an incentive program for mountain bikers and outdoor recreationists alike to explore the trails and take the routine out of exercise. Upon completing the designated trail at each park, present your club card to be punched at the park’s visitor center. When you have pedaled all 11 rides, send your card to the Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites headquarters in Atlanta (see address and additional information at www.gastateparks.org/MuddySpokes) and it will be returned along with a bragging-rights T-shirt.υ

setting the scene 3THE MUDDY SPOKES program names Mistletoe as home to some of the most difficult trails in the program, namely the Rock Dam Trail. This 6.25-mile loop is deemed a challenge due to stream crossings without bridges, surprising gullies and rocky terrain. The trail claims a 100-foot elevation change and is mostly wooded, with some views of Clarks Hill Lake. If wheeling through the woods, however, is too aggressive an activity in your quest to connect nature and soul, imbibe the landscape on three-and-half miles of easy nature trails or, for a deeper journey, take the 12-mile backpacking trail. Each trail at Mistletoe is unique, with distinguishing characteristics along the way such as streams, small waterfalls, ravines, overlooks and lake views. Although Mistletoe is well maintained, be prepared for anything when it comes to the outdoors, including trail obstacles in the forms of exposed rock and tree roots, loose stones and leaf litter, fallen tree limbs, log water bars, uneven surfaces and mud/icing when wet.

Start with the 1.9-mile Beach Trail, which has only a maximum grade of 20 percent in 200 feet. The most scenic route to the shores, the Beach Trail winds through pines and hardwoods, across a bridge, then crosses a paved road before ending on soft sands. You’ll catch glimpses of the lake along the way and keen eyes will spot mistletoe high in trees. It’s
also a good place to look for songbirds and woodland animals (download the checklist and guide of Mistletoe birds at www.gastateparks.org/info/mistletoe).

The Cliatt Creek Nature Trail Loop offers a little more challenge at 3.75-miles long and a maximum grade of 25 percent in 200 feet. Parking and the trailhead are across from the park office next to an information kiosk. After crossing a paved road, the trail descends to Cliatt Creek, follows the water and then ascends to cross a second paved park road. It continues its upland loop (where you’re most likely to see deer) with dense growth of pines, oaks, sweet gum and beech trees.

Geocaching the Park

TO TREK THE TRAILS with a twist, use a GPS (or smartphone with a GPS app) to search more than 60 Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites locations—including Mistletoe—for hidden containers or “caches” that contain a small prize. The perfect activity for families and groups of people of all ages, geocaching combines the high-tech feel of online games with the old-fashioned fun of a treasure hunt. Once you locate the cache, sign the logbook inside to document your success, take a prize and leave one for the next person. 

Typical cache “treasures” are not of significant monetary value but may hold personal meaning to the finder, like unusual coins or currency, trinkets, ornamental buttons, CDs or books. Higher-value items are occasionally included in geocaches as a reward for the “First To Find” or in locations that are harder to reach. You may discover prizes that are moved from cache
to cache, such as Travel Bugs or Geocoins, whose travels may be logged and followed online. Coordinates to all caches are available at www.geocaching.com.

Fall Fun at Mistletoe State Park

setting the scene 4October 9. Night Hike and Campsite Decorating Contest. Come camp the weekend and decorate your campsite with a fall theme. The winners get two free nights at the park. On Friday night join Mistletoe park rangers on a night hike.

October 10. Family Fall Fest. Welcome fall with Mistletoe’s 17th annual fall festival featuring a pumpkin scavenger hunt, scarecrow hunt, face painting, children’s games, marshmallow roasting, hayrides, cake walk, crafts and storytelling. Also hosting sessions of the Birds of Prey program. 3-9 p.m. 

October 11. Gourd Birdhouse. Paint a gourd into a decorative holiday craft. 10-11:30 a.m.

October 12. Junior Rangers Fall Focus. Children will participate in an adventure into the woods on a leaf hike, learn how to identify trees and make a leaf craft. Junior rangers will also learn how to build a cooking fire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows. Lunch provided. Pre-registration required. 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

October 17. Wreath Making Workshop. Wreaths aren’t just for Christmas. Join a local florist as she shows you tricks of the trade to turn vines, flowers and twigs into beautiful fall wreaths. After learning the techniques, create your own to take home. All supplies will be provided. Call the park office to register. 10 a.m. 

3725 Mistletoe Rd., Appling, Ga. 30802 • Reservations:  (800) 864-7275 • Park: (706) 541-0321
For more information about hours, parking fees and annual passes, visit www.gastateparks.org

This article appears in the October 2015 issue of Augusta Magazine.