I have a guest post up at Six Suitcase Travel right now; it’s a three day itinerary for Chattanooga. Check it out if you get a chance!
When white settlers first started visiting Stone Mountain, the giant mass of granite that rises 800 feet above the surrounding landscape, just a few miles east of Atlanta, they found its top encircled by a rock wall, built by the Woodland Indians who once inhabited the area, probably for ceremonial or religious reasons. The visitors promptly began disassembling the wall, taking stones from it as souvenirs as they walked the trail up the mountain, and all evidence of the wall has long since disappeared. From there the mountain’s history only gets darker and messier; it was privately owned until it was sold to the state of Georgia in the middle of the 20th century, and the owners used it as a quarry, a space to welcome Ku Klux Klan meetings, and as a canvas for an enormous (the largest bas relief sculpture in the world) monument to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy. It’s this legacy that Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked in his “I Have a Dream” speech, with the line about letting freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. And, in fact, there are currently plans to put a “freedom bell” on top of the mountain in commemoration of the speech.
I can imagine an alternate history for the mountain, where it passes into public ownership and people catch the preservation bug earlier. Where one can still explore the remains of the rock wall and wonder about its original purpose. Where mini golf and gift shops and laser shows play a smaller role. And where the bare face of the mountain rises up from the surrounding landscape unadorned, and is impressive enough to look at all by itself.
Still, there’s a lot to appreciate and enjoy about Stone Mountain Park, and a lot of natural beauty co-exists with the ropes courses and fast food places. And it’s less than an hour from our house and has a HUGE campground (the largest in Georgia, according to something or other that I read; not sure if that’s [still] true, but it’s really big, at any rate). Also, there was a Pumpkin Festival going on, the website told me. So we booked Columbus Day weekend (MORE controversial history!) there as our third outing with the RV.
I feel like I’ve blogged about Stone Mountain a dozen times before, but it’s really only twice: once when we went there on a field trip with Ari’s Georgia history class a couple of years ago and once when we went when my in-laws were in town and found out when we got there that almost everything was closed.
I was very careful to make sure that stuff would be open this time. Dave had a math tournament on Saturday, so we didn’t get to leave until late Saturday afternoon. And then Saturday night it was raining, so we didn’t do much until Sunday.
Sunday morning we headed over to the Crossroads area, which is where all the ropes course and mini golf and Pumpkin festival stuff is. We got there a few minutes before they opened at ten, and–handy Stone Mountain tip–get there early! Dave and the older kids were the second group on the ropes course, but by the time they finished the line was probably at least 30 minutes long, and it only got longer after that.
Let’s see….a couple of notes: our campground package included two day adventure passes for all of us; I gather that the deal you get is pretty much two days for the price of one when you’re camping and get this package. The regular (online) price for adventure passes is $25 for adults and $20 for kids 3-11. It includes most of the attractions, but you still have to pay a $15 per car parking fee (you also have to pay this even if you’re staying at the campground). So it’s not an inexpensive outing (or camping weekend). You can make it one by forgoing all the big attractions and just paying the $15 parking fee, though. There’s still quite a bit you can do that way–the mountain itself (if you walk up it), several nature trails, some historical exhibits, etc–and you can pay a la carte for some (but not all) of the attractions (like the skyride up the mountain).
Here’s a run down of what we did and what we thought of everything.
Skyhike and Highland Outpost: the aforementioned ropes course. There are three different levels of this, and Dave and the big kids finished all three:
They also had a couple of different rock climbing walls:
And a low to the ground ropes course area that Abe could check out while he waited for his big brothers:
Abe and I did this while we were waiting for the older kids to finish the Skyhike. It takes you in a circle around the base of the mountain. Abe looked pretty nervous the whole time, so I kept asking him if he was having fun, and each time he would nod briefly. Afterwards he told me, “I had so much fun!” I told him I hadn’t been able to tell, because he’d looked kind of scared, and he said, “but I kept TELLING you I was having fun.” So, in the future, I guess I’ll take his word for it. Anyway, train=big hit for the toddler.
We didn’t do that much Pumpkin Festival-specific stuff. They had a scavenger hunt and a maze set up somewhere, but we never made it over there. There were themed decorations:
They had a small pumpkin patch area where they were selling pumpkins, and I tried to get Abe to let me take some pictures there (while his brothers were on the ropes course. He refused, and then, as soon as we walked away, he said, “take my picture with this trash can!” So I did.
He also wanted to meet Spookly the Pumpkin, but he wasn’t quite sure how to handle the whole thing:
Rio: The 4-D Experience
This is a highly condensed version of Rio, made into a “4D” experience because they blow air on you and stuff. My kids were not super impressed, but I think we don’t really have any kids the right age for it–Abe is too young, and the others are too old. Or something. Anyway, we would skip this one next time.
We ate here for lunch, and it was a misstep. Not because it was terrible–it’s a cute little restaurant with a campground theme–but just because it was typical overpriced theme park food, and we had better, cheaper food back at the camper. So that’s kind of a learning curve thing: we should really only be eating out if it’s somewhere special in some way or if it’s necessary because of logistical issues. Anyway, people ate chicken fingers and ribs, and they were fine.
Antebellum Plantation and Farmyard:
This is a collection of 18th and 19th century structures that have been moved from various sites around the state and set up here to show what life was like in Georgia before the Civil War. We didn’t spend much time looking at the buildings, honestly, because the kids were all about….the farmyard!
i.e. a petting zoo with goats and sheep and pigs. I’m not sure why Milo and Gus were so excited to be here, but they were.
Maybe because Milo appears to have a special bond with goats:
Milo and Gus were most excited about the pigs, but, sadly, we were told these were the only animals we couldn’t pet. Word is, they bite.
There was a vegetable garden behind one of the houses, and some really pretty flower gardens:
And we seem to run into cats everywhere we go when we camp. This one wasn’t terribly friendly. I think she wanted to kill us with her eyes:
The plantation was included in our adventure pass; if you don’t have one of those, it costs $10 each to get in (for everyone 3 and up). That strikes me as a little steep, especially if you’ve got kids with you. That said, there was an awful lot to see there that we didn’t get to. We were there maybe an hour, but I could see spending 2-3 to see everything. They also have guided tours several times a day.
Skyride and Mountaintop:
We really meant to walk up the mountain and back down. But then we didn’t. We were short on time, and Ari wasn’t feeling great, and it was really foggy, and also it sounded more tiring than riding the tram up. If you do want to hike up the mountain, it’s a 1.3 mile hike, with about an 800 foot elevation change. It gets very steep (and slippery when it’s wet) for the last stretch at the top. Last time we were here, we rode the tram up the mountain and then walked down. We considered doing the same thing this time, but the main thing that held us back is that the walk up trail is a good distance away from the tram parking. Last time some of the people in our group took the tram both ways, so they were able to drive and pick us up at the trailhead. There is a trail you can take that connects the two areas, but we weren’t sure we’d want to do more walking after walking down.
The skyride is $10 round trip or $6 one way. It’s only about a 3 minute ride (right past the sculpture on the side of the mountain), which doesn’t give one too much time to contemplate falling to one’s death….I consider this a nice feature.
Up at the top, there’s a building with restrooms and a snack bar, and plenty of room to walk around on the mountain (there’s a safety fence, too. Which I consider an essential feature).
Gus and Milo were shooting some kind of movie:
These little pools filled with rain water are there for at least much of the year.
I tried to get the kids to do one of those pictures where everyone jumps at the same time. Abe refused to participate at all. And the others had….some difficulty with the task:
I’d read a lot of reviews of the campground before we booked, and the most common complaint seemed to be sites that weren’t level. So Dave asked on the phone specifically for a level site. He also asked about pull throughs, but the woman told him, “we have some pull throughs…but they’re not level.” Alrighty then.
We ended up booking one of the super duper premium sites (#142, specifically) with a deck and a gas grill and cable and stuff. And I’m glad we did. We really liked the campground and have no complaints at all about it, but I don’t know that I’d have the same opinion if we’d been in one of the other loops. We were right by the camp store, pavilion, playground, pool (closed for the season), and a nice big open field for the kids to play in. The deck was nice, and it meant that our site was really spacious compared to the ones we saw in other loops. The bathrooms were super clean every time I went in there (and also almost always empty, since every site in our loop had full hookups, so that may explain the cleanliness as well….although I noticed a sign on the door for people to check off that they’d been in and cleaned every few hours).
Our site was level as promised. A little narrow, but plenty long for our trailer and van. It was a back in site, but pretty easy to get into….the only reason we had any trouble was because it was very crowded the first night we were there and there were cars parked along the grass on either side where we were trying to back in. The guy in the campsite next to ours watched us for a few minutes then came over and helped. I could tell he was itching to when he was watching us, and I was really glad when he did. I feel like we should maybe wear signs that indicate that we won’t be at all offended if someone wants to come tell us what to do, because we really have no clue a lot of the time. Anyway, he got one of the cars to move, and after that it was pretty straightforward (well. backwards. but you know).
There’s a shuttle that runs from the campground to the attractions in the park, but it was only running on Saturdays while we were there (I’d assume it runs every day in summer, but I’m not sure). They had some activities going on Saturday, too, but we got there too late for those; I think there was a hayride and a magic show. Saturday night a bunch of people were watching football in the big pavilion, and they had a church service there Sunday morning. The camp store was nice and well stocked; a decent selection of groceries, plus some t-shirts and whatnot. Overall we really enjoyed it and will probably be back (and actually for real walk up the mountain next time!)
Fun in the big grassy field:
Rocks to climb on:
There are some sites on the lake in some of the other loops:
The kids invented an amazing grilled cheese topped with hot dogs and french fries sandwich. They watch a lot of cooking shows: