Grandparents gather in the lobby to play cards with their grandchildren. A little girl dips candles in a vat of wax with the help of a woman in period costume.
A large family sits around the dinner table. They are talking. There’s not an iPhone, iPod or iPad in sight.
And returning to our cozy room, we enjoy a spectacular view of rolling mountains outside our picture window.
This is what we found on a recent visit to the Lodge at Unicoi State Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia.
Our northern neighbor boasts more than 60 state parks with plenty of dramatic waterfalls for viewing, lakes for boating and swimming, streams for trout fishing, as well as forests and mountains for hiking.
Visit the mountains in October or November and the oak, hickory and maple trees will be decked out in red, yellow and orange leaves pierced here and there by an evergreen.
Some of Georgia’s parks also have comfortable hotel-style accommodations.
“It’s been the parks’ philosophy to provide enough different choices so that, no matter your comfort and income levels, you can stay in a park and not have to leave,” says Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks.
That’s why the state system offers not only campgrounds, housekeeping cottages and, yes, yurts, but also full-service lodges — including one inn you can reach only by a five-mile hike.
In these lodges, you get not only a room but also restaurants, educational programs and staffs that reflect local tastes.
“We like to be sure our lodges offer a sense of place,” Hatcher says. That’s particularly welcome in this era of lookalike chain motels and fast-food restaurants.
On a recent trip, we had an opportunity to stay at many of the park lodges. We soon learned that beds are often double rather than king or queen, décor may be a bit dated and staffs may be more friendly than efficient. But for us, the fun and convenience far outweighed any concerns.
Here’s what we found that made our stay at each park lodge unique:
The Pete Phillips Lodge at Little Ocmulgee State Park in Helena, about 160 miles northwest of Jacksonville, is the first lodge we hit. It’s a good stopover when you head north.
The rooms in the motel-style buildings are pleasantly reminiscent of a stately home. They are decorated in plum and forest green, with touches of royal blue in the cheery flowered bedspreads. Dark wood headboards and television armoires provide homey comfort.
The Fairway Grill, which serves three meals daily, overlooks the golf course, where you might see deer munching on the rough. Lunches are buffets; breakfasts and dinners feature table service. The menu includes such Southern favorites as pickled okra, fried okra, hush puppies and grilled catfish.
After you settle in, stop by the Visitor’s Center set on a 256-acre lake. It was built in the 1930s with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Sadly, the lake is choked with weeds that are expensive to eradicate, so boating and swimming are limited.
Instead, jump in the swimming pool, play in the splash park, try a round of miniature golf or walk the Oak Ridge Trail, which traverses sand hills deposited by a nearby river many ages ago. Or you can relax and view the lake from a swing set in the shade of moss-covered Live oaks.