Yifat Aviner Levin and her three children, 12, 15, and 18, are experienced campers. They look forward to spending several days in the great outdoors a few times each year, usually in the fall and summer.
“Camping is what we like to do for our vacations, and we prefer state parks,” Levin said. “Our favorite, Cades Cove Campgrounds, is in the Smoky Mountains, and we had such a great time in the Okefenokee state park in southern Georgia last Thanksgiving holiday that we immediately decided to reserve a site in another state park for our summer trip.”
The family made its summer plans many months ago. Reviewing the Georgia state parks facilities rental information online, they chose Cloudland Canyon State Park, located on the Georgia border near Chattanooga about two hours from Atlanta.
“Our family has gone camping for years, and we’re good at setting up our own site. We have all the requisite gear, but we didn’t get to use it this summer because COVID-19 changed our plans,” Levin explained. “With the virus so widespread, we weren’t comfortable with casual camaraderie among other campers, sleeping in tents and using public facilities. We had to do it differently this time.”
Because she didn’t want to give up a family vacation tradition, and as they had already booked their destination, Levin found an alternative. An obstetrics field care manager for WellCare Health Plans, Inc., Levin researched rental options for a recreational vehicle. The large RV offers its own sleeping, kitchen and bathroom facilities. The family could still build a fire for hot dogs, veggie burgers, potatoes and s’mores, relax in their two hammocks, and set up for outdoor dining, reading and chatting, while taking advantage of the seclusion and amenities of the RV.
One issue remained for Levin. “Driving a full-size RV was a concern. I wanted the trip to and from Cloudland Canyon to be pleasant and stress-free, and I knew that I wouldn’t be comfortable operating such a large vehicle.” From the website RVshare.com, she selected Camp Like a Champ RV Rentals, which delivered a sanitized, fully equipped RV to the campsite, allowing the family to drive in their own car and meet the RV there. “It added to the cost,” Levin noted, “but was well worth it.”
“The RV was immaculate,” Levin said. “Camp Like a Champ is managed by a family who owns and rents out five RVs. They came to our campsite just a few minutes before we did, and the whole process was seamless. We keep kosher, so, even though we brought everything with us, the kitchen made food storage and prep easy. In addition to the electricity and water hookups, Cloudland Canyon has internet access. I cannot claim that my children remained fully unplugged this trip,” Levin laughed, “but we definitely spent most of our time enjoying the trails, lake and waterfall, and [18-year-old] Aidyn and I had fun painting from kits we brought with us. I prefer sleeping close to the ground, but my children definitely appreciated sleeping in comfort. The RV worked out beautifully.”
Campsite rental fees depend on the site size, and Levin reserved a premium site, large enough to accommodate their full-size RV and provide ample space for outdoor activities they enjoy, while controlling incidental close contact with other campers. When asked about camp occupancy, Levin noted, “All designated spots of every size at Cloudland were full; however, in other years wherever we’ve been, almost all campers were in tents, like our family. This time, we saw only two tents in our area; everyone else was in an RV. Of course, we happily met and greeted other park visitors, but at a safe distance.”
The COVID-19 camp rules were prominently posted at the virtual check-in area, encouraging social distancing of at least 6 feet and stating that, to reduce the spread of the virus, the visitor center would provide assistance solely by phone and web-based resources, rather than in-person. Daily passes were available at self-serve kiosks, humorously known as “Iron Rangers.”
Levin summed up the family’s novel camping experience, “The weather was perfect, and while we met other people walking around, we were happy to keep mainly to ourselves. The RV drop-off [and pickup] was right for us and allowed us to get a taste of another state park. Hopefully, we’ll do that in our own tents next time.”