Dockery Lake Campground

Dockery Lake campground

So on this trip, we decided to take it easy a bit and do a little car camping at Dockery Lake campground, one of our favorite little spots in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  I found this lovely little destination on my National Geographic Trails Illustrated map last year. We fell in love with this campground immediately.

Dockery Lake has a day use area and a campground with eleven semi-primitive campsites and a beautiful three-acre lake stocked with rainbow trout.  I say the campground is semi-primitive because there are flush toilets and running water.  Each campsite has a fire ring, picnic table, lantern post and one or two gravel tent pads. Six of the campsites are directly lakeside and five are on the wooded side. There is a loop trail around the lake that is about a half a mile and the Dockery Lake Trail that connects to the Appalachian Trail at Miller Gap. The Dockery Lake Trail is seven miles out and back and is a semi-popular route to Preaching Rock at Big Cedar Mountain just off the Appalachian Trail.

Lakeside campsite

 

Day use site

Marcie and I have camped here four or five times in the last year. We have enjoyed every trip and we will continue to visit this spot for years to come. When we need to get out of town for a night or two, with little to no planning, this is our go to. I guess you could say that this is our comfort spot.

Feeder stream.

Now I know that there are the hardcore backcountry campers out there that wouldn’t be caught dead car camping. To them, I say, more power to you. Marcie and I, well, we like it all. For us, car camping is sometimes more enjoyable than completely roughing it. You can have better food, cold drinks, satellite radio and other luxuries you just can’t have in the backcountry. Don’t get me wrong. I love backcountry camping, but it generally requires more planning and is a lot more physically demanding. And let us face it. After a long work week and knowing that you have another right around the corner, a little car camping is just what the medicine man orders for a little soul cleansing. Car camping is also a great way to test out new gear and make a judgment on whether it will be beneficial to use in the backcountry.

The plan was to arrive at Dockery Lake Campground early afternoon, set up, eat lunch and relax for the remainder of the day. Mission accomplished.

After we arrived we unloaded the car, we chose a spot for our hammocks and set up our tarp shelter. We recently purchased the Kelty Noah’s Tarp 12 and had not been given the opportunity to test it out yet. This tarp is great! I set it up using the diamond configuration with a ridgeline and could not be happier with it.

Kelty Noah’s Tarp 12.

After we got set up and had lunch, Marcie decided to lounge in the hammock, do some reading and catch a nap. I decided that I wanted to do some fishing and take some pictures of the recreation area. So I broke out my fishing pole, the night crawlers and some rooster tails I bought the night before. I hooked a worm and let it sit for a while. It was just nice to relax. There were people at the campground, but it wasn’t crowded and they were all there for the same benefits we were.

Hammock Time
Marcie lounging with her book.
Dockery Lake Campground is such a peaceful place.

After I fished for a bit I decided to put my kayak in the lake and paddle to the other side and go get some pictures to share for this post. This lake is only three acres, so it wasn’t a long paddle to the other side, but it’s the novelty that counts sometimes. This beautiful little lake has so much character. What it lacks in size, it gains in beauty. There are tadpoles the size of golf balls, salamanders, rainbow trout and bluegill swimming about. It is truly a wonderous hidden gem.

Dockery Lake
View from our campsite
Signage.
Little bridge.
Feeder stream.

I walked the loop trail around the lake and ran into some folks fishing on the dam and as I was walking up, a guy was pulling in a small trout. So I showed my enthusiasm and he proceeded to tell me about the eighteen-inch three-pound trout that he caught the day before in the exact spot. I asked him what they were using as bait and he told me that they were using Power Bait. I guess that stuff really works because my worms only yielded one fish for me. It wasn’t from lack of effort either. I tried from the bank in multiple spots and floating around in my kayak to no avail.  One would think this little lake would be overfished, but I saw plenty while I was there. I guess they are just persnickety as trout often are.  Next time I’m taking Power Bait.

My fishing log, where I caught my trout.
Fishing from my kayak. Oh so peaceful.
Barely legal. I would have thrown him back, but he swallowed the hook and went belly up.

After I floated around Dockery Lake for a while, I wrapped up my fishing and decided to make some burgers around nine. I dumped some charcoal in the fire ring and let it do its thing. Now don’t judge- I’ve paid my dues collecting firewood to cook over the years. To put it bluntly, it can suck to hunt for fuel just to cook with. After all, we were car camping and there to relax and to take it easy. Earlier in my camping career I probably would have judged me, but now I understand the difference between working hard and working smart. I can also make a fire with a bow, but I choose not to because Bic makes damn fine lighters and Kingsford makes damn fine charcoal.

We cooked up the burgers, some beans and the trout that I caught earlier. I felt bad about him being so small, but I figured the least that I could do was respect his sacrifice enough to make him part of the meal.

We ended the night by cleaning up and putting our food in the car to not attract bears. Yes, there are bears active in the area. We laid down in our hammocks and, Marcie read some more, while I listened to the croaking of the bullfrogs. They make all sorts of strange noises if you really listen to them. They make a noise that is similar to bongos and it sounds like a really out of sync drum circle at some points. The sounds of creatures in the forest are amazing at night. I turned off the lantern and listened until I drifted to sleep.

I woke up at around six and fired up the backpacking stove for some coffee. The sun was just peeking through the trees and there was a slight chill in the air. It was a brand new day and a beautiful one to boot. Marcie slept as I drank coffee, did some fishing and practiced my morning meditation. I even got in my kayak and floated around the lake for a bit before I came back and started breakfast. I won’t go over the charcoal thing again.

Bacon on the coals.
Bacon fat fried garlic for the eggs.
Cheesy garlic eggs cooked in bacon grease.

We originally planned on hiking from the campground to Preaching Rock via the Dockery Lake Trail after we digested our breakfast, but plans soon changed. The hike is ten miles out and back and our dog, Hagrid is fourteen years old. Hagrid is usually up for a good hike, but this trip he just wasn’t feeling it. So what we decided to do was to hike up to the Dockery Lake Trail to Pigeons Roost Creek (which becomes Waters Creek) and check out some scenery. After we would return to camp and breakdown. We still wanted to see Preaching Rock and there is another way via Woody Gap Trailhead that is only three miles out and back, so we made that our contingency plan.

Once our meal had settled and we were no longer suffering food coma. We started our way on the loop to the Dockery Lake Trail and began our short journey to Pigeon Roost/Waters Creek. There are two ways to access the trail, one is at the day use parking area and the other is at the dam. We chose the dam to avoid backtracking.

The trail has blue blazes and is a single track path. The hike is downhill pretty much all the way to the creek. Just as you start there is a waterfall to the right, which is the spillway from the lake. The views are gorgeous through the treeline to the right. With some pretty cool rock outcrops on the left. I imagine that hiking this trail in the late fall would yield some amazing views.

You cross a few streams along the way and the trail is kind of muddy in some spots. The streams are narrow and easy to skip over. Even our little dog, Porter (who usually has to be carried across) made it over with no problem. We were very proud parents this day. If you knew, Porter, you would understand. We crossed into the Blood Mountain Wilderness and hiked a little further to reach our destination. Waters Creek is a popular trout fishing area and I can’t wait to go back and catch some supper, but that will be a story for the future. We turned around and headed back up the mountain back to our little lake taking some pictures along the way.

Kiosk at the dam trailhead.
Trailhead blaze.
Spillway waterfall.
It is much prettier in person.
View through the treeline.
Another treeline view.
I love rock outcrops.

 

Just fascinating to me.
Porter crossing on his own.
Waters Creek.

On the way back we started to hear thunder. After we heard it a few more times, we decided that it wouldn’t be too wise to head to the top of a mountain. So sadly we made the decision to postpone our trip to Preaching Rock for another time. Being Mr. Contingency Plan, I came up with the idea to do some recon to a few campgrounds I have been researching for a while.

We turned on some Grateful Dead and started to break down camp. We packed up the car, threw away our trash and policed the campsite for remaining litter. A rule that I learned as a young Boy Scout is that you always leave a site cleaner than you find it. That is something that has stayed with me all through my life and I always practice it to this day. Unfortunately not enough people practice this principle, so I guess I will always be busy at the end of a trip. That is okay though, I love Dockery Lake and I will always do whatever I can to keep it pristine for future generations to enjoy.

We got everything packed up just in time because it began to pour down rain as soon as we were pretty much all packed up. We pulled out of the campground and headed north toward Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area to check out potential campgrounds. The rain cleared up fairly quickly and the sky was blue once again.

Stay tuned to read about our upcoming adventures in the Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area. Get out there and enjoy some nature. Do what you enjoy, whether it be backcountry, kayak camping, thru-hiking and, yes, even car camping. Remember to always use Leave No Trace principles and respect the earth and all its creatures.

Our first trip into the Cheaha Wilderness

Turnipseed Campground
Kiosk at Turnipseed Campground

Like most people, Marcie and I don’t have a lot of leisure time, due to our hectic work schedules. So when we decide to enjoy our time off, we try to make the best of what we enjoy the most, being outdoors. That being said, when we take a trip we usually leave on Saturday evening and get to our destination late in the evening, or even after dark sometimes; because we want to wake up in our campsite the next morning and enjoy the day to fullest. This trip we went to Turnipseed Campground, Talladega National Forest

 On this particular trip, it was Easter weekend and we were able to get to Turnipseed Campground, Cheaha Wilderness around 5:30 on Saturday evening, which was definitely a great score for us. We have set up camp plenty of times after dark and that can just be a hassle; to say the very least. We can assuredly attest that looking for firewood in the dark after a long work day isn’t what we would call an exhilarating experience. In fact, I think it is probably the true definition of a chore. Okay, enough complaining, now to the good stuff.
  Being that it was the Saturday before Easter, the campground was moderately populated, but not crowded; much to our relief. We have recently started experimenting with hammock camping, so the first thing I usually do; after unloading the car, is start rigging our shelter. Which consists of an A-frame constructed with two 6′ x 8′ tarps attached to a ridge line, with prusik knots and toggles usually made from sticks we find on the ground.
Two tarp shelter.

  We set up a pretty basic camp this day because our plans were to get up early the next morning and head into the Cheaha Wilderness for our real adventure of this trip. We gathered just enough firewood to cook some hot dogs and beans for dinner. After this we went to bed pretty early, so we could wake fresh in the morning, and start our hike into the wilderness.
  I usually wake up before the sun comes up when I’m camping and make coffee my first priority, and I’m usually working on a second pot by the time Marcie wakes up. She gets up early every day for work, so I try to let her sleep as long as possible when we are camping. After Marcie woke up, I went and filtered some water, then made us some breakfast to fuel us up for our hike. We broke camp, packed the car and parked in the day use area of the campground.
  Turnipseed Campground is a trailhead for the last two mile stretch of the Chinnabee Silent Trail. Which connects to the Pinhoti and Odum trails in two miles at Little Caney Head Mountain.
  Heading southeast there is a kiosk on the left and the trail continues into the wilderness.  To enter the wilderness you cross a crystal clear little creek, which is also a reliable water source year round.
Cheaha Wilderness, Talladega National Forest
  So we crossed the creek and off into the wilderness. We knew before we even started that this was going to be a challenging hike with our heavy packs, from planning with our topo. The Chinnabee Silent Trail is six miles and the last two are definitely the most challenging. This portion of the trail is rocky and pretty much uphill the entire way, but it is really beautiful and we love a challenge. If you are just going to do it as a day hike, it’s not that difficult; however, with a fully loaded overnight pack, it wasn’t easy. Just about the time that I was thinking to myself that “this isn’t that bad” is when it got pretty challenging. At about a mile we did lose the trail for about ten minutes, because of side trails that lead nowhere. There are no blazes on the Chinnabee in the wilderness. The last 3/4 of a mile are pretty strenuous. Once you hit 2000′ it starts to level out a bit. Just as you get to the top there is a little spring/creek on your right. We reached Little Caney Head Mountain and the end of the Chinnabee Silent Trail where the Pinhoti and Odum trails intersect. The elevation here is about 2100′. There are also several campsites here, but they are right on the trail, so this isn’t a spot to choose if privacy and seclusion are what you are looking for. I imagine that for a tired thru-hiker, though, that these spots would be just fine. Especially since there is a water source so close by. I believe this is also the previous home of the Cheaha Falls Shelter before it was relocated after this area was dedicated a wilderness. Odum point is just south and the trail of its namesake heads south as well.
  After resting, having a snack and taking some pictures we headed north on the Pinhoti toward Cheaha State Park. Our Pinhoti trail map said that the trail isn’t blazed in the wilderness, but we found that to be inaccurate. The trusty blue blazes are plentiful through the wilderness. Our plan was to hike until we came across the Lower Cave Creek connector trail. The views to the west and rock outcrops to the east were equally amazing. I read that this one the best stretches of the Pinhoti when it comes to scenery and we were not disappointed, that’s for sure. The trail is rocky and has a lot of roots as well, which makes it a little tricky to navigate with a full load. One good thing is that it maintains a pretty level elevation at this point.
Marcie, Hagrid, Porter and a blue blaze.

I love rock formations like this one.

The landscape through here is absolutely stunning. This looks like it is part of the trail, but it’s not. It is just a random cut that I noticed when we were taking in our surroundings.

This was a killer view of the foothills.

I thought these cloud formations were sweet.

This was really cool. Although the picture doesn’t do it much justice.
I thought it was interesting how the trees were bent over here.
There are rock walls like this all along this portion of the trail.
   We made it to the Lower Cave Creek connector. The Pinhoti trail map shows the connector heading east for about a 1/8 of a mile; however, it actually heads straight up at the beginning and more south than east. We reached the Cave Creek Trail and headed north. You can also head south on the Nubbin Creek Trail, but that’s another adventure. The Cave Creek Trail runs parallel to the Pinhoti and joins it at Hernandez Peak. As we continued along the trail we could start to hear Cave Creek in the distance to the east. We came to the creek at about 3/4 of a mile, where you have to cross. Here we came across a couple with a dog and their newborn baby. Our dog Porter actually broke one his toenails crossing the creek, because he his a complete spaz, when it comes to crossing water. Come to think of it, he is pretty much a spaz when it comes to anything.

Creek crossing.

Where I got our water.

Not the best picture I’ve taken.
    After crossing the creek and filling up our bladder with water, we headed east a short distance uphill toward where I had chosen on the map to scout for camp sites. We got to the top of a ridgeline and the Cave Creek Trail continued north and to the south, there was a campsite, but it was pretty much right on the trail. So I walked a little further on the side trail through the site and found the perfect spot about fifty yards in. This site was everything that you could ask for. It had a huge fire ring, a great view, plenty of firewood close by and a nice tall tree to hang our food in.
   We took our load off and rested our feet a bit. What a relief! It was only a little over four miles, but I had not carried that much weight, that distance, in a long time, and it was a first for Marcie. After our well-deserved break, we got down to business and started setting up camp. I set up our A-frame tarp shelter, and, Marcie hung our hammocks. Then it was off to find firewood.
Our A-frame tarp shelter.
While we were gathering firewood, this guy got into our food bag and ate our bacon.
  Once we had gathered ample firewood, we had some lunch and relaxed for while before doing a few more chores to ensure our comfort for the night. On this trip, we used backpacking stoves to cook dinner and breakfast and used the fire for light and warmth. This was an amazing Easter weekend! The solitude was just what the doctor ordered to recharge us from the draining daily life of residing within Atlanta’s metro. We only saw a handful of day hikers for two days. It was the two of us, our dogs and the sounds of the southernmost chain of the Appalachian mountain range for this particular adventure, and that was all we needed. The next morning we had breakfast relaxed for a bit hiked out.

Our forest

for that moment.

Marcie resting her feet.

Nice little fire.

Scavenger dogs.
Pinhoti blue blaze

Hiking out.

Marcie enjoying the view on the way out.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about this adventure and that it has inspired you to explore the Cheaha Wilderness Area for yourself. Remember to always use leave no trace principles and treat the Earth with the respect she deserves.
 If you have any questions on locations leave a comment below.
Where is your favorite place to hike?
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Thanks for reading.