Our trip from Davis Bayou (click to read), Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to our next destination was just over 200 miles. It was an easy trip and we arrived around 12:30 pm. We knew we might be a little early, but we learned that COE park check out times are 3:00 pm! Little did we know….
Our first experience in a COE was last summer. We stayed in the Land Between The Lakes (LBL) COE “Canal Campground,” click here to read about our fabulous time there. It took three posts to write it up since there was so much to do and we hope to return there one day. As I am writing this, we now have stayed in three, back to back stays, this winter. I had hoped to write about all three in this one post, but we did so much in the Montgomery, Alabama area, it needs its own post.
Let’s learn a little about COEs since we are relatively new at discovering how wonderful they are:
United States Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds offer great RV camping opportunities centered around water recreation. With thousands of recreation areas at over 450 lakes and waterways, US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) provides fishing, boating, hiking, and of course camping opportunities that anyone can enjoy. USACE is probably better known around the RV community as COE.
You can look at the entire list of campgrounds alphabetically or by states by clicking here and this is where you make your reservations, or you can use the Reserve America reservation website.
We’ve heard so many RVers rave about COEs, so we decided to address this as we really didn’t realize it until this winter. It is inexpensive camping in very well run and laid out national parks. And bonus, you can use your America the Beautiful passes for discounts. If you are a senior (over age 62), you pay 1/2 price. And these seem to be about $22/night so that means we stayed for a measly $11/night. We’re now ready to join the rave!
From February 26 through March 7, 2017, we stayed in Gunter Hill Campground, 561 Booth Road, Montgomery, AL 36108. Phone Number: (334) 269-1053. Initially, we reserved site # 6, pictured below with the campers on it when we arrived.
What we learned is that the actual check out time for ALL COEs (so we were told) is 3 pm! WOW, that’s nice if you want your last day to be nearly a full day. But for us, we like to leave early and arrive early. We never travel in the dark! It doesn’t seem to bother others, but it does us since so much is at stake as you drive your home towing your car – all of our worldly possessions! We drove around while we waited for them to check out and found site 35, a huge pull through! We went back to the office and asked if it was available during our entire stay – it was, so we gave up our water front (or back since we would back in) site for this one:
What we really liked was the personal service by the Campground Hosts, who also run the “office” or the registration center and gate. You make reservations in COEs either on the Reserve America website or the Recreation.gov site. The hosts were able to easily change our site in their on-line system. If we changed it ourselves, it would cost $10. So that is a little tidbit to keep in mind if you need to change your reservation. Not all systems are like this we’ve learned.
We love being in rural and remote places, we especially love the woods (for hiking), and so far, all of the COEs we’ve seen have plenty trees, but not too many. One complaint about county, state and even official National Park campgrounds, is they don’t really trim the trees (we get it). But if you want more business such as motor homes in their campgrounds, they might want to consider “trimming” them a bit. Our motor home gets scratched as we pull in and out of some park campgrounds. The COEs don’t seem to mind trimming the trees! So for the most part, no problems with getting scratched in these three (or even in LBL). Although, one COE camp host said their RV was smashed by a limb that should have been trimmed!
It seems like wherever we stay, you are going to have some sort of “noise” unless you just get that perfect National or State Park. It’s either a train, road noise from nearby highways, motor boats, helicopters, dogs barking, or guns (it was hunting season near one this winter 😳). We’ve learned to not let it ruin our experience (much) but the first thing that really got to us was in our new dearly beloved Gunter Hill: a motor speedway! If you know Bill, he is a car guy. He loves all things related to cars. He prefers classic cars and dreams of one day owning a ’69 Corvette. But watching cars racing has never been interesting to him, although he mentioned going once or twice….But hearing cars thundering around a track for at least four straight hours (from 6 pm until 10 pm) seemed to get to us a bit as we couldn’t drown the sound out. It was just two miles away. I found the schedule and the good news is that they only race about twice a month, on Saturday nights only. So we will keep that in mind next time we stay there.
Something else to be aware of is that not all of the COE’s have full hook ups. They all seem to have 50 amps and water, but the sewer is our luxury. LBL’s Canal has a few sites with sewer. A dear friend we made in one campground gave us the list of those sacred spots, but of course, you have to really plan ahead to get on one! Gunter Hill’s Catoma Loop not only has sewer, but all are also on concrete pads, most are flat and easy in and out. But it has a more primitive loop, Antioch Loop. Those sites are a bit more primitive, although I think they all have electric and water. In our next two stays, neither have sewer, so our time there will be shorter. We actually prefer to stay a week minimum but with our travels this winter, we are driving shorter distances and staying in more parks. We’re just adapting and learning along our way.
It seems, most state and national parks where we’ve stay have pretty good signage to the campgrounds. But to the actual campground sites, is another matter! When we arrived in Gunter Hill at noon, we unhooked (there was plenty of room) so I drove the car to check our site, while Bill stayed with the motor home, hoping I would call him and say “come on.” Since I am usually just the navigator holding the map, I didn’t pay real close attention to the instructions by the campground host, so driving while holding the map was a bit awkward. Usually (this is generally our protocol), I’ll look for the signage to the sites. Here, it was a bit confusing when I first entered the actual campground. I knew I had to take a right, but there were two rights (and one left)….but NO signs, so I just guessed. And I was right! The couple on our site were tearing down, so it didn’t look like it would take long before we could get on it. But then we waited and waited and discovered they were friends with others and it seemed like lots of socializing. I went back and got Bill and we drove around – OH MY, so many great sites. But we could see they empty sites were reserved as they do put little signs on them. We found site 53 and went and asked about it – no problem, since they can change a site or reservation in person, no extra charge.
Our stay in Gunter Hill was just about perfect. While it was in a rural setting, it was just 10 minutes from historic downtown Montgomery. Plus we could easily get in a daily 5 mile walk from our front door. Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to see all we wanted to in Montgomery, Alabama, the state capitol, so we do know we will return.
Montgomery, is capital of the state of Alabama, U.S., and seat (1822) of Montgomery county, located in the central part of the state. The city lies near the point where the Alabama River is formed by the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. It was originally the site of Native American villages and was visited by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540. About 1717 the French built Fort Toulouse on the river a short distance north of the present site of Montgomery. The city was founded and chartered in 1819 with the consolidation of two settlements and named for General Richard Montgomery, who had been killed during the American Revolution. It was made the state capital in 1846. In February 1861, just before the start of the American Civil War, Montgomery became the first capital of the Confederacy, though the capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia, later that year. Montgomery was captured by Union troops in 1865. (from Britannica.com)
We visited the Alabama History Museum (called Alabama Department of Archives and History) and spent four hours there! It was about the best museum we have visited and we have seen many! So I won’t bore you with all we learned, except to say, we have a new appreciation for the beauty of this wonderful state. Now we are a bit partial since we lived in Mobile, Alabama for three years, but we now are even more partial. You will see us visiting a lot more of this beautiful and history and geographically rich state. What was unique about this free museum were periodic short movies about the themed topic, very professionally done! National Geographic quality. This coupled with displays and historical artifacts just captured our interest and imagination.
On Sunday, we had to visit one of the historical churches, First Baptist Church of Montgomery. AMAZING! It was first founded in 1829, but the current building was built starting in 1905. This was one of our favorite services of all time, amazing orchestra, choir, congregation and pastor. It was the complete worship experience! We just have to return one day.
Here’s few pictures from our adventures at our campground and in Montgomery, Alabama:
We really hope to return here again as we felt our time here was really a gift! Next stop, Georgia!
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17