Twin City, Georgia is home to a picturesque, otherworldly setting and fun paddling challenge.
Plus some sweet cottages.
All inside a Georgia State Park.
By Hope S. Philbrick
One of my favorite things about my adopted home state of Georgia is that it’s packed with surprises; there’s rich ecological diversity, which can feel like a surprise is lurking around most every turn.
One of my standard observations—people who know me well may get tired of hearing this—is that in the Midwest U.S. (where I was born and raised) you can drive ten hours in any direction and still be looking at cornfields, but in the Southeast you can drive three hours in any direction and pass through several different environments. Three hours from Atlanta, I can be in the Blue Ridge Mountains or on the Atlantic Coast! Not that there’s anything wrong with corn, but to me peaks and waves are way more exciting reasons for a road trip.
There are also places so unexpected and different the best descriptor is “otherworldly.” George L. Smith State Park has one such spot: Mill Pond. As I stepped onto the boat dock before the planned kayak trip and got my first good look around, it seemed as though I’d stepped onto the Jurassic Park set. I would not have been at all surprised if a dinosaur had lumbered out from behind a tree—oh wait, there are alligators, so yeah, it’s possible.
Wesley Hendley operates Mill Pond Kayak, offering guided paddles through ten miles of black water trails. He has one of the world’s best jobs, especially since his “office” is the Mill Pond which can accurately be described as “serene” and “tranquil.” He makes the trip easy for guests, providing the kayaks, paddles, flotation vests, instructions, and leading the way. He also takes outstanding photos throughout the trip that he’ll share with you afterwards; though I’ve never dressed up for kayaking before, his photos are so great that next time I plan to gussy up. [After seeing the photos my husband said, “I want to go there!” We made that happen February 2018. Mill Pond Kayak was just as fun a second time.]
Kayaking Mill Pond is simultaneously easy and challenging. The water is smooth, there’s no current or tide to worry about, and almost no other boat traffic. If you’re somehow separated from the group (which is unlikely), it would be hard to actually get lost: “It’s a pond,” says Wesley. “So you can paddle to shore and then along the shoreline in any one direction and eventually will end up back at the dock.” The challenge is maneuvering between all the cypress trees. It feels sort of like pinball-ing around and you’re the ball. Some squeezes are tight; to fit you may need to lift the paddle over your head and swing it parallel with the kayak. As Wesley points out early on, you want to avoid hitting a tree because that may inadvertently anger a swarm of wasps or a wolf spider as big as your hand. I didn’t need to be told twice not to whack a tree with the paddle.
Even within the pond thick with cypress trees, there are niches with different lighting, different moods, different tree density.
To paddle Mill Pond is to glide on smooth black water under towering trees. Turtles line up on fallen branches. A white ibis nests overhead. As we get closer, she scolds and fusses from the nest she’s protecting. Shadows play on water, light juts between branches.
With each passing minute, the list of projects on my to-do list seems less overwhelming. If that’s not the goal of a getaway, what is?
Though even a few hours of paddling is enough to feel refreshed and re-energized, it’s even better to plan a longer visit.
For that purpose, George L. Smith State Park offers 25 tent, trailer and RV campsites plus eight cottages.
Sleep in a Cottage…
The cottages at George L. Smith State Park exceeded my expectations. My first thought after stepping inside was, “Wow! This is so big! Nice!” My friend Kim and I each had our own bedroom and bathroom. We shared the spacious living room, screened porch and full-service kitchen. We arrived on a Monday, a night that restaurant owners in Twin City, Ga., take off. Fortunately, we had brought food from home. The cottage kitchen was equipped with what we needed to put dinner together and serve (like plates, forks, and even a dishwasher).
The cottage was clean, comfy and, quite frankly, nicer than some roadside motels I’ve stayed in. I highly recommend booking one for your getaway.
On a second visit, February 2018, the cottages had been remodeled. They’re even better than before! Nicer than accommodations at some high-priced resorts!
- Each cottage offers a living room, dining area, 2 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, full kitchen, screened back porch
- Picnic table and backyard grill provided
- Linens and basic supplies are provided
- All cottages have Dish Network, DVD, HVAC system, fireplaces with gas logs to be used in cool season only
- A coffee maker is provided but bring your own coffee
- 4 cottages are located close to the park office, 4 are near the boat ramp
- Maximum capacity is 8 people per cottage
- Cottage #1 and #8 are ADA accessible
- Cottage #1 and #4 are dog friendly ($50 charge per dog, limit 2)
- Cottage rental rate is $150/night; minimum 2-night stay
- Tent sites are $26/night, RV sites $30/night, pioneer camping $50/night, primitive camping $8/night
- Odds of Encountering Children: Varies, within parameters you can control. Visit the state park when school is in session for the best chance of an adults-oriented experience. When you book a kayaking tour with Wesley Hendley’s Mill Pond Kayak, you will not be booked with other people without being informed about what the situation entails—so you can easily book a different date and/or time to ensure that all specifics appeal to you. Of course, whenever you visit a state park there are lots of acres—in this case, 1,634—so finding a quiet space is relatively easy to do.
According to the brochure, George L. Smith State Park is “best known for the refurbished Parrish Mill, a combination grist mill, saw mill, covered bridge and dam built in 1880 and now open for tours. Anglers and canoeists can explore the mill pond dotted with Spanish-moss draped trees and home to blue heron and white ibis. Hikers can stretch their legs on 11 miles of trails while searching for lumbering gopher tortoises, Georgia’s state reptile. The sizeable yet harmless indigo snake also makes its home in this sandhill community.” I’d planned on hiking, but ran out of time. The perfect excuse to return!
This trip is perfect for a girlfriends’ getaway, romantic escape, multi-generational outing or a good-for-the-soul solo retreat. In this natural playground adults can paddle, hike, fish, bike, and simply relax in peaceful surroundings.
Park Paddlers Club…
Georgia State Parks’ Park Paddlers Club is a fun challenge to paddle 24 miles in six state parks: George L. Smith plus Sweetwater Creek, Chattahoochee Bend, Crooked River, Reed Bingham, and Stephen C. Foster. Rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard, or bring your own boat, and paddle the water trails through diverse ecosystems. Buy a membership card at a participating park office for $10, get it punched after each completed paddle, then get a free T-shirt to commemorate your accomplishment.
Mill Pond Kayak
P.O. Box 576
Twin City, GA 30471
Guided kayak tours run March 1 through November 30. Kayak trips on the nearby Ogeechee and Ohoopee Rivers are also available when water levels are favorable.
George L. Smith State Park
371 George L. Smith State Park Road
Twin City, GA 30471
– Kayaking photos courtesy Wesley Hendley / Mill Pond Kayak; cottage & mill © HSP Media LLC; click on individual images for details
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