As Thanksgiving approached, our travel plans wandered back inland toward Atlanta with one more stop planned along the way. Indian Springs State Park is located outside of Flovilla GA, just under ten miles from High Falls State Park. After briefly researching the two options online, we chose to book a few nights at Indian Springs based mostly on reviews coupled with the unique feature of the natural mineral spring on the property.
The couple we met in Savannah tipped us off to the close by Dauset Trails Nature Center, just a few miles from Indian Springs and connected by a mountain bike trail for ease of access. Dauset Trails just happened to be hosting their annual Cane Syrup Festival on Saturday during our visit, complete with a bluegrass band scheduled for the afternoon. The weather forecast looked promising as we drove through rural Georgia, indicating mild temperatures and sunny skies for the weekend. The anticipation of the festival, not to mention the upcoming holiday, helped carry us through the 200-plus mile journey mostly along Interstate 16, the Jim Gillis Historic Savannah Parkway, through Georgia farmland.
Indian Springs is considered to be one of the oldest state parks in the country, operating as a public park since 1826 and gaining the official state park designation in 1931. This is another park built thanks to the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps, with many of the original stone structures still remaining, including the spring house where people gather to collect the mineral-rich water pouring from the earth. The park features a lake for recreation, a couple of walking and biking trails, numerous picnic areas with shelters, a reservable stone pavilion for events, and 54 campsites.
Locals and visitors alike are drawn to the park largely due to the natural spring water freely available on site (well, after paying the park entry fee or presenting your Annual ParkPass). The water is fabled to possess healing powers, used for centuries by the native Creek Indians to cure the sick and injured, and eventually attracting enough visitors to spur the growth of a resort town in the 1800s. The stone spring house sits not far from the main entrance, next to the event pavilion, generally with a line of people casually filling containers throughout the day.
We stopped to fill a couple of bottles (note to first-time visitors, take something other than a glass container – glass is prohibited in the spring house) and chatted with some locals, including a woman filling jugs that would eventually equal 50 gallons. She informed us that she visits once every few months to fill her bottles, planning to make a whole day of the event. Two other groups with numerous large containers were waiting at the same time and as we were chatting, another woman motioned us over to fill our two small bottles. We thanked the gathered groups for allowing us to jump in the middle, to which everyone responded with smiles and hand waves as though it were no problem. We learned that everyone rotates turns filling one large vessel at a time, while passing the day in conversation and trading local gossip. The water smells strongly of sulfur as it emerges from the earth, permeating the spring house with a pungent odor. We were advised to let our containers sit open for about 24 hours, which would allow the sulfur to dissipate before we sampled the water. I moved our containers outside to rest after the RV started to take on an unmistakable sulfur aroma, but the water tasted great after a day or two with just a barely perceptible note of rotten eggs.
Similar to Skidaway Island, campers at Indian Springs reserve a non-specific site then choose a space upon arrival based on current availability. This park was much less crowded than Skidaway when we arrived early Friday afternoon, but began to fill as the evening wore on. We almost settled on a site along the road leading to the third loop, but decided to take a drive around the second loop just to check it out first. This turned out to be a fortunate decision, because we found a beautiful spot (#78) in the second loop with a raised outdoor seating area overlooking McIntosh Lake. As you can see in the site photos that follow, Indian Springs boasts a variety of options – from long, flat back-in sites against the tree line, to open sites along the road, as well as numerous sites with the raised balcony-like seating areas nestled into the hillside. We recommend visiting Indian Springs simply because of the picturesque setting and unique site options. The park is large enough to accommodate RVs of any size, limited of course to what sites are currently available when you arrive.
On the morning of the Cane Syrup Festival, we hopped on our bikes and headed toward the multi-use trail leading to Dauset Trails Nature Center, expecting a leisurely ride through the woods along the shoreline of the lake. The 3.25 mile trail did indeed wind along the shoreline, for the most part, but the ride was definitely challenging. More suited to strict mountain bikers, the trail features short portions of steep climbs and descents, sharp corners around trees, and sections heavily covered in tree roots. Certainly an entertaining ride (which required a bit of pushing and walking in our case), but not a simple pedal through the woods. After the festival, we chose to ride on the road back to Indian Springs rather than attempt the trail a second time and the only hazard was a couple of dogs chained outside who sounded mean enough to chew off one of my legs as a snack. We pedaled more quickly past that particular house.
The Dauset Trails Nature Center is a non-profit organization preserving native wildlife and early farm life, while offering nature programs, group camping, numerous gardens, and over twenty miles of hiking and biking trails. The center accepts orphaned and injured wild animals from certified handlers, which are kept on the grounds in various habitats on display for visitors. These animals are non-releasable usually due to a physical impairment, and designated as such by a licensed rehabilitator or veterinarian, as well as a representative from the state Department of Natural Resources. So this isn’t simply a wildlife zoo, but more of a rescue haven for animals that would be unable to survive in the wild.
The festival was held in the replica farming homestead, complete with a tiny general store, blacksmith forge, farmhouse with a front porch that doubled as a stage for the band, and a working horse-drawn (well, probably mule-drawn) sugar cane press and boil vat for making syrup. We observed the syrup-making process, sampling fresh sugar cane pieces and raw cane juice, and eventually the finished syrup. The blacksmith area was busy, as two men crafted decorative items that were given away throughout the day (from what we understood, anyway). I purchased a bottle of syrup from a batch made earlier in the week as Ashley chatted with the people selling handmade soap featuring the mineral water from Indian Springs. As the band started to play, we wandered over to the picnic table area by the front porch stage and settled in for the show.
Finding a live band – playing bluegrass, no less – just around the corner from our campground was an opportunity that we couldn’t miss, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. Johnny Roquemore and the Apostles of Bluegrass put on an entertaining show, playing standards as well as originals with guitar, banjo, bass, and harmonica. While they played, the Dauset Trails employees and volunteers worked to set up a barbecue feast for everyone, accepting only a donation in exchange for pulled pork with white bread and various sauces, homemade sides of macaroni and cheese, greens, and biscuits to only name a few, and a seemingly endless supply of desserts. After the performance, the band passed out a few complimentary CDs, the guitar player handing a copy to Ashley as he thanked us for staying for the whole show (it’s not as though we wanted to leave anyway, we were having a great afternoon). The band members even took a few minutes to speak with us after the show, asking where we were from and making small talk as we shared our story with them. We were incredibly fortunate to be passing through the area the same time as the festival, and if not for the tip from our friendly neighbors in Savannah, we’d probably have missed out on the whole day.
The next morning we made a batch of sourdough biscuits (which repeatedly set off our smoke detector, despite the fact that nothing in the oven was actually smoking – one of the minor annoyances of cooking in a small space) so we could sample the cane syrup, along with a side of bacon and spinach gravy. Because you can’t have biscuits without some kind of gravy. The weather that Sunday morning was chilly and windy, so we hid inside while eating breakfast and listening to music as we discussed the next leg of our journey to Sharpsburg, just south of Atlanta.
Indian Springs has been one of our favorite stops so far – unique campsites, close proximity to Dauset Trails, and the opportunity to attend one of the various festivals held throughout the year. The state park isn’t conveniently located close enough to a town for restocking supplies (at least, not close enough for us to ride a bike anyway), but it is only about an hour away from Atlanta which makes it an option for RVers wishing to visit without staying overnight in the city. Indian Springs is definitely on our list of parks to visit again in our future travels, and if you enjoy RVing or camping in a beautiful setting by a lake, with lots of options for hiking and mountain biking while only being an hour’s drive away from a large city, then you should consider adding it to your list as well. And if you’re lucky (or plan ahead), you might even get to enjoy live music, a barbecue feast, and fresh cane syrup with your biscuits.