Cedar Lake Ministries, located about an hour southeast of Chicago in northwestern Indiana, has roots reaching back over 100 years when Chicago’s Moody Church took over management of a railroad recreation destination on a large lake. The ministry at this retreat center continues to this day. The Center has a nice RV park that is open to the public and that is where we have been the past few days. The RV park offers FHU back in sites, some with 50 amp electric service. The sites aren’t especially deep, but there is adequate parking for extra vehicles. The bathhouse is nicely done and clean. Water spigots are on shared hookups between every other site, equally unhandy to those on both sides so extra water hose will likely be needed. WiFi was pretty good although we did get frequent drops requiring us to reconnect. The sites on the north side of the road in and out are most likely to be satellite friendly. While we were at the campground there was a Christian music concert that we were welcome to attend. We thought the music was pretty good. There is no direct lake access but it is just a short walk to the public portion of the retreat center where there are benches along the lake, affording us nice views. My Verizon signal was good. We give this retreat center campground two thumbs up and would happily return.
A lot of people are interested in being able to get on the Internet as they RV. While campgrounds may advertise the availability of WIFI your internet experience will be iffy at best. We’ve found decent WIFI to be the exception rather than the rule – although I will add that we’re seeing some improvements to campground WiFi, especially if it is a paid add-on. Often, though, places that advertise WIFI only provide it if you go to a specific location. At that point you’ll generally be competing with other RVers who are on the same Internet connect. Evenings and weekends can be brutal for even the most basic internet operations. If you want to do Netflix – sorry, but it will be practically impossible to do on WIFI at most of the campgrounds you visit. So, the bottom line on WIFI is this: for the occasional user; for the person who just wants to check email once a day – campground WIFI will probably be sufficient. Paid WiFi may be a bit better. For Facebook addicts, for people who like to surf the web, and especially for people who “need” internet for business or home schooling – you’ll often need a different solution. Many people get WIFI boosters to extend their reach to the campground WIFI (we have a WIFI Ranger). Just know this: reaching out farther to connect to a pitiful campground WIFI won’t make the connect speed any faster, it will only save your walking to the Activity center, etc. to access that same poor connection.
The alternative is cell data. Companies like Verizon will happily sell you big buckets of data for a price. If (and that’s a big “if”) you are staying in an area with decent cell coverage for your carrier, you can do okay using your cell phone as a hot spot or, even better, using a dedicated hot spot device. One big caution here is that you do have to be in range of a cell tower for your carrier. Verizon is the undisputed leader in coverage but for the RVer who truly wants to get away from it all there’s the real possibility that you’ll get away from cell coverage too. Second, it’s going to cost you and it may come with the potential of periodic slow-downs. The best deal at this time is a prepaid Jetpack plan from Verizon. You can read about it here. Also, even as there are WIFI signal boosters there are cell signal boosters. Our Weboost Drive can make a real difference in internet connectivity. Just remember that you have to have a signal to boost. If you have, say 2 bars of 4G a booster can give you a boost of a bar or maybe even two. Sometimes that is a noticeable difference in connect speed.
One strategy people use is to have service from two different providers. You might be in range of one but not the other. Again, though, you are buying that capability.
This is, of course a very general overview. There are websites and books on the topic that get into the weeds of this subject. Depending on your needs, you may want to spend some time researching this topic using these resources. One of these best is Technomadia’s RV Mobile Internet site.
At the conclusion of my previous review of Natchez Trace Thousand Trails near Hohenwald, TN a couple of years ago I commented that on a future visit I hoped to see some of the maintenance issues of this campground addressed. Frankly, as we finish up our second stay here, I have to report that my previous review is still accurate. If nothing else, I’d say the mile and a half road back into the campground has even more potholes than it did two years ago. I mentioned that good WiFi was one of the real bright spots, but this stay it wasn’t working well with lots of dropouts even with a strong signal. I mentioned it at the office a couple of times and near the end of our stay someone may have looked at it because it finally settled down and disappeared less often.
As we arrived there were two other rigs just ahead of us. We found out they were a mom and dad from the northeastern part of the country meeting their son and his family from Texas for a two week stay together. They were very disappointed in the campground. The son wasn’t a member and had paid the “rack rate” for a two week stay in his brand new 5th wheel. After walking around the campground for a long time, looking at every available site and digesting the news that there were no 50 amp sites at all, they settled on a couple of rougher sites next to one another. The next day they pulled out, looking for a nicer campground. I don’t know if they got a refund or not.
Let me say that I think that was a bit of an over-reaction. Anyone who looks online can see that there is only 30 amp service here. Still, for someone looking for a nice campground with some amenities I can understand the feeling of disappointment. For us, the campground itself is at the low end of “acceptable” and not a place I would look forward to visiting aside from it being easy on my camping budget as a fulltime traveler. The primary other positive is that our stay coincided with the peak of the fall foliage here and the colors were glorious.
I don’t understand the layout here. At the front gate there’s a store, pool, min-golf, and lake access. However there are no campsites. The campground for members is a mile and a half away, over a very rough and hilly road. There’s plenty of room for a campground in a big, wide open area near the amenities and I have no idea of why anyone ever thought isolating the primary campground as it is would be a good idea. Aside from that I know the long term residents and the staff of this Thousand Trails are still hoping cooperate will finally turn its attention to this long neglected campground. I suggest that happen sooner and not later.
This is our second stay at this nice Corps of Engineers campground, located on Saylorville Lake, northwest Des Moines, IA. Things this stay are much the same as they were when we were here two years ago, so you might want to check out my review from that stay. I’ll just focus on a few fresh observations in this post.
Usually we use our 4G hotspot for the internet but that’s a complete no-go at this campground. Using our Wilson Sleek cradle I could get 1 or 2 bars of unreliable 3G – really not enough to even have a decent phone conversation. That left us dependent on the park’s WiFi. By staying in the section of the campground closer to the Activity Center we had slow, but somewhat useable internet. Also, to our surprise, when I went to plug in the electric we had 50 amps – something not even listed on the campground map.
We were disappointed and surprised at how far it really is to Yosemite valley. Even though a National Park entrance is only five miles from the campground it’s actually about 30 miles down to the valley – and those miles are twisting, turning, and sometimes steep miles. Here’s a tip: the YARTS bus stops right at the campground and will take you to Yosemite valley. The cost for the two of us was actually about what we would have spent on fuel driving in and out. I suggest you drive in and see the more distant sites and then ride the bus for future visits to the valley. They offer senior adult discounts and even have a three trips for the price of two special. Also, there’s no park admission fee for those on the bus!
No review of Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails is complete without mention of Highway 120’s New Priest Grade. This 7-8 miles of road is a non-stop 5-6%, switchback filled challenge that must be faced to come to the campground. The uphill side is also the side with the dropoffs. It will test the vehicle’s engine and the driver’s nerves. The downhill side hugs the side of the hill and it will test the vehicle’s transmission and brakes and the driver’s skills. There are two other nearby roads. One is the shorter and much steeper (15%) Old Priest – no one with a RV has any business on it and law enforcement agrees – RVs are banned from driving it. There’s another route that includes Greely Hill road. We checked it out and I decided it was better to just stay with New Priest. Here’s my take on it: if you are driving a RV that you know is underpowered or overweight or especially long you should think twice before tackling this section of road. However, most people with a properly set up RV and moderate driving experience can drive it. Hundreds of RVs, tour buses, and logging trucks do it every week. The YARTS bus drivers told me that their top of the hill speed target is 25 mph which they gear to hold down the grade. They also suggested that one keep an eye on oncoming traffic, making room for bigger vehicles, especially those coming downhill. On one had, this drive should be taken seriously. On the other hand, a lot of people do it with no problems whatsoever. We came up the grade about 25 mph and the engine was working hard. Our clutch fan came on early and stayed on all the way up and a ways beyond. We came down at 20-25 mph. I had to tap my brakes on some of the hairpins. Really, I thought coming down was easier than coming up.
The reward is a nice campground near a beautiful National Park.
We heard reports of people having low electrical voltage, in fact, we had the same problem our first night. Because of that, plus low water pressure and a failure to get a satellite signal, we moved to the “satellite row” area after our first night’s stay. After that, we had no water or electrical issues for the rest of the time we were there. I had a decent 4G cell data signal but it was having problems. It would work for a while and then throughput would just stop. The only way to get it back was to turn on “airplane mode” on the phone, then turn it back off. Things would work fine for a while and then I’d have to jump through that hoop yet again.
We like Mt Vernon Thousand Trails although the lack of sewer hookups might be a big enough deal for us to go elsewhere, or at least plan for a shorter stay, in the future.
We thoroughly enjoyed the first of what will be three journeys down Natchez Trace Parkway. The Trace is closed to commercial traffic, has no businesses or advertizing or stop signs on it, and has a leisurely 50 mph speed limit. We enjoyed the beautiful, easy drive and are looking forward to continuing it in the days to come.
The centerpiece of the park is a pretty lake. There are rental cabins, pavilions, and a nice playground. The park features not one, but two disc golf courses. The courses are not for the casual player as they take one up and own steep hills and through the woods with out much more than a footpath for a fairway. We’ve seen several groups playing and having a great time. It’s an interesting way to take a hike through the forest and a surprisingly challenging sport as well. Using my Wilson Sleek cell booster I’ve been able to get on the Internet with a medium to weak 3G signal strength. After moving the dish around a bit I was able to lock on to a very good satellite TV signal.
I have one rather serious concern about this state park. Every night around midnight the campground voltage has risen to the point that our camper’s electric Surgeguard has cut power to the camper. It reports voltages as high as 134 volts. The Surgeguard is programmed to protect the camper’s electronics from things like too high and too low of voltages. We had a neighbor who was getting the same readings. I talked to the park employees about it and they said it would be looked into but, apparently, they were in no hurry because after 5 nights the spikes continue to happen. After the first night we unplugged the electric before going to bed because we didn’t want the Surgeguard cycling the electricity off and on through the night. After doing that a few nights we left it on. About midnight the problem became evident again and the camper had to be unplugged for the rest of the night. Of course, the camper can handle being off grid. Still, I can’t help but wonder what damage is being done to other campers in the park.
So, I like this place. It’s pretty and the campsites are very nice. At the same time, the electricity problem concerns me. I’d come back, believing this issue will be resolved. Till then, I don’t think I’d recommend the park to people without some kind of high voltage protection. Pretty park or not, it’s probably not worth damaging one’s air conditioner, etc.
As you can tell this place is quite a mixture of very nice and rather frustrating. I think I’d return here simply because I love the area so much and because I think it would be easier on the budget than paying the rack rate would be elsewhere. At the same time I’d lobby big time for a site away from the highway.
Our journey down interstate 81 included miles driven in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. That sounds impressive but really, it was only a 3 hour or so trip. The drive was an easy one without any traffic to speak of and no big hills to pull. By early afternoon we had arrived at Skyline Ranch Resort near Front Royal, Virginia.
There are several nice features here: a nice activity center, a big pool, a nifty mini-golf course, a min-chapel that hosts regular church services, and several activities scheduled for the weekend. We’re literally 10 minutes from Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park and about an hour from Washington DC. There’s strong WiFi but it’s $3 a day. I’ve opted to stay on my Verizon hotspot even though it’s a weak 3G.
If I return here I think I’ll lobby more strongly for a site with a bit of shade, 50 amps or not. I’ll also mention that several reviews of this place reported stinky water. (update: according to a comment from the campground the water system has now been upgraded) We haven’t found that however my external water filter is now very dirty and needing to be changed after just a few nights here.
With the unexpected fees, the field parking spot, and the dirty water balanced by nice amenities and a pretty good location, I’d give this place a score of 6 or 7 out of 10.
A recent upgrade is a cooling fan for our refrigerator. On hot days we’ve had the refrigerator set as cold as it could go and it was barely keeping up. I researched solutions and found folks recommending this product. The price was right so I ordered it. Installation was quick and simple and we could tell a difference almost immediately. We’re now running the refrigerator one setting less than before and the temps are staying in the upper 30’s. Also, because it attaches with a simple alligator clip to the fins on the inside it can be easily moved around. We watch the fins and when one section starts to get some ice build up we move it to that area. In a few hours the ice is gone. Not only does this fan help the refrigerator cool, it’s also a defroster! I recommend this inexpensive and effective refrigerator upgrade.