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.