Date of Travel: January 18-20, 2017
Total Cost Per Night: $24
Address: 101 Park Ln, West Point, GA 31833
Site: 29 (Water/Electric)
Boy were we excited to start our 2017 camping season off early this year! Our weather here in Atlanta this winter has been all over the map. But with temperatures in the 70s forecasted, we were really hoping to have an excuse to de-winterize our camper and get into nature. Thankfully we were able to squeeze 2 nights away midweek and had a wonderful time at R. Shaefer Heard Campground.
We live just south of Atlanta so I was looking for a campground that we hadn’t been to yet that was within an hour or two from home. We had such a great experience at McKinney Campground (see our review here) that I was excited about trying another Army Corps of Engineers campground. The COE operates a variety of campgrounds along the shores of lakes and are consistently well maintained, forested and flush with lake views. While we haven’t been to many COE campgrounds yet, they are quickly becoming my favorite (specifically compared to GA state parks) because of the beautiful sites, the ability to reserve a specific campsite and to have lake views. While COE campgrounds excel in most ways over a state park, they do tend to lack some amenities, specifically hiking trails (though this one DOES have some…more on that later!) and kids activities. One other thing to note that I found while looking for a campground is that it seems, at least in Georgia, that the COE only operates one campground per lake during the winter. The rest are closed till the Spring.
R. Shaefer Heard was extremely easy to get to. While not right off of the interstate, it was about 10 minutes, or about 5 miles off of exit 6 on I-85. There are a couple of smaller roads you have to go down which might be a bit dark at night, but overall, very easy to get to. For us, living on the south side of Atlanta, we couldn’t have asked for an easier drive to get here. After having to pass through Atlanta to get anywhere so often, it was a nice treat to just coast along I-85 unimpeded by traffic.
With this being in the middle of winter, more than half of the campground is gated up and not used. This time of year, sites 1-54 are in use. Since we arrived midweek (one of the blessings of homeschooling!), we were one of two campers in the whole campground! We literally had the run of the place which was such a cool feeling. I have never camped at a campground that was so quiet and tranquil. We drank up the sounds of the birds and the squirrels while keeping tabs on the kiddos who were tromping around the peninsula 200 yards away.
Since the campground was so empty, the check-in process was much more relaxed than in busier times. We happened to run into one of the campground hosts (who was super-friendly) while we were driving past the check-in building so we said hey, confirmed our reservation, and proceeded on to our site. The regular process this time of year is to just head to your site and one of the hosts will meet you there to confirm your reservation. One thing to note, online reservations are required for this campground…no walk-ins, even with an empty campground.
The campground was very clean all around (except for the shut down areas). In fact, at least once while we were there a tractor-pulled blower drove by blowing the roads free of debris. Every site that was operational was pristine! The fire pits were tipped up and the sites were blown free of leaves. A couple of the other reviews I saw said that it was hard to find a bad site in this campground and I’d have to agree. At least 75% of the sites have water views. Most sites are back-in, though there are a few pull-thrus. 30 amp is the most common, but you will find a few 50 amp sites scattered around. There are multiple loops and each one has a slightly different feel to it.
Sites 1-16 have a very clean, newer feel to them. About 3/4 of the sites are water front with a very low approach to the water (as opposed to many of the sites that sit way above the water). There is less spacing between the sites in this loop, though it still doesn’t feel overly crowded. Most of the rest of the campground has above average spacing. Site 11 is a massive pull-thru but is not water front.
Sites 17-39 are probably the best mix in the campground of wooded sites that are water-front and yet still have plenty of spacing between sites. 39 is the only exception in that it is not water-front, but is probably the most private site in the park and is quite pretty and a pull-thru. Some highlights of this loop: sites 18 and 19 (they share a driveway but are situated like a double site. The two sites together are huge and beautiful); sites 28 and 29 (great all-around sites with good water views and proximity to bathroom); site 30 (on the tip of the peninsula…there’s a trail leading out of campsite onto peninsula so you have a lot of room to yourself; sites 31 and 32 (both share access to the lake at a point that is almost like a beach…great place to swim. Site 32 is pull-thru and is almost completely concrete, even in the living area).
Sites 40-54 are missing some of the charm of lower numbered sites. The sites are more crammed together and have less attractive views. These sites are in a cove on the lake, so with the lower water levels in the winter, there was very little water. Scattered throughout the campground are a few double sites. Probably the best double site is site 50 which is a really nice site and well situated to the shower facilities, water and playground.
Sites 55-65 are not bad but they don’t stand out as being amazing, few have water front views and, while wooded, there is less privacy.
Sites 66-84 are quite different than the rest of the campground. When you enter this loop you start climbing a significant hill. While all of these sites are water-front, they are all elevated significantly over the water. Because of their height, they all have wooden decks overlooking the water below and many have the fire pits down some stairs and under, or at least at the base of, the decks. They are unique and in a way, cool. But if you have kids that like to ride bikes or want to have easy access to the water, this isn’t the loop for you.
Sites 85-106 offer an open, big sky area. If you’re in a big rig and you need your satellite reception and 50 amp, then this is the place for you. All of these sites are in one big grassy area with no privacy and with no trees to speak of. It has more of a Midwest kind of feel to it with the open views and flat water front sites.
Sites 107-117 are similar to sites 85-106 in that there is a lot more grass and far fewer trees. The sites here are 30 amp I believe and appear older. There are less water front sites here and the sites have narrow drives and set apart tent pads. If you’re tent camping, these will be a good option.
There are not many amenities to speak of. One of the negatives to this park is the lack of shower facilities. The campground is relatively split into two areas. Each area has a bath house with washer/dryer and restrooms. Scattered throughout the campground are small restrooms with 2 stalls each per gender. All of the facilities are not much to look at and appear run down, but they are very clean and well maintained inside.
There is a dump station with two dump areas. One thing to note, the two stations utilize the same center strip so it would be very challenging to dump if you pulled up to the left side since the drain valve would be on the wrong side.
While there is a playground at this campground, it was pretty lame and was only exciting for my 6 year old for about 5 minutes. It’s pretty much just a little slide and a couple of swings. It’s there, but it’s not very exciting.
Things to Do
While state parks have plenty to do for the kids and for families, COE campgrounds generally don’t have many things to be entertained by other than camping and fishing. I have bemoaned the fact that there are rarely hiking trails or other fun things to do at other COE campgrounds in the past, but this one is an exception. Just outside of the campground there is a network of mountain biking trails inside of the R. Shaefer Heard day use area run by the COE. On our last morning there I took my mountain bike and got a 4.5 mile ride in. While it wasn’t overly technical, you definitely need a good mountain bike and some agility to make it. Most of the trails are multi-use and can be hiked on if hiking is more your thing.
About 2 miles from the campground is the West Point Lake dam. You can drive right over the top of it (it’s a little narrow…pretty cool!) and enter Alabama on the other side. On the Alabama side there are multiple COE day use areas, another campground about 5 miles down the road (Amity Campground) and just below the dam is a park with a playground, a fishing pond and some cool views of the dam. It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re camping at this campground. I asked about taking a tour of the dam but they said that I had to have a group of at least 10. Oh well…maybe next time.
While we didn’t get into any of the surrounding towns, LaGrange and West Point are both older towns that I’ve heard have some good restaurants and an old town feel to them. The Kia Motor Company has a huge car plant at the exit you use to leave I-85. I’m not sure but they might have tours as well.
If you need groceries or gas, you’re out of luck anywhere close to the campground. I don’t remember seeing either as we left the interstate and made our way to the campground. You’ll definitely want to bring your food and ice!
While this isn’t the most amazing campground in the country, it’s a solid stop if you’re looking to get away and relax beside one of Georgia’s 4 large lakes. The views are amazing, the sites are pristine and the setting is relaxing. If you’re wanting to get away from it all, give this place a shot.