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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Dolphins May Swim Up to Your Kayak on This Hilton Head Salt Marsh Tour

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Kayak Hilton Head let us join one of their boat tours this summer for an amazing experience on the water. Kristina shares all about what to expect and why this particular place is excellent for your next family adventure on the coast.

Media tickets were given so we could write about Kayak Hilton Head.

For more family fun on Hilton Head, don’t miss our list of our favorite things to do on Hilton Head Island.

I grew up near the ocean but never got to see dolphins, or really any other cool wildlife, up close until I started visiting the South Carolina coast. And wow, the beaches in the state are just beautiful. But then I learned all about salt marshes and the uniqueness of this kind of environment and was blown away! I’ve done amazing dolphin cruises in Hilton Head Island but I am a huge fan of kayaking and wanted to get just a tad bit closer to the dolphins and birds and salt marshes. 

So I went on a two-hour kayak tour with Kayak Hilton Head. To say the experience was unforgettable is an understatement. If any of you followed our Instagram story on the kayak tour, you can plainly hear I lost my mind upon seeing dolphins up close. Sorry. I was excited. 

Experience Matters

Kayak Hilton Head is owned by a gracious and chill guy named Dave. He has been running the company for almost 20 years. And he used to work for Disney’s Hilton Head resort, so finding things to entertain kids comes naturally. That kind of experience is worth it when it comes to learning about the area, the salt marshes, and the incredible wildlife and creatures that inhabit it. 

The kayak tours take place at Broad Creek, a tidal creek that rises and falls with the tide. It’s a protected area far from the open ocean which means you likely won’t be dealing with high winds and waves – or big sharks. The salt marshes provide habitats for everything from dolphins to manatees to minks to vast oyster beds and all kinds of cool birds. We got to see a Rosa Spoonbill, a pink bird with a beak that looks like a spoon, which it uses to scoop out food from shallow waters. So cool. 

Our guide for the morning kayak tour we went on was Mary, a resident of the island. Mary not only provided an informative narrative tour as we were kayaking but answered our questions about literally everything from how the docks are built to the life cycle of oysters to the best restaurants on the island. She was awesome. My nine-year-old daughter and I did the tour together and I felt like we were on the best field trip ever – which I’m totally counting as homeschooling. 

We learned about the Loggerhead Turtles and how they travel the world but always come back home to lay their eggs (and how a teacher once tried to take a nest off the island – it didn’t end well). We learned about how stone crabs are harvested for their meat by taking off one claw and then letting the crab go free because the claw grows back, which is why, if you see a stone crab, they will almost always have lopsided claws. We learned about the harvesting and growth of oysters as well as the island’s history of being occupied during the Civil War by Union soldiers, who used the salt grass to wrap and preserve the fish they caught. 

And all of the learning was happening while we paddled along, with plenty of space between all of us in the group, in the beautiful water in the salt marsh. 

What We Saw

Yes, we got to see dolphins. And it was amazing. All throughout high school I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to swim with dolphins. I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. If it had to do with dolphins, I was in. While none of those paths were in my future, my love of dolphins remains and it’s such a ridiculous joy to see these creatures. 

 

 

One dolphin surfaced right between my kayak and our guide, Mary, surprising us for a second. She told us that many dolphins are recognizable by locals by their unique markings on their dorsal fins. Of course, I wanted to see all the dolphins and learn each one’s name. But we had run out of time on our tour. It went by fast!

As much as I loved the dolphins, I wasn’t expecting to be wow’d by all of the other wildlife we saw. As mentioned above, we got to see the pink Rosa Spoonbill. Mary was really excited to see that bird so I figured it must be extra special. 

We saw lots of little spider crabs, egrets, herons, and jumping minnows. And everything we learned from Mary was just fascinating. The paddling was leisurely as we glided peacefully through the water, just observing the world around us. 

It was easy to forget life for a while, to just enjoy the quiet morning and beauty that surrounded us.

What You Need to Know

We went on a kayak tour with Kayak Hilton Head during the COVID-19 pandemic and they handled everything with care and consideration. All employees were wearing masks and they sanitize the kayaks, life jackets, and paddles between each use. Kayaking is a natural social distancing activity. You’re on the water and outdoors controlling your own boat. Even if you have zero kayaking experience, it’s not hard to paddle away from someone if you want. 

If you’re looking for a good outdoor activity where social distancing is easy, this is it. 

Also, you are provided with a life jacket and paddle so no need to bring your own unless you want to. They have a basket on land to keep your keys (which I suggest you use – don’t want to lose your keys accidentally in the water). If you want to bring your phone or camera, maybe have a wet bag with you or something waterproof to put them in. I had no problems doing that in our kayak. 

And bring water. It’s hot out there and water is essential. My daughter and I both wore hats and sunscreen as well, which certainly helped us stay cooler and of course, prevent sunburn.

Kayak Hilton Head has both double and single kayaks, which is perfect for families. My daughter and I were in a double kayak together.  I own a sturdy sit on top kayak so I was a little nervous to use a sit-in kayak but I soon figured out my worrying was futile. Our kayak was a Wilderness double kayak, one of the best on the market. It was sturdy and solid and a really easy boat to paddle. 

Check-in is 30 minutes prior to your tour time, which gives you enough time to get your gear, use the restroom, and have a Paddle 101 lesson from your guide. We paddled with a cute family who had two little kids, a mom, and a grandma. This grandma had never paddled before in her life but she was a rock star five minutes into our tour. Don’t worry if you’ve never kayaked before.  If grandma can do it, so can you.

Booking a Tour

Kayak Hilton Head books tours all day every day during peak season in summer. Typically, summer kayak tours run at 8 am, 10:45 am, 2:30 pm, and 6 pm. Spring and fall tours are usually 9 am, 11:30 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm. Reservations must be made in advance. 

Dave will tell you the best time to kayak is at 8 am. It’s relatively cooler at that time of day and you have a better chance of seeing dolphins. Seeing dolphins isn’t guaranteed on every tour though. They are wild animals and don’t have a schedule! 

If you reserve your tour online, the cost is $30/adult and $15/child (12 and under). If you don’t reserve online, it’s $45/adult and $30/child. 

Kayak Hilton Head does not have a minimum age to come on the tours and they leave it up to the parents. Just be aware that there is no place to stop on the kayak tour and jump out and stretch your legs or let the kids run around. They will be confined the whole time to your boat.

If you’re looking for other boat tours, Kayak Hilton Head has a shark fishing tour, a sunset cruise, and a beachcombing expedition. 

Kayak Hilton Head
18 Simmons Road, Hilton Head, SC
843.684.1910
Kayak Hilton Head Website
Kayak Hilton Head Facebook

Would you go on a kayak dolphin tour?

Quiet Beaches, Biking Trails, and Wildlife Wait for You At Jekyll Island

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Are you looking for the perfect, uncrowded beach for this summer? We recently visited Jekyll Island, Georgia this summer. Here’s what we experienced plus recommendations on what to do and where to eat on the island.

Despite all the media coverage of crowded beaches, in the Southeast there are great choices of beach towns that you can visit where crowding is not an issue. Jekyll Island, Georgia is one of these pristine, unspoiled beach towns where you can relax and recharge in a quiet setting while still having access to entertainment options. The main island activities include enjoying the numerous beaches, biking, and eating great food. For families looking for additional entertainment, Jekyll Island also offers mini-golf, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, historic tours, a waterpark, and more.

For more beach vacation ideas, see our list of the best beaches in the Southeast.

Our lodging was courtesy of Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island. We were also provided complimentary tickets to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Find a place to stay in Jekyll Island, GA. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Traveling to Jekyll Island from the Upstate

Jekyll Island is part of the barrier islands on the southern Georgia coast known as the Golden Isles. It took us about 5 hours to travel to Jekyll Island from the Upstate. Our trip took us through Columbia and then along the South Carolina/Georgia coast.

Jekyll Island is a Georgia State Park, and vehicles are charged an $8 daily parking fee. You only have to pay the fee when you enter the island.

Black wicker beach lounger sits in grass facing the beach

What Is There to Do on Jekyll Island?

Georgia Sea Turtle Center

When we started telling friends that we were headed to Jekyll Island, one of the top recommendations of “things to do” was to visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. This turtle rehabilitation center offers a public glimpse of sea turtles and conservation efforts. While there, you can visit the sea turtle hospital where the turtle patients are recovering and you might even get to watch a turtle surgery or medical procedure take place from the observation area.

Right now the center is limiting guests due to COVID-19, which may result in a wait to get in. We were told that 2 pm was a quieter time but still experienced a 30 minute wait to enter the building at that time. You do not have to wait in line but do need to wait close enough to the entrance to hear your name called.

Two adults performing a medical procedure on a turtle in a vet surgery.

While signage was posted encouraging guests to social distance, limit numbers in particular buildings, and the staff wore masks, we did find that a large percentage of guests were not wearing masks or observing signage. Part of the tour is in an open air facility but you must walk through a gift shop and museum room to get there. More vulnerable guests may want to consider these factors as they plan their visit.

The center also offers guided sea turtle walks in the morning and evening.

214 Stable Road, Jekyll Island, GA
Georgia Sea Turtle Center Website (includes admission fees and hours)

Public Access Beaches at Jekyll Island

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Resort on Jekyll Island. You can read our full review, but one of the biggest perks was that the resort had beach front directly in front of the property. Choosing lodging that has beach front access will allow you to avoid more crowded public beaches though during our visit even the public beaches did not look overly crowded.

You will also find a number of public beaches on the island and several have unique features.

Driftwood Beach

Large driftwood lying on rocks on a beach

Near the north end of the island, Driftwood Beach is a beautiful spot that is famous for it’s marine forest driftwood from years of erosion. You can walk up and down the beach front and explore the many trees. We also saw quite a bit of wildlife from little crabs to interesting beach bugs.

Also, this area is adjacent to a paved path that leads through the salt marsh and is also quite scenic.

This beach is a great area for photos and our readers recommend seeing it at sunrise.

Sharktooth Beach

As you might guess, Sharktooth Beach is a great place to find shark teeth and also see other wildlife. Go at low tide if you want the best chance of finding interesting treasures.

Jekyll Island Oceanview Beach Park

Described as peaceful and uncrowded the Oceanview Beach Park also has air-conditioned bathrooms, changing rooms, and showers.

Sandy beach with people walking in water in the distance.

Great Dunes Pavilion

This beach is a great place swim, see local wildlife, and has a large sandbar. Outdoor showers, bathrooms, and changing rooms are available and mini-golf and bike rentals are just a short walk away.

St. Andrews Beach

St. Andrews Beach is a great place to see dolphins and another spot on the island where you can find driftwood. In addition, near the picnic area you will find The Wanderer Memorial that remembers the lives of 400 illegally imported slaves.

Biking at Jekyll Island

There are approximately 25 miles of bike trails and most of the beaches and parts of the island are easily accessible by bike. Many of the hotels offer adult bike rentals, but you can also find children’s bikes and other types of bikes such as dual bikes at the Jekyll Island Bike Barn (912.635.2648). We did learn that it’s best to rent early in the day rather than waiting as sometimes the bike rentals do run out.

Summer Waves Park

Jekyll Island’s water park is open with reduced capacity for the summer of 2020 and has multiple water slides, a lazy river, and a children’s splash zone. Tickets are currently $18/day if purchased ahead of time and $20 at the gate. Children, 3 and under, can enter for free but you are required to purchase an approved swim diaper.

210 S Riverview Dr, Jekyll Island, GA
Summer Waves Park website

Museum and Historic Spots on Jekyll Island

Mosiac, Jekyll Island Museum is a history museum that also offers tours of the historic district. On the island, there are significant remains and restored homes that you can either drive by or even tour, including the Horton House, the remains of an 18th century tabby house and the Indian Mound Cottage which was owned by the Rockefeller family in the early 1900s.

Tons to Do on Jekyll Island

Mini golf course with palm trees

These are just a sampling of the many activities available on the island. Families can also enjoy mini-golf or golfing, horseback riding, exploring the parks and trails on the interior of the island, or attending wildlife exploration trips such as a gator trip or dolphin tour. In addition, Jekyll Island is part of the Golden Isles and the surrounding islands are close enough to explore.

Where to Stay on Jekyll Island

Holiday Inn Resort at Jekyll Island

Sandbar near Holiday Inn Resort on Jekyll Island

Our trip was courtesy of the Holiday Inn Resort of Jekyll Island. We loved that the resort had outdoor entrances to every room, ocean views on every room, and double rooms with sleeping quarters. The resort was also right on the beach and had multiple beach access points. We have written a full review that includes more information on our stay.

Camping on Jekyll Island

Many of our readers recommended the Jekyll Island Campground. The campground offers both full hook-up sites and primitive sites and is within walking distance to the Clam Creek picnic area and Driftwood Beach.

There are also plenty of other hotel options and short-term rentals on the island. We recommend considering proximity to bike rental options (or onsite bike rental) and the beaches for your stay. We did notice as we roamed the island that not all of the beaches were accessible at high tide.

Where to Eat on Jekyll Island

Due to COVID-19, we noticed that many restaurants were operating on limited hours and menus during our stay. Most restaurants were offering take-out and/or outdoor seating for patrons trying to social distance.

These are the restaurants we enjoyed during our stay:

The Beach House at Holiday Inn Resort at Jekyll Island

Child smiling over a plate of food with palm trees in the background.

Whether or not you stay at the Holiday Inn Resort, you can dine at their on-site restaurant, The Beach House. We were happy with the wide range of options on the menu, reasonable pricing, and outdoor seating options. Kids, 12 and under eat free with a paying adult.

701 Beachview Dr N, Jekyll Island, GA
Beach House Restaurant website

Sunrise Grille

We ordered a fabulous take-out breakfast one morning from the Sunrise Grille. They offer breakfast sandwiches and plates.

21 Main St, Jekyll Island GA
Sunrise Grille website

Wee Pub Beach

Shepherd's pie

Our take-out from Wee Pub Beach included a Shepherd’s Pie that the whole family ended up fighting over plus some yummy sandwiches. We did have to enter a crowded restaurant to pick up our order but the food was definitely worth ordering.

20 Main St, Jekyll Island, GA
Wee Pub Beach website

Have you ever been to Jekyll Island? We would love to hear what your recommendations are!

Holiday Inn Resort at Jekyll Island was the Vacation We Needed this Summer

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Welcome to 2020. The year when we all need a vacation but how and where to vacation is more elusive than ever. Well, I have good news for you. Holiday Inn Resort at Jekyll Island is the perfect vacation. It provides a place where you can truly escape and relax with minimal worries of coronavirus exposure or restrictions.

Our trip was courtesy of Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island.

Sandbar at Jekyll Island

Traveling to Jekyll Island from the Upstate

Jekyll Island is part of the barrier islands on the southern Georgia coast known as the Golden Isles. It took us about 5 hours to travel to Jekyll Island from the Upstate. Our trip took us through Columbia and then along the South Carolina/Georgia coast.

Jekyll Island is a Georgia State Park, and vehicles are charged an $8 daily parking fee. You only have to pay the fee when you enter the island.

Our Stay at Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island

Living area in one of the suites at Holiday Inn.

Holiday Inn Resort is located right at the coast and offers beach front access directly in front of the hotel.

Each room has outdoor access and individual air conditioner units. We did have to check in via the lobby, but the staff member wore a mask.

The hotel is structured where every room has a double room with an ocean room seating area and balcony/patio and a bedroom. Some of the rooms even have family set-ups with bunk beds. I love double rooms because I have kids and it’s so nice to have enough space to put the kids to bed earlier than adults. Both rooms had TVs.

When we arrived I was excited to find a full-size fridge with a freezer. It’s so nice to be able to pack sandwich supplies to keep kids full and happy at the beach. The room even had dishes, a couple pots and pans, and a portable stove unit. It wasn’t anything fancy but enough where you could also bring food to cook a simple stove-top dinner instead of going out if you wanted.

Our room was very clean on arrival. Be aware though that house keeping during stays is limited due to COVID-19. We only had new towels dropped of our first morning, but the other morning we did have some minimal service included beds being made and trash picked up. I didn’t personally find it to be an issue but it’s good to be mentally prepared that you may be on your own for keeping your room tidy.

The Beach Front at Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island

Beach view at Jekyll Island

One fabulous thing about staying at the Holiday Inn Resort is that there is a good deal of beach front right in front of the hotel. We found the beach to be delightfully uncrowded during our stay. There was enough room for almost everyone to have their own beach front area. Even taking into account the additional guests on the weekends, to me it looked like there was enough space to not be crowded.

Other Amenities at Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island

People lounging and swimming at an outdoor hotel pool.

The property had a playground and outdoor pool, both were open.

The pool was limited to the main swimming area. The kiddie pool and the hot tub were both closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. We did swim in the pool and while it was more crowded than the beach, we were able to distance fairly well from others as it was a large pool.

Large wicker beach lounger in grass looking towards the beach.

Chair and umbrella rentals are available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. You are allowed to bring your own shade structures on the beach as well.

White Adirondack chairs surrounding a metal fire pit near the beach.

Adult bike rentals are available at the resort. You can also rent bikes from other vendors on the island if you need other sizes. While most of the rental places were not open on weekdays during our trip, they are now open each day.

The Beach House Restaurant at Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island

Child smiling over a plate of food with palm trees in the background.

We ate two complimentary meals at The Beach House Restaurant. Kids eat free at the restaurant for all meals.

The prices were reasonable and the staff was friendly. Our waitress wore a mask and there was plenty of seating outdoors. We did have to walk indoors to be seated.

Our food was delicious on both the breakfast and the dinner menu. We tried a variety of foods from traditional chicken fingers and chips to salads.

They were serving a limited menu during our stay due to COVID-19 supply issues, but we had no issues still finding something that we all enjoyed eating.

The restaurant is on the property and is in easy walking distance from all of the rooms.

Our Adventures on Jekyll Island

You can find a full list of places to visit (including the scenic Driftwood Beach), where to eat, and tons of fun things to do in our full article about Jekyll Island.

Do you have a favorite place to stay at Jekyll Island? We would love to hear about it in the comments.

Dollywood’s Newest Attraction is Whimsical & Fun for the Whole Family

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Are you planning a visit to Dollywood soon? The 2021 season starts on March 13th. Dollywood, the premier theme park attraction located in Eastern Tennessee, added a new attraction to the park in 2019 called Wildwood Grove; we got to check it out firsthand and be immersed in all the magic and wonder inherent in any Dollywood experience.

When you go to Dollywood, head right for Wildwood Grove because there is so much to see and do for your whole family!

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Adventure Awaits at Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, NC

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Are you looking for a magical, holiday weekend trip just under two hours from Greenville? Great Wolf Lodge in Concord should be at the top of your list. It’s an easy drive from Greenville, it’s a great destination for families with all ages from toddlers to teenagers, and your stay includes an indoor waterpark that’s nice and warm even in the winter. The lodge is packed full of activities for making family memories.

Thank you to Great Wolf Lodge for hosting Kidding Around. Note: Prices and information are included for your convenience but may change. Please check the Great Wolf Lodge website or call before making plans. 

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This Model Train Exhibit at the Biltmore is Mind-Blowing

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The Biltmore Estate in nearby Asheville never disappoints. While the enormous home is a big draw, the estate has exhibits, events, and lots of other entertainment for the whole family. One such exhibit is the Biltmore Gardens Railway, a huge model train exhibit that runs at the Biltmore through September 29th. We sent contributor Kristina up to the Biltmore to check it out. 

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On-location | Visiting Spots Seen On The Netflix Show Stranger Things in Atlanta, GA

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Are you a fan of Stanger Things? Originally filmed just around the corner in Atlanta, you can visit the filming locations of iconic scenes from the first seasons of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
The next Stranger Things season is probably Netflix’s most-anticipated title in the works. By the time the 80s science-fiction hit returns, it will have been well over two years since the last season’s release. Production was shut down for the season due to Covid-19, and safety concerns. You can still safely visit almost all of the locations we’ve included from production of Stranger Thing’s first three seasons, and maintain a social distance while doing so.

For more fun activities in the Atlanta area, check out the suburbs of Dunwoody and Decatur, Georgia.

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On the Hunt for the Blue Ghost

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Every year around the middle/end of May a rare phenomenon appears in the southern Appalachians. Wan blue-ish lights hover above the floor of the forest, appearing by the thousands in undisturbed, high-moisture areas. The annual return of the blue ghost fireflies is a very special occasion; loss of pristine forest has shrunk suitable habitat for the blue ghost down to just a small area around DuPont State Recreational Forest in North Carolina, and on top of that, the fireflies only appear for about a month each year!

Blue Ghost Firefly North Carolina

What’s a blue ghost firefly anyway?

Although DuPont has become synonymous with blue ghost fireflies, there are many public lands in nearby counties where this night marvel can also be seen, including the Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests (NC) and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness right here in the Upstate. And it’s actually not so very difficult to see the blue ghost; you won’t need special night vision equipment, nor do you have to venture far from your car to see them.

Mid-May through mid-June is prime viewing time. Choose a high-moisture destination in or near DuPont (a trail that is close to a river, a sheltered cove…), and head out before sunset to scout. (Tip: this is the perfect time to visit one of the dozens of waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Escarpment and enjoy a popular destination without the crowds!) Finally, once the sun sets, use the last bit of light to hike a short distance out on your pre-selected trail, and then wait… and wait a little more. Be patient! The blue ghosts come out late – after sunset and not at twilight like all the other fireflies.

One May, we headed to DuPont on our annual blue ghost excursion. We took along a picnic, and enjoyed dinner outdoors while we waited for the sun to set. Other species of fireflies appeared around dusk, fireworks against the dark forest that had the boys standing still in silent awe. We had just about given up on seeing the ghosts and were set to begin the journey home when we walked out one last time – and there they were! As our eyes adjusted we saw more and more of them, glowing for up to a minute at a time, hovering above the forest floor in an eerie scene that had us all captivated. The blue ghosts are notoriously hard to photograph, and I didn’t even try – we just soaked in the scene before us, marveling at the rather spooky scene.

As thousands flock to DuPont to search for the elusive lightning bug, the NC Forest Service has had to take steps to protect the blue ghost populations within park boundaries. We have seen temporary trail closures in response to an overwhelming number of visitors during blue ghost season, and forest officials observed a high level of habitat disturbance and disruption by the large nighttime crowds, which could have long-term impacts on local populations of fireflies. Forest officials ask that the public observe trail closure signs and stay out of closed areas.

Double check to see what trails are closed before your visit. Over the past year especially, Dupont Forest has seen an explosion of visitors and they’ve had to close trails more often for maintenance.

Plan a trip to visit the blue ghost firefiles

In your quest to find the blue ghost firefly, I hope you’ll respect the work that forest service employees and other public servants are doing in preserving the habitat of this seldom-seen insect. Please stay on the trail, visit during official hours, park in designated areas and obey posted signs & trail closures (and make sure to pack a flashlight!). The fireflies are a wonderful opportunity to instill in our children an awe of the beauty of nature, but if we’re not careful, their light will blink out forever.

If you’d like to take a guided tour to see the blue ghosts, we’d recommend this incredible experience in Pisgah Forest.

You can see what the blue ghost fireflies look like in this photo.

This article was originally published on Femme au foyer.

Has your family ever visited the blue ghost fireflies?