We have wanted to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for years, so after spending four relaxing days at the Fancy Gap KOA we were charged up and ready to go. So why did we spend our first full day on the North Carolina side of the Smokies at the Campground? Because the boys had been terrific sports during our Blue Ridge Parkway excursion, and they wanted a full day of crazy campground fun. The Cherokee KOA, packed with fun amenities, and surrounded on all sides by mountains, is a destination in its own right, so we were happy to oblige.
Our site was close to the bounce pillow and a gigantic checkers board. Max and Theo have a well documented love of bounce pillows, and they are both in a serious checkers phase. I’m not the type of dad that lets my kids beat me at games, but they both beat me at this one…regularly.
The huge checkers set was awesome, and we recommend that every campground owner in America install one. STAT. They can’t cost that much, and they don’t take up much real estate.
After breaking a sweat at the bounce pillow it was time for a dip in the super sweet pool. The boys got up to their usual shenanigans pretty quickly. They also fell in love with the bright yellow slide and the hot tub.
The kids couldn’t get enough of the Cherokee KOA’s resort like pool area, and we returned each afternoon after hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mom and Dad couldn’t get enough of tubing on the Raven Fork River, which runs the length of the campground, and we tried to do a few runs every night. You launch into the river at the end of a row of deluxe cabins and you stop right behind the fenced in pool and hot tub area. Tube rides followed by some hot tub time? Sounds like vacation perfection to me.
We started each of our adventurous days in the park at the nearby Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Even though we research our trips and bring guide books along, we also always ask Rangers for suggestions that are particularly well suited for our family. The first day a kindly Ranger sent us south to Bryson City and Deep Creek. He recommended a hike known as the “Three Waterfalls Loop.” It was gorgeous.
While we were prepared for a great hike we were not prepared for the amazing tubing run at Deep Creek. A return trip with tubes has moved way up on the family bucket list.
The next morning we headed back to the visitor center and another Ranger recommended that we take the boys for an adventurous four mile roundtrip hike alongside a lovely stream on the Kephart Prong Trail. Three very narrow wooden bridges cross the stream in idyllic locations. We were sold. It ended up being one of our two or three favorite family hikes ever.
We parked at the trailhead on the side of Newfound Gap Road and found a magical view waiting for us less than 10 yards from our car.
The hike only got better from there. The first bridge is not really that narrow, but the next two are. The boys crossed slowly, carefully, and confidently. I was so proud to watch them. We have really raised great hikers. Wesley was a complete champ too, and he thoroughly enjoyed the views from Stephanie’s pack.
Every step of this hike was engaging and stunning. The stream was cool and the air was misty.We felt like we were on a great adventure in a storybook.
We have developed a very successful traveling pattern with our children after five years of RVing. We head out for adventures in the early morning, beating the crowds and enjoying the trails. Then we head back to the campground and reward the boys with the pool, the bounce pillow, the checkers board, whatever. Stephanie and I love to travel to see the great natural wonders of our country. Our boys love to travel because they get to hang out at awesome campgrounds. After our Kephart Prong hike it was back to the Cherokee KOA for a well deserved swim, dinner at our camp site, and camp store ice cream.
Where to next? The Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, of course. The mountains, and another great KOA, are calling our names. And we simply must go….
We have been frequent customers of KOA for over five years, however this was a sponsored trip.