02 Mar

Trip Planning: 6 Research Tips for Your RV Vacations

We are in serious trip planning mode for the spring season here at RVFTA and if you are a longtime listener and reader, you know that our number one travel tip of all time is to talk to the locals and trust their recommendations.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t do our research ahead of time.

Our current operating method is to arrive at any new destination with an understanding of what it is known for and a list of possible activities that we might enjoy. We also have a loose schedule in our minds since we have discovered it is easy to miss out on great experiences just because you didn’t have a grasp on operating hours or tour times. Our actual itinerary on most trips ends up being a combination of planning and kismet. Finding the sweet spot between these two things is always a work in progress.

So what do we do in advance of any longer RV trip? I recommend using all the usual online tools, then venturing off the beaten path. Here is my general process.

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09 Feb

Tips and Resources for Finding the Perfect Campground and the Ideal Campsite

Cherry Hill RV Park

We cover a ton of information in this week’s podcast, Booking the Perfect Campground, and wanted to place all the suggestions and resources in one spot. For a full discussion of all these points, make sure you listen to the complete episode here. And of course, you can always get your fill of campground reviews on our weekly podcast Campground of the Week.

After researching, visiting, and reviewing hundreds of campgrounds over the last 6 years, we strongly believe that there is no perfect campground. One size definitely does not fit all. However, there is a perfect campground for you…with an individualized set of characteristics that will get your camp mojo humming. The key to finding RV bliss is knowing what look for and how to find it.

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04 Feb

RVFTA #74: Booking the Perfect Campground

Booking the Perfect Campground blog

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are dishing all our tips for finding the perfect campground and booking the perfect campsite. It’s trip planning season and if you want the magic to happen, better make those reservations now. We have given seminars on this topic and written articles, but this is the first time we put in all in one podcast.

And we have a giveaway to help you plan those trips! Good Sam has given us 5 copies of the Travel and Savings Guide (chock full of awesome articles, wink, wink). What do you have to do to win?

  • Head over to our forum, register, and introduce yourself on Roll Call forum thread. Three people with introductions will win copies of the Guide! Don’t fret if you have already said hey. You are in it to win it.
  • Look for a contest photo to be posted this week on Instagram. Like the photo and tag a friend who might think that RV Family Travel Atlas has got it going on.

There are two segments that center on tips for booking your campground reservations. First we talk about picking through the catalogs, apps, ratings, and reviews to find a campground that will suit your style. Then we move on to all of the questions you should ask yourself before booking your campsite.

Do you want every campground to be a #win? It’s gonna take a little work, but the payoff is worth it.

And we don’t completely ignore RV shopping because many of our listeners are right in the thick of it. On this episode, you will also hear a great interview with Jim Waters, the marketing coordinator for Lance Campers. He will share some information about the 50 year old RV company and talk about the newest, lightest Lance truck camper release for 2016. The 650 is built for a half-ton short-bed truck, so it should be of interest to anyone looking for a comfortable camper with a small footprint.

You might think that you have oodles of time to plan those summer vacations. But we know that the best campsites are selling like hotcakes. You are listening to Episode #74: Booking the Perfect Campground!

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11 Dec

Special Announcement: Campground of the Week is Released!

We are thrilled to announce that the RVFTA Podcast Network has released its third podcast: Campground of the Week, available RIGHT NOW in iTunes and Stitcher.

This new weekly podcast will be released every Thursday morning and will feature one complete review of a campground brought to you by our team of correspondents from all around this big and beautiful country. Interviews will also include the best activities and attractions in the area.

From state parks to resort campgrounds, Campground of the Week will cover everything. Tune in every week and build your own personal campground bucket list.

Visit CampgroundoftheWeek.com to read our correspondents’ bios and explore the show notes for individual episodes.

And of course, if you subscribe, listen, rate and review, we sure would appreciate it.

subscribe on iTunes

See you at the campground!

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03 Dec

RVFTA #65 Opting Outside in Washington DC

#OptingOutside in Washington, DC blog

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are heading back to Washington DC, one of our favorite urban RV destinations. The combination of outdoor activities and historical interest make this one of the most family friendly vacation spots on the East Coast.

imagesWe decided to join at least a million other Americans on Black Friday who skipped a day of shopping to #optoutside. Instead we chose to enjoy a different kind of mall…our National one.

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08 Oct

RVFTA #57: Greetings from Lake Placid, New York

Greetings from Lake Placid

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, Greetings from Lake Placid, New York, we are delighted to share all the details of our recent visit to the Lake Placid region in the Adirondack Mountains. The stunning fall foliage created the perfect backdrop for experiencing outdoor adventure and a bit of Olympic history.

We start the episode by sharing eight interesting facts about the Adirondack region. With 6 million acres of protected and privately owned land, Glacier, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon National Parks could ALL fit inside this area. Listen to hear some other fascinating trivia that will pique your interest.

Then we move on to our recommended activities in the Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain area. We review:

  • The Olympic Passport activities
  • Downtown Lake Placid
  • Hiking Mount Jo
  • The Wild Center

You can read more about these highlights in this post on the campground and activities.

Plus, we were lucky enough to interview two of the most charming campground managers of all time, Chip and Julie Grundon, who share all about the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA in Wilmington, New York.

And we walked away with Julie’s amazing recipe for Michigan Sauce. What the heck is that? You will have to listen to find out! (Or stay tuned for the blog post next week with the recipe)

You may be counting down the days until camping season comes to an end. But we here at RVFTA are seriously considering heading back to Lake Placid for a winter RV adventure.

You are listening to Episode #57: Greetings from Lake Placid, New York!

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05 Oct

Falling in Love with the Adirondacks at the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA

The Adirondack Park in New York State is our newest favorite place. Why?  Maybe because of its fragrant and thickly wooded forests of spruce, maple, beech, and birch.

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Maybe because of its sparkling lakes, winding rivers, and rocky streams.

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Maybe because of its charming lakefront towns such as Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.

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Or maybe because the region hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980 and the sounds of supreme, almost mythological, athletic greatness still can be heard if you listen closely. “Do you believe in miracles?”  We sure do.

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The Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA is our newest favorite campground. Why? Maybe because we saw deer running through the campground during the Friday night hayride.

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Maybe because you can hike from your campsite down to the rushing waters of the Ausable River.

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Maybe because of the pancakes and hot coffee served up every morning in the warm and cozy lodge.

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Or maybe because this KOA serves as the perfect base-camp for exploring a magnificent region of our magnificent country.

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The Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA is a short, river and tree-lined drive into downtown Lake Placid, where we sampled some great food and culture, and more importantly where we started to learn about the region’s incredible Olympic history.  We highly recommend purchasing the Olympic Sites Passport which is a tremendous bargain at $35 and gives you access to the Olympic Museum, the Sports Complex, the Jumping Complex, the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway, and more.

We headed out early one morning for the drive on the Memorial Highway up to the castle at the top of Whiteface Mountain. There were numerous scenic overlooks on the way up and we stopped at each one to take in the sweeping views of the mountains.

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The view of Lake Placid from the top, looking down on the clouds, was nothing short of stunning.

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There was ice on the sides of the mountain that morning and it was windy and cold. The boys finagled three cups of hot chocolate from the cafeteria in the castle.  We sampled the coffee, of course.

Later that morning we headed over to the Olympic Jumping Complex.  We all loved taking the ski lift and the elevator up to the jump tower and looking out at the mountains around us and down at the jump below us.  If you are not in awe of our Olympic athletes, you should be.  Standing at the top of the jump tower brought their extreme skill and bravery into sharp focus for all of us. For Theo and Max it was the highlight of the trip.

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The Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA is surrounded on all sides by endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. If you love fly fishing, then this is the place. If you love kayaking or canoeing, then this is the place.  If you love skiing or snowmobiling, then this is the place.  If you love hiking–and our family loves hiking–then this is the place.

We decided to tackle nearby Mount Jo on our last full day, and it was wonderful.  Our AMC Guidebook called it an easy hike, but clearly the author didn’t do it with children.  Stephanie had Wesley on her back, which made the trail quite a challenge. But Max and Theo were in good spirits and practically raced up the mountain.  They love a hike with lots of rocks and water…this one didn’t disappoint.

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The “Short Trail” up and the “Long Trail” down were both lovely–like something out of a book of poetry by Wordsworth or Coleridge.  The summit view of Heart Lake surrounded by increasingly magnificent fall foliage was worth every single step.

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After a brief snack the boys got on their hands and knees and howled like wolves as the sun began to set.  It was getting late. We needed to double-time it down the mountain, and we did.

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We come home exhausted that night–but deeply satisfied.  Our time at the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA was coming to an end. But our newfound love for the history, culture, and geography of the Adirondack Park was just beginning.

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13 Sep

4 Fall Beach Camping Favorites on the East Coast

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On Episode #51 of the podcast–Fall Camping Rocks!–we talked about how our family adores beach camping in September and October. The crowds have thinned, the weather is cooler, and the water is still warm. We love wearing our bathing suits during the day and our hooded sweatshirts at night.

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Here are a few favorite spots for beach camping on the East Coast…

Cape Cod  

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The summer crowds disperse at the end of August and the bike trail, national seashore, kettle ponds, and Provincetown are yours to enjoy. Plan a trip around one of the many fall festivals such as the Scallop Festival in Bourne, Eastham’s Windmill Weekend, or the Cape Cod Brewfest in Falmouth.

Park your RV at Nickerson State Park, Atlantic Oaks Campground, or Cape Cod Campresort and Cabins.

Cape May

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This is our family’s favorite New Jersey destination, and we always try to squeeze in a September visit. Early morning bike rides on the boardwalk should be followed by big pancake breakfasts. You can make every dinner a special occasion with all of the amazing culinary options in this town. Peter Shields Inn, 410 Bank Street, and Freda’s Cafe are a few of our long-standing favorites. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride to end your day.

Seashore Campsites is the best place to camp near Cape May, and Holly Shores Camping Resort is a close runner up.

Assateague Island State Park

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This island in Maryland is only 10 miles outside of Ocean City but it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere. Huge dunes, wild horses roaming free, empty beaches, and tons of great crabbing and fishing make this the perfect place to say goodbye to summer. They joke that the state bird is the mosquito, but there are noticeably fewer this time of year. Assateague Crab House is a nearby favorite, or drive into Ocean City and eat at Tequila Mockingbird. The food is good and the name is fabulous.

There is only one loop with hookups in the Assateague Island State Park campground and it sells out FAST. So unless you are good with dry camping, book a site one year in advance of your trip.

The Outer Banks

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The ocean can still be in the 70s in September, making this the perfect beach camping spot for surfers and kayakers. Of course, the 70 and 80 degree days are also perfect for those looking to lounge around and do nothing in particular. If you are feeling inspired to explore something other than the beach, walk to the top of the Hatteras Lighthouse, visit the Wright Brothers Memorial, and take a ferry over to Okracoke Island.

Our boys’ number one favorite campground ever is the Cape Hatteras KOA, where they get to run from the beach to the pool to the hot tub and then repeat the whole process over and over again. Ocean Waves Campground is a great option if you are traveling on a tighter budget.

Those are our top picks for fall beach camping on the East Coast. We would love to hear about your favorite spots. Leave a comment below or send us an email, and we will share your recommendation on the podcast!

18 Aug

Catching the Spirit of Vermont at the Quechee/Pine Valley KOA

The Green Mountain State calls us back again and again in the summertime.  The days are warm enough for swimming in lakes and rivers, and the nights are cool and comfortable.  It’s perfect weather for curling up around the campfire with a blanket and book…and sleeping with all the windows open.

But this heavenly New England weather doesn’t last long, and if you blink you will miss it.

So where do we camp in Vermont when we want to escape the humidity of the Mid-Atlantic states?

Two years ago we discovered a little gem of a campground called the Quechee/Pine Valley KOA, and we fell in love.  The property is filled with towering and fragrant pine trees, and it is immaculately clean and lovingly managed.   It also served as a perfect base camp for exploring an area that is rich with options for family adventure.

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The owners, Michael and Cindy Scruggs, make great recommendations for their guests–and they did just that for us two years ago.  I emailed them before arriving and Cindy sent me back a great list of hikes and activities that were perfect for our family:

We climbed to the top of Mount Tom and enjoyed looking down at the picture perfect town of Woodstock in the valley below.

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And we hiked down into the Quechee Gorge, known as Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon, and splashed around in one of the dozens of small, rocky pools at the bottom.

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And we visited the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) and watched a falconry display.

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So when Vermont started whispering our names again, we knew a return trip to the Quechee/Pine Valley KOA was in order.  We left last time feeling like there was so much more to explore, and we were right.

Before trying anything new we headed back to the Gorge. The boys had so much fun there last time.  This time was even better. The water was running higher and it was perfect for a gentle float down the Ottauquechee River.  We must have floated down the river and swam back upstream over a dozen times. By the end of the day my arms felt like spaghetti.

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The next morning Cindy recommended that we visit the Montshire Museum of Science and, like all of her recommendations, it was amazing.  We could barely rip the boys away. They loved the gigantic building blocks and quickly became engrossed in the hands on (and very kid friendly) class on batteries and motors.  If you go, plan on exploring the indoor exhibits first, and then head outside to get wet in the “water and how it moves” exhibit.

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The next day was all about cheese and maple syrup.  We arrived early at Sugarbush Farms and were delighted to walk into their country store and find copious amounts of free samples.

Employees are there to give individualized tastings of the syrup and cheeses. Our family stood around a small butcher block and learned about lighter and darker syrups. Then we got to taste our way through 12 different cheddars and jacks.  The young lady helping us was kind enough to end with another round of syrup shots for the boys.

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As always, Max and Theo enjoyed their time back at the campground the most.  This trip ended up being extra memorable because they learned to ride their bikes during our time here.  After less than a half hour of “training” with mom and dad they were whipping around the campground with complete confidence and joy.

Many other campers applauded them and gave them high fives throughout the day.  The bottom loop of the campground became their own personal bike trail. Wesley had to join in of course.  He must have done about 50 circuits on his pedal free balance bike.

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At one point Cindy came out of the camp store to watch the boys riding their bikes.  She said, “I just had to come outside and take a look! It’s so nice to see kids playing outside these days.”

I knew exactly what she meant.  It is so nice watching kids play outside these days.  Especially when it’s at a great campground, in the summertime, in Vermont.

We didn’t blink and we didn’t miss it.

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24 Jul

RVFTA #45: Great Smoky Mountains Wrap Up!

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the third stop on our Great Smoky Mountains summer tour.

We left Townsend, Tennessee and headed to Cosby on the northern part of our country’s most visited national park. We stayed at one of our favorite campgrounds ever, the Great Smoky Mountains Jellystone. The combination of peaceful creek front sites and awesome kid-friendly amenities suited us just fine.

great smoky mountain jellystone site

And then there was Dollywood! It may be a bit pricey, but listen to hear why we think this theme park is worth every single penny. Oh, and you can’t miss Jeremy describing how he squealed like a small child during his first ride on an upside-down roller coaster…

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Plus you will hear an interview with Keith and Tia Sims of Soulful RV Family. Keith is a retired offensive lineman from the Miami Dolphins and 3-time Pro Bowler. He and his wife love traveling in their RV with their 3 young boys…and they also want to share their experiences with the growing number of African Americans entering the RV lifestyle.

And we are thrilled to welcome back GoRVing as our RVFTA sponsor. Listen for a special message from them just a bit later in our show. To find your AWAY head over to gorving.com/rvfta.

We are on the RVFTA summer road trip and you are listening to Episode #45: Great Smoky Mountains Wrap Up!

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17 Jul

RVFTA #44: Greetings from the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the second stop on our Great Smoky Mountains summer tour. We left North Carolina and headed over to the Tennessee side of our country’s most visited national park. Listen to hear about the drives, hikes, and attractions that we discovered in the busiest, most popular part of the park.

The podcast includes information on:

  • Cades Cove
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
  • Trillium Gap Trail
  • Grotto Falls
  • Chimneys Picnic Area
  • Clingmans Dome

You will also hear a complete review of the Townsend KOA and an interview with the manager, Mark Chipperfield. Find out why this might be the perfect spot for you if you are looking for a quiet area not too far away from the hustle and bustle of Gattlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

For more images of this campground, check out our blog post from last week, which also includes the details of many area activities.

In case you missed it, last week’s episode was all about the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take a listen to episode #43 and read this blog post for the scoop on Cherokee.

And in our most exciting news of the week, we are welcoming Go RVing as our first RVFTA sponsor. We think they are the perfect partner, since their mission is educating people about the phenomenal benefits of the RV lifestyle. We are talking about their Compare RVs tool on this episode and want YOU to go over, try it out, and tell us what RV you SHOULD have by emailing us, visiting us on Facebook, or leaving a comment below!

We will try to mediate any marital disputes that arise.

We are on the RVFTA summer road trip and you are listening to Episode #44: Greetings from Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee!

 

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10 Jul

RVFTA #43: Greetings from The Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina

North Carolina Great Smoky Mountains

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the first stop on our Great Smoky Mountains Summer Tour. We started our explorations at the Cherokee KOA, on the North Carolina side of our country’s most visited national park.

Listen to hear about our favorite park attractions and hikes that are easily accessed from the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains. We will talk about…

  • The Oconaluftee Visitor Center
  • The Mountain Farm Community
  • The Oconaluftee River Trail
  • The Three Waterfalls Trail at Deep Creek Campground and Picnic Area (outside of Bryson City)
  • The Kephart Prong Trail (in the running for favorite family hike ever!)

We also talk about all the things that make Great Smoky Mountains National Park a great place for hiking with young kids.

And we give a complete review of the Cherokee KOA, which offers resort-like amenities with 360-degree views of the beautiful Smokies. It was a challenge to drag our boys away for even a short time from the pool, hot tub, water slide, tubing, and bounce pillow. It is a miracle we even made it into the National Park!

We are on the RVFTA Summer Road Trip and you are listening to Episode #43: Greetings from the Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina!

 

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09 Jul

Great Smoky Mountains Shakedown (Part Two) With the Townsend KOA

After three full days of exploring the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains, we were in no rush to leave. I was getting used to putting the boys to bed each night then soaking in the indoor hot tub at the Cherokee KOA. But there was so much more to do and see.  So it was onward to the Tennessee side of America’s most visited national park.

We chose the Townsend/Great Smokies KOA because of its great online reviews, its proximity to Cades Cove and the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and its close (but not too close) proximity to the zaniness of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

We had reserved a deluxe patio site back in January, and when I booked the site it was one of two left in the campground for the fourth of July weekend.  It was in the front of the campground near the playground, the pool, and the camp store.  It was busy and bustling in our area, but the proximity to the playground and pool were good for our kids.  If you want peace and quiet, the sites by the river would be better. These deluxe sites are lovely, particularly the large stone fire pits and attractive landscaping.

The playground was designed by the folks who design playgrounds for Disney. It quickly became kid headquarters each afternoon when we returned from our adventures in the park.

The pool was also a perfect place for a refreshing post-hike dip.

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If you want to book a riverfront site at the Townsend KOA we advise that you book VERY early.  This is a popular campground and we spoke to several families who have been coming here for decades.  This friendly couple booked their riverfront site well over a year in advance.

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The campground also has a packed schedule of activities.  We didn’t make the apple pie eating contest, but you better believe that we made the super soaker hayride.  General Manager Mark Chipperfield rallied the troops and explained that he had high expectations for our performance in battle.

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Mark was one of the friendliest general managers that we have met in our travels, so we didn’t let him down. We would head into battle with this guy any day. As long as he provides the hayride and the buckets of water.P1140386

 

There are great adventures to be had both on the campground and in the mountains around it.  The 11 mile, one way loop road around Cades Cove is one of the park’s most famous attractions. It provides a magical window into the region’s agricultural past, and its beauty is breathtaking.  There are many stops along the way, some with spectacular views and some with historical homes, mills, churches, and graveyards. This flat valley area surrounded by mountains is also a great place for spotting deer, foxes, and bears.

In spring and summer the road is closed to automobiles every Wednesday and Saturday morning until 10 a.m. so that hikers and bikers can enjoy its natural beauty without traffic.

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The Townsend KOA is also close to dozens of world-class family hikes. We left early one morning for the North Fork Auto Road and hopped on the Trillium Gap Trail. Destination? 1.5 miles out and 1.5 miles back to Grotto Falls.  This hike is unique because you get to walk behind a waterfall.

We went on July 4th, and the falls were very crowded.  But all of the hikers were happy to be out in the fresh air celebrating their freedom.  Hiking in one of America’s greatest National Parks was a perfect way to spend Independence Day.

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The campground is also a fairly short drive to Newfound Gap Road (which cuts through the park and crosses state lines) and all of its magnificent attractions.  We drove the long and winding road to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park,  for the short but vigorous hike up to the observation deck.  It was a bit of a bust. We were socked in by the fog.

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So we decided to head back down to earth where the weather was dramatically different. We ended up enjoying a delicious and adventurous lunch at Chimneys Picnic Area, which was highly recommended by our Missouri podcast correspondent, Kerri Cox.  We loved Chimneys. Thanks Kerri. We owe you a picnic lunch!

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Our family adventures in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been amazing.  But our boys always love their time at the campground best.  We spent each afternoon and evening back at the KOA enjoying activities at the pavilion…

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tubing on the Little River…

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listening to impromptu jam sessions by our neighbors.

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and we also indulged at the campground’s very own bakery/ice cream/fudge shop.  I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but they offer free samples of the fudge. Try to control yourself.

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The Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is blessed with many good campgrounds.  But some of them are great. The Townsend KOA is one of the great ones.  Maybe it’s because of its location on the river, or its proximity to Cades Cove, or its great managers and team.

If you are looking for a campground that is close to all of the action, but also peaceful and relaxing, you couldn’t make a better choice than the Townsend KOA.

We have been frequent KOA customers over the last five years, but this was a sponsored trip.  Our opinions are always are own.

05 Jul

Great Smoky Mountains Shakedown (Part One) with the Cherokee KOA

Cherokee KOA

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

03 Jul

RVFTA #42: Greetings from the Blue Ridge Parkway!

The Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway

On episode #42 of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the amazing and beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway.

We kicked off our summer adventures by exploring the Fancy Gap area of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mix of natural beauty, historical interest, and touristy charm surprised and delighted us. We will tell you all about this peaceful, scenic getaway in the great state of Virginia.

And we also fell in love with the Fancy Gap KOA, our base camp for this first part of our summer spectacular. We will give you a full review of the campground along with an interview with the owners, Mark and Cheryl Manning.

To read more about the campground and our adventures in this area, read our blog post with all the details.

Highlights include:

The Blue Ridge Music Center where you can listen to live music every day between 12 and 4 pm.

The Mabry Mill where you can have a yummy meal at the restaurant and then tour the mill, blacksmith shop, and other historical buildings.

Rock Knob Trail Area, where the ridge line trails offer spectacular views and kid-friendly hiking options.

Mount Airy, the charming hometown of Andy Griffith and the inspiration for Mayberry.

Need help planning your next RV Adventure? We will have some great inspiration for you as we podcast our way through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Welcome to the great RVFTA summer road trip. This is Episode #42: Greetings from the Blue Ridge Parkway!

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26 Jun

RVFTA #41: Campground Smackdown, Public Vs. Private

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On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are diving into the controversial topic of public versus private campgrounds.

Some people swear by their state parks; some people won’t go anywhere without full hook ups and a waterslide. We will share some of our listeners’ thoughts and a few of our own on the range of campgrounds available out there.

In our featured discussion, we focus on five major differences between public and private campgrounds. This is a real old fashioned smack down, so after talking about each category, we will in fact declare a winner.

Here are the categories for our debate:

1. Price Point
2. Amenities
3. Site Size
4. Natural Beauty
5. Making/Canceling Reservations

Which will emerge as the winner of the great public versus private campground smackdown? You will have to listen to find out!

Also listen to hear tons of our listeners’ and readers’ comments about this debate. It might get a little rowdy, folks, but don’t worry…at the end of the day, we are really just one, big, happy camping family.

And we wrap up episode #41 with a great interview with Greg Gerber, editor of RV Daily Report and Let’s RV. Greg shares his take on some of the newest trends developing in the RV Industry. Listen to hear his thoughts on motor coaches and travel trailers, retirees and millennials.

All of this, and so much more, on Episode 41 of RV Family Travel Atlas, Campground Smackdown: Public vs. Private.

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28 Apr

Is Luray, Virginia the South’s Most Underrated RV Destination?

WHERE TO CAMP:  I must confess, Luray, Virginia used to be a place where we crashed for the night on our way to visit family in Asheville. But in recent years we have extended our stays there–and for good reason.  It is a remarkable RV Destination in its own right that is blessed with two campgrounds that we love and adore.  Jellystone Luray and the Luray KOA couldn’t be more different if they tried–but we love them both.  The Jellystone is action packed and Disney-like for young kids and the KOA is lovely and peaceful. There are links below the photos to reviews of each of these campgrounds.  Can you say win-win?

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Jellystone Luray

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Luray KOA

WHAT TO DO: Both of these campgrounds are a short drive to the Thornton Gap Entrance Station to Shenandoah National Park.  We spent years driving past Shenandoah and saying “we’ll get there someday.”  When we did finally get there we fell in love and wondered how we ever neglected this stunning and woefully underrated National Park.  Here is a handy dandy guide to spending a day or two hiking and exploring in Shenandoah. Link below photo.

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Family Fun in Shenandoah National Park

The National Park is not the only source of family fun in and around Luray, Virginia.  We also recommend taking a tour of Luray Caverns, which is mysterious and beautiful,  and then heading over to Bear Mountain Ziplines for a sun-filled adrenaline rush that the whole family will remember. Follow the link below the photo for information about both attractions.

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Luray Caverns and Bear Mountain Ziplines

We easily think that an RV family like ours could spend an entire week in Luray, Virginia and have a blast each and every day.  The landscape is beautiful, the campground options are varied and world-class, and Shenandoah National Park is filled with gorgeous family friendly hikes and waterfalls.

Have you ever camped in or around Luray, Virginia?  We would love to hear about your trip in the notes below!

26 Apr

Choose Your Own Outdoor Adventure Near the Myrtle Beach KOA

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Our family has the most fun when we are exploring the great outdoors. Period.

The boardwalk rides, arcade games, and miniature golf courses of Myrtle Beach are truly fun and fabulous. But the real reason we decided to come back for a second year in a row? Stunning natural beauty.

Surprised? We were, too. We never expected to find such gorgeous State Parks, botanical gardens, and wild swamps just a short drive away from the Myrtle Beach KOA and the bustling boardwalk area.

So when your family visits this great American tourist destination, make sure you don’t miss out on what one local called the real wild side of Myrtle Beach. Here are our 5 top picks for outdoor adventures that your whole family can enjoy together.

1. Huntington Beach State Park

DSC_0142If you want to surround yourself with the natural beauty of coastal South Carolina, spend a day at Huntington Beach State Park. Start off by exploring the Marsh Walk where you are almost guaranteed to spot sunning alligators and stunning water fowl. Visit the nature center for a ranger led program or take your own hiking tour on one of the park’s interpretative trails. Do not miss a visit to Atalaya, the former summer home of Archer Huntington who built this Moorish castle on the beach for his sculptor wife. Then you can end your day on the pristine 3-mile stretch of uncrowded beach. If there is a more perfect state park out there, we haven’t yet found it.

2. Myrtle Beach State Park

DSC_0102Myrtle Beach State Park is a great family-friendly state park for two reasons: the Nature Center and the playground. The program schedule at the Nature Center includes story time, crafts, beach walks, and bird house discovery. The center is small and engaging with friendly rangers on staff, ready to get your kids excited about ecology. The playground was a hit with our crew, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery while our boys played pirates for over an hour. And yes, once again you must end your visit by heading down to the beach. White sand, warm sun, and sparkling water. Need we say more?

3. Black River Outdoor Center

P1110738Perhaps our favorite discovery on our second trip to Myrtle Beach was the Black River Outdoor Center which runs guided kayak eco tours of the Salt Marsh and Cypress Swamp. We were lucky enough to experience both tours, and they were downright magical experiences for us and our 5 year old boys. The tour guides were phenomenal, blending humor and education while bringing the ecology of coastal South Carolina to life. Make sure you talk to Richard, the owner, who will enthusiastically recommend which tour you should take depending on the time of year and season. And if you score Paul as your tour guide, well then it is your lucky day.

4. Barefoot Princess

DSC_0188If your arms are sore from kayaking and your feet are tired from hiking, book a tour on the Barefoot Princess, where you can relax on the top deck with a delicious drink while learning all about the Intracoastal Waterway. This was just good, lazy vacation fun for the whole family. The food was quite good and very affordable…same with the drinks. Live music played and the crowd was fun enough to get up and dance to all the party classics. Our boys performed their very first YMCA. Best part? The captain lets every child on board have a turn steering the ship.

5. Brookgreen Gardens

DSC_0139We have written a couple of posts about why we love Brookgreen Gardens. It is the perfect example of what we look for when traveling with our kids, combining engaging activities for the young ones with beauty and educational interest for us adults. You could spend the whole day here without seeing everything, but check out our top 6 activities that are not to be missed.

What makes Myrtle Beach the perfect destination for a family like ours? A vacation in Myrtle Beach means we really can have it all: a beautiful campground in a peaceful, wooded setting; adrenaline pumping activities like zip lining and boardwalk rides; and amazing natural experiences that bring us up close and personal with God’s great creation.

Perfect family vacation: Check.

See you soon, Myrtle Beach.

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This trip was sponsored by Kampgrounds of America and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. Our opinions are always our own. For more information about this campground and Myrtle Beach check out last week’s RVFTA podcast for free in the iTunes store or on our blog. We interview the general manager of the Myrtle Beach KOA, Jeremiah Drew, along with some very happy campers.

20 Apr

Wild and Crazy Boardwalk Fun, Minutes from the Myrtle Beach KOA

The word camping usual brings to mind quiet, natural settings far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But sometimes our family wants to be right in the middle of the action when we travel in our RV.

As we mentioned in our campground review, the best thing about the Myrtle Beach KOA is that you don’t have to choose. This campground is a wooded retreat just steps away from all the excitement of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.

There are enough miniature golf courses, amusement parks, and fun houses in Myrtle Beach to keep your family entertained way past the little ones’ bedtime for days on end. But with all the flashing lights and neon signs, it can be difficult to pick and choose between all the options.

Well, we did the hard work for you.

As you read through our recommendations, though, remember our number one family travel tip: always dip into crazy kid fun in small doses. We never did more than one of these activities in a given day.  Instead, we balanced every trip to the boardwalk with a walk at a nearby State Park and a relaxing swim in the campground pool. This ensured that both the kids and adults stayed in mellow camping mode and never hit vacation overload.

So here are our top picks for wild and crazy boardwalk fun, family style in Myrtle Beach.

1. Myrtle Beach Skywheel

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The Myrtle Beach Skywheel is located right in the middle of the Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade. The ride is high enough to give anyone a few jitters, but the views really are just phenomenal. Even though the tickets were not cheap ($13 for an adult and $9 for a child), the ride was quite long and gave us plenty of time at the top to gaze up and down the South Carolina coast. If you want to avoid long lines, arrive when the Skywheel first opens at 11 am. Or you might want to brave the crowds to enjoy the wheel when it is all lit up at night. Let us know how it goes. That’s when you find us around the campfire…

2. Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Splashes Water Park

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Family Kingdom Amusement Park is only blocks away from the Myrtle Beach KOA. If you and your kids need to get in your rides fix while on vacation, this is a great family option. There are rides for every age and height, although our boys were disappointed that the height requirement for the big roller coaster was 56 inches. Nevertheless we had a blast on all the great ride go tos: The Buckaneer, Swings, Tilt-a-Whirl, and the Hurricane. We really appreciate the different pricing options available. You can buy unlimited, all-day wristbands if your family is going to be going on tons of rides. Or you can just buy individual tickets if your family is the type to enjoy 3 rides each and then head back to the campfire. Cough, cough.

3. Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures

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We love zip lining. A lot. But it really can be an expensive and time consuming activity. Our favorite thing about the Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures is that your family can enjoy an introduction to the adrenaline inducing ride without having to go off into the mountains for half the day. Kids only have to be 40 pounds which means our 5 year olds were able to do their biggest zip yet. We are pretty sure they will never forget the experience.

This boardwalk activity also provides some attractive pricing options for a family. You can purchase a ticket for one zip and one free fall (or two zips) for about $32, or you can buy an all day pass for about $43.00. If our boys were teenagers, we would probably splurge on the all day pass for them and then go read books on the beach for a few hours.

4. Jungle Lagoon Miniature Golf

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There are so many miniature golf options in Myrtle Beach, you could play a different course every day of vacation if you were so inclined. The Jungle Lagoon happens to be about 100 feet away from the entrance of the Myrtle Beach KOA, which made it our favorite pick hands down. The course is clean and well-maintained, with plenty of obstacles to keep your family entertained through all 18 holes. There are two different courses, the Jungle course and the Lagoon course, and both were equally fun for our boys. Walking over to the Jungle Lagoon after a day playing at the beach and bouncing on the jump pillow was the cherry on our vacation sundae.

5. WonderWorks

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We always make sure to have at least one rainy day option on the list when we go on vacation. Wonderworks, located at Broadway on the Beach, is the perfect choice for an indoor family activity. You could definitely spend the entire day. A zany mix between an indoor amusement park and children’s museum, there are tons of hands on exhibits about space, sports, and natural disasters. Virtual air hockey, a bubble lab, a bed of nails…the list goes on. Just be warned: the top floor has an indoor ropes challenge course AND an arcade. If you don’t want to pay extra for your kids to play arcade games, avoid this floor at all costs. Consider yourself warned.

6. Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Minor League Baseball

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Right across the street from Broadway on the Beach is the home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, where we enjoyed one of our favorite evenings of our whole trip. Minor league baseball is a perfect family activity when traveling because the tickets are very affordable and every one, young and old, can enjoy the game. We love that our boys can get up close to the action and really see what is going on. They ask questions the whole time and learn so much about baseball whenever we visit a minor league stadium. The Pelicans had a lively crowd, and we all walked away with some great team apparel.

This trip was sponsored by Kampgrounds of America and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.  Our opinions are always our own. For more information about this campground and Myrtle Beach check out last week’s RVFTA podcast for free in the iTunes store or on our blog.  We interview the general manager of the Myrtle Beach KOA, Jeremiah Drew, along with some very happy campers.

 

10 Apr

RVFTA #30: “Live” From The Myrtle Beach KOA

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It’s camping season and that means RV Family Travel Atlas is podcasting from the road for the very first time ever!

This week we are “Live” from the Myrtle Beach KOA, and we are bringing you some sounds from the Grand Strand.

Live From the Myrtle Beach KOA

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is big and bold and busy, but on our first visit last year we discovered this amazing, wooded camping retreat right in the middle of all the action. Our podcast listeners know we have a special fondness for urban RV parks, and the Myrtle Beach KOA quickly became a family favorite.

This year we couldn’t help but return. Lucky for us, in addition to hanging out in a beautiful area with great weather, we got to spend time with some fabulous people too!

On this episode we are interviewing Jeremiah Drew, the campground manager here at the Myrtle Beach KOA. We pretty much feel they should make a clone of Jeremiah for campgrounds all across the country…he’s just that good. We will talk to him about what makes this city–and this campground–the perfect pick for a vacationing family.

Jeremiah also shares his picks for the best breakfast spot (Victoria’s) on the Grand Strand and his favorite seafood joint (The Noizy Oyster). If you get really lucky, he just might take you on a golf outing to Whispering Pines. We saved him the heartache of taking us out on the green, but if we keep coming back to Myrtle Beach, we just might have to give this golf thing a try.

On this episode, we will also interview a family that fled the chilly weather of the Northeast and just spent a week at the Myrtle Beach KOA. Hector and Laura are podcast listeners and now, after spending some time around the dinner table and campfire together, we are lucky to call them friends. Their kids are a bit older than ours, so we will get another perspective on family fun in Myrtle Beach.

Don’t worry…a full Adventure Guide to Myrtle Beach will be dropping on the podcast in a few short weeks. We will give you the skinny on the best outdoor activities, boardwalk fun, and a complete campground review.

But if you are anxious to read a little more about how our family rolls down here in Myrtle Beach, check out some of our posts from this past week and even our ones from last year, when we first fell in love with this fun and fascinating destination…

Shaking Off Winter: Black River Outdoors Cyprus Swamp Tour

6 Amazing Family Activities at Brookgreen Gardens

Alligators, Architecture, and the Atlantic Ocean: Huntington Beach State Park

Rainy Day? These Campers Still Play! SkyWheel, Myrtle Beach 

How We Roll When A Campground Rocks: Myrtle Beach KOA

Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as we travel with our rowdy crew and find amazing family fun in and around the campground. Post your best campground and RV photos on our Facebook page and hashtag #RVFTA on Instagram.

See you at the campground!

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