27 Sep

10 Most Popular Campground Reviews from RVFTA’s Campground of the Week Podcast

For the 100th episode of the Campground of the Week podcast, we decided to look back and share the 10 most popular campground reviews from the show. When we checked out the download numbers, the top reviews ended up being a pretty diverse mix of resort, national, and state parks from locations around the country.

You can listen to us chat about all these campground reviews on episode #100 of Campground of the Week…

Check out all the campgrounds that made the list below. We have linked to the show notes and the episode in iTunes. We would love to hear what your favorite Campground of the Week episode is, so leave us a comment below!

#10: Devils Tower KOA in Wyoming

by Kerri Cox

Episode #54 Show Notes
Episode #54 iTunes Link

It can be tricky for some folks to decide if Devils Tower National Monument is worth a stopover when visiting iconic destinations like Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. Listen to hear Kerri explain why you should make time for this place and just how long you need to stay!

 

#9: Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado

by Scott Elias

Episode #58 Show Notes
Episode #58 iTunes Link

This state park gem is located near Colorado Springs, just about an hour away from Denver. Listen to hear Scott talk about the great nearby spots including Pike’s Peak and Garden of the Gods. There may be a good brewery or two nearby as well.

#8: Ventura Beach RV Park in California

by Kate Dunbar

Episode #61 Show Notes
Episode #61 iTunes Link

Located in the heart of iconic Ventura Beach, California, Kate loves how you can walk or bike to the beach right from the campground. This place has all the activities of a great family campground, including an epic weekly Karaoke night. Tune up the ole voice box for your stay.

#7: Jellystone Park Maryland in Hagerstown

by Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi

Episode #83 Show Notes
Episode #83 iTunes Link

This campground flew to the top of our personal ‘Best Of’ list because of the perfect combination of campground activities and amenities along with quiet, spacious campsites. Pools, waterslides, ninja training courses…this is a must-visit if you love the Jellystone family experience!

#6: Fort De Soto Park Campground in Florida

by Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi

Episode #66 Show Notes
Episode #66 iTunes Link

Fort De Soto is simply one of the prettiest campgrounds in America. The palm trees and waterfront sites are RV heaven, and the many sites offer water access for kayaking. You can bike on extensive paths through the whole park and relax on the white sand beaches. Tampa is only about 45 minutes away.

#5: Branches of Niagara in New York State

by Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi

Episode #62 Show Notes
Episode #62 iTunes Link

Niagara Falls is on most folks’ RV destination bucket list, and Branches of Niagara is the perfect place to stay during your visit. We love the way it feels like a summer camp for the entire family with planned activities, visiting recreation programs, and an onsite zipline(!).

#4: My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Kentucky

by Casita Dean

Episode #63 Show Notes
Episode #63 iTunes Link

My Old Kentucky Home State Park is an example of why people rave about the Kentucky State Park system. Quaint and clean, the campground offers water and electric hookups along with a few precious full hook up sites. The campground also offers you close proximity to the other park attractions like a mansion tour and outdoor theatre. Added bonus? The nearby city of Bardstown, which has been named one of the most beautiful small towns in America.

#3: Colter Bay RV Park in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

by Kerri Cox

Episode #60 Show Notes
Episode #60 iTunes Link

Some people skip visiting Grand Teton National Park when they head out on those epic western road trips. In this episode, Kerri Cox makes a case for this being a must-see destination.

#2: Fort Wilderness Walt Disney World in Florida

by Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi

Episode #67 Show Notes
Episode #67 iTunes Link

Often considered the best campground in America, we were actually surprised this wasn’t THE most popular episode from the Campground of the Week podcast. We certainly had an amazing stay at Fort Wilderness, and will make sure we get to spend even more time at the campground when we visit Disney next time.

#1: Myrtle Beach KOA in South Carolina

by Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi

Episode #55 Show Notes
Episode #55 iTunes Link

We were a bit surprised to find that this campground was our most popular episode out of the 99 we have produced so far! It does happen to be one of our favorite family getaway spots of all time, though, so we are happy to have it at the top. We love the way the Myrtle Beach KOA puts us right in the middle of the action, but feels like a million miles away. We always look forward to returning.

Thanks for joining us for the first 100 episodes of Campground of the Week! Stay tuned for the next 100…

See you at the campground,

Stephanie + Jeremy

12 Jan

RVFTA #124 8 More Tips for Campground Owners

On this episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about our top eight tips for campground owners, developed after spending hundreds of nights at campground over the last few years. We have had some fantastic experiences, but also quite a few that could have been improved.

We first covered this topic all the way back on episode #5 of RV Family Travel Atlas, over two year ago. It was definitely time to revisit the issue with fresh eyes, and chat about some of the bigger campground features that make the difference between an average camping visit and an amazing one.

Segment One: Revisiting the Original 8 Tips for Campground Owners

On our older episode titled 8 Tips for Campground Owners, we addressed the following topics:

Read More

10 Jul

Camping Near Acadia National Park: Our Oceanfront Slice of Heaven

IMG_9194

If you are a longtime reader and podcast listener, you know that we believe Acadia National Park is RV heaven. It holds a very special place in our hearts, and no matter what, we end up back there again and again.

IMG_9203

Many other RVers feel the same way, and there is no shortage of campground options available when planning your stay. But again, if you are part of the RVFTA community, you know that we return to the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA time after time.

IMG_9163

The real question is, what’s the draw? What makes this the place that we want to park our rig, even after touring and inspecting many other campgrounds on Mount Desert Island?

Read More

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.

Read More

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!

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!

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.

Read More

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!

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.

DSC_0902

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

IMG_4591

IMG_4618

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

IMG_4595

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.

IMG_4661

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.

IMG_5176

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

IMG_5058

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

IMG_5051

DSC_1045

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

IMG_8037-2

DSC_1036

DSC_1038

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.

DSC_0878

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

DSC_0884

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.

DSC_0905

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.

IMG_4900

IMG_4938

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.

DSC_0934

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.

DSC_0958

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.

DSC_0913

 

 

 

 

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.

DSC_1231

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.

P1050689

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.

P1050458

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

P1050747

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.

IMG_3035

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.

DSC_1177

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.

IMG_3138

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.

DSC_1254

DSC_1268

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.

IMG_3002

14 Aug

RVFTA #48: Dispatches from Glacier and Yosemite

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking to our favorite podcast correspondents, Brett Neilson and Kerri Cox, who both took epic RV trips this summer with their families.

Brett Neilson, from the Great State of Utah, headed up to Glacier National Park and has some great campground reviews and suggestions for hikes and family activities. He talks about…

Kerri Cox, from the Great State of Missouri, hitched up her travel trailer and drove west to see the grandeur of Yosemite. How did her family fare on this 25-day tour de force? Listen to find out. Kerri will tell us about…

We thought we were all that and a campfire s’more with our 34-day trip to the Great Smokies. But there were plenty of other families seeing this big, beautiful country in grand RV style. Those stories are coming your way on Episode #48: Dispatches from Glacier and Yosemite.

We are delighted to have Go RVing as our RVFTA sponsor.  To find your AWAY head over to GoRVing.com.

GRV_Logo_black (4)

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…

dollywood roller coaster

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!

GRV_Logo_black (4)

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!

 

GRV_Logo_black (4)

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!

 

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.

DSC_1028

DSC_0990

DSC_0993

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.

DSC_1019

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.

P1140368

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.

DSC_0942

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.

P1140781

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.

IMG_1846-2

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!

DSC_1151

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…

DSC_1026

tubing on the Little River…

DSC_0994

listening to impromptu jam sessions by our neighbors.

IMG_1750

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.

P1140610

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.

DSC_0788

IMG_1600

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.

P1130925

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.

P1140221

P1140084

IMG_6908

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.

P1140286

P1140328

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.

P1140290

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.

IMG_1673

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.

DSC_0863

DSC_0894

DSC_0873

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.

29 Jun

Summertime on the Blue Ridge Parkway with the Fancy Gap KOA

It’s been two years since we have travelled on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the National Park Services second most visited “park unit” after the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but now we’ve finally made it back.  It is easy to see why it is so popular.  It is a magical drive.

DSC_0121The Parkway is 469 miles long.  It starts at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive and it ends near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The mountain towns that are nestled alongside the parkway, and the parkway itself, provide endless opportunities for sightseeing and family adventure.  For the first leg of our summer trip we decided to camp at the Fancy Gap KOA in Fancy Gap, Virginia.  We have long suspected that this KOA would make a great base camp for a Blue Ridge Parkway adventure.  We were right.

DSC_0166The campground is nestled on a mountainside and is filled with beautiful, shaded back in sites, pull through sites for big rigs, and a mixture of rustic and deluxe cabins.  Many of those sites are surrounded by native flowers and meticulous landscaping. Pride of ownership is evident here.

DSC_0157

DSC_0148

We are not dog owners, but we were also impressed with this KOA’s unique and spacious pet friendly sites.  They have a large fenced in area at the rear that easily doubles the overall size of the site.

DSC_0143

We also loved the campground’s club house and its brand new patio area right outside of the camp store. These were great shared spaces for socializing with other campers and relaxing with our boys.  We played checkers there every night.  There was a barbecue dinner Friday night prepared by pitmaster Ben from Blue Ridge BBQ–and it was awesome. The ribs and pulled pork hit the spot after a long day of adventure in the mountains.  There was an ice cream social held in the club house on Saturday night and we did partake of not one, but two scoops each.

DSC_0162

IMG_1481

Our evenings at the campground were peaceful and relaxing and allowed us to recharge our batteries for the next day’s adventures.  And with an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway only 200 yards from the campground, adventure is literally waiting around the corner.  On our first day we headed South on the parkway to the Blue Ridge Music Center.  There is free bluegrass there every day from 12-4 and the quality is amazing.  The Center is educational and inspiring, and the musicians give you a delicious taste of the area’s rich musical heritage.  There are rocking chairs set up on the breezeway for listeners–and a few of them even got up and danced to the livelier tunes. If you love pickin’ then this is your place.

DSC_0001

DSC_0006

On day two of our Blue Ridge adventure we headed south to Mabry Mill, the most photographed site on the Parkway.  We did a little exploring around the mill and then headed into the restaurant next door for tasty salads and sandwiches served up at a reasonable price with lots of Southern hospitality. After lunch we went on a nearby hike that skirted the ridge of the mountain and weaved in and out of densely wooded forest with the occasional spectacular vista.  Even though we were close to the parkway the woods were filled with deer who were playful and unafraid of our presence. Even when I pulled the camera out.

DSC_0023

DSC_0114

If you stay at the Fancy Gap KOA you will be tempted to spend each day enjoying the seemingly never-ending splendor of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  But then you would miss a day trip to Mount Airy, North Carolina, birthplace of Andy Griffith, and inspiration for the town of Mayberry in the legendary Andy Griffith Show.  Missing Mount Airy would be a crying shame.  We had a complete hootenanny of a day there. We enjoyed the famous pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch, where Andy ate as a boy.

DSC_0003

Then we visited the town “courthouse” modeled after the one in the television show.  Even though the boys had been on best behavior all day it still felt mighty good to throw them in the clink!

IMG_1460

Don’t worry. They didn’t stay long.  We had to make our 3 o’clock tour of the town in a vintage Ford police car, just like the one on the show.  Our tour guide was informative and funny.  The highlight came when the 1963 Ford broke down right in front of Andy Griffith’s childhood home.  Another tour guide, Melvin, raced from the “courthouse” to pick us up in another police car.  He was also informative and funny. Luckily he was driving a ’67 Ford.  We made it back okay.

IMG_1469

IMG_1472

On our way out of Mount Airy I ran into a gift shop and bought season one of the Andy Griffith show. When we got back to the Fancy Gap KOA it was raining and the day was quickly coming to an end.  We put Wesley to bed and then the boys asked if we could watch a few episodes.  So we cuddled up in bed and were transported back in time to Mayberry in the 1960’s.

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Mount Airy had cast a magical spell over all of us.  We didn’t want to leave the Fancy Gap KOA the next morning, but summer was calling us deeper into its arms.  Time to head further south to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We have heard that it is pretty nice there too.

We have been frequent customers of KOA over the past 5 years, but this was a sponsored trip. Our opinions are always our own.

To hear more about our stay near the Blue Ridge Parkway and our fun adventures in Fancy Gap and Mount Airy, listen to Episode #42 of our podcast: Greetings from the Blue Ridge Parkway! 

You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store, or click on the button below to stream it. Visit the podcast show notes here.

26 Jun

RVFTA #41: Campground Smackdown, Public Vs. Private

campground smack down

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.

12 Jun

RVFTA #39: To Rally Or Not To Rally?

campground rallies

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the good ole fashioned RV Rally. These are wildly popular among some segments of the RVing population…but with Gen Xers and the Millenials? Not so much.

Well, we hosted our first rally a couple of weeks ago and everyone had a wonderful time. It got us thinking…will the younger generation of RVers reinvent the rally to suit a different style of travel and socializing? We will talk about our experience at the RVFTA rally and how it changed our thinking on this topic.

Lake in Wood Campground hosted the #RVFTA rally a few weeks ago, and you couldn’t find a better place for group camping. We give a complete campground review of this amazing resort location.

lake in wood campground

And Stephanie got to hang out at the Country Living Fair in Rhinebeck, NY last week with a bunch of Sisters on the Fly and their vintage travel trailers.

vintage trailer outside

vintage trailer inside

They’ve got this whole group camping thing down to a science and we asked a few of them to share why rallies are so meaningful to them. Listen to hear Susie Q from Be Back Soon Love Mom, and Janine Pettit’s camping sister Carol share their thoughts on rallying.

country living panel

Plus, Stephanie flies solo for an interview with Courtney Robey, Marketing Communications Manager at GoRving. Listen to hear all about their new media campaigns and experiential projects designed to reach a younger generation of RVer.

go rving

All of this and so much more on Episode 39 of RV Family Travel Atlas: To Rally or Not to Rally?

29 May

RVFTA #37: Greetings from Camp Jellystone!

Camp Jellystone Yogi Bear

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are taking an in-depth look at the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts franchise. There are over 80 of these campgrounds across the US, and they are a great option for many RVing families.

Camp Jellystone Yogi Bear

We will talk about the activities and amenities that are available at many Jellystone Parks. From pools and water slides to hay rides and jump pilows, some of these parks are super tricked out for the kids.

However, every Jellystone franchise park is independently operated, so it is important to do your research before making a reservation. The company’s internal ratings system can help you choose the right campground for your family vacation, and we will discuss the ins and outs of navigating the reviews.

For our campground review this week, we will talk about our recent visit to Yogi at Shangri-La, a Jellystone campground in Milton, Pennsylvania. The enclosed play area, pool, playground, and arcade could have kept our boys entertained for the entire weekend. Add in hayrides with the bears, dance parties, and wild water fights…kid nirvana!

This campground has so many of the activities and amenities that make Jellystones family friendly. But there is a huge variety of sites, so listen to our podcast review for recommendations on finding your perfect campground.

And we couldn’t resist throwing in a review of the Yogi Bear classic cartoon box set and the more recent Yogi Bear feature film. These DVDs are fun to watch before, during, and after your visit to a Jellystone. The best part is that the adults and the kids can enjoy them together.

Yogi Bear Show Cartoon

To read about more of our Jellystone camping experiences, check out our articles about our time at the Jellystone Luray, an amazing campground resort in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.

And keep an eye on those pic-a-nic baskets, folks.