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.

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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!

 

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.