10 Jul

Camping Near Acadia National Park: Our Oceanfront Slice of Heaven

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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.

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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.

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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?

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03 Nov

RVFTA 2015 Fall Rally: Fun Times, New Friends!

A fantastic group of RVFTA podcast listeners gathered last weekend at the Philadelphia/West Chester KOA for our second go around at this whole rally thing.

Rallies aren’t so popular with our generation, so we felt like we were taking a risk last spring when we decided to host one for the first time. In short, it was a smashing success and everyone refused to wait an entire year to gather again.

Enter the RVFTA 2015 Fall Rally.

We are pretty convinced that the heart of a successful family camping rally is lots of free time for kids to run around and play together, while parents get to sit around and talk. Keeping the schedule loose and flexible worked like a charm once again, and while we offered plenty of suggestions for activities, families were free to figure it out as they went.

Some went fishing, while others walked the nature trails. And someone loved his afternoon canoe ride on the Brandywine.

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While some enjoyed the fine arts…

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Others appreciated life’s simpler pleasures.

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Rally attendees–and area locals–Bill and Karen led a class trip to The Market at Liberty Place in Kennett Square where we enjoyed ridiculously good fare at Buddy’s Burgers. The kids claimed a table for themselves and we were happy to oblige.


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Then there was coffee (of course) at the local craft roaster, Philter Coffee.

And the organized festivities…

We celebrated our podcast’s 1st birthday with an adorable craft organized by listeners Leslie and Philip.

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And then they put hats on our heads, lit candles, and sang Happy Birthday because our listeners are just that awesome.

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A White Elephant game followed with some serious trading and back room deals. The Toas Tite was a popular pick, but a dark horse favorite was a Camp Casual t-shirt that all the men seemed to want.

And Darryl won the grand prize of a two-night stay at any KOA by knowing virtually everything there is to know about our podcast.

Potluck dinner, our own special craft brew, movies under the stars, trick or treating, and (of course) roaring campfires.

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The activities were fun. The food was delicious. The weather was mostly spectacular. But ultimately, the magic is because of the people.

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Maybe we have just been super duper lucky to gather some of the chillest folks around who happen to dig camping podcasts. We left both rallies amazed at what a wonderful time we had with a bunch of families that barely knew each other and yet were united by a common commitment to venturing out and connecting with their kids in the great outdoors.

We have decided there is something to be said for this old-fashioned rally tradition. Social media may help us connect and find people who share similar interests and passions. But relationships really develop when you share a meal…and some s’mores.

We can’t wait to hang with old friends and new at the RVFTA 2016 Spring Rally at Lake in Wood Campground in Narvon, PA. Hope to see you at the potluck!

To hear more about our rally, and to hear some great interviews with rally attendees, listen to podcast episode #60: Fall Rally Roundup!

30 Oct

RVFTA #60: Fall Rally Roundup!

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the fun times had by all at the RVFTA 2015 Fall Rally.

We spent last weekend hanging at the Philadelphia/West Chester KOA with an awesome group of podcast listeners.

Hayrides, fishing, canoeing, pumpkin painting, trick or treating…and plenty of yummy food! We will touch on all the highlights and get you excited for the 2016 Spring Rally just around the corner.

You will also hear Stephanie interview three fall rally attendees–Chris, Laura, and Phil–who share a few tricks for making your next camping trip a bit more special.

Plus, we will spend a bit of time discussing a recurring topic in our email from listeners. Should we be aiming for a more secluded campground experience? Is boondocking really better? Watch out folks, we are stepping up on the soapbox and opining away.

You might think you can wait until April to join our rally fun. But we here at RVFTA believe in booking campsites early and often. You are listening to Episode #60: RVFTA Fall Rally Roundup!

 

 

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23 Oct

RVFTA #59: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck!

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about getting the most bang for your buck by taking advantage of the many rewards and memberships programs available in the campground industry.

We reached out to Jellystone Camp Resorts, Good Sam, Kampgrounds of America, and Thousand Trails and asked them to tell us about the costs and benefits of their company’s programs.

Maybe one of these memberships is the perfect fit for your family. Maybe all four have something to offer your RVing crew. The bottom line is that it depends on where you camp and how often.

Our guests on this episode:

Follow the links above to find out more information about any of these programs.

And listen at the end of the show for a special sneak peak from the RVFTA Podcast Network and our brand new podcast, Girl Camper: Going Places, Doing Things. 

This great new show with Go RVing blogger, Janine Pettit, is full of inspirational stories and practical travel tips. Oh, and we are simply in love with the logo…

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12 Oct

Recipe of the Week: Julie’s Michigan Sauce

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We are huge fans of Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood book, a wonderful collection of American roadside restaurant recommendations. No matter where we are traveling, we always consult the book before we leave to see if there are any gems in the region to which we are heading.

Before we took off for Lake Placid last month, we cracked open Roadfood and found that every Adirondack entry referenced the “Michigans” on the menu.

A Michigan? What’s a Michigan?

So glad you asked.

First things first. A Michigan is not from Michigan. It is a dish unique to upstate New York although different versions with different names are found all over the country. Legend has it that a couple who owned The Michigan Hot Dog Stand in Plattsburgh, New York were trying to recreate the Coney Dog when they first introduced it to their menu.

This is the kind of recipe where everything get thrown in the big pan and then you cook it down for as long as it takes, or as long as you have. Here are the ingredients for Julie’s Michigan Sauce:

  • 2 pounds ground meat
  • 4 cups ketchup
  • 2 chopped onions (some reserved for toppings)
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 8 tablespoons vinegar
  • 8 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons Worcester sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons brown mustard

After browning and draining the meat, add the remaining ingredients and stir until incorporated. Cook at a simmer until the sauce has the consistency of a chili or sloppy joe.

Serve over a hotdog in a bun. Traditionally the hotdogs would be boiled (dirty water dogs!), but grilled ones work just as well and might be preferred by some. Top with chopped onions and extra mustard if desired.

Eat up and go back for seconds.

Thanks to Julie Grundon, manager of the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain for not only making us this yummy dish, but sharing her recipe as well. She was definitely the hostess with the most-ess. 

To learn more about our visit to the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA, read our article here or listen to podcast episode #57: Greetings From Lake Placid.

08 Oct

RVFTA #57: Greetings from Lake Placid, New York

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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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22 Aug

RVFTA #49: Why is KOA Rebranding?

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the rebranding initiative of KOA campgrounds, the largest franchise system of campgrounds in America.

Most campers have heard of KOA, and many have strong opinions. This week we will talk about the KOA franchise and more specifically, its new rebranding campaign that identifies campgrounds as Journey, Holiday, or Resort.

We will explain what each designation means and give some examples from our own travels. Hear about our time at…

And although we have partnered with KOA on their Greater Outdoors Blog and on sponsored trips, this podcast is not sponsored in any way. This is our exploration of a topic that we believe is very relevant for many of our listeners and readers.

We also invited Toby O’Rourke, the Senior Vice President of Marketing at KOA, onto the show to give you all the inside scoop on this rebranding effort. Listen to hear why KOA embarked on this project and some of the company’s plans for the future.

Plus, a serious *serious* scoop that will be of high interest to our East Coast listeners!

You may swear by KOA or maybe you have never even looked behind that yellow sign. Either way, you’ll want the serious campground intel we are gathering on Episode #49: Why is KOA Rebranding?

We are delighted to have Go RVing as our RVFTA sponsor. Listen for a message from them just a bit later in our show. To find your AWAY head over to gorving.com/rvfta.

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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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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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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

13 Apr

Is Summer Calling Your Name? 8 Great Reasons to Camp at the Myrtle Beach KOA

Pull Through Campsite Myrtle Beach KOA

Are you looking for a beach getaway this summer?  Or would you prefer a wooded retreat where you can relax while the kids run free?  Why not have both at the Myrtle Beach KOA?

It took our family awhile to find this magical spot, but now that we have we will go back again and again.  We just returned from our second straight spring break at this unique camping destination and are already talking about heading back in July.  We suspect if you take your next family vacation here, it might be the beginning of a family tradition.  Here are eight reasons why.

1. A Wooded Retreat in the Heart of the City

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Myrtle Beach is big and bold and busy, but the Myrtle Beach KOA is quiet, and fun, and family friendly.  The campground is located right in the heart of the city, but it feels like it’s miles away.  It has all the perfect elements for a family vacation.  Your days can be filled with adventurous activities like zip lining and kayaking, and your nights can be filled with walks on the beach and quiet campfires.

2. Steps from the Beach and Boardwalk

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You can walk right from the campground to a huge miniature golf course less than a block away.  Stroll just one more block and you’ll find yourself at the beach.  Not up for walking?  Just hop on the campground’s beach shuttle and let the staff know when to pick you up.  They will be there waiting. The wild and zany boardwalk with rides, water parks, and go carts is just a few more blocks north.

3. A Jumping Pillow with a View

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As parents with three young children, we spend a lot of our campground time at playgrounds and jumping pillows. So we appreciate a nice view every now and then.  The setting of the jumping pillow at the Myrtle Beach KOA is like something out of a storybook.  Just an FYI–mom and dad did more than just watch the boys on the pillow. We hopped on too.  We don’t believe in the fountain of youth–but this comes pretty darn close.

4.  A Tale of Two Pools (and a Splash Pad)

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After working up a sweat at the jumping pillow, we recommend heading over to one of the two pools or the splash pad.  There is plenty of comfortable seating–so set up camp and jump right in like Max did! On second thought, you might want to use the ladder or stairs.  Not everyone has superpowers like he does, but how you enter the pool doesn’t really matter as long as you get wet!

5. Large Pull Through Sites

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We love the large, staggered,  and semi-private pull through sites.  There was plenty of room for the truck, our 33 foot travel trailer and a play area for the boys.  The sites allowed for socializing with neighbors, but we didn’t feel like we were invading their privacy. Myrtle Beach has many private campgrounds–but you would be hard pressed to find such large shaded sites at any of them.  You would have to head to one of South Carolina’s lovely state parks to find so much wiggle room.

6. Quiet Paved Roads for Scooting and Playing

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The roads at the Myrtle Beach KOA are long and paved.  They are also one way streets with little traffic and safe and conscientious drivers.  Our boys loved to ride their scooters and run up and down the rows–and we felt comfortable letting them.  The best campgrounds we find on our travels allow our children to spread their wings in a safe environment.  Here, Wesley gets ready to take flight.

7. Helpful and Friendly Yellow Shirts

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Let’s keep this simple:  Nicest. Campground. Staff. Ever.

8. Sharing Music, Food, and Fun with Friends

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Strong management, friendly staff, and a beautiful setting adds up to a welcoming and comfortable campground culture. This in turn adds up to a lot of happy campers.  Happy campers who want to meet new people and spend time with old friends.  Happy campers who want to share meals together around a picnic table and break out the corn hole. Happy campers who want to open up their banjo cases and start plucking some Doc Watson or Ralph Stanley as the sun comes down on another day.

Now if you camp at the Myrtle Beach KOA we can’t guarantee that Toby will still be there filling up the evening air with the summery sounds of live bluegrass. But we can guarantee that you’ll meet some great new people.  They’ll probably even ask you to pull up a chair and stay for a while. And you will be happy to oblige.

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

Stay tuned for two more great posts about outdoor activities and crazy boardwalk fun right near the campground!

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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05 Apr

Shaking off Winter on Paul’s Cypress Swamp Tour (Myrtle Beach, SC)

Our activities for this trip were sponsored by the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.  Our accommodations were sponsored by Kampgrounds of America.  All opinions expressed are always our own.

It was another brutal winter in New Jersey.  So why not head to Myrtle Beach for another spring break?  Our trip last spring was beyond delicious. We swam in the pool at the Myrtle Beach KOA, we swam in the ocean, we visited gardens, and state parks, and we lapped up the sunshine and warm weather like we were eskimos on our first and last family vacation.

Saturday was all about the long drive.  The twins were good.  Wesley was okay.  Lots of crying and too many pit stops.  So today, Easter Sunday, was all about fun. I woke up in the mood for coffee and nothing else, but Stephanie had other plans for me.  I was scheduled for a morning “Cyprus Swamp” kayak tour of the Waccamaw River (a short drive from the KOA) with Maxwell onboard.  Stephanie will be taking her turn with Theo on Tuesday, weather permitting.  Wes doesn’t get a turn–but he’s barely two–so we read him a few extra Elmo books today and he didn’t seem to notice anything suspicious.

Stephanie had booked the tour with the Black River Outdoors Center, and as soon as we pulled into the launch area our guide, Paul Laurent, was friendly, funny, and sociable.  He was also patient and kind.  He immediately put all of his students at ease with a quick lesson and his own unique brand of kayak guide humor.

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But Paul wasn’t only about the jokes.  This guy was incredibly well informed about the history of the Waccamaw River and and the wildlife that inhabits its waters and forests.  During our adventure he pointed out dozens of Yellow Bellied Slider Turtles, Swamp Canaries, Ospreys, and Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies. His booming but pleasant voice made him easy to hear, even if you wanted to wander off to the sides a little bit and explore the banks of the river.

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P1110699Paul also spent a lot of time on the banks of the river looking for water snakes.  And when he found one, he dove into the water and grabbed it for an impromptu demonstration.  This was ridiculously cool to say the least.  It’s kind of hard for me to imagine a better kayak guide than this guy–he was nutty and adventurous, but he made all of us feel safe and relaxed.

P1110773He even offered to let us hold the snakes.  But only one of his students was brave enough to try it.  Max and I declined.

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It was fun watching Max watch the snakes.  He was clearly fascinated but didn’t want to get too close.  During the rest of our paddle he asked me to stay away from the banks of the river to avoid them.  But when we eventually made it back to meet Stephanie, Theo, and Wes, the snakes were all he could talk about. But he was also pretty pumped about getting to touch a lily pad.

He saw one in the water and asked me to paddle towards it.  Paul, of course, wanted him to get the full experience. So he dove under water for us and pulled it up so that Max could touch it and learn a little bit about it.  Have I mentioned yet that Paul was an awesome Kayak tour guide?

P1110795The Cypress Swamp Tour really inspired me this morning. It reminded me of why we love to travel as a family.  To spend time together, yes, of course. But it’s so much more than that.

As parents we want to spend time together doing things that we will always remember. Magical things that we will talk about around the campfire when the boys have their own children.  The snakes will be bigger in those future tellings–and the river will be warmer and deeper and wider.  But Paul will always be the same. The hero of our shared adventure.

Onward.