25 Aug

RVFTA #103 Greetings from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Greetings from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and telling you all about the amazing Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the great state of Michigan.

Voted one of America’s most beautiful places by Good Morning America, this truly is a magical destination that demonstrates why the National Parks might be our country’s greatest idea ever. We will talk about the best drives, hikes, swims, and even shopping in the Sleeping Bear Dunes park.


This episode goes along with two different Campground of the Week episodes: #41 about Holiday Park in Traverse City and #42 about the Platte River Campground in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Both are amazing places to stay while visiting the region. We cover completely different activities and food options in the different episodes, so be sure to listen to all three if you are planning a visit of your own in the future!

Subcribe to Campground of the Week here…

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11 Sep

RVFTA #52: Get Ready to See America!

Get Ready to See America

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are celebrating the upcoming centennial of the National Park Service.

We invited Max Slavkin, cofounder of the Creative Action Network, on the show to talk about the See America Project, a crowd sourced art campaign that celebrates the beauty and heritage of America’s most beautiful places through a magnificent series of postcards, prints, apparel and calendars.

We have bought many prints from See America in the past, including this beautiful one of Cape Cod by Susanne Lamb:

See America has a new national parks calendar and post card set and we are giving a set away to our listeners. Enter in the contest hopper at the end of this post.

Max has generously offered our listeners a 15% discount that will be applied when you enter in the coupon code RVFTA.

We will also discuss a recent New York Times article about new programs, events, and initiatives available at National Parks across the country. Listen to hear our discussion of developments in Maine, Virginia, Louisiana, and Utah. Then head over to the New York Times website to read about the other 10 states highlighted in the article.

Plus we review a great coffee table book and app, both by National Geographic that will inspire you to plan your next big National Park adventure.

Complete National Parks of the United States, by Mel White offers a comprehensive guide to over 400 parks, monuments, battlefields, recreation areas, and seashores. It is easy to read and full of useful information.

National Parks by National Geographic for iPad and iPhone is free app but then offers in app purchases. Listen for our pros and cons to see if you should download it today.

YOU may be focused on the big one year birthday of RV Family Travel Atlas. But WE are gearing up for the great National Parks Centennial Celebration. This is Episode #52: Get Ready to See America!
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24 Jul

RVFTA #45: Great Smoky Mountains Wrap Up!

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

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

great smoky mountain jellystone site

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

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!

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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 Sep

Hiking Acadia with Kids: 5 Amazing Hikes for the Whole Family

This article originally appeared in the Jayco Journal.

With over 120 miles of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island, you could visit Acadia National Park many times over and never walk the same path twice. After three visits to Acadia (two of them with young kids in tow) we have discovered some amazing family-friendly hikes that will please both children and adults. All of these hikes encompass the best that Acadia has to offer, with sweeping ocean views, dramatic granite cliffs, and landscapes filled with cedar, birch, and spruce. 


This easy four-mile round trip hike (also known as Ocean Path or Ocean Drive Trail) is the classic introductory hike to Acadia. Starting off at Sand Beach, the path brings you to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs, passing by one beautiful vista after another. There are many small turnoffs that can lead to dramatic views, and also dramatic drop offs. If you wander off the main trail, keep a close eye on your kids. There are also stretches where the path is right next to the road. Traffic can be fast and close, so hand-holding might be in order. Even though we enjoyed the scenery, this hike was crowded and usually is during the peak visiting season.

Reward yourselves after the hike with a swim at Sand Beach…just be prepared to squeal as you dive into the cold water.


One of the more famous family-friendly hikes within the Park Loop, this trail also rewards its hikers with stunning views of Sand Beach, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain. We enjoyed this trail with another family and all of the kids had a blast navigating the rocky terrain.  The summit offered incredible ocean panoramas as well as a safe space for snacking and enjoying the view. If you are feeling more adventurous, take the Cadillac Cliffs trail spur. We avoided this on account of young Wesley.

One local mom we met on the trail recommended parking at the Gorham Mountain Trail head, hiking to Sand Beach, and taking the Island Explorer Bus back to your car at the trail head. The promise of a fun bus ride back to the car might do wonders to motivate little hikers.


If you want to get away from the crowds clustered around the Park Loop, drive past Southwest Harbor to the Wonderland and Ship Harbor Trails. Both of these trails can be done independently, or you can do what we did: hike out to the water on the Wonderland Trail, then head west along the rocky beach to the Ship Harbor Trail and complete a loop back to the parking lot.

Time for just one of these two trails? We think Ship Harbor is your best bet, offering lots of paths down to the tide pools and, of course, great water views. We hiked these trails on a weekend during peak season and saw only a handful of people. This is truly the quieter side of Acadia.


We get much of our travel intel from the recommendations of other campers. A friendly hiking dad named Chris told us that the Flying Mountain Trail would be perfect for our family. He was right. This 1.5 mile loop was great fun for the boys, giving them a good challenge at the beginning with a steep ascent ending with beautiful views of the Somes Sound. The tricky descent kept them entertained, and there is a rock beach where the kids can play at the bottom. The hike ends with an easy walk via a fire road right back to the parking lot.  Awesome hike.  Thanks, Chris.


We’ve written about the Great Head Trail before on this blog.  This was the first hike we took with the twins on our first long camping road trip years ago, so it holds a special place in our hearts.  In our opinion, it has just the right amount of challenge and offers the perfect Acadian panoramic views. There is also the added bonus of ending the hike on Sand Beach where the kids can splash and play (if they have any energy leftover).

If you have a favorite hike in Acadia National Park, kid-friendly or not, let us know in the comments below. We plan on going back when the boys are older and tackling some greater challenges!

We used the following 3 books to plan our hiking in Acadia. We strongly recommend them.

Tom St. Germain’s A Walk in the Park is the best-selling trail guide for Acadia National Park for good reason. It fits in the back of your pocket and includes maps and concise descriptions of over fifty hikes.

The AMC’s Discover Acadia National Park by Jerry and Marcy Monkman also describes the park’s best biking and paddling. It includes a pull-out discovery map, far more detailed than the free one available at the visitor center.

We also recommend Best Hikes with Kids: Vermont, New Hampshire, & Maine, published by The Mountaineers Books. We have used this book in all three states, so keep a copy in your camper when traveling in New England! 


03 Sep

My National Park Story Is Up…How About Yours?

I stumbled across–by way of a tweet–this great project by the National Parks Conservation Association. You can submit your National Park story to www.myparkstory.org and they have a bunch published on the site. As I read through them, I was really encouraged by how many families have built lasting, beautiful memories by enjoying one of the best investments this country has made.

So, of course, I submitted my own story. I could have chosen from many important moments I have experienced with my children in a National Park. In the end, I had to go with the Story of the Forest Scavenger Hunt that we did in the Shenandoah National Park. It was the first hike I did with all three of my boys, so it has a special place in my heart.

You can scroll through the stories and see if you spot ours…or you can go directly to our story. I have to say I was a bit tickled that it was chosen as a “NPCA Staff Pick.”

What is your story? Take a minute and participate in this great project. Or more importantly, take a minute to think about how lucky we are to have this great national resource. Then go visit a park. Your story, your pick.

17 Jul

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse: Maybe Third Time Will Be a Charm?

Do they really want anyone to climb?

There was controversy in the wind at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse this past weekend.

Last year the boys were not allowed to climb to the top because they were not the requisite 42 inches tall. I took umbrage at this requirement, since the campers scampered to the top of High Point at the age of three. They have energy to burn and I wouldn’t mind them letting it out by climbing a couple of hundred stairs. However, the rangers wouldn’t budge and turned us away from the ticket booth with rather disapproving looks.

This year I thought we had it made. I was sure Max and Theo were tall enough and I was excited to show them the views from the top of the tallest lighthouse in America. We had them stand next to the measurement lighthouse and it seemed to us that we were in the clear…

Until we again went to the ticket booth. Here the ranger pulled out the official lighthouse measurement tool (I thought 42 inches was 42 inches…), and once again we got the no go.

We were told they could go to the door and look inside. Wow, said the preschoolers.

Still, they took it in stride. I got a few smiles out of them, but you can see the hint of resignation. I’m pretty sure they walked away believing that they would never actually be 42 inches tall. Ever.


At least we had the Junior Ranger Program to fall back on. The boys remembers getting their “medals” from last year and were excited to dial in a repeat performance. The Junior Rangers entails doing some activities in a book, attending an educational program, and taking an oath to protect wildlife across America.

Someone needs to let these rangers know that no actual power or privilege comes along with the title of “Junior Ranger.” Last year a ranger wondered out loud if my boys had actually completed the activities themselves (of course not). This year, the ranger wondered if my boys were old enough to participate and whether they might poke their eyes out with the little pencils (very likely). Both times I bit my tongue and refrained from pointing out that most children today would rather play on an iPad than visit a National Park, so maybe they should welcome the participation of any young soul. Either way, a simple but pointed raise of the eyebrow and my boys received their activity book and sharp pencil.

The young rangers who run the educational activities make up for their cranky elders by offering the kids friendliness and enthusiasm in spades. Max and Theo still talk about the Sea Turtle presentation from last year where they learned a song to help them remember a turtle’s journey. This year they learned about the National Park “Arrowhead”from Ranger Christie, and although I know they didn’t understand most of what was going on, they thoroughly enjoyed it.


And yes, they received their badges, again. And it was just as exciting the second time around.



Fingers crossed…next year we climb.