13 Oct

Got 48 Hours and an RV? Visit Fancy Gap, Virginia! (Destination Inspiration for Go RVing)

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One of our most popular podcast episodes ever was about camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Last summer we originally planned a stay in Fancy Gap, Virginia largely because we needed a place to rest on our way down to the Great Smoky Mountains.

We were shocked when Fancy Gap became one of our favorite stops that summer. The Fancy Gap KOA was a peaceful and sleepy retreat, just a few tenths of a mile from the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We enjoyed driving along one of America’s most popular scenic byways, and we loved watching live music at the Blue Ridge Music Center.

Plus, our visit to Mount Airy–the childhood home of Andy Griffith and inspiration for the Andy Griffith Show–could not have been amore delightful way to spend a day sightseeing with our boys. After pork chop sandwiches at Snappy Lunch, haircuts at Floyd’s Barber Shop, and a tour of the town in the back of a police car our kids were obsessed with all things Andy Griffith.

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And they are still watching the TV show in regular rotation.

Go RVing has a special section of their website called Destination Inspiration, where you can find out how to make the most out of 48 hours in some amazing locations around the country. We were thrilled to write one about Fancy Gap, Virginia and the surrounding area.

You can read our step-by-step guide here on Go RVings Destination Inspiration. And then tell us where you love to go when you have an RV and 48 hours to kill…

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And you can also check out the podcast we recorded about the area last summer…RVFTA Episode #42 Greetings from the Blue Ridge Parkway!

03 Jul

RVFTA #42: Greetings from the Blue Ridge Parkway!

The Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway

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

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

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

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

Highlights include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

05 Oct

RV Family Travel Atlas: 5 Myths about RVing

In this week’s RV Family Travel Atlas podcast, we discuss five common myths about the RV lifestyle. We also talk about some delicious alternatives to the traditional campground breakfast. What else is on the agenda? A review of the Jellystone Luray campground, impressions of the new Winnebago Brave, and ideas for our upcoming trip to Washington, D.C.!

Remember, you can also find us on iTunes now. So download a episode, jump in the car, and hit the road…

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04 Aug

A Scavenger Hunt for all Ages: Story of the Forest, Shenandoah

We were stale. By the end of last summer, we had Max and Theo hiking up to three miles no sweat. On our trip to New York State we took on trail after trail, finding waterfalls and gorges and swimming holes.

But a pregnancy and newborn took its toll on all of us, and a year later the trail blazers were rusty. Even though I had found some online descriptions of kid-friendly hikes, I decided to talk to the rangers at the Big Meadows Visitor Center so we didn’t get in over our heads with the preschoolers and newborn we happened to be traveling with.

Lesson learned. Always have a conversation with the experts. The rangers pointed me toward the “Story of the Forest” trail and handed me a scavenger hunt booklet.

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I was a little skeptical at first. There were a lot of words and I have fast-moving boys.

But the very first clue hooked them. They were running from blue blaze to blue blaze, searching for large fungi and animal watering holes.

We veered from the script when we came across a group of deer eating about 10 feet off of the trail.

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I’ll be honest…after 10 clues or so, the boys weren’t paying much attention to the hunt anymore. They had their sticks and they were crashing along from blaze to blaze. Finding the blue paint patches kept them moving during the almost 2-mile walk.

Jeremy and I, on the other hand, were completely engrossed. We learned the names of some trees, found out where witch hazel comes from, and discovered more about the works projects that developed the park.

Neither of us were enrolled in any “Junior Ranger” programs while young, and though we enjoy the great outdoors, we don’t have a lot of formal knowledge. At the end of this hike, I wanted to do a dozen more just like it. It was such an engaging way to experience a new terrain, and both the adults and children were actually entertained by nature. At the same time. Wow.

I’m not sure if the National Parks has other hunts like this. I’ve never seen one advertised. If they are sincerely interested in getting families out of the visitors’ centers and onto the trails, this would be a great way to do it.

The picnic area right at the end helped also.
02 Aug

Luray KOA: Neat and Tidy, Meet Your Match

When my husband suggested that we break up the drive from Asheville to New Jersey by stopping in Luray, I was less than supportive. I barely had clean clothes left. There was nothing but crumbs in the pantry. I was ready for home.

But pushing Wes past six hours is, at this point, a self-defeating proposition, so I agreed to a couple of nights at the Luray KOA right outside of Shenandoah National Park.

And my husband was, as he so often is, pushy yet right.

My first comment about the campground was “Wow, this entrance is small.” I couldn’t really imagine big Class A RVs being able to turn in. Clearly they were able to, since there were plenty of the beasts in the campground, but still–it looked a little like the entrance to a farm.

Then there was the camp office. Contained within a perfectly maintained A-frame building, it looked like something out of an IKEA catalog. All clean lines and small fixtures, with neat stacks of books and pendant lighting. Oh, and pretty close to nothing for sale. My husband, the consummate shopper, was practically beside himself.

As I stood outside our camper the first night, I kept trying to put my finger on what it was about this place that made it feel so different than many of the campgrounds we have stayed at previously. There was a suitable playground within reach of our site, so the boys could play while we relaxed.

There was a thoughtfully placed ping-pong table with a shade overhead to keep out the sun or rain.

There was a beautiful view and friendly neighbors.

But we have found these things at many campgrounds.

It took me a bit to realize that the Luray KOA is just perfectly, impeccably tidy and thoughtful.

Every sight has the perfect balance of sun and shade, grass and patio. All of the sites face onto a big, beautiful common green where you can play ball or toss a frisbee.

This created a sort of country village feel. When we went out for the day, they cleaned out our fire pit for crying all night. That was a definite first in our experience.

I sort of felt like there might be someone roaming the campground with a pair of scissors, looking for blades of grass that had gone astray.

When Jeremy mentioned the next day that the owners were from Europe, all the pieces clicked into place.  This is what a European campground might feel like, only full of Americans and their trucks and their RVs.

It suited these Americans just fine. The boys made a friend to play with immediately, and we met a lovely couple from New Hampshire. I’m pretty sure that the landscape leads people into more village-like behavior, walking, and chatting, and meeting together in the common area for shared activities.

I can’t wait to stop at my small, European campground again.

30 Jul

Max the Lepidopterist and Theo the Fantasist

On our way from Asheville to the Shenandoah National Park, we broke for lunch at your typical roadside fast food joint. We unloaded the kids and began to walk into the restaurant when Max stopped dead in his tracks. Then he broke free of my mommy-parking-lot-handgrip (no small feat) and went racing back to the car yelling and pointing.Before I could scream at him about parking lot safety, he was pulling a dead butterfly out of the grill of my husband’s truck. Awesome. Of course the adults wanted to toss the thing and head in to wash hands and eat. But the look on Max’s face let us know that the butterfly was here to stay.

I was made to put it into tupperware for the rest of the trip. Over the next few days he proceeded to build it a ‘nest’ with hay found on a hike, and decorate the tupperware with beloved Berenstain Bear stickers.

The butterfly rests peacefully each night next to the nightlight in their bedroom. He is calling it a pet which is cute, but also a little sad.

Theo has paid no attention whatsoever to Max’s butterfly. Instead, his nature commentary that week was of a different sort altogether.

We got to see a couple of bears while in Shenandoah National Park (calm down–we were in the car).

When Jeremy asked if he should get closer to get a better picture, I explained that where there is a cub, there is a mother bear hiding near by, so he had better keep his distance.

Theo: Why is the momma bear hiding?
Me: Because she is scared of humans.
Theo: Oh…so bears AND fairies are scared of humans?
Me: Yes, son.

I wish I had some nature anecdote about Wes, but we are just not there yet. Suffice it to say he sure is easy to carry on a hike.

For now.