Big Meadow Family Campground

One thing is true about visiting the Smoky Mountains; there are ample places to stay and this is true of RV parks. Pigeon Forge, Gaitlinburg, and Sevierville are all very well known destination spots in the Smoky Mountains but they were not what we were looking for when we selected our destination.  We were looking for a place close to the Smoky Mountain National Park. We were looking for a place close to fishing and other water activities. We were looking for quiet place to lay our heads after hours of exploring. We found Townsend, Tennessee and Big Meadow Family Campground. Both provided exactly what we wanted and were looking for in a vacation destination.

Townsend calls themselves the “quieter side of the mountain” and I can attest that after a few trips over to the more popular Smoky Mountain destinations (Pigeon Forge, Gaitlinburg, and Sevierville) it is quieter, less commercial, less touristy, and generally smaller. Big Meadow Family Campground is not the only full service campground in Townsend but it was the right choice for us. From my observations I saw a lot of older couples vacationing with grandchildren, families just like ourselves, and even vacationing couples all enjoying their time at Big Meadow Family Campground. We also noticed that many people at the campground are repeat customers who come back over and over.

Big Meadow is a family run business. They have 78 full hook up sites, 25 of these are gravel pads with the rest being concrete, 58 sites are pull through leaving only 20 back in sites. The grounds are beautiful and very well maintained. Security and safety of all guest seemed to be a very high priority of the owners. To enter the park you have to use a key pad to pass though a locked gate.

During our check-in we were advised that there is a strict 5 mph speed limit in the campground. I can’t begin to tell you how many times we are told about a speed limit and we see people speeding through the campground during our stays but this campground actually enforced the speed limit. I, as a parent with a little girl who has only just recently begun riding a bicycle by herself, really appreciate the safety I felt during our stay at Big Meadow Family Campground.

DSC02265 alteredThe other rule explained to us at check-in was that the gates locked at midnight and unlocked at 7:00 a.m. This rule impacted us only once. We had planned an early morning departure to drive over to Clingman’s Dome and wanted to leave by 6:30 a.m. The night before we moved our trucks to the front of the campground just outside the locked gate. The morning of our departure we walked a short walk to our trucks and went about our site seeing.

IMG_7060 alteredThe campground has a splash park, a gazebo with a fire pit, a dog park, and a playground with a large pirate ship climbing structure. The little girls in our group loved playing in the splash park and found it a perfect place to make friends and cool off after our long days of exploring. The only negative thing that I can say about any of these amenities is that the girl’s clothing got stained after a short play on the playground area. I have no idea what they touched but it was a stain that did not come out of their clothing. But to be fair, it is a playground and they are little girls.

Our campsites were equipped with water, electric (both 30 and 50 amp service) sewer and cable television. The only thing that the sites did not have was a fire ring. Campers could make a fire at their campsite if they had a fire pit and made it on the gravel or concrete (not in the grass).  Other campers during our visit made fires at the fire-pit in the gazebo but we never felt the desire to add extra heat to the already humid temperatures.

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We utilized the campground laundry room several times during our stay and found it to be clean and easy to access. In addition to the laundry room members of our group used the men’s shower.  All reports from the shower room were very positive (large, clean, spotless, bug free,  really, really nice were all words used to describe when I asked). We were also invited to a Sunday Morning Church Service held on site at the campground.

We arrived on a Thursday early evening just ahead of a round of storms, which we could not seem to shake on our trip. Our check-in process went smoothly as we were shown to our  sites, given a list of cable television stations, explained the rules of the campground, and introduced to the family cat, RJ. The rain caught up with us before we could even make it to our site and unhitch. Yet another wet hitch/unhitch.

We had saved grocery shopping for our week’s stay till we reached Townsend. So, on the first night with little food in our campers and the sky’s dumping inches and inches of rain on us, we sat out to find a local restaurant. We found the Montre Real Mexican Restaurant. The food was good, the staff were friendly and the prices were reasonable. It rained the entire meal  so we said good night and turned in early. The sound of rain falling on the camper sang us to sleep that first night.

We did use the IGA for our grocery needs. The butcher there was kind enough to special cut some meat for us as they did not have what we were looking for packaged. The store had our basic needs plus a little more but I would say if you are wanting something a little out of the norm you might want to stop at a store in a larger town.

Smoky Mountain National Park is only a few short minutes from the campground and within fifteen minutes to Cades Cove. We found a back scenic road that connects Cades Cove to Townsend that was a breathtaking and exciting trip to make. (We learned later this road, Rich Mountain Road, is the original route to Cades Cove.)

IMG_8251 alteredOutside the national park, floating down the Little River is a popular pass time. There are multiple outfitters very close to Big Meadows Family Campground. Two of the outfitters are literally within walking distance to the campground and offer a mile or so float downstream. The water level of the Little River changes frequently so I think any given day the experience can be different. I promise to give you more information on floating the Little River in a later post!

DSC02287All along 321 highway is a bike path that we used to bike to Burgermaster’s Drive-In for ice cream. Not only was the ice cream amazing (super smooth and creamy) they also had this 1950’s theme.  I learned about “wet nuts.” which is a dessert topping you can add to ice cream that is basically chopped walnuts in maple syrup. Burgermaster may not have had my favorite sundae available (a turtle) but I added wet nuts to my chocolate sundae and it was pretty good!

IMG_8282 alteredWe partook in wine tasting at Cades Cove Cellars and then stopped into Apple Valley Country Store and Cafe for some shopping and a fried pie. We actually met some fellow Missourians in the parking lot of Apple Valley who were stopping by to grab a few fried pies on their way home to Missouri. We purchased our pies from the store and I wish we had ordered them fresh from the cafe. Next time.

We also stopped at several other small shops and eateries along the way.  Some of our favorites were: GSM Outfitters, The Boy purchased his first pair of Chacos from them. We were very impressed with the product knowledge and helpfulness of the owners. The local fly shop in Townsend is the Little River Outfitters. If you plan to fish in the Smoky Mountains I highly suggesting going in and talking to them, they have a huge selection of fishing gear and give some great advice . Jake’s on the River is just a cool little retail shop, and PawPaw’s Kajun Kitchen has the best catfish we’ve ever had; and we have had a lot of catfish.

Keep checking back, we have more reviews and stories to share from our time in the Smoky Mountains.

Land Between The Lakes

A few hours south of St. Louis, Missouri and just over an hour north of Nashville, lays a peninsula between two lakes: Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. The area between the two rivers is known as Land Between The Lakes and it is a national recreational area.  The location made and ease of access made this a perfect pit-stop on our epic adventure.

IMG_6911We selected to stay at Hillman Ferry Campground as they have full service sites. We used the online reservation system to reserve our sites as we were traveling near a federal holiday and wanted no surprises. The online reservations were easy to make and eased our concern of finding a full campground. In hindsight, we did not need advanced reservations. We pulled in to find a huge campground with many different loops and lots of vacancies. We learned from talking to locals that the majority of sites are first come first serve and that a small percentage of their campgrounds are reserve-able.  We also learned that each year they hold a lottery to give some people long term access.

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We arrived at Land Between The Lakes from the Lake Barkley taking The Trace up to Hillman Ferry. The Trace is a divided highway running north and south and appears to be the main path to get around Land Between The Lakes. The check in process was easy and soon we were on our way to campground number 4.  Our site was a pull through with near a stream with the Todd’s literally right across the road from us. We were surrounded by tall pines and we felt the weight of the humidity.

IMG_8203 alteredThe morning after we arrived we met a local man who gave me a tour of the park in his golf cart. He told us about some activities to think about participating in during our short time in this area. After breakfast, we loaded up and headed to the visitor center. The staff at the center were helpful in giving us options. Land Between The Lakes has an Elk and Bison Prairie that is a 700 acre prairie restoration project that visitors can drive through and watch out for elk and bison. We were advised to do this activity early in the morning or late in the evening for the best chances of seeing the animals.

Land Between The Lakes also has a Nature Center where many animals who historically live in this area can be seen. They also have programs and hikes available.  There is also a historical town called Homeplace 1850 which is a working 19th Century farm. In period clothing staff run this farm with task that residents from 1850 would have done; sheep sheering, planting a garden, bringing in the harvest, or even just playing music.

IMG_6931We selected to visit Golden Pond Planetarium and catch a Night Sky show. While we waited for the show to begin we wondered through the museum of how Land Between The Lakes came to be. The government used imminent domain to claim this land from the people who lived there (not once or twice but actually four different times) until the families who had lived in this area were all removed.

As we lingered in the museum waiting for the show to start, our phones alerted us to severe weather moving into our area. We realized we had left the awning out on the campers so the men decided to take a quick drive back to the campground to make sure we were secure. By the time they reached the campground a fast moving, intense storm had hit. The campground looked like a battle zone! The stream behind our camper filled, tree limbs were everywhere, and campers suffered damage to awnings. Our own awning was spared as I had grabbed the side of it that morning and lowered one corner. This allowed all the water to run off one side and not pool in the middle.

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The mom’s, little girls, and teen boys all attended the Night Sky show at the Planetarium. It was informative and inspired us to star watch the rest of the trip. After the show we rejoined the dads and we did a little geocaching and then headed off to find lunch. By the time we found a restaurant with wifi (one of the teen boys is taking an online college course) we were in the middle of a storm. On our way back to the campground we noticed leaves, limbs, and whole trees scattered all over the roads. We even spied birds perched on trees  drying out their wings.

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Upon arriving back to the campground we found that the storm had knocked all power out. The kids took off exploring on bicycles and the adults took off exploring by foot. We enjoyed meeting several other campers as we all bonded over the lack of utilities and how lucky we were to not have received damage in the storm. By the time we finished our walk, we still had no power. We had to make alternative arrangements for dinner because we had planned a crock pot meal that night.

IMG_6934 alteredA short drive from Land Between The Lakes national recreational area is a small town of Grand River, which is home to Patti’s 1880 Settlement Restaurant. We were able to get late reservations for dinner. While we wondered if our electricity was back on we dined on fried catfish, 2 inch thick pork chops, pasta, bread cooked in a flower pot, and some of the most amazing pie!

 

IMG_8217 alteredWe thought our luck had turned with this storm, by the time we got back from dinner the power was on. We went to bed happy to be on vacation and thankful we survived the days storms without any incident. An hour or so after we turned the lights out, Wayne woke me and announced that the power was out again. We went the entire night, temperatures in the high 80’s, oppressive humidity, in a tin can (you may call it a camper) with no air conditioning.

The next morning we learned the power was out to all of Land Between The Lakes area. This meant not only did we not have electricity to make coffee but we were also could not use water, or dump out tanks down the sewer lines. Despite having had plans to linger for the morning, we packed up and headed out.

I thought the Land Between the Lakes was beautiful. I wish we had been able to enjoy the swimming area. We never made it to the Elk and Bison Prairie. If we had water toys this might be a spot I would desire to return to. The locals, who were all so very nice to us, love this area and the campgrounds and spend a lot of time camping at Land Between the Lakes.

Our 2016 Epic Adventure

There are moments in my life I wish I had a “do-over” card. Don’t get me wrong, generally speaking I am very content with my life but every summer I do get a little envious of my friends who are teachers or school social workers. Their flexible summer schedule speaks to my soul and seduces it into something that resembles regret. I find myself wishing for a “do-over” so I can spend more time roaming in our RV.

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This summer our camping group planned our first ever epic adventure; two weeks on the road traveling. We had planned to leave Kansas City separately and meet up in Land Between The Lakes, Natural Recreational Area in Kentucky. The Taylor family minus The Boy planned to leave Kansas City on July 2 and spend a few days celebrating Independence Day and Pamela’s college best friends birthday. The Todd family and The Boy planned to leave on July 5 after fulfilling work and sports obligations.

On departure date we were greeted with rain and unseasonably cold weather. Our epic adventure almost got side tracked before it even started when I left my purse behind in a fast food restaurant on the way to our friends home. I think my face went ghostly white when I realized what I had done and how much vacation money I had in that purse. The twenty minutes it took to get back to the restaurant was the longest I have ever held my breath! I was so happy to talk to the manager, who found my purse and safely tucked it in a safe. I got it back with all of it’s contents. Despite the drama of forgetting my purse and the weather, we had a great time on this leg of our vacation. We enjoyed friendship, swimming, boating, tubing, jet skiing, and relaxing.

On July 5, we got up early and started making our way to Kentucky. Mapquest and Google Maps predicted that we would have a 6 hour 11 minute drive. From Camdeton Missouri we knew the first part of our trip would be down two lane country roads until we reach US Route 60.  Right before we reached Popular Bluff, Missouri we ventured from the paper printed directions to using our GPS Navigation System. We never even noticed that the GPS was leading us away from the printed directions until it was too late.

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Our GPS system has three settings: fastest, shortest, and economical. We had it set for fastest. The GPS found every two lane, barely a shoulder path to take us down. We watched our estimated time of arrival go from 6 hours 11 minutes to nearly 10 hours. I don’t think we could ever repeat that trip again, even if we wanted to, but one of the coolest moments was crossing the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The Todd’s crossed each of them on their way to Land Between The Lakes but they were hours apart. We crossed them at their intersection point down by Cairo, Illinois. The bridges were a bit scary but the view was amazing; water in every single direction. You barely make it over one bridge before you turn and go over another.

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We arrived at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area later than expected, tired but thrilled to find The Boy and our camping buddies and excited to begin our adventure.