Applachian Trail Hiking with kids

Its been awhile since we posted. After leaving fulltimr RV life for a more stable day to day, we have found ourselves traveling about our new home state to explore.

Part of our exploring has lead us to many hikes through the Blueridge mountains and Appalachian trails.

Our 3 girls are older now. Our oldest is 7, middle 5 and youngest is now 2. Hiking now means these girls can use their feet for longer stretches, well, all except the littlest. But at least we now don’t find ourselves carrying two kids at once. Lol. Those were some tougher stretches when they were smaller!

As we have been building our endurance for longer hikes, we have started gearing up to hike more of the appleacian trails. So many of them can be done in portions for families like ours.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina & Poinsett State Park

Driving / RVing: Beware of the roads and large rig navigation in central South Carolina. Case in point, our experience about 15 miles away from our camping destination of Poinsett State Park. We were using google maps (I neither use it or iphone maps any longer) to navigate our final few turns toward the park. It took us through a one way road about as wide as our rig with really low hanging power lines that almost caught on our front A/C unit! Also, there were telephone poles placed at the edge of sharp hairpin turns.

Camping: Poinsett State Park. This was a wonderful find and you can’t beat the $19 per night. It is actually one of only 3 campgrounds within 30 minutes drive of Congaree National Park. There are about 30 sites with water/electric and it has a dump station. At the park, you can walk down to the lake and visit the old mill ruins along the river behind the visitor center. Be sure to bring plenty of bug spray! The bugs and flies definitely seem to like to get out during both dawn and dusk hours. During the actual daytime they were non-existent.

Congaree National Park for kids: we decided to just do the short 2.5 mile boardwalk loop hike. We were happy to stay on the boardwalk and not trek through the swamp when we saw a rather large Water Moccasin, also known as the Cottonmouth snake, down below us. The boardwalk was a fantastic and fun hike for our little kids. We made a game out of finding the 20 numbered site markers where we would stop and read the information from the self-guided tour. Be sure to also find the Mosquito Meter that is updates daily! Fortunately for us it was only at a 2. I can’t imagine the days where it is a full force 6!

Local eateries: we didn’t find much in the ways of local restaurants. You could always venture into Columbia which is about an hour away from poinsett and 30 minutes from Congaree, but we only had booked 2 nights in the area. There are a few smaller grocery stores close to the state park.

Fifth Wheel and Travel Trailer Walk Through Checklist

Doing your final walk-through before driving your fifth wheel or travel trailer off the dealer parking lot is a big endeavor. There are lots of things we wish we had learned about and questions we should have asked before leaving camping world. Here are some of our top suggestions.

1. Hitching and Unhitching: sounds self-explanatory. However, neither of us ever had experience connecting to or unhooking from our truck before this. You want to make sure of a few things.

  • Can the pin and overhang clear the height of your truck bed? Make sure that you know how to operate the jacks to do this in the front and back. Also, we didn’t know the rear jacks should be completely up.
  • What position should your hitch be set in?
  • How do you connect your trailer brake and power supply to the towing vehicle?

2. How does the leveling system work and what are the most accurate points on the trailer you should use to determine if it is really level?

3. How do you turn on your water pumps, both exterior and interior buttons?

4. Water heater: how does it operate? What buttons need to be used to turn it on and off and what is the best way to increase the amount and duration of hot water.

5. How do you open and close your black and grey water tanks?

6. How do you fill your fresh water tank or what position do you need to turn any handles to for city water when you are at a site with full hookups?

7. Generators: when you have a generator setup for propane, where are the lines for this and how does it attach?

8. Refrigerator: if you have a norcold or any other RV refrigerator brand, what are the settings to switch it from being powered by electric of propane? Where is the refrigerator fan located?

9. Propane tanks: how to turn them and off and how do you operate your regulator? Be sure you know how to attach and remove the tanks for refilling. Know how to determine if your tanks are all empty.

10. Slides: evaluate whether they all are operating correctly. Don’t drive off the lot with a rig that already has slow slides.

11. Furnace: know all the parts of your furnace. How to turn it on and off, switch between A/C and heat and also other items like the sail switch which is used to reset it.

RV Newbie – Must-Have Items to NOT Leave Home Without

Buying a new (or new to you) RV for the first time can be both exciting and stressful. Which brand and floorplan? How do I dump, use propane, turn the lights on?! Once you figure out which one works best for you, it is time to decide what you really must or cannot go without while RVing. So, after fulltime travelling in our RV for a year, here are the things we would not leave home without!

1. Extra Sewer Hose or Extension

This probably goes without saying, but you need to dump. The standard sewer kit from either Rhinoflex or Camco is 20ft. in length. That’s great for newer RV resorts that might have taken this into consideration when plotting out their spaces and septic connections. However, about 50% of the time, we are glad to have at least one 10-15ft extension. Sometimes we have even needed two!

2. Heated Hose and Pipe Insulation Wrap

Better safe than sorry. Especially if you choose to even experience fall or spring. Coupling a heated hose that plugs into the electric box, along with wrapping both ends of the hose (plus the tap), will ensure your water line does not freeze. Pipe Insulation is sold at Home Depot or Lowes.

3. Cellular Data Plan

Yes, I know, you want to be One With Nature! However, especially for those who work remotely, connectivity is key. How do we get connected? Campground WiFi (or starbucks) or Cellular Data Plans. I will leave it up to you to decide which plan works best for you, but having a data plan that does not throttle is key! Personally we have both Verizon (Beyond Unlimited Plan and Jetpack) and AT&T (through data plans.

4. Range Extenders

Ok, this one gets everyone confused. I will be brief here and go into detail in another post. Cellular range extenders and wifi antennas are two different things. One extends your ability to capture and broadcast to cell towers. The other gives you the ability to get a stronger signal from campground or other free wifi. Either way, if you plan on streaming Netflix, gaming, or doing a webcast for work, having one or both is a necessity. If I had to choose one over the other, I would choose the cellular range extender.

We use the Weboost for a cellular range extender. It typically, in laymen’s terms, gives you 2-3 more bars of 3G or 4G.

5. Curved Jaw Grooved Joint Pliers

This is the one tool I use at least twice at each campground. Why? It works so much better at tightening your hose to the spigot and at the RV. It has a much tighter grip than adjustable wrenches that allows for you to get a tight connection at the RV end.

6. 50 or 30 Amp Adapter

Especially if planning to go fulltime, spots at campgrounds in popular locations fill up fast. Also, if you boondock, most inverter generators do not have a 50amp outlet. About 25% of the time we have had to use a site which has only a 30amp outlet.

7. Power Station

This may come in handy, not only for you, but to assist others.

Mammoth Cave or Carlsbad Caverns

If I had to pick between Carlabad caverns and mammoth cave …hands down I’d return to Carlsbad caverns. But mammoth…it scares the hell out of me. This is the kind of cave people get lost in. Stuck in. It’s long and deep and tight. Nothing like the grand huge room that Carlsbad is.

Mammoth makes you book a tour- and thank god! A person would get lost forever down there. The min we started down the steep windy steps into the cave, I second guessed what I was doing. The cave walls curve into the stairs, making you squeeze your body (and baby in front pack) to fit. Behind you are about 50 plus other people – so there’s no turning back- you have to continue. Feelings of claustrophobia and being trapped definitely become a real thing. And with little kids, you remain calm and talk happy thoughts as you walk deeper into the unknown with them, praying it will all be over soon.

I don’t like caves. Yes they are impressive, but I don’t want to be in them. I need control over my body and surrounding ways to much. The need to explore isn’t so strong that I need to be underground. But that’s just me.

My husband on the other hand decided to go with a group of guys into the unknown to find some unmarked cave. Glad he’s back alive.

No thank you.

First harvest host

The windows are open in our rv tonight. I hear the Pitter patter of rain drops as evenings cool air brushes up against my skin. It’s been hot and humid most of the evening so this is a welcome breeze. Its later now. The rain fall has lulled our girls to sleep. I’m looking out the window, seeing fire flies for the first time in years. They are putting on a show. One flies close intensely, only to fade as another lights up in the distance. It’s a dance, one they most likely have been doing in this beautiful field for ever.

Tonight is our first night staying with a harvest host. We have an open pasture beside us with about 6 or 7 cows and beautiful rolling hills. No one else is here except us. Essentially we are boon docking. No electric. No water. No sewer. And you know what? No one cares. 🙂 Its a welcome unplugging yo really be in nature more intently.

We are at a maple farm in vermont just outside montpellier. Earlier tonight we all had maple icecream and treats from the store & picked up a huge pint of maple syrup to take with us on the road for our pancakes.

The girls and I rode bikes and swung on the huge swings they have on the property before heading inside to take cold baths and showers. It was so hot and humid earlier. I’m sure this storm had something to do with it.

Andrew had wanted to run the generator, but weather decided against it for us. Just as well. The night air is cool and fresh.

The rain has been off and on, taking turns with the fireflies for the first part of the evening but its officially settling into a steady pitter patter across the roof. It’s so nice to have our windows open and feel the breeze of the night.

In the morning our neighbors came around to say hello before we left! 😉

Our National Adventure at the Dry Tortugas!

The Dry Tortugas is the southern-most National Park off the continental US just a 2 1/2 hour ferry ride from Key West! We were so excited to finally visit after months of anticipation.

Camping: although you can pitch a tent outside Fort Jefferson on the main island in the national park, we opted for a day trip. In fact, we left our 5th wheel at the Miami-Everglades Thousand Trails / Encore Park ($20 per night with camping / zone pass). There are many other options closer to Key West, but still almost an hours’ drive to the harbor. With a 7am arrival time, we opted for a hotel and a 5 minute drive. Although difficult to find spots in most places around Key West, we were able to park our Ram 3500 long bed dually in the city parking garage across from the Harbor for a small day fee charge.

Yankee Freedom Ferry Fees: You must make reservations to take the Ferry to the Dry Tortugas by booking a trip on the Yankee Freedom here. The cost is $180 per adult and $125 per child over 4. If you have a National Parks Pass, be sure to bring it along because they will reimburse you $15 per adult when you checkin before boarding.

The Ride over: You board the Ferry in groups. If you are prone to being sea sick, I suggest purchasing the dramamine. The tour guides suggested one pill for kids and two for adults. I opted out and regretted it about half way through the ride!! Also, find seating on the lower deck towards the back… way less bumpy!

They do provide a nice small breakfast buffet once the boat gets rolling. No need to pack food unless you want to snack during the day, but I suggest bringing plenty of water. The main guide was very knowledgeable in his presentation during the first part of the ride. We did all get sea sick about 1/2 way through and ended up with our doggie bags sitting in the way back of the boat. The waves were about 5-6 feet and they advised it would be pretty choppy for most of the ride. It smoothed out as we got close to the park.

As you can see from our YouTube Channel video above, the experience was wonderful for adults and kids. The kids were provided snorkeling gear and spent a good hour out in the water looking at the fish. Hiking around the roof was manageable, even for someone like me who fears heights. There is plenty of history to be learned and interesting rooms to visit!

If we ever go back, we would plan to pitch a tent!

Alison’s thoughts:

The island is beautiful and so relaxing! Garden Key was amazing! The conch shells, beach and marine life are just out of this world incredible! We had fish literally swimming next to us in clear blue water and saw conch shells everywhere along the shore. Birds flew above us and out on the seaside like I’ve never seen before. Truly, this entire area is beautiful and I hope one day to come back.

Our National Adventure through the Everglades!

Heading down from Florida’s Gulf Coast, we found a perfect spot south of Miami and 30 minutes from both the Shark Valley Visitor Center at the Everglades and Biscayne National Park. Here’s a video of our experience. Camping, tour and written experience below.

Camping: although you can camp in the Everglades, we opted out due to all the stories of Burmese Pythons and thoughts of Alligators invading our camper! We parked our 5th Wheel at the Miami Everglades Thousand Trails / Encore Park for $20 per night with our Thousand Trails Membership.

Everglades Tour: this is one of the few times we decided to book a ttour instead of hiking. We’re glad we did since the tour tram goes along the same narrow path as the bikes and hikers, pushing them extremely close to the edge where they could turn into a Happy Meal for one of the several gators we passed.

Tours book-up fast and you should plan to schedule your tour a few days ahead of time during the summer. They depart every hour from the Shark Valley Visitor Center. You can make a reservations online (links at end of post). When you plan your visit, be sure to add time in case you need to walk from the main state road to the visitor center. Parking is extremely limited at the visitor center and we had to walk it in. It was fun though, since we spotted our first Alligator on that walk in!

The tour guide and driver were very friendly and full of information. They spoke about the history of the Everglades being donate as land from the Oil and Gas Industry, but also about the current issue with Exotic Animals being left there and the impact on the ecology. About half way through, you make it to the only viewing tower in the entire national park. You can see so much wildlife from there.

In all, the kids gave the experience an thumbs up. Definitely worth a day trip or 1/2 day.

Shark Valley Tram Tour

Miami Everglades Thousand Trails Encore Park