Family camping trip.

It’s kind of a unicorn situation in the history of my family. As a Brownie (think Girl Scouts), I camped. And now, as an adult, I camp – but I did that specifically so that I would be a good mom to a boy.

(That’s a whole ‘nother story…but when I separated from my now ex-husband, I realized that I need to up my game as the mom of a boy who really should be jumping, climbing and getting muddy – or something like that).

When my mom remarried and set up house with my (second) step-dad, we didn’t really camp. Travel, yes. Road trip, definitely. But we didn’t camp. So, to actually go on a family camping trip…let’s just say it was a first. There were learning curves for all of us – and that’s okay.

Traveling as a family is always an adventure, and you’re in it together. Might as well make the best of a learning curve (adventure) with people you love.

I’ve never been to the Cherokee, NC area. Neither had my parents. We were all drinking it in – and I would say that we quickly hit the highlights on the couple of days during our stay. Here are are a few observations that made the most impact on me and that I would share with friends heading to the area.

1. Grab Some Coffee

There’s a great little coffee shop in one of the shopping centers in downtown Cherokee. Qualla Java is next to Carolina Coney’s & Cream on (also known as HWY 19). Really fun space with plenty of different seating arrangements, including a room you can reserve for a group (just add your name to the calendar). All the typical drink options you’d expect – and some unique choices like the Appalachian (blackberry and nuts) and Cayenne Mayan (cayenne pepper and chocolate – totally the one I got).

2. KOA Campground

We were given a very high recommendation to stay at the KOA campground at Cherokee. “There are so many fun things for the kids to keep them busy,” was the adjoining statement. We found that to be true. The kid LOVED the jumping pillow (and it was a great way to get the wiggles out after a long time in the car)!

Even if you’re staying on the campground during “off season,” remember that they have an indoor pool. Pack the swim gear for the whole family. Kids can enjoy the pool while the parents enjoy time in the hot tub.

3. Plan for Elk (and Other Wildlife)

On Big Cove Road in Cherokee, NC, there’s a specific area on the side of the road for elk viewing. It’s wide, grassy and partially fenced off. We saw elk during our weekend stay, but (as you might imagine) they weren’t where we expected them. Keep the camera handy (if you like to snap pics) and keep a wary eye. There’s wildlife everywhere, and it’s beautiful.

And no, I didn’t take my own advice. No camera at the ready means there’s no picture for you to see. But they were awesome. Big and brown with antlers that betrayed their youth. And they were munchin’ out on the trees right beside the road (not in the elk viewing area…apparently, they were rebellious youth).

4. Cash Only

Enough of the small shops around Cherokee are cash only that I would say you should keep some green in your wallet. I’ll admit, I don’t often keep cash in my wallet unless I know for sure that I am going to need it. Next time I head to this area in western NC, I will definitely stash a couple of bills in order to be ready for anything.

5. Hurrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino (Dining)

Yea. We went to the casino for dinner. And there are several different places listed to get your grub on. But, there are only a few that you can access with a kid in tow (several are in the Food Court, only accessible via the playing floor – over 21 only).

Brio Tuscan Grille (the restaurant we chose for our Mother’s Day celebration) is not only kid accessible but also has a kid’s menu, not to mention plenty of sophisticated options for the grown palates. Portions are large. Drinks are strong (as Mom will attest). And the tiramisu is light and creamy (and totally yummy-goodness).

6. Staying Connected

As you might expect for a rural mountain area, there are some pockets of connectivity that are better than others. At the campground, I relied solely on Wi-Fi to see me through (and it wasn’t like I was able to keep many windows open or zip through apps on the phone). It was better downtown and at the casino, where I was able to post pictures of my family and the bears.

Just plan ahead. Consider bringing a battery back up for your mobile device. And revel in some unplugged time. I’ve been called a workaholic, but even I wallowed in the loveliness of being disconnected and soaking my toes in the freezing cold river water. (Talk about an all-natural way to feel really, really alive!)

It went fast. Our weekend at Cherokee. Why is it that the good times with family seem to pass in the blink of an eye?

Have you traveled to Cherokee, NC? What did I miss? The kid is already working on me to return to the KOA Cherokee campground during the summer season when the outdoor pool will be open (complete with slide), so I expect that we’ll be back in the area before the year is out. What should I add to my list next time?