Our First RV Trip: Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga West KOA

Our first trip with our new travel trailer: a weekend in Chattanooga at the Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga West KOA

I won’t say that everything that could go wrong did, because I can think of an awful lot of things that could have gone wrong and didn’t (for which I’m grateful)…..but a lot of things went wrong.

And it was still pretty fun! So, yay–first trip with the trailer=success(ful enough that we don’t want to sell the thing yet)!

We decided on the Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga West KOA for our first destination. We love Chattanooga, and it’s only a couple of hours away. The big plan was to go Saturday morning to Russell Cave National Monument (which is actually about 40 minutes west of Chattanooga) to do a tour and get Junior Ranger badges and all that, and then maybe do Rock City after lunch. We opted to send the dogs off to visit assorted relatives, reasoning that we should get a handle on how to put people in an RV first without throwing in canine complications.

I wasn’t really expecting everything to go perfectly smoothly with our first trip. In fact, we already had had to make a few adjustments to the plan days before the trip. Like we noticed the trailer’s battery wasn’t holding a charge for more than a couple of hours, so we knew we needed to stop by the dealership to have them swap it out for us (there’s a 30 day warranty on everything, even though the trailer’s used, so we were glad the battery decided to show its colors right away). And we’d originally planned to leave Friday right after Dave got home, but then we were freaking out about trying to have everything ready the night before and then leaving during rush hour and being under pressure to get there and get set up before dark…..so we decided to leave super early Saturday morning instead (eating the cost of Friday night’s reservation in exchange for our sanity), run by the dealer (which was, luckily, right on the way) when they opened at 8 to get the new battery, then get there, check-in, set up, and make it to Russell Cave in time for the late morning tour.

Simple, right?

Then the problems we DIDN’T anticipate started happening. Thursday afternoon, our washer broke, flooding the laundry room AND the kitchen below it. Much planning and packing time was lost to dealing with the immediate flooding and the aftermath of phone calls to Samsung to try to get things taken care of (I’ll know tomorrow whether I’m happy with their handling of the whole thing or not). And, of course, I couldn’t finish doing laundry for the trip.

Friday we took the dogs and a load of laundry out to my mom’s house. We stopped at the gas station on the way home to fill up the van. “I have some not so good news,” Dave reported when he got back in the van, “my license isn’t in my wallet.” Searches in his car and the pockets of pants worn that week were fruitless. I poured a glass of wine and came very close to deciding we should cancel the whole trip, so ill fated was it starting to seem. Driving out of state, hauling a giant trailer for only the second time seemed like a really bad thing to do with no license. (And me driving it seemed like an even worse idea. Dave: “I think you could drive this thing. It’s not that hard.” Me: But would it be hard while you’re having a panic attack?”) But then I rallied! Thanks, wine! The internet revealed that a DMV office relatively nearby would open at 7:30 Saturday morning. Then I spent half an hour searching through a ridiculous pile of eight year old bank statements, manuals from appliances we no longer own, and rabies certificates from dogs that have died in order to find Dave’s birth certificate.

It’s possible my filing system could use some tweaking.

Dave went to the DMV first thing the next morning while I finished packing up the trailer, and then we got on the road, only 3 hours behind schedule (or 17 hours, depending on which schedule you’re using).

Then Dave took a wrong turn. And it took us a really long time to notice.

And that’s how we ended up testing out our towing set up on some really windy, hilly roads way sooner than we meant to. But we made it to the RV dealer! Our brakes did not fail! Only half an hour later than we should have (or 17 and a half). They switched the battery out super quick (and it appears to be working great now) and we were on our way again.

And this is the end of the part where things kept going wrong. Now on to the funner parts.

I can’t really do a true review of the KOA we stayed at, because it’s the first KOA we’ve stayed at, and the first campground we’ve stayed at, period, with a trailer, so I have nothing to compare it to. I read a bunch of reviews before I booked it, and they were mostly positive. A few people had negative things to say about the roads getting to the campground, which almost kept me from booking. I wanted the driving to be as easy as possible for our first trip. But the roads turned out to be fine. You take a couple of miles of narrow but pretty flat and straight roads to the campground, and then the actual road in goes uphill, but not particularly steeply. I was not nervous at all, and it’s pretty easy to make me nervous about such things.

We had a pull through site near the playground and jumping pillow. Here’s our site:


I cropped the trailer next to us out to make the picture prettier, but, if I hadn’t, you’d see it just to the left of that tree and rock there. So our neighbors were pretty close, but I was expecting that, based on what I’d read about KOAs in general and this one in particular. It wasn’t really a big deal; there was a dog who seemed to be left alone all day in the trailer just next to us, but it only yapped for a few minutes when we first got there and then was mostly quiet.

koa03s koa06s

There was a pretty tight turn to get out of our site when we left Sunday:


(Oh, there: also you can get a better idea of how close the sites are to each other there). So Dave had to pull out and then go to the right immediately….so kind of pull to the left out of the site and then swing it all the way back to the right. And then take an immediate left again to exit the campground. As you can see, our neighbor had a much straighter shot to get out of his site; we probably should have told them we were new and needed everything to be easy.

Everyone we encountered who worked at the campground was super nice and helpful. One of the owners came by to deliver firewood to us and ended up spending a good 20 minutes talking Dave through getting the sewer connection set up.

The jumping pillow was a hit:


And Abe liked the small playground:


It poured all night and into the next morning, so we ended up not using the pool (which looked nice), and we weren’t there long enough to use the game room or the outdoor bowling or movie theater. But there seemed to be a good number of activities available.

And so far (knock wood) everything seems to be working well in the trailer (now that we have the new battery). No one slept especially well, but I think we can attribute that to the newness of the whole thing. And maybe to needing some comfy mattress pads or something. Thanks to the rain, we all spent the evening cooped up in there, and it didn’t feel crowded. I don’t know how the square footage actually compares to the kind of two room suites we usually get at hotels, but it felt bigger to me (and Dave agrees). Probably just because there were more distinct areas to spread out in? I do want to get some kind of door or curtain for the bunkhouse; there’s just an open doorway right now, and it was tough to get Abe to sleep when we could see everyone still. I wound up putting him to sleep in our room and then moving him later (and then moving him back to our bed again when he woke up in the middle of the night. But that’s just like home!)

Our shortened trip didn’t leave us with a whole lot of time to actually DO anything. We gave up on the idea of cooking dinner in the trailer when we realized the battery was shot and we couldn’t get the refrigerator cool before we left (we did cook eggs for breakfast the next morning), so we went out to eat in Chattanooga. The campground is about 20 minutes west of downtown; after we got set up, we headed over there and went to the aquarium for a super quick visit (we have a membership) before dinner:


Then we stopped by Wal-mart for a few things we had, of course, forgotten (top of the list: pillows and a corkscrew). Then we planned to build a fire and do marshmallows back at the campground, but the rain cut those plans short. So the kids read books and played card games, and then everyone went to sleep fairly early.

Next morning we got packed up and out of there without incident and made it home by 12:30 (where Dave backed the trailer into the driveway and nailed it on his first try!)

So, all in all, the trip accomplished what it was meant to accomplish: it gave us a chance to try out the trailer in its natural habitat. Sort of a practice run. We have our next trip–two whole nights!–planned already for a few weeks from now. But so far we’re still happy we bought the trailer, and that’s the most important thing. Because we’re pretty much stuck with it now.

Soon: a project from my wheel-less house!


Our First RV Trip: Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga West KOA — 7 Comments

  1. Oh, dear! I literally laughed out loud! I can totally related. I swear it takes us an hour or two or four or ten extra to get anywhere we are going, but somehow, it still ends up being fun (you have us beat with the 17.5 hours extra). I did a whole blog post on mishaps from our first year. There were many!

  2. Congrats on a great trip – we rolled in around midnight from our trip to Shenandoah. Of course our trailer is a lot smaller than yours, but we still had fun. Its not the size of the box that matters, its how many smiles fit inside.

  3. This is the coolest thing ever! I am currently trying to convince Nick that we need a trailer now. I should probably stop bingeing your blog because I wind up talking about you for long periods of time. You give me all these ideas, and it’s just a dangerous situation. It’s so incredible to get to weekend and make these memories with the kids!

    • You totally need a trailer! You could be our camping buddies. We could meet up halfway all the time, like in Mississippi. If the chance to thoroughly explore Mississippi doesn’t get Nick on board, I don’t know if anything will!

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