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Help building an itinerary around Great Smoky Mountains NP in October

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We are a couple in our 60's and are looking forward to seeing the Fall Foliage on a trip to USA in September and October 2013. We will be visiting family in Indianapolis and want to do some touring from 7 October to 21/22 October, and maybe from 24 to 30 Oct after we go back to Indianapolis from 21-23 October for a family gathering. I have done some research and understand that Columbus Day falls on 15 October, and hence the GSMNP may be overrun with visitors, given that it is a long weekend and the peak of the Fall foliage season. We definitely do not want to be caught in crawling traffic :) as we are going for the peace and tranquility of the great outdoors!

Our tentative itinerary:
Mon 7 Oct: Fly IND to Washington
Tues 8 Oct: Washington
Wed 9 Oct: Washington
Thurs10 Oct: Washington
Fri 11 Oct: Fly Washington to Ashville
Sat 12 Oct: Asheville north to Blueridge Parkway ? up to Blowing Rock
Sun 13 Oct: Asheville
Mon 14 Oct: Drive south of Asheville/Blueridge Parkway to Great Smoky Mountain NP.
Visit Clingman's Dome or do Heintooga Overlook ? Stay around Cherokee or ?
Townsend ? Wears Valley
Tues 15 Oct: Cades Cove ? Sugarland Visitors Centre OR Foothills Parkway
Wed 16 Oct: ? what area of GSMNP. ?Fly out of Knoxville or drive back to Ashville?
The answer would depend a lot on what to do next, I guess
17 Oct - 20 Oct ? Any interesting sidetrips
Sun 21 Oct: Return to Indianapolis

Questions:
1) I have allocated 11 to 16 Oct for Asheville/ Blueridge Parkway/ GSMNP to try to time it for peak colours in the respective areas as forecast by www.romanticasheville.com. Will I be able to avoid the worst crowds by visiting the NC end first? Why does the TN end seem so much more busy? Any suggestions for a more convenient/efficient route to take into account other sidetrips?
2) I am open to suggestions for sidetrips around my dates at GSMNP/ Asheville. Chose Washington mainly because it was the major attraction nearby. Any suggestions for a varied holiday experience would be highly appreciated. We are interested in scenic drives, food, architecture, culture. Not really interested to do Nashville, or the Civil War routes.
3) What are the most convenient airports to fly in and out of? Should we fly out of Knoxville or return to Ashville?
4) We would like to do some easy hikes, no steep inclines, about a hour duration, and a beautiful waterfall or view at the end would be wonderful! I have some knee problem, so need to avoid steep inclines and too many steps or unlevel ground. Any good suggestions for hikes on our route?
5) We have seen some castles/ great homes in UK, France, Italy, Austria, so I am wondering if we should skip Biltmore Estate.
6) DH would be the driver, and he is not comfortable with sheer cliffs and heights, He was ok with driving to Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada but did not like the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler at all :). Is the Blue Ridge Parkway very difficult to drive ie narrow and winding with narrow shoulders near sheer drops?
7) Recommendations for accommodation and restaurants would be very helpful.

Thanks for reading my long post and looking forward to all your comments and suggestions.

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