A Quick Smoky Mountain Lesson Please

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Jan 14th, 2019, 05:24 AM
  #1
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A Quick Smoky Mountain Lesson Please

I've been on a fair number of hiking / Photography trips with a friend or my adult daughter (my wife doesn't take part in this type of trip).

For various reasons I haven't gone on this type of trip the last few years and age (almost 75) is starting to creep up.

I've been out west mostly (Banff, Jasper, Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone/Grand Tetons, etc).

I've never been to the Smokys (I keep shying away because most pictures seem to have a misty haze) and we're trying to avoid a long plane ride.

Two days ago my daughter asked me when was the last time I went I went on a hiking trip. It's been 4 years. The only time we are both available is the 4th week of July.

I've heard and read about the traffic in Gatlinburg but it also appears the more desirable place for scenery (views, waterfalls, etc), wildlife (if any), hiking (I'm ok with 3-8 miles return but not too difficult with too much up and down stuff). I'm getting close to 75 but in good condition.

We would really like a non-stop flight from Ft Lauderdale but it appears that only leaves Charlotte. My concern with that is we are then approaching from the NC side and quite far from what I think is the side we may want to be on (I may be wrong with some assumptions).

If we approached from Charlotte (and return) we could possibly plan a bit of time on the Parkway (was in Asheville mid-Oct with my wife a couple of years ago) and find a hike off the Parkway as well as one of the old barn maps I have for Madison County (photography). But still, without stopping the drive from Charlotte to the Gatlinburg / Townsend area is 4 - 4.5 hours.

So, with what I've written, I'd like some advice about the area to stay and where we are best to fly into; Charlotte, Asheville or Knowville. Or other?

Thanks.
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Jan 14th, 2019, 06:30 AM
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That haze is why they are called the Smokies (not Smokys). The GSMNP is still, I believe, the most popular park in the US, so I would avoid it over a major holiday. I would also avoid Gatlinburg at any time of year. Instead, there are plenty of hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a lot of waterfalls in that part of NC.

I recommend getting some guides to the area - just put "hiking the blue ridge parkway" into Amazon, and don't miss the books on waterfalls. Also, if you still want to visit GSMNP, consider staying at the Pisgah Inn actually on the Parkway - Home | Pisgah Inn
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Jan 14th, 2019, 08:01 AM
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thursdaysd,

Thanks for the quick reply. I think my daughter would really like to spend a lot of our time hiking.

To me, while I'm fine with hiking, it's a mean to scenery, wildlife (in the past) and waterfalls, etc.

There may be various reasons GSMNP is the most visited park. It could be the park but may also be that it's the only major park in the east.

I think if I was comparing parks I've been to it would be tough to beat Glacier in Montana. But today is today.

I don't think there are any holidays between July 20th and 26th so the holiday thing should be ok.

I think the decision I have to make, and looking for help with, is flying into Charlotte or trying to convince my daughter to use Asheville or Knoxville.
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Jan 14th, 2019, 08:16 AM
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My mistake - I misread "fourth week of" as "fourth of". By that time it will be hot and humid below about 2,500 feet. It doesn't matter WHY GSMNP is the most visited, what matters is the crowds. But the Everglades, Shenandoah and Acadia also get a lot of visitors. Still, the Appalachians are not mountains in the way that the Rockies are.

Where to fly into depends on where you are basing. My choice would be Asheville, but I would be driving the BRP, not basing in one place.
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Jan 14th, 2019, 08:33 AM
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L know enough to stay away July 4th period.

I know that once we're in the area we'd like to spend some time in the Park.

The less switching of nights the better. We should be able to do it with no more than 2 bases. We could lodge not far from the entrance near Cherokee if there is anything there.

The good thing about Charlotte is that we have a lot of planes flying there from FLL. So depending upon what time my daughter wants to leave and with such a short flight we could be off and running two hours from the airport.

Linville Falls area looks like a good place to start.

There appear to be some nice and relatively short hikes off the Parkway above Asheville. I'll look into them.

Thanks.
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Jan 14th, 2019, 02:32 PM
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Here’s my recent trip report on nearby Cherokee, NC. It includes a venture into the southern edge of GSMNP:

Trip report -- Cherokee, NC

Cherokee would be an option for staying near the park if it’s of interest.
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Jan 15th, 2019, 04:02 AM
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Cherokee is actually a pretty good entry point to the Park and there are a lot of places to stay. I think Cherokee could be about 3.5 hours from the Charlotte airport and it is an easy drive.
Linville is a beautiful part of the mountains.
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Jan 15th, 2019, 04:26 AM
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How long would it take to drive from Cherokee to Townsend?
I have to speak with my daughter this evening and find out how long she would like this trip to be.
Depending upon the length maybe we'd stay partly in the Cherokee area and partly in the Townsend area.
How does that sound?
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Jan 15th, 2019, 03:30 PM
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Okay, Gatlinburg is horrid. Avoid.
If you want a direct flight, fly into Atlanta, GA. It's 4 lane expressway and then highway all the way to Cherokee, NC.
From Atlanta, you'd take 85N towards SC, bear left on 985/365 towards Gainesville GA. An hour further north = the Clayton, Dillard, Rabun Gap area in the NE corner of GA. It's 2 hours from the Atlanta airport. You are in the tip of the Smokys with lots of waterfall, hiking options (including the Bartram trail). There are good to great restaurants there and two wonderful state parks with great hiking options - Black Rock Mountain State Park and Tallulah Gorge State Park.
www.explorerabun.com

Cherokee is another 54 miles up the road - on a four lane highway - 441.
Cherokee is the southern entrance to the GSMNP. Gatlinburg is the north entrance. Avoid G'burg and Pigeon Forge. Stay in Townsend if you want, but I'd use Cherokee for an overnight but anything along your route has excellent hiking/ waterfalls.

You could head over to Asheville NC and spend a day or two if you want shopping, breweries, the Biltmore Estate, etc.

You can loop back down via Brevard for more great restaurants, shopping and hiking.

Loop back down to Atlanta to fly out.

If you take that route, be sure to visit Highlands NC and take the drive from Highlands to Franklin NC and stop at a couple of waterfalls, including Dry Falls. Amazing power. You can walk behind the falls.


That loop = Clayton to Cherokee to Asheville to Brevard to Highlands to Franklin to Clayton is a 5 hour driving loop. Split that up by a few days and you have very little driving, no crowds and unlimited hiking/ waterfall options.

You're 2 hours away from Atlanta for your flight out.

If you want to drive some of the Blue Ridge Parkway, pick it up at Cherokee and drive it to Asheville.

Last edited by starrs; Jan 15th, 2019 at 03:33 PM.
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Jan 15th, 2019, 06:54 PM
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Clarification -
Cherokee, NC is less than 3 hours from the Atlanta airport
171 miles and 2 hours 52 minutes
Cherokee NC is less than 3 hours from the Charlotte airport
159 miles and 2 hours and 49 minutes
(per Google maps)
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Jan 16th, 2019, 05:02 AM
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Starrs,

I was in Asheville with my wife a couple of years ago for autumn colors. We went to the Biltmore Estate. We spent 5 days there, drove along the Parkway in both directions (I did some solo hiking one day my wife stayed in Asheville to visit bookstores. I visited some old barns using one of the half dozen maps I found.

But this trip with my daughter is a very different kind of trip. Over the years we hiked in SW Utah, went to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons with her then 7 year old daughter (all three of us are photographers), and Banff and Jasper.

I'll have to check out some of what you describe. There are many more inexpensive flights to choose from using Atlanta.

Thanks.
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Jan 16th, 2019, 05:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Myer View Post
Starrs,

I'll have to check out some of what you describe. There are many more inexpensive flights to choose from using Atlanta.

Thanks.

Yep. There are. And they are pretty much equidistant from Cherokee - only a few miles and a few minutes difference in the drive times.

Truly, the GSMNP is wonderful. Cades Cove is fabulous, but can be very crowded in the summer. Well, crowded for GSMNP.

It IS the #1 visited national park in the US.

But there are excellent hiking options and lots of waterfalls, etc. all along the way, from NE GA, through western NC (and on through eastern TN). The good news is, if you use another location - Clayton, Dillard, Brevard, Sylva, Bryson City, etc. - you'll not have to deal with crowds and traffic.

If you want mountain lakes with crystal clear water, you can't do any better than Lake Burton and/or Lake Rabun. Both Black Rock Mountain State Park and Tallulah Gorge State Park offer easy stroll "hikes" and strenuous but gorgeous options. Look at a map or atlas and look at all the green spots/ national forests in western NC. I might spend a night or two in Cherokee for hiking the GSMNP but I'd split the time in one of the N GA towns or western NC towns south of Cherokee. If you want wineries, fine dining and/or great casual restaurants, those are available too. One of the top 100 restaurants in the country (per OpenTable readers) is in the pretty little mountain town of Clayton and it's so popular they opened a casual "farm to table" approach to a pizza restaurant = Fortify and Fortify Pi.

I recently fell in love with Gig Harbor, WA and a Fodorite pointed out the southern area was often overlooked by the shinier destinations of Seattle and north. The same is true (IMO) of that stretch along 441 from Clayton to Cherokee.

And of course, the AT starts a bit to the west.

Here's one option to Rabun Bald along the Bartram Trail -
https://www.atlantatrails.com/hiking...bartram-trail/
One of many options in the area.

Here's a waterfall hiking resource for north GA, western NC, SC and eastern TN -
https://theblueridgehighlander.com/w...ty_georgia.php

GSMNP is a great destination but there are lots of other options along the way.
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Jan 16th, 2019, 05:51 AM
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OMG! 4th of July?! The Clayton area is fabulous on that holiday.

Lake Rabun hosts a wooden boat parade and there's probably 30 or more woodies in a "parade" along the lake shore. If you go to the pavillion, you'll be given a stapled handout with the names, owners and history of the boats -
Lake Rabun Wooden Boat Parade, Lakemont, Georgia, Rabun County

Google to watch a video of the boat parade.

There are fireworks everywhere. On both Burton and Rabun but they are best watched from the water. I used to have a boat on Burton and the 4th of July fireworks were my favorite holiday event of the year. (I had to move the boat to a more southern lake during the recession). There are land based fireworks too, including one sponsored by the Dillard House. I had friends fly in from all over the US one year and they were just amazed at the "Mayberry-ness" of it all. Sitting on the hillside at the Rabun Gap Nachoochee school and watching amazing fireworks across the road. It's too expensive to rent boats that weekend but you could rent kayaks if you wanted to and paddle the beautiful lakes. Check out the all you can eat (literally farm to table) veggies at the Dillard House. You'll pass the fields on the way.

Most years, the temps don't get much over 80 degrees - if that. The retired ranger at Black Rock runs the weather station and some years it hasn't gotten over 80 degrees all year - on Black Rock. He's a marathon runner (I've lost count of his number of states) but his training includes morning runs along the Cades Cove loop so GSMNP can definitely be a day trip from the area. Not sure how long your hikes will be each day. If you are doing a lot of hiking in the NP, definitely stay in Cherokee. But if you are splitting the trip, consider Rabun county in GA or one of the NC mountain towns for a much nicer trip. Another Fodorite friend flew down for the eclipse (100% totality) but we opted to buy tickets at a nearby winery instead of risking poor visibility due to the trees. Over 60% of the county is forested, which is why that and the elevation on the mountains means COOL summer days and nights. No A/C needed but throws, sweaters or jackets ARE needed on summer nights.
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Jan 16th, 2019, 09:52 AM
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No!!! No!!!

Thursdaysd misread my post. Now it's becoming fact.

It's the fourth week of July. NOT JULY 4th.
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