A Quick Smoky Mountain Lesson Please

Jan 14th, 2019, 04:24 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, 05:30 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, 07:01 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, 07:16 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, 07:33 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, 01:32 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, 03:02 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, 03:26 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, 02:30 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 02:33 PM.
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Jan 15th, 2019, 05:54 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, 04:02 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, 04:35 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, 04:51 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, 08:52 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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Jan 16th, 2019, 09:28 AM
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Oh, darn. You'll miss the boat parade!

That week shouldn't matter much. If you were splitting your stays, I'd go to GSMNP during the week and elsewhere for the weekend.

You should see the reintroduced elk in the valley near the southern entrance/ exit. You MAY see black bear. I have in late afternoons.

I like Cherokee over the other two entrance options - Townsend and especially G'burg. But other areas/towns nearby are better IMO. I'd spend a couple of nights in Cherokee and the other nights in a nice little town.

If you like vintage motels, check out the Pink Motel in Cherokee. I've not stayed there but the reviews are great.

There are some quality Cherokee (as in Eastern Tribe of) places of interest and you may want to see "Unto These Hills" one night (if anyone is local, they are hiring for the season now).

If you like really curvy roads, you may want to drive the Tail of the Dragon and/or the Cherohola Parkway. Again, do it on a weekday, not weekend. Super crowded then, especially with bikers.

If you want to go white water rafting, do the Nantahala river or other nearby rivers. I highly recommend NOC for rafting trips on nearby rivers. The movie Deliverance was filmed on Section IV of the Chattooga in GA, but I don't recommend tht section unless you want really scary rafting. You can walk out to the area to watch people get popped out of the river at Bull Sluice.

So many options of towns in which to visit/ stay - at all different price points. Brevard may be the best if you want a NC location with lots of waterfall/ hiking options.
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Jan 16th, 2019, 05:15 PM
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starrs,

Thanks for the suggestions. Let me go thru them.

I could see the Ft Lauderdale boat show so I'm fine missing both.
Always nice to see wildlife. If you go to my web site (TravelWalks Photographs) and go to some of the trips to parks out west (Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, etc) you'll see a fair amount of wildlife. Like I wrote, wildlife is always good to see.
I'd rather change lodging as little as possible. Maybe a couple of nights in Townsend for Cades Cove area and maybe the rest near Cherokee.
If we decide to arrive in Charlotte (starting to lean that way because of AA miles) we'll do stuff the first and last day en route and hike in/near the park the other days.
I can do without narrow and curvy roads. For sure. When planning trips to Glacier in Montana I was the person who suggested the yellow line is meant for straddling. Took some flak over that.
I went rafting in Moab when I was in Arches NP. But it may be an idea. Depends how our days work out.
I think I want easy access to the park so Cherokee might work out better for us. We have to discuss how many days so if we opt for 2 lodging changes (3 places) Brevard might be an idea.

Thanks again.
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Jan 16th, 2019, 07:59 PM
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I've been to all of those national parks you've mentioned. Years ago, you would have seen a lot of black bears because they were tourist attractions. Now you will be lucky to see them. Not so long ago, the elk were re-introduced to the area. You'll probably see them in the southern valley near the Cherokee exit. I have two cell phones (work and personal) and the wallpaper photo on both are of elk - from the GSMNP and from Yellowstone.

You won't need four nights to see the park. Cades Code is an 11 mile loop. It can take one hour to a few to see it, depending on how crowded the park is. If you want to spend 2 nights in Townsend, you won't need 2 nights in Cherokee unless you plan to visit the Cherokee tribe (non-park attractions).

https://www.visitmysmokies.com/blog/...national-park/

If you plan to do a lot of hiking in the park, then you could use the four nights, but I'd just use Townsend for your base for the park - or Cherokee. I'd choose just one of them, not both.

The suggestions of other towns was to offer you more hiking opportunities, including waterfalls. If you plan to do all of your hiking in the park, there's no need to go somewhere else.

Here's some information on hiking trails in the park -
https://www.outdoorproject.com/blog-...-national-park

I'm not sure if understand the drive times in the park, but it takes about an hour to drive through the park north to south (or vice versa). From Cherokee to the Sugarland Visitor Center near Gatlinburg is about 30 miles and takes about an hour (or less). It doesn't take very long to drive all of the roads in the park. That leaves a lot of time to hike, but it may be a lot smaller than you are imagining.

Last edited by starrs; Jan 16th, 2019 at 08:16 PM.
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Jan 17th, 2019, 02:55 AM
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starrs,

You are probably correct about me allowing too much time. I have to check out several web sites and talk to somebody next week who has been to the park many times. I also suspect what he does and what we'll do are very different. I still don't have a feel for how we'd spend our days and how many. That will come next week after I do some work on each of a few areas.

Thanks for all the ideas.
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Jan 17th, 2019, 05:16 AM
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To give it some sense of scale, at least as far as driving time goes...
Driving through GSMNP north to south is about the same amount of time that you'd need to drive from West Yellowstone to Norris via Madison.
Driving through GSMNP north to south (or south to north) is about the same amount of time as driving from West Glacier to East Glacier Park on Hwy 2 (the drive you'd make if GTTS is closed).
Driving all of the roads of GSMNP takes about as much time as driving from West Yellowstone to Grant Village via Old Faithful. Now how long that takes, depends on how often you stop along the way. Some people can spend 2 hours stopping at Old Faithful Some people may spend 2 days exploring the Old Faithful area. You may spend 2 days doing the hikes along the way. It just depends on how much hiking you depend to do.

In the drive time from Grant Village to the south gate (toward the Tetons) you could drive from Cherokee to Franklin NC. There are so many options along the way for stopping to eat, shop, hike, etc.

Your group of two may fill up four days of hiking in GSMNP. I just want you to realize the size/ scale of the park. Yellowstone is huge. It's more along the lines of GTNP. The drive time from Calgary to Chateau Lake Louise is about 2 hours so the drive time is comparable. Some visitors may spend a day "exploring" that area, while you may spend 4 days hiking in the area. But if you wanted to drive on to Jasper's glaciers, it's another 1.5 hours of driving. Similarly, driving from Cherokee to Brevard would be 1.5 hours of driving. From Cherokee to Franklin is about 40 minutes and on to Highlands adds is another 35 minutes. But relatively short drives open up more variety in things you see and do and hike.

It really depends on the goal(s) of your trip. If you are hiking all day of each of the four days, you'll "need" those four nights. But if you are driving the park, it will take less than a half day to drive all the roads in the park. Cherokee to Sugarlands Visitor Center (north end of the park before Gatlintburg) to Cades Cove Visitor Center to Townsend is 78 miles and less than 3 hours of driving. (That's driving all of the park roads in the park). You'll need more time if the Cades Cove loop is backed up with traffic. My ranger friend drives up from Georgia, runs the 11 mile Cades Cove loop twice and drives back home as one of his regular training runs.

The park is great. The hiking is beautiful. You may easily spend four days hiking the trails. But if you are expecting a "big" park that requires four days to see it, that may not be the case. It isn't for many (most?) but we all travel differently.

Last edited by starrs; Jan 17th, 2019 at 05:21 AM.
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Jan 17th, 2019, 09:22 AM
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In defense of Gatlinburg while I didn’t like the town much it is very convenient to the hiking trails and Cades Cove. We hiked Mt. Leconte to Myrtle point, Chimney Tops, and Charlies Bunion (Cades Cove in afternoon) over three full days there. Stayed very western edge of town in a nice Hilton Garden Inn so didn’t have to deal with driving through town to get to/from the park. We flew into Charlotte (direct flight), the drive to Gatlinburg at night and in the rain was not fun especially north of Asheville. Drive back in the daylight was lovely. Trip was 12/20 – 12/24 2016, we brought spikes/gaiters thinking snow/ice on the hilltops ended up being in the 50’s.

Wife and DIL had to see Pigeon Forge afternoon of our Chimney Tops hike, highly recommend skipping that.
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