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3Zero Jul 28th, 2009 08:14 PM

Chicago to Atlanta (and Back) or Bust! - A 2 Week Driving Trip w/Kids
Some of you might think I must be nuts but the truth is that I'm a bit of a romantic . Or perhaps it's that I am I just feeling a bit nostalgic... What I know for sure is that some of the best times I can remember as a kid growing up during the 1960s & 1970s were had during our summer family driving trips. Lately it seems as if I am attempting to re-create this childhood experience with my own family. Our family still talks about our tours of Wisconsin and of Michigan over the past 2 summers. But now it is time we venture a bit further from home.

I am not crazy about the idea of traveling south to an even warmer place in a few weeks but we are committed to being just north of Altanta 4 weeks from today.

I am working out our itinerary - and am seeking suggestions as to an actual route as well as recommended attractions. Some stops I am considering are the Great Smoky Mountain Nat'l Park, U.S. Space & Rocket Center (AL), & Nashville (TN). We've been told to visit Asheville (NC) ... And we've already explored the area between Chicago & St. Louis.

Neither I nor my wife have ever explored the areas we will be visiting. This will be our first visit to some of these states. I don't mind a circuitous route but strive for a balance between driving and exploring/having family fun. We typically enjoy a mix of activities including shorter hikes, zoo visits, museums, factory tours, limited amounts of biking, canoeing, & fishing, state fairs, wide open spaces, hanging out by the hotel pool or at the beach, etc. We live in a big city with pretty decent museums so we tend to seek out the more exceptional/unusual spots when traveling. We (OK, I) especially appreciate attractions with cultural or scientific significance (e.g. the Wright Bros. bike shop in Dayton, OH). Hands-on activities and exhibits are the best and tie for first place with anything having to do with water. And a little kitsch goes a long way.

So there you have it. Whatever it takes to pull the kids (ages 7 & 10) away from iCarly & Sponge Bob for the better part of a couple of weeks!

Suggestions anyone?

OurGreatEscape Jul 29th, 2009 02:48 AM

You're not nuts and the drive is doable! ( we do an 18 hour drive to get to SC). I plugged in Chicago to Charleston, SC into google maps. It showed going through Indiana, to Kentucky, down to Knoxville, TN, over to Asheville, NC and down (I've very familiar with the I-40 section of this road trip).

First thing--if Nashville, TN is a stop do NOT miss the Pancake Pantry located near the Vanderbilt's campus. It is an institution! Be warned get there early for breakfast regardless of the day of the week (anything after 8:30 am and you'll have to wait).

Knoxville, TN is home to the University of TN (go Vols!). We usually schedule our overnight stop for Sevierville, TN and the Gatlinburg area (about 30 minutes to the east on 1-40). TONS of "kitschy" things to do here--Dollywood, Ripley's Believe it or not, and the list goes on. You could easily spend a week here and still not see it all.

The next big stop after Knoxville is Asheville, NC (you can drive 1-40 or take the scenic route down through the mountains and Gatlinburg--be aware that either route can cause car sickness if your children are prone to that).

Biltmore Home is the big draw in Asheville. And let me emphasis BIG! This house is enormous. My teenage daughters and I just visited this summer. We were all impressed with the home (enormous but the furnishings are understated). Your children might be a little young to fully appreciate the home. You could stay in the Biltmore Village and just enjoy the vibe.

From Asheville to SC, I usually have my blinders on focusing on getting to the beach:-). If your kids like a high-strung beach vaca, head to Myrtle Beach. High rise hotels, mini golf, etc. can be found here.

If you are more into nature and real history, head to the Charleston, SC area. The beach islands located around Charleston include: Sullivan's, Folly, Isle of Palms, Kiawah, and Seabrook Island. Each has a different feel and vibe. Some are private, meaning you need to be an owner or a guest of an owner to get on the island. Some of the islands have hotels, others you will have to rent a home or condo.

From the Charleston area to Atlanta is an easy six hour drive.

Hope that helps.

SAnParis2 Jul 29th, 2009 05:25 AM

Alabama would be slightly out of your way - my thoughts, I agree w/the standard/quickest way down which will lead you through Louisville & Nashville. (There is a pretty recent Louisville thread on here you may find helpful, so I'll not duplicate). If you like the outdoors then I would meander up to Asheville (from Atlanta), you could stop outside of CLT here - - from that area you'll also be passing through NC wine country - & could also access the Blue Ridge Parkway -,, continue on up I-77 into Ohio where you'll find - & from there you could continue on up to Cleveland & cut across or over to Dayton to - West of Cleveland see - & don't forget

padams421 Jul 29th, 2009 07:41 AM

Chattanooga TN is a great place to visit for a day or 2 with kids. See Rock City, Ruby Falls, the Incline Railway, and the Aquarium. The Chattanooga Choo Choo (which is one of the worst Holiday Inns ever) can be missed.

In Atlanta, see the Aquarium, the World of Coke (for some kitsch) and Stone Mountain.

tchoiniere Jul 29th, 2009 09:40 AM

I would also recommend Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta. Would definitely be worth your time as well as the Georgia Aquarium. If baseball fans, there are a ton of Minor League teams along these routes (do a search by the city) as well as the Atlanta Braves

ChiDad Jul 29th, 2009 09:53 AM

We made that trip many times in the 70s to visit grandparents in Huntsville, AL. We had 5 kids in the family so I am sure our parents appreciated the stops we could expend some energy at. I remember Mammoth Cave in Kentucky as awesome. I think it is a national park. You'll also be seeing dozens of signs for it along the highway. The Space and Rocket museum in Huntsville was also great and there is another cave near Huntsville, Cathedral Caverns that you should consider. I think they also have water activities there.

Have fun,


SAnParis2 Jul 29th, 2009 09:56 AM

For minor league baseball - Chattanooga (AA) has a great venue right downtown. In NC you can easily visit Hickory, Kannapolis, Asheville, Greensboro (all A) or Charlotte (AAA). In Ohio, Columbus (AAA) & Dayton (A) are both in the top 5 in minor league attendance, & also have new stadiums near downtown.

carolyn Jul 29th, 2009 12:23 PM

I'm not sure it is mentioned on the other thread, but Louisville has the Slugger Baseball Bat Museum and gives everyone a small baseball bat at the end of the tour. Your kids might like that--my husband did!

saomad Jul 29th, 2009 07:54 PM

Your plan sounds great. A trip to the ocean is needed especially if your kids have never been. Myrtle is nice beacause there is a lot to do, but it's a little bit like Wisconsin Dells with an ocean. If you don't want all the flash and traffic, the coast of NC, or beaches outside of Savannah or Charleston are good. You can also get in a lot of history around these beaches too.
For a good zoo, you might want to try the Asheboro, NC zoo. It's a really big zoo because it's set up in more habitiat form than cage form.
Good luck.

starrs Jul 29th, 2009 08:45 PM

Okay. I'd take a different approach. I'd ramble less and just get there and then play and then head back.
"Getting there" would be two days of 5 hours of driving.
Ditto for back.
I wouldn't add on another 5 hours to get to a beach.
At those ages, the kids will love a hotel pool. Almost any hotel pool. So, here's what I'd do...
Day 1 - Drive 5 hours to get to Elizabethtown, KY (or similar). Play in a hotel pool.
Day 2 - Drive another 5 hours to get to Atlanta. You haven't shared why you need to be there or how long you need to be there.
A modification of the above - stop in Chattanooga for two nights and play in the Chattanooga area.
Days 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 - Play in the Atlanta area and/or north Georgia mountains (lots to do there)
Day 8 Head towards Knoxville, but spend rent a cabin in the Great Smokey Mountains. Go white water rafting. Go to Dollywood. Go to the water park next to Dollywood. Hike on trails in SMNP. Spend days 9, 10, 11, and 12. in the Smokies.
Day 13 - Start back home. Spend the night somewhere about 1/2 way. Play in the hotel pool.
Day 14 - Finish the drive home.

As a 7 or 10 year old kid, I'd rather spend Days 3-7 and 9-12 playing and doing things than spending the time riding in a car to get somewhere.

Skedaddle Aug 5th, 2009 05:13 PM

As a Kentuckian, I'd vote for Mammoth Cave. Very, very impressive. I loved it as a child and love it still. They used to do a lantern tour that is just cool - not sure if it still is going on. There are some above ground hikes there as well. There are putt putt courses/mini cars/etc. in the area and, best of all, you could stay at Wigwam Village #2! It's a motel with concrete teepees for the rooms.
Also, not too far from this area, you could visit Bardstown (My Old Kentucky Home) and the Maker's Mark distillery. Those type of factory things are often of interest to kids and they can dip a bottle at the end with a hot wax seal (if you plan to buy it).
By the way, if you wind up in downtown Louisville (for instance, to see the Louisville Slugger factory), the Frazier History Museum is just down the street and is crammed full of armour and weapons. Both of these attractions could be done in a half-day.
Have a great time!

3Zero Aug 6th, 2009 08:09 PM

Hi. Thanks to everyone for the great feedback and suggestions. There is SO MUCH to see/do ...

Knowing that we will need to go through TN, we are seriously considering leaving Chicago and detouring a bit (west) to route though Memphis. There is much of interest there for my wife & I along the lines of the Sun Studio, Civil Rights museum, and (even) Graceland (how can the cultural significance of Elvis be denied?). From Chicago, we could get to Memphis comfortably in 2 days ... I am considering a hotel like Embassy Suites which gives the kids their own separate zip code, a pool, etc.

After a few nights in Memphis, we plan to head due east with overnight stops in Huntsville AL (NASA Space Museum) and perhaps in Chattanooga TN (aquarium). This will put us in Clayton, GA one week from our departure in time for the aforementioned "family event".

From there, I'd like to switch gears a bit and spend a few days in the Smoky Mountains National Park. Our family will be happy with modest day hikes, canoeing, etc.

On the return to Chicago, I would love to be able to spend a day visiting Mammoth Cave. I think the kids (& I) would really get a kick out of this. And, I understand that there is a GM plant (still operating?) in nearby Bowling Green KY. That's a factory tour I'd like to go on.

After this, we'd have to hi-tail it back to Chicago to be back by the end of the month.

Stops to Asheville & Blowing Rock have been suggested (my wife is really interested) but my impression is that Asheville sort of deserves its own trip and offers a more resort-like experience (shopping, golf, house tours) which would not be so much fun for the kids. I'd rather see Abe Lincoln's childhood home or visit a former plantation. Comments anyone?

I am also interested in any recommendations for a good base from which to access SMNP. As a point of reference, we stayed at a cabin (Cedar Falls Inn - in Hocking Hills OH a few years ago that my family is still talking about. Anyone know of a place like this adjacent to SMNP?

SAnParis2 Aug 7th, 2009 04:58 AM

I grew up not far from Cedar Falls & we use all the time when we visit the NC Mts. If you can tell me how big & where you are looking, I may be able to suggest a specific cabin or two, near the Smokies.

3Zero Aug 7th, 2009 07:35 AM

SAnParis2 -- Thanks for offering to help. We are two adults, two kids (ages 7 & 10). The kids should have their own space preferably with 2 single beds (or one bed & a pullout couch). I like the idea - and have looked into this in the past. However, I have noticed that owners prefer to book a week at a time - usually from weekend to weekend. This doesn't always fit our travel schedule -- i.e. we may want to book 'Wed-Sat' or something like this.

From what I can tell, there are a few "access points" to the Smokies - so I am thinking we would stay in one of those towns, Gatlinburg, for instance.

SAnParis2 Aug 7th, 2009 07:43 AM

You probably don't want to stay in Gatlinburg proper as it is the ultimate tourist trap. However, there are good places to stay close by. I am curious as to when you will be traveling. Certainly in the Summer months or in October it will be difficult to avoid 'weekly rentals'. But, since you are dealing directly w/the owner it also leaves you room to negotiate. I have done this on several occasions, most frequently when they want to require 3 nights for a Holiday weekend or times shorter than a week. The same goes w/pricing. I may not be back on here until next week but I'll certainly do some looking in the interim. We tend to seek out cabins w/streams, creeks & waterfalls so we'll see what I can find. Happy Travels !

3Zero Aug 7th, 2009 08:10 AM

SAnParis2 -- thanks for the tip-off on Gatlinburg - I suspected as much. We are leaving SOON - on the 16th. We may reverse the order of our trip so as to avoid Memphis during 'Elvis week' (anniv. of his death = Aug 16) which means heading to the Smokies 10 days from now. I know this is very last minute & we will make do. I like your thinking along the lines of streams/creeks/waterfalls. Sounds very nice!

Skedaddle Aug 8th, 2009 09:28 AM

You could consider Cherokee, NC as your Smokies access point. More low-key than Gatlinburg last time I visited (>10 years ago, now).

SAnParis2 Aug 11th, 2009 04:55 AM

The couple of places I have used prior are no longer being rented, so I can't help w/the house bit. In response to Skedaddles' post - Cherokee is much like Gatlinburg, only a little more kitschy & w/a casino. If you like tripping over hordes of Sr. citizens & tour groupies, have at it. Look around Townsend on the Tn. side, & Sylva on the NC side.

SAnParis2 Aug 11th, 2009 04:56 AM

Leaving so soon may well work in your favor in re: to obtaining a short term rental as well as improved pricing.

3Zero Aug 12th, 2009 01:53 PM

'Paris2, thanks for the bit of legwork. I took a look at a couple of the towns you suggested (as a base for exploring the GSNP) and happened on Bryson City NC & the Lands Creek Cabins Looks nice. My wife is arguing for the Oak Haven Resort in Sevierville TN. It seems very well liked, has a pool (kids) but at 10 miles from Gatlinburg, I am not sure how long it will take to access the park. I would prefer something a bit more technologically barren (i.e. no satellite TV). And I will see what I can do to convince my wife that the kids could manage without miniature golf. Wherever we end up, we will need one decent restaurant that isn't an hour a way, though. Thoughts?

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