Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Old Aug 9th, 2015, 01:20 PM
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Thinking of making a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the end of September, beginning of October for about 2 days.
What's the closest airport that will avoid traffic?
Where to stay overnight that's close to the entrance to the park?
Which side of the park is more scenic?

We're interested more in scenic views, waterfalls, lakes, rather than wildlife.
Which scenic drives do you recommend?
and which short non strenuous hikes that are scenic would you suggest we go on?

Thanks for your help
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Old Aug 9th, 2015, 05:56 PM
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Asheville airport would be closest. If Charlotte would work better, that is 2 hours away. Since you will be renting a car, take that choice.
I suggest you take a look at the park site and decide what you want to do. You will be at the beginning of the peak foliage time so you need to be making some arrangements.
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Old Aug 9th, 2015, 08:28 PM
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Asheville isn't closest if you're going to the Tennessee side of the park, especially if you stay in Townsend - the Knoxville airport (actually in Maryville) is much closer then. But it's small and you'll probably have to connect somewhere, if that makes a difference to you.

Tennessee side has lots of the GSMNP "attractions" - Cades Cove (which Townsend is close to), lots of hikes, etc. I'm not as familiar with the NC side. Some of your questions kind of cancel each other out - for example, staying in Gatlinburg puts you very close to one of the park entrances, but you will 100% get stuck in traffic at some point if you stay in Gatlinburg.
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Old Aug 16th, 2015, 01:45 PM
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How many days do you need to see the park?
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Old Aug 16th, 2015, 06:44 PM
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Lived in that area a few years ago. It's an easy drive from Knoxville. We liked the Townsend (the quiet side of the Smokies) better. The park is magnificent and there is so much to see! Plan ahead so you are taking advantage of the ranger tours and programs. Enjoy your trip!
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Old Aug 16th, 2015, 08:04 PM
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I was just in the park yesterday. I drove up from the south. You could fly into Atlanta and Cherokee is 162 miles and 2 hours 45 minutes to 3 hours 12 minutes from the Atlanta airport. The good part about that would be you wouldn't have to worry about connecting flights. You could take a direct flight both ways. The trick is to avoid Atlanta morning and afternoon commute traffic. The drive from Atlanta would be 85 to 985/365 which becomes 441. It's 4 lane virtually all of the way (99%) and an easy and fast drive. Just obey speed limits as you go through towns.

441 continues on as the road that goes through the park. It's the main "scenic drive". We did drive for about 20 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then returned. We were killing time before a show and I didn't want to go too far.

I avoid Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge like the plague. I hate traffic and always end up frustrated, in traffic. I'll go to take the kids to Dollywood, but that's about it.
Oh, and Dolly. I drove up to hear her give a benefit concert for the hospital in her community, Sevierville.

We stayed in a basic hotel in Sevierville and I liked that the area was not crowded - at least not like PF/G. The Knoxville airport would be great for that option.

If you flew into Asheville, I'd want you to have more time so you can see and enjoy Asheville too - especially the Biltmore.

ANY airport and any route will work. MY choice would be coming in from Atlanta, but I know that area very well.

Driving through the GSMNP is lovely - and you should do it. Early October shouldn't be that bad re traffic IN the park, because it's early for leaf color change. I have lots of suggestions for scenic views, waterfalls and lakes that are south of the park and I think are as lovely - without traffic.

So if you come in from the south, you could stay in Cherokee and spend your two days in the park using Cherokee as your base. If you like kitschy, I saw the cutest 1950s motel that gets pretty good ratings and backs up to the creek in Cherokee - the Pink Motel.

Another idea would be to drive from Atlanta to the Clayton/Dillard GA or Franklin NC area. Spend your two nights there and make the trip up to the park as a day trip. If you did that, it would be an hour from Clayton to Cherokee (54 miles), an hour through the park to Gatlinburg (35 miles) and then that return trip. It would be a 4 hour driving day minimum, but you'd be out of the congestion and enjoying a relaxed mountain trip. Do know that I don't like congested vacation towns - Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach, Panama City Beach, etc. - and that may be exactly what you enjoy. Anyway, to and from Atlanta would be two hours so the long park drive day gives you a break on the other day(s).

If you went with that approach -
Parker Ranch is going back in time but with luxury touches at a moderate rate -
http://www.parkersranch.com/
There are other options in town, including pricier and a lot pricier

One of the top 100 restaurants in the country is in the pretty little (uncongested) mountain town - along with other good restaurant options.
http://www.fortifyclayton.com/

One of the prettiest and easiest walks anywhere is the walk around Black Rock lake -
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserR...a.html#REVIEWS

One of the prettiest drives and waterfalls anywhere is Dry Falls on the road between Franklin and Highlands NC -
http://www.romanticasheville.com/dry_falls.htm

Keep in mind that the links I shared are for things south of the GSMNP and would be an hours drive TO the park. It's pretty much what I did yesterday. It was a long day but a no-traffic day.

IN Cherokee, we planned to go here and the Cherokee museum, but we got there after the last ticket was sold for the day. I pushed the schedule too far but it's going to be the #1 thing on my return list.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractio..._Carolina.html

I grew up going to the park and Cades Cove is wonderful.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractio...Tennessee.html

Getting to Cades Cove early in the morning would be a reason for me to stay in Cherokee or Sevierville. A Christmas parade with a group is the only reason anyone has gotten me into Gatlinburg to spend the night in decades.

Back to the intro - ANY of the suggestions from the other posters will work. We each have our preferences.
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Old Aug 16th, 2015, 08:40 PM
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Here's a map -
http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisi...grsmmap2-2.pdf

From Gatlinburg to Cherokee is 35 miles and about an hour. That's the main drive through the park.

The drive to Cades Cove is fabulous but can have LOTS of traffic. From the Sugarlands Visitor Center (near Gatlinburg) is 30 miles and about 1.5 hours. Then you return.

Townsend (outside the park) to Cades Cove is about 16 miles and an hour - without traffic.

Those are the two main drives in the park. It's hard to predict how bad the traffic will be, but weekdays are better than weekends.

For an additional scenic drive you could pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway near Cherokee and drive for a while. You can get off at varied points and take regular roads "back" to your hotel -
http://theblueridgehighlander.com/sc...ille/index.php
http://blueridgeparkway.indigofiles....r/Map_2010.pdf
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Old Aug 17th, 2015, 04:17 AM
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You could fly into Atlanta and Cherokee is 162 miles and 2 hours 45 minutes to 3 hours 12 minutes from the Atlanta airport

Starrs has given the OP ALL the great possibilities possible. But I will throw in that the Charlotte airport (also a good chance of a direct flight) is almost exactly that same distance to Cherokee.
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Old Aug 17th, 2015, 05:52 AM
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We spent 3 days in the park and one day on the artist's loop in Gatlinburg. More time in the park would have been even better.
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Old Aug 18th, 2015, 05:38 PM
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thanks for typing all that info starr, and thanks everyone else for your suggestions
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Old Aug 18th, 2015, 06:07 PM
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Gretchen is right. There's no one "right" way to fly into the area and no one "right" way to see the park. I know folks who drive through the park to spend all of their time in the shops in Gatlinburg and/or the outlet stores of Pigeon Forge.

The GSMNP is the most visited NP in the country and there's all kinds of ways to see it. I used to go to Cherokee as a kid and vaguely remember it as being "touristy". It still is - plenty of shops and even Cherokee Indians in varied garb standing around ready for photo ops for tips. But the area is simply gorgeous and offers a lot to many, depending on their interests.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2015, 11:47 AM
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As you can see from the many posts, unless you like traffic congestion, stay away from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. We like to stay in Townsend. The hotels there are just okay, so we generally stay in a cabin. We've had really good luck with Dogwood Cabins and Townsend view Cabins. There's a large grocery store in townsend (I believe it's an IGA) to stock up on groceries if you like to cook and some good places to eat. We like Little River bbq.

As far as hiking, there are @900 miles of trails in the Smokies, so no shortage of choices. This site breaks down the trails by location in the park, length and level of difficulty.

http://www.hikinginthesmokys.com/

One of the best waterfall hikes in the park is to Abrams Falls. The trailhead is at the far end of the Cades Cove Loop, so I would suggest getting there early since the loop can get pretty congested. It's better to avoid Cades Cove on the weekend as well.

http://www.hikinginthesmokys.com/abrams.htm
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Old Aug 31st, 2015, 08:06 AM
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I used to live in the Asheville, NC area before I moved here to FL. If you happen to be coming from FL, I would HIGHLY suggest that you look into taking Allegiant Airlines, I use them every time I fly up to Asheville. If you cannot fly Allegiant, try flying in to the Greenville, SC airport, approximately 50 miles from Asheville. Not only are they usually cheaper than Asheville, since you will have a rental car remember that gas is ALWAYS cheaper in South Carolina.

My absolute favorite place to go within the GSM NP is Craggy Gardens, which if off the Blue Ridge Parkway (an absolute MUST for scenic Fall drives). My church would go there for picnics at least once a year. From its' parking lot, which is FAR too big for the amount of use the place gets, you can take a short trail (30 mins at most) up the mountain to a "Bald." The natural clearing at the top of the mountain, allows for some amazing views of the surrounding landscape.

The best way to get there (at least the everyone I know goes) is to get on the Blueridge Parkway in Oteen. Then head north for about 18 - 20 miles. Along the way you will see a good number of scenic overlooks.

Here are a couple of suggestions that are not in the GSM NP:

Visit Lake Lure, a beautiful lake nestled in the mountains. Start in Black Mountain, NC (more or less my old stomping ground) via exit 64 on I-40 and take Highway 9 south. I could not type out good instructions here to save my life but, if you look online you should be able to find details. Note: This area has become touristy and will probably be packed in the Fall.

The second suggestion is to take Old Highway 70 to Old Fort, NC. You would start in Ridgecrest, NC (exit 66 off I-40) and coming from the west you would turn right going over the interstate then turn right again at the next road, Old Highway 70. This will take you past the Convention Center and over the the interstate again before becoming a dirt and gravel road through the mountains. You will end up near Andrew's Geyser before getting to Old Fort. 10 miles past Old Fort is the town of Marion where you will have easy access to Lake James, WAY less crowded and touristy than Lake Lure.

Here are some links:
Craggy Gardens: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=112
Lake Lure: http://www.lake-lure.com/
Andrews Geyser: http://www.visitnc.com/listing/andrews-geyser
Lake James: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/laja/main.php

I hope this info helps!
~ Samuel S.
http://samuelworldwide.blogspot.com/
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Old Aug 31st, 2015, 08:10 AM
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P.S. Andrews Geyser is actually located in the GSM NP, within the Pisgah National Forest area.
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