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Help building an itinerary around Great Smoky Mountains NP in October

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Help building an itinerary around Great Smoky Mountains NP in October

Old Jul 25th, 2013, 07:47 AM
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Help building an itinerary around Great Smoky Mountains NP in October

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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Old Jul 25th, 2013, 08:05 AM
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Columbus Day is Monday, October 14. One of the reasons that some of the federal holidays were originally moved to Mondays is so people would have three-day weekends and give them more time to enjoy places like that.
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Old Jul 25th, 2013, 09:20 AM
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The Blue Ridge Parkway is an easy drive, except for the traffic. Fall is the busiest time of year for the Smokies, especially if the foliage is turning. There are some short hikes to see waterfalls and such, but they are normally steep. Cherokee, N.C. is the beginning of SMNP and goes thru to Gatlinburg, T.N.. I have been several times over the last few years and have never been in Gatlinburg where we didn't sit in traffic. It is a beautiful drive, if you just have patience with all the other tourist. Biltmore is beautiful, but not sure how it would compare to castles. Cherokee, N.C. is owned by the Cherokee Indian Reservation. There are museums, outdoor theater and all kinds of activities to see, they also have a casino. The N.C. side of the SMNP is not as populated as the Tennessee side. Cade's cove is great, if you like looking at old pioneer style homes, barns and churches, not to mention the beautiful scenery. If you go thru early in the morning or late evening you can see the wildlife, deer, black bear, and turkeys. It is my favorite place to visit! We stayed in Townsend last fall and it was much more peaceful than Gatlinburg. Maggie's Valley is close to Cherokee there is a place somewhat like Cade's Cove that has repopulated Elk herds, it is a really cool place to visit.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 01:48 AM
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Thank you so much for your clarifications and suggestions, vjpblovesitaly and barnes251.

Does anyone know whether there is a scenic way to drive from Washington DC through the best parts of Virginia/Skyline/ Blueridge Parkway to Asheville and GSMNP? That might occupy our time, so we will arrive in GSMNP after the Columbus Day long weekend. We would only want to do this rather than fly, if there are really worthwhile places to see enroute, rather than just stops to break the long journey, and if it is not too stressful, since we are not familiar with US highways.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 07:26 AM
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A few thoughts: barnes251 gave you some great advice; Gatlinburg and surroundings are always jampacked with bad traffic, especially in the fall; US highways especially in Tennessee are in good condition and easy to drive; the hikes in the Smokies are generally fairly steep, but a good choice for you would be to take Newfound Gap Road and pull over at various scenic stops and take in the beautiful views; mid-October is not true peak fall foliage season anymore, at least in Tennessee, as it seems to get later each year-- more like the third week in October, but mid-October is still a beautiful time to be in the Smokies; and Biltmore is definitely worth seeing if you are going to be in Asheville, even after seeing castles in Europe.

If money is not an issue, check out Blackberry Farm for an upscale lodging and gourmet dining choice in the Smokies. It's a great way to experience the beautiful setting; and it's the polar opposite of Gatlinburg.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 07:29 AM
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1) Why does the TN end seem so much more busy?
A couple of reasons: Probably foremost, the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area has been built up over the last several decades to be a tourist haven. People from all over come to be close to the mountains but spend a lot of time outlet shopping, buying souvenirs, playing putt-putt and laser tag, visiting the Ripley's aquarium... you get the idea. It provides a lot of employment for what was previously a pretty poor area of the state, but creates a lot of traffic, especially since there's just one main road through Gatlinburg and PF to the park. Second, a lot of the most well-known parts of GSMNP are on the Tennessee side, notably Cades Cove, the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, hikes to Abrams and Laurel Falls.

3) What are the most convenient airports to fly in and out of? Should we fly out of Knoxville or return to Ashville?
If you do the trip in this order, it would be most convenient to fly out of Knoxville. The airport is actually in Alcoa/Maryville, which is south of Knoxville and just north of Townsend. If you stay on the TN side and want quiet, I'd definitely recommend Townsend over the Gatlinburg area, and it has the added bonus of being close to the airport (TYS). However, the Knoxville airport is pretty small, and there's a good chance you'll need a connecting flight. (I would imagine the same would be true for Asheville.)

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!

Laurel Falls is a pretty easy hike and is paved most or all of the way, best I remember. It's also very popular, so be prepared! It's been years since I went to Clingman's Dome (I was a kid, actually) - I remember some parts being relatively steep, but the whole thing is paved. Mount Mitchell near Asheville also has a sidewalk leading you to the top.

6) Is the Blue Ridge Parkway very difficult to drive ie narrow and winding with narrow shoulders near sheer drops?
Disclaimer: I haven't driven the whole Parkway. The parts that I've been on have been sometimes quite curvy, but nothing as dramatic as you're asking about. I haven't driven between Vancouver and Whistler, but have done the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper. Based on what I remember, the Blue Ridge is curvier than the Icefields, but not nearly as unnerving as parts of, say, the California coast!

7) Recommendations for accommodation and restaurants would be very helpful.
What is your budget? Are you looking to rent a cabin or stay in a hotel?
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 07:55 AM
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The Parkway is a very very scenic drive and not "mountainous" in the way people think of mountains. the speed limit is 45 MPH, and it will be crowded at the fall color time.
You will need to have reservations in the the Smokeys, IMO at that time of year.
Yes, you could drive from Washington to Asheville/GSMNP. You will have a drop off charge if not returning to DC.
There is certainly some nice sightseeing besides fall color.
In Asheville, of course, is Biltmore House.
Blowing Rock? Nice little town. Not sure how it fits.
I might be more tempted to go south on the Parkway to the Pisgah Forest/Brevard area. The Asheville airport, by the way, is south of Asheville, basically in Hendersonville. There is a nice farmers' market in Asheville.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 09:22 AM
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I see no need to fly to Asheville. Leave Washington on I-66 to Front Royal Virginia and then drive south on the Skyline Drive.
Continue South-west on the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to Fancy Gap (I-77). Take I-77 south to I-40 west to Asheville.
Take US 441 through GSMNP. Make your own decision as to whether you want to see Dollywood in Pigeon Forge Tennessee.
Come back north on I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley.
Lots more to see on this trip other than fall color.
On the way back up I-81 stop to see Natural Bridge.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 10:10 AM
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You can stay in Gatlinburg and still get away from the crowds by staying in a chalet or condo instead of one of the hotels on the main strip. Try Deer Ridge Resort in the mountains.

I know what you mean about bad knees. I started hiking with trekking poles about 10 years ago and don't leave home without them! A really cool waterfall hike is to Grotto Falls. It's in the woods and when you get to the falls you can actually walk behind the waterfall.

If you like breweries, check out the Smoky Mountain Brewery in Gatlinburg. They have great beer and food.

http://www.hikinginthesmokys.com/grotto.htm
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 01:02 PM
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Please don't stay in Gatlinburg. It is wall to wall kitsch and traffic.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 04:27 PM
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Hi:

There is a waterfall drive near Asheville (near Brevard). It's been a while since we did it, but most of the falls were very easy to get. We found it in the guidebook "Hidden Carolina's", but there are directions on Romantic Asheville site. You can drive right up to a couple of them. We saw Looking Glass, Bridal Veil, Dry Falls, Rainbow Falls and Whitewater Falls.

Katie
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 08:54 PM
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The two hiking suggestions of Laurel Falls (paved) and Grotto Falls are good, probably the two easiest hikes with waterfall payoffs. Newfound Gap Road is all car, with gorgeous scenic views along the way and at the top.

Do let us know how your trip was when it's over! And have a wonderful time!
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 10:24 AM
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Thank you all for your very helpful suggestions. I am really touched by the kindness and effort you put in. I will definitely explore all the links for hiking etc.

I had looked at driving from Washington, tomfuller, but was worried about heavy traffic, and being hemmed in by heavy trucks, as we are not used to driving on busy highways and might find it very stressful. I did look at driving down the Skyline drive or Shenandoah Valley/ Natural bridge way as well, but wonder if it is more of the same as the rest of Blue Ridge Parkway/ GSMNP.

After more reading, I am thinking about an alternative road trip:

Our tentative itinerary:
Mon 7 Oct: Fly IND to Washington
Tues 8 Oct: Washington
Wed 9 Oct: Washington
Thurs10 Oct: Washington
Fri 11 Oct: Washington to Charleston
Sat 12 Oct: Charleston
Sun 13 Oct: Charleston
Mon 14 Oct: Charleston to Asheville
( Maybe drive down to Savannah? for 2 days?)
Tues 15 Oct: Asheville
Wed 16 Oct: Drive south of Asheville/Blueridge Parkway to Great Smoky Mountain NP.
? Stay around Cherokee or ? Townsend ? Wears Valley
Thurs 17 Oct: Cades Cove? Sugarland Visitors Centre OR Foothills Parkway or Roaring fork trail
Fri 18 Oct: Clingman's Dome etc in GSMNP
Sat 19 Oct: GSMNP
Sun 21 Oct: Return to Indianapolis.

Is this good, or too ambitious? The drive from Washington to Charleston takes about 7-8 hours according to Google maps, and we were wondering what would be an interesting place to stop to break our journey? We could stay overnight, if warranted and take off a day from GSMNP. We are interested in culture, food, architecture, beautiful scenery, and don't want things to get too stressful ,which is why we thought of flying in the first place. Also, the extra charge for not returning the rental car to the same location more than doubles the fees! Add in the fuel and parking costs and I am not sure if it makes sense anymore

jent103, we would love to rent a cabin in a quiet location, with a beautiful view. Can we get one for just 1-2 nights or is there a minimum rental of one week for cabins? Also, is there a security issue if the location is secluded? Our budget would be midrange.
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 12:18 PM
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I like your new itinerary.
Yes, the drop off is a lot I'm sure, but really touring GSMNP and the environs just requires a car.
I think you could add a day to Charleston and with the rest of the trip, I'd leave off Savannah.
You could fly to Charleston and do a RT back there, and then fly to Indianapolis--or were you going to drive on to Indianapolis. I wasn't quite clear about the end of your trip.
AND there would be the possibility of a RT from Indianapolis, but excluding Washington.
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 12:44 PM
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Check our trip report: http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...le-nc-trip.cfm
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 01:50 PM
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Our local news has warned that the mud slides have cause parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be closed for many months. I would recommend checking with the National Park Service if anyone is going on the parkway. We, always had quite a few rock slides but this is a bit more of the route. This provides a list of closures. http://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisi...ge-parkway.htm
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 02:00 PM
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Here is another link that should help with the road closings.
http://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 05:14 PM
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If the road is closed, there is a detour very nearby. This is NOT like when there are rockslides on the interstate. This is also for OCTOBER.
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 06:22 PM
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I like the new itinerary too. Charleston and Savannah aren't the same, but they are similar enough that I would skip Savannah and spend that time in Asheville instead.

Some cabins will state a two- or three-night minimum, but that isn't really a problem with your current plan. I'd start looking now, though - October is one of the most popular times to be in GSMNP because of the fall colors, though being there in the middle of the week will help.

I've never heard of major security concerns with cabin rentals. Most of the ones I've rented have been in clusters - quiet and secluded in the sense that you're away from cities, but there are often a few cabins near each other. You're not up on the side of a mountain by yourself generally.

I rented from this company in Townsend a couple of years ago, but there are tons of companies out there.

Dogwoodcabins.com
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Old Jul 28th, 2013, 06:23 AM
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Thanks, everyone. I can see my plans geliing..... how about the drive from Charleston to Asheville... google maps says it is 4 hours. Is that route scenic, easy to drive? or should I consider flying in as well?
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