Shenandoah & GSMNP itinerary 10/13-10/17

May 1st, 2006, 06:06 PM
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Shenandoah & GSMNP itinerary 10/13-10/17

Please comment on our itinerary to view the fall foliage in mid-October. We have been to almost all the National Parks on the West; this is our first trip to these national parks.

Fri 10/13: Early arrival to IAD and pick-up one way car rental. Take Skyline Drive through Shenandoah NP and hikes along the way. Spend the night in Charlottesville, VA.

Sat 10/14: Enjoy the drive and hikes along Blue Ridge Pkwy and spend the night in Asheville, NC.

Sun 10/15: Continue on the Blue Ridge Pkwy and onto Newfound Gap Rd across the park. Spend the night nearby.

Mon 10/16: Explore Great Smoky Mountain on a less crowded weekday. Spend the night at same lodging.

Tue 10/17: More of the park. Drop off car at TYS for 7P flight home.

My question is where to stay during the Great Smoky Mountains visit? The Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge area or as some Fodorites on this forum also recommended, Townsend. For the amount of Hilton Honors points, we can redeem for either the Hampton Inn Pigeon Forge or Hilton Knoxville Airport (~20mi outside Townsend) ?

thanks in advance.
jd2jc is offline  
May 1st, 2006, 07:55 PM
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First, the good news: you'll be seeing some spectacular scenery at the best time of year to visit these parks.

Now, let me be the first to say you have a lot of driving planned on your first two days to think much about enjoying any hiking outside of 20-30 minutes. Skyline Drive/BRP are max speed limit of 45, and that time of year, are often much slower due to the leaf peepers. So, there's nothing wrong with your plan to make those drives, just realize that daylight ends around 7 that time of year, and your plans for hiking may be limited. If there's any way to add another day and break it up a bit more, I'd do it.

I've stayed at the Hampton Inn Pigeon'll do just fine, especially if its a freebie! You don't want to be any further out that time of year, as the traffic heading along the parkway from K'ville into Gatlinburg can be slllloooowwwwww. Townsend area is nice and would be a little quiter, for sure, but all areas are quite busy that time of year, so whatever you do, secure your reservations now, especially if you're doing the points thing.
bmillersc is offline  
May 1st, 2006, 09:35 PM
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Unfortunately, I'm already max'ed out of vacation days for the rest of this year (3 wks for Alaska in June and a week in Virgin Island NP for end of Nov =).

bmillersc, given only 5 days to work with, would you recommend taking one night from GSM to break up the drive ? If so, where would be a good stop on the BRP ? Boone ?
jd2jc is offline  
May 2nd, 2006, 10:36 AM
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If it were me, I wouldn't plan on over 200 miles driving any day on the Parkway, especially if you want to enjoy some light hiking along the way. So, yes, I would take a day from GSM IF you are as interested in the BRP as GSM. In your original plan, it is 360 Parkway miles from Charlottesville to Asheville, and that would not be a fun day, IMHO. So, here's what I'd suggest: Day 1, end in Charlottesville. Day 2, end around Mt. Airy, NC. Day 3, end in Asheville. Day 4, you can either stay in Cherokee, NC, or continue through the park to Pigeon Forge. Day 5, go to the park and fly home.

I think you have to make some decisions. If your main interest in the Parkway, then I'd certainly take a day from GSM. If you are as interested in GSM, then you might consider something closer to your original plan, but you might need to sacrifice some travel on the BRP in Virginia (no offense to VA, but I think the NC section is prettier overall) and travel down I-81 to Mt. Airy and then on the BRP. You might even consider giving up Charlottesville and making it down to Roanoke the first day.

Bottom line, if you want to travel the length of SD/BRP, you most likely need to give up some of GSM time, if you want to enjoy the Parkway with any hiking involved. Could you consider alternative airports? Maybe give up Knoxville airport for Asheville? You can still access the Smokies by staying in Cherokee (I think there's a Hampton there you could use your points on). Cherokee isn't the most desirable location, but I get the impression you won't be in the hotel much more than to sleep! Any way you slice it, start making your plans now (which I think you are). And please, I'm not the absolute authority, and there are certainly others here from this area that can also add their $0.02, so keep asking questions!
bmillersc is offline  
May 2nd, 2006, 04:08 PM
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I would suggest staying in Townsend unless you want shopping and crowds. That time of year is really busy in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg. My Mom lives in Townsend and it is much quieter. Plus in Townsend you are closer to Cades Cove - the best part of the park. Townsend is also only a 20-25 minute drive to the Knoxville airport (note, the Knoxville airport is not in Knoxville - it's in Alcoa). That said, Townsend is very quiet - only a few restaurants and no nightlife.

The nicest place to stay in Townsend is the Maple Leaf Lodge ( The name is being changed. There are also several cabin rentals in the area.

Good luck - you will enjoy this trip.
RagtopGirl is offline  
May 2nd, 2006, 10:47 PM
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Thank you for all your insightful suggestions.

If you can break down the BRP into segments as far as best viewing of fall foliage, how would your rank them ? Say mile marker 50-100 ?

I've peruse through different guide books at B&N, but hopefully this forum would be more informative.
jd2jc is offline  
May 3rd, 2006, 07:15 AM
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That;s a hard one to much depends on the peak leaf conditions each particular year. I know that doesn't help, but anywhere along the parkway could be quite pretty. Take a look at the following links for additional information:
bmillersc is offline  
May 3rd, 2006, 07:18 AM
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Here's a snippet from one of those sites:

How can I see the best of fall colors during October?

Typically, the Blue Ridge Parkway experiences the much anticipated change in fall foliage around the middle of October. Many factors, however, contribute to variations in when and where colors will peak. The Parkway stretches almost five hundred miles from north to south, meanders from east to west facing slopes, and most importantly, varies in elevation from just under 650 feet at James River in Virginia to over 6,000 feet south of Mount Pisgah in North Carolina. Many visitors have been frustrated trying to go to one spot in October, hoping to find the leaves in full color. A far better plan is to drive some distance on the Parkway, changing elevations and north-south orientation. Anyone who does this around mid to late October will catch at least some of the color we're famous for.

So, I'd say your plan of traveling along the parkway insures your best chance of seeing some spectacular scenery. There are other websites devoted to fall foliage that can help quide you as that time approaches...just google for "fall foliage report" and you'll get a lot of sites.
bmillersc is offline  
May 3rd, 2006, 11:01 PM
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Thanks for the links.

Now we are considering taking a day from GSM to break up the BRP drive. So what are some of your favorite stops / hikes along the Parkway ?

Our itinerary is gradually coming together with all your help!
jd2jc is offline  
May 4th, 2006, 06:11 AM
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I just got back from driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, north from Asheville to Rocky Knob / Floyd in VA and back again the full length to Cherokee.

The short hike (less than a mile round trip, distinctly uphill) to the boardwalk overlooking the Linville Viaduct is wonderful. You stop at Rough Ridge Parking area which is around mile marker 300-303, on the northwest side of the parkway and follow the steps up to the Tanawha Trail and go left (toward Wilson Creek). Great views of the mountains and the Linville viaduct from the boardwalk. If you want to hike further you can continue on the Tanawha trail for a higher viewpoint and then return.

The hike to Linville Falls via Erwin View Trail is nice. While basically uphill, the path is wide and well maintained. You will also see lots of other people on the way to and from the falls.

I would also suggest the drive up Mt Mitchell. Great views from the top.

Mabry Mill (mile~176)on the parkway is a lovely scenic stop and the pancakes at the restaurant are very,very good and served all day! Weekend mornings there can be a two hour wait for a table.

Oddfellas Cantina in Floyd VA is a nice place to eat, (mile marker 165 or so, rte 8 towards Floyd, about 6 mile off the parkway) There are also a some arts and craft galleries in Floyd.

Milepost 382 is the Folk Art Center and if you appreciate excellent craftmanship, this is the place to visit. Milepost 294 (Moses H Cone Memorial Park)is also a wonderful place to stop, for the wonderfull craft shop as well as the marvelous scenic views from the front porch.

As of Friday morning, April 28th at 9:00am, the entire Blue Ridge Parkway was open, however starting sometime this weekend, the 6th,7th or 8th, they are planning on closing a stretch south of Asheville.

Have a great trip

eveningcrane is offline  
May 4th, 2006, 08:45 PM
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The closure is on a 4 mile stretch, but is projected to be open by late August, and won't be nearly the problem as the 11-mile stretch recently reopened since being washed out by Hurrican Ivan in 2004.

As far as hikes, first get the book "Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway" by Randy Johnson, and maybe his other book "Best Easy Day Hikes Along the Blue Ridge Parkway". Very good trail descriptions and maps.

My personal favorite hikes include: Graveyard Fields Upper Falls, Craggy Pinnacle Trail, Mt. Pisgah, and Cedar Ridge in North Carolina. In Virginia, Apple Orchard Falls, and Sharp Top. Other good stops are Mt. Pisgah (eat at the inn, but be prepared for a wait...I can't remember if they take reservations), the town of Black Mountain, NC (just off the Parkway), Mt. Mitchell, Folk Art Center, Linville Gorge area in NC, and Mabry Mill, Peaks of Otter in VA.
bmillersc is offline  
May 5th, 2006, 09:08 AM
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Thank you all so much for your advices and suggestions; here are the stops we've decided to spend the night for our drive, arriving in IAD and departing from TYS .

Fri 10/13 Charlottesville, VA
Sat 10/14 Hillsville, VA
Sun 10/15 Asheville, NC
Mon 10/16 Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge, TN

Can't wait to see the magnificent fall colors and doing some of the hikes!
jd2jc is offline  
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