Road trip to Asheville -- Blue Ridge Pkwy or other scenic routes
October 30, 2018 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Partner and I are going to Asheville for Thanksgiving (from NYC) and are planning to get in a couple of days of road-tripping at the beginning of the week. We've driven around on the Asheville-area section of the BRP and loved it, so one idea is to take a train to DC, rent a car there and start on the Northern end of the Parkway. Looking for recommendations for things to do and places to stay along that route, or alternatively, other suggestions that would make for a good 2-day-or-so drive. We don't really want to drive the whole way from NY, but something like flying to Atlanta and wending our way north, maybe? Other scenarios?
posted by neroli to Travel & Transportation around Asheville, NC (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Blue Ridge Parkway could be a real zoo during any holiday weekend. Also, some areas could have snow that would close roads. I'd also try hard to avoid DC during Thanksgiving traffic time.

There are parts of the Blue Ridge near I81 in Virginia that are just gorgeous. Can you get a reasonably priced flight to Charlottesville or Roanoke and start there? That'll keep you away from the chaos of 85 and 95.

You might also look at flying to eastern Tennessee. From Chattanooga or Knoxville, you could wind your way to the Cherohala Skyway, a lightly traveled road with gorgeous views. But avoid driving 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where you'll be stuck in one spot for two hours because someone two miles ahead saw a bear.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:56 PM on October 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's about five hours at interstate speeds from Roanoke to Asheville; while you could dip into and out of sections that run close to I-81, a day on the Parkway is exhausting. I'd suggest saving the northern section for a different vacation.

Yes to flying to Chattanooga or Knoxville and heading into NC via the Cherohala Skyway. The alternative would be the Tail of the Dragon from the north. You could do both if you really like driving twisty roads that pierce the clouds. Then you could take the Parkway from Cherokee or go via the Soco Gap. But you're also more likely to be contending with closures and rockfalls in late November.

Maybe fly to Atlanta and head north along the back roads? Helen is ridiculously kitschy, Dahlonega is hokey, Tallulah Gorge is pretty.
posted by holgate at 6:09 PM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Love the eastern Tennessee suggestions -- thanks much! There are reasonable Allegiant flights to Knoxville, so this seems a totally doable idea. Already excited about stopping off at Benton's in Madisonville. Any other recommendations along this route would be much appreciated. "Twisty roads that pierce the clouds" is pretty much exactly the thing we were looking for.
posted by neroli at 8:18 PM on October 30, 2018

Best answer: "Twisty roads that pierce the clouds" is pretty much exactly the thing we were looking for.

In that case you'd definitely also want to drive the section of the Parkway that passes by Waterrock Knob, as it's prime thermal inversion territory.
posted by holgate at 7:47 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So, first of all, I40 from Knoxville to Asheville should be your back-up. Snow would be unusual but not impossible that time of year, so keep aware of the weather in the Smokies. That stretch of 140 is not like a typical interstate as it's also pretty windy as you cross the Smokies, but it'd be better than any other road if conditions are bad.

So, a few ideas on places to skip and places to visit:

Unless it's changed dramatically in ten or so years , Robbinsville isn't really worth a stop except for gas. I'd also skip Cherokee unless you're interested in the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which is quite interesting. You're not missing much in Pigeon Forge (outlet malls) or Gatlinburg (cheesy tourist town).

Consider a visit
Joyce Kilmer National Forest is lovely and not usually all that busy.

A drive through the Nantahala Gorge on Hwy 74, with a stop for lunch on early dinner (if it's still light out) at Nantahala Outdoor Center, would be great. Hwy 74 runs right along the river for about eight miles. NOC is an outfitter in a beautiful spot, and it has a very different feel than the rest of the area. River's End Restaurant is perched right on the river, and you have great views from every table. I'd call ahead to confirm their hours before you plan around it. Stop in the Outfitter's Store after lunch, too. To get there, from Robbinsville, take 129 south to Hwy 74, and drive east on 74 to NOC (marked as "Wesser" on many maps).

Bryson City has some charm but isn't as cheesy or touristy as Cherokee or Gatlinburg. It's southern-Appalachia-meets-outdoorsy-folks-who-settled-in-the-area. You might try to plan to stay overnight somewhere in that general area, though not necessarily in the town itself. There are lots of cabin rentals. If you want to spend some time around there, go to Deep Creek and there are very easy walks along a beautiful creek.

When you drive east from Bryson City to Asheville, you can stop and maybe see some elk in the Catalochee area of the Great Smokies.

The idea here is that you aren't driving through Great Smokys National Park on Hwy 441, which is two-lane and often quite crowded, but you're skirting the outside of the Smokies, stopping in at Deep Creek and to see the elk. So you're visiting the Park and, hopefully, avoiding crowds.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:39 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Really appreciate the detailed recommendations, holgate and bluedaisy -- hope to follow them all! We're flying in to Knoxville on Sunday afternoon, spending a night in Tellico Plains, then the next two nights outside Bryson City. Weather looks like it's going to cooperate, and I'm really looking forward to this trip. Many thanks again!
posted by neroli at 4:42 AM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nice! Have fun! I'm glad this was helpful.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:17 PM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hooray! And you got really good weather for it as well.
posted by holgate at 10:27 PM on November 25, 2018

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