Visiting Smoky mountains and its neighbours
August 28, 2006 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I am planning to do a short-ish road trip from NoVA - Atlanta and back in 4 days. Along the way, I would like to accomplish a night at Smoky Mountains, an afternoon at a beach, a day in atlanta. I would appreciate any tips on doing this well or fun/not-to-be-missed activities along this trip

So far, I've got -- 5hr approx drive from NoVA to Charlotte, NC (spend night). On to Atlanta, spend day - night. Next day to smoky mountains via Gatlinburg, camp for night and head back the next day. What I am looking for is fun(ner) ways to do this trip and any suggestions that all the intelligent folks at mefi have to offer. While at the smokies, best falls to visit, campground suggestions, scenic overlooks that are a must-see - Thanks !
posted by cusecase to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is a campground in the Smokies named Cades Cove just outside of Gatlinburg. It is beautiful there. Rent a bike and ride the scenic loop thriught the park. The next day drive across throught the Smokies to Cherokee. Probably best to call the campground and make a reservation.
posted by haikuku at 8:35 AM on August 28, 2006

The beach thing will be hard, but I'd maybe try to hit Myrtle Beach up on the way back.

A roadtripper myself, I'd advise spending more time enjoying the beauty you have than making a seven-flavor run-around-like-mad trip like you have planned. Relax. That's what vacation is for. Arrive in a beautiful destination, chat with the locals about where they go. Half the fun is the improv discovery.

Most of my time in the Smokies was when I was a child so I can't name names so well. My grandmother lived near Grandfather Mountain and the walking bridge there was really cool. Panning for gems is also kinda fun in a touristy way. It was fun as hell as a kid and I tried doing it last time I was there.

I can tell you from recent experience though that Gatlinburg itself isn't worth too much attention compared to the beauty around it. We rented horses and went through a mountain trail last time I was there.

Avoid the Cherokee, NC KOA like the plaque no matter how appealing the cottages seem.
posted by trinarian at 8:47 AM on August 28, 2006

66 to 81 to 77 is your best route to Charlotte from NoVa (don't cross NC 95 to 85 to 40 to 77 -- most. boring. drive. ever.), but I don't think you will make it in 5 hours. It will be closer to 7 hours, maybe more, depending on where in NoVa you start out and what kind of traffic you hit. And please, for the love of matthowie, don't plan to cruise down I-81 at 85mph to make up time. That's a good way to get yourself and others killed; the road is twisty, traffic is heavy, and it's packed with large commercial trucks. Take your time and enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Avoid exit #407 off I-40 (Rts. 66 and the Chapman Highway), Sevierville, and the whole area of Pigeon Forge -- it is a traffic nightmare filled with the worst tourist traps you can imagine. Enter the Smoky Mountain National Park through Maryville/Townsend (or through Cherokee, NC), and go from there. Directions.

I would not recommend anything advertised on brightly colored tourist brochures, unless you appreciate them for their kitsch value. This includes but is not limited to: Ruby Falls, Haunted Cavern, Forbidden Caverns, and Stone Mountain, GA. Cade's Cove is lovely; enjoy it, but don't tell too many of your friends about it. There aren't many nice places left in the Smokies that haven't been paved and over-promoted. Even Cade's Cove isn't what it used to be 15 or 20 years ago.

When it comes time to leave, the fastest way home for you from East Tenn. is to take I-81N. If you leave the Smokies via Rt. 321 towards Newport (not towards Sevierville through Pigeon Forge -- avoid!) you can take a nice little drive and see some of the "real" Appalachia. Follow 321 through Cosby to Newport. From Newport, take 25E past the Douglas Reservoir (created by the historic Tennessee Valley Authority) and check out the submerged farms that are still partly visible above the water. (Nostaglic, creepy and cool at the same time.) Feel free to stop at any greasy spoon restaurant or one-pump gas station you encounter; there are still a few back there.

Or, if you have the time, you could cross the Smokies into NC and check out Boone, NC. It's a pretty crunchy college town, and I've always liked the Mast General Store for its extensive candy selection.

The beach is probably not doable within your time frame, I'm afraid. And feel free to email me for more info (address in profile).
posted by junkbox at 10:04 AM on August 28, 2006

Yeah, I suspected that about the beach. I still feel like I want to go to Altanta too (this trip) - And I am doing Charlotte, since it seems like the best midpoint to stop for a night enroute to Atlanta -- that being the case, should I go to the smokies from Atlanta circling it via either 75 or 85 or through inner roads (441 entering the smokies)

thanks for all the good info
posted by cusecase at 11:06 AM on August 28, 2006

I've done 441 from Gatlinburg to Jacksonville, FL. The other couple we were with took 75. They arrived home much earlier, but we got to drink roadside apple cider and check out Athens (very lively music scene). Your pick on who won.
posted by trinarian at 1:14 PM on August 28, 2006

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