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2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

Evesham, United...
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2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

My wife & I are flying in and out of Washington 8th - 24th Sept (from the UK). We are staying a couple of days in the city, then plan to go by train to Durham (or some other place accessible by rail), hire a car, drive to the Gt Smokey NP (possibly staying at Ashville en route), then up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Shenandoah NP. We would drop the car back in Washington.

We enjoy the outdoors so prefer hiking and sightseeing to looking around towns, shopping, etc.

I would be grateful on any suggested intineraries (ie including how many days to allocate to each part).

Is Asheville worth stopping to see for a day?

Where are the best places to stop close by so that we can see most of the Park. Ideally we would look to hire a cabin (or yurts) for 2/3 nights at a time.

Finally is it better to book before hand or would the time of year allow us to book as we go along and thereby remain more flexible?

Many thanks

Peter Rhodes

Tennessee
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for Chattanooga, Blowing Rock, North Carolina Mountains
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1. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

Hello Peter,

First, let me comment you have picked a beautiful time of year to visit. It will busy then. There MAY be some color change by then, in certain areas, but the weather will be grand. You will need to have reservations in many places.. so plan ahead.

The Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg area, I presume, will be SO crowded with people. Back to back traffic. If possible, try to go during the week. It may be better. Asheville is a lovely stop for a day or two. From there, you could drive the Blue Ridge Parkway into the Blowing Rock area. About 2.5 hours--- 45 miles an hour and some traffic, most likely. There are many beautiful stops along the way. Below, you find some information that help you sort out where you would like to visit. Great hiking all over this area.

romanticasheville.com/BlueRidgeParkway.htm

http://www.highcountryoutdoors.com/hike.htm

www.blueridgeparkway.org

www.grandfather.com

www.mastgeneralstore.com

www.southernhighlandguild.org

www.visitboonenc.com

www.mountainsofnc.com

www.blowingrock.com

Linville Falls and Gorge

www.hikebeechmountain.com

www.highcountryhiking.com

www.nps.gov/blri/parknews/index.htm

www.vacreepertrail.com

Linn Cove Viaduct

Mt Mitchell

Craggy Gardens

Chimney Rock

www.vallecrucis.com

Blowing Rock vacation rentals

www.jenkinsrentals.com

mountainsidevacationrentals.com

VRBO.com

vcv
Tennessee
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2. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

If you want to spend 2-3 days seeing the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Asheville is a long drive. Take a look at Maggie Valley. It's a quiet mountain town with lots of small Mom & Pop motels, many with microwaves and mini-fridges. (There are cabin rentals in the area too--I'm just not familiar with particular ones.)

The southeastern part of the park is much quieter than the hectic Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. Lots of waterfalls in the area and good hiking in the Balsam Mountain and Cataloochee Cove sections of the park as well as in the more-heavily-visited areas of the park.

spartinburg
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3. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

i agree with previous post----if you plan spending some time in the mountains, maggie valley is a good base location. gsmnp cherokee the biltmore and a lot of waterfalls south . north carolina side is not as hectic as the gatlinburg area. lots of cabins to rent but probably better look into that soon. wife and i rent majestic overlook . vrbo 308193 is the id number. cool shops and resturants in waynesville.

Savannah, Georgia
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for Gatlinburg, Maggie Valley, Pigeon Forge
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4. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

I agree, also. The Tenessee side will be busier than the North Carolina side, and Maggie Valley is a great place to access outdoor adventure.

As mentioned above, there are several owner-operator motels in the area, such as:

The Applecover Inn http://www.applecoverinn.com/

A Holiday Motel http://holidaymotel.net/

There are also many cabin rentals in the area. My favorite is Boyd Mountain Cabin Rentals http://boydmountain.com/index-home.html

Brevard, with it's many waterfalls and trailheads is about an hour away.

http://www.visitwaterfalls.com/

Waynesville borders Maggie Valley, and it's historic Main St. is wonderful. We never miss a visit there.

http://www.downtownwaynesville.com/

Cherokee, NC is about 20 minutes away, and is interesting to visit. They have an outdoor drama, "Unto These Hills", which depicts the hardships of Trail of Tears, as well as a museum, and the Oconaluftee Indian Village where you can see Indian life as it was.

http://www.cherokee-nc.com/

And, of course, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is available to you. It borders Cherokee So it's about a half hour from Maggie Valley, too.

http://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm

I hope you have a great trip!

Chapel Hill, North...
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5. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

I'm not so sure about the train part. Train travel outside the NE of the US is really, unfortunately, not very great. The trains from Philly to DC or NY, Boston are all pretty decent, but if you start getting out of that general area it's not super. You can do it if you really want to, but I don't think it will be any cheaper or any quicker. If you rent a car in Durham and try to return it in DC you're liable to be hit with extra fees. Have you looked into this? One way rentals are usually more expensive than returning it to the same place. If you took the train from DC to Durham, according to Amtrak's website, it would be about 6.5 hrs. You can drive it in 4-5, depending on traffic.

I think Asheville is definitely worth seeing as are many of the other places in NC's "high country" that queeni listed. I think what the other folks are saying is that Asheville would not be a great base for exploring the Smokies and I agree that could be iffy. I think maybe spend one night in Asheville (eat some great food, there, tons of great restaurants) and then head on to Maggie Valley and explore the Smokies from there.

DC definitely is worth checking out, too. All the Smithsonian museums on the Washington Mall are free. You could spend a day (or more) doing that, and seeing the monuments there and the White House (from the outside, doubt you can get a tour at this time, but you could check) and then head SW to the Smokies.

The Skyline Dr to Blue Ridge Parkway is definitely going to be the more scenic route although also the slower route. The speed limit on the BRP is 45mph/72kph, as opposed to the 65mph/104kph you can do on the interstates (81, 85, 40). It is beautiful, though, with many opportunities for getting out and hiking and sight seeing. But there are places of interest along the other more southern route through Durham if you want to make a loop of it. Or you could go down 81 and come back Skyline/BRP or vice versa. That would keep you in the mountains. The more southern way via Richmond Va, Petersburg Va, Durham NC, Greensboro NC, Asheville is definitely an urban route where the Skyline/BRP and 81 are more rural. There are interesting things to see and do along the southern/urban route, too, but if you're looking for more rural you might rather stay in the mountains.

If you decide to do the southern loop, Durham is a very vibrant interesting small-mid-sized city. You might like to overnight there or in Chapel Hill, NC, home to the University of NC, and very picturesque. There are a lot of great restaurants, music, and other cultural opportunities in the area. There's not a lot of hiking around here, but it can be found if you know where to look. Generally, folks who are wanting an outdoor vacation in NC head either to the beach or the mountains. The middle of the state is the piedmont and is a great place to live and work and raise a family, but not really a vacation destination. I think the Durham/Chapel Hill area would be about midway on that southern route between DC and Asheville.

hth

Evesham, United...
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6. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

Thanks all for your helpful replies. I will spend a lot more time studying these during this coming weekend and use the information to assist our planning. Much appreciated.

Peter

Sylva, NC
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7. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

Peter, I'm so glad you're coming to my part of the world. I live about 30 minutes or so from Cherokee, the gateway to the park. I would agree with previous posters that Maggie would be a good place to look for a cabin to use as a base. I would also agree with panchopup that you do NOT wish to come down from Washington on the train. This train is not like an English or a European train. It is crowded, the scenery is mostly uninteresting, and it wanders all over Eastern North Carolina before finally getting to Durham which is still some 4 hours or so from the mountains. You will want to visit Washington, but you won't want a car there. Perhaps someone on the Washington forum could suggest how to get into Washington and rent a car later. I like highway 81 down through the mountains. It is an interstate with some nice mountain scenery that is fast to drive. Coming back you could do the Parkway which is really lovely, but slow because of windy two lane roads. Asheville is an unusual little city for this part of the world. For you, I would skip Biltmore House as you have lots of castles that are more impressive. In Cherokee be sure to visit the Living Indian Village as it shows the real Cherokee heritage and perhaps take back a piece of pottery or a basket (rather expensive but beautiful!). There are a number of places to camp out, if you like that sort of thing, both in the park and on the parkway, though some have been closed lately because of bears hunting the food that campers leave around. You are coming at one of our favorite times of the year. Enjoy your trip!

Sterling, Virginia
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8. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

I was perusing this forum looking for info on NC and just thought I would add a thought. As a fellow Brit who lives very close to Dulles airport - or are you coming into Baltimore? - I would suggest you take the bus from the airport to the metro to get into DC - www.metwashairports.com/dulles/809.htm. Then return to Dulles by the same route and rent your car at the airport. I would also reserve the car online in advance to get the best rate. All the major car hire (rental) companies are at the airport. Then drive. Do not use the train as it is not at all like traveling in the UK. If you are staying in a hotel outside of DC, maybe a taxi to and from it would be better. We are also going to NC next month on vacation, staying just outside of Asheville in a rental cabin. We will be at the beach first in Sth Carolina, but will be driving back from North Carolina. We will do a short drive on Blue Ridge Parkway, to see the scenery, but will switch to Interstate 81 as it is just takes too long to drive on the parkway. You can come off I81 onto I66 East onto Route 28 North to get back to Dulles Airport and you can stop off at the Smithsonian Udvar Hazy Air & Space Museum on Route 28 if you have time. I also think Luray Caverns (http://luraycaverns.com/Default.aspx) is well worth a visit and we have taken every visitor there. By the way, we are planning on visiting Biltmore just because it looks lovely. Buy the tickets on the Biltmore website at least 7 days in advance and you get a $15 discount - so far that seems to be the best deal for our dates.

Evesham, United...
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9. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

Thanks very much for the latest replies.

It is interesting that many people in the States are very negative about your rail travel. We did a home exchange in Northern California a couple of years ago and despite the suggestions from our US exchangers not to bother with trains (again citing that it is not like UK rail travel) we went ahead just to experience it and have to say that we were very impressed! I suppose that for us our trips are also about seeing everyday America and this is possibly a way of achieving this.

However I hear what you say about car hire - we may have to pay $150 for a different drop off point.

We are flying to Dulles and are planning to get the coach & metro to our hotel in the city. I will look at reversing that and hiring a car at the airport so thanks for that advice.

I am grateful again for your help.

Peter

Savannah, Georgia
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for Gatlinburg, Maggie Valley, Pigeon Forge
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10. Re: 2 Brits visiting Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc

I hope you'll write a trip report for us when your trip is over!