This is our first trip to KY/TN/NC. We’re leaving May 17, so first weekend will include Memorial Day. Our main goal was the Smokies. After reading travel books, we’re now interested in also exploring NC side. Here’s our specs: We want to avoid tourist traps, theme parks, so will bypass Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Cherokee, Maggie Valley (Apologies to all who enjoy them. We’re just finally without kids!) We’re not campers or hikers, love scenery, driving and then stretching legs for the view. We’re driving a Grand Am with low “curb catcher”. At the end of the day, we like a place where we can have a couple beers/wine. Expect to pay around $100 for room. So, here’s our tentative 2-3 week itinerary from Chicago:
1. Leave Sunday, overnight in Louisville KY
2. Monday: I65 to Bowling Green or Nashville. Bardstown & distilleries. Overnight in Bowling Green or Nashville depending on exploring
3. Tuesday: I40 to Crossville, exploring on way. Fall Creek Falls if we have time. Overnight in Crossville (Crossville is only must-do stop.)
4. Wednesday: In town until later afternoon. (If we don’t leave until 5:00, is it reasonable to drive to Maryville/Alcoa to get close to GSMSP? What about Knoxville? Or should we stay overnight to see Fall Creek Falls if we haven’t yet?)
4a. Overnight in Crossville, Knoxville, or Maryville/Alcoa
5. Thursday: explore wherever we are, ending up in Townsend area. Overnight in Maryville/Alcoa or Townsend
6. Explore GSMSP: Cades Cove, etc.
7. Friday: Drive Foothills Pkwy to Fontana Lake area, then ending around Bryson City/Sylva (Is this too ambitious? Should we instead stay in Fontana and explore down to Robbinsville? We don’t want to be driving all day.)
7a. Overnight in Bryson City/Sylva (Note this is now Memorial day weekend! We don’t want to be caught in M-Day traffic, what can we expect? Would Cherokee be reasonable option if can’t find lodging around Sylva? Should we consider opposite direction: Robbinsville, although Rt 129 is “Tail of the dragon/motorcycle heaven”) Really need some help!
8. Saturday: Hard decision! All the scenic byways look great – falls, rivers, etc, but I have no idea how much time to allow or where to stay. Should we head to Asheville and use it as 2-3 day basecamp? Stay in Highlands and explore 64? One book says 64 is not maintained/bad road though scenic. Rt 74/19, 1310, Brevard, Cashiers, Blue Ridge Pkwy? Help!
9. Sunday & Monday: Asheville (Figure would be good place to enjoy holiday weekend without worrying driving. Being from Chicago, we’ve learned to avoid road on holidays – crowds and drinking. Is it the same in NC?)
10. Tuesday: Starting return trip. Figure we’ll take 40 to Knoxville… or should we skip K-ville and head up to Cumberland Gap on 25E? Overnight in Knoxville or around Cumberland Gap/Pine Mtn
11. Wednesday: Head for Cumberland Falls. Overnight around Cumberland Falls. Williamsburg/Corbin/London?
12. Thursday: Up to Lexington. Explore Bourbon trail, horse country, maybe Red River Gorge, Natural Bridges
13. Thursday & Friday: Lexington
THANKS FOR ALL SUGGESTIONS! ps: I'm also posting this in KY & NC forums.