2016 Appalachian Mountains Road Trip

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ShawnR

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My wife wanted to head to Colorado, Arizona and Nevada this summer, but I was able to talk her out of that idea. We want to take two weeks sometime this year and explore. Everyone wants to head West, but I want to go East. Last couple years we went to Michigan (lower and upper). Instead of Colorado, I suggested the Appalachian Mountains this summer and surprisingly, she said "ok". So now the planning begins. I've done a little bit of research so far but am open to suggestions. I'm leaning towards the Kentucky, Tennessee, W. Virginia portion. Hoping later in the Fall to make a trip to Maine to photograph the beautiful Fall foliage. But that will be a different trip. If any of you are familiar with the areas I mentioned, I'd like to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Thanks.
 
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Steve

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an amazing place, and not to be missed. But it is the most visited national park in the country, and traffic is miserable in the summer. Go there some day, but not summer unless you are extremely patient. (After the entire road is blocked for 1/2 mile with people getting out and photographing the 478th deer of the day, even a patient man's patience wears thin...) And getting to the park through Gatlinburg is like an endless big city traffic jam, with cars backed up completely through town and out the west side. I love GSMNP, but I hate going there. :) The surrounding state and national forests are pretty nice if you can get there without going through the surrounding tourist trap towns.

Skyline Drive is another must-see drive, but again, it can get busy. Hiking on less popular or harder trails gets you away from most people, though.
 

ShawnR

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an amazing place, and not to be missed. But it is the most visited national park in the country, and traffic is miserable in the summer. Go there some day, but not summer unless you are extremely patient. (After the entire road is blocked for 1/2 mile with people getting out and photographing the 478th deer of the day, even a patient man's patience wears thin...) And getting to the park through Gatlinburg is like an endless big city traffic jam, with cars backed up completely through town and out the west side. I love GSMNP, but I hate going there. :) The surrounding state and national forests are pretty nice if you can get there without going through the surrounding tourist trap towns.

Skyline Drive is another must-see drive, but again, it can get busy. Hiking on less popular or harder trails gets you away from most people, though.
Thanks for the info. I had no idea it would be that chaotic in the summer. I'm going to have to do more research planning this trip than I thought I would. Had we stuck with the original plan to go to Colorado, I'm sure we'd be dealing with the same issue there. That's one of the reason I didn't want to go to Colorado, figured it would be crazy busy.
 

WUzombies

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We stayed in the Catalochee Valley which wasn't as bad as the main park. The road to the campground is a single lane goat trail, there is an unimproved road out of the valley too. Plenty to see in the valley, including a lot of elk right on the road, a perfect sunset overlook photo spot and a mountain stream that is the awesome sauce for swimming and relaxing from the heat. Be warned we brought a ringed neck snake back in our clothes bag by accident, which caused for a hilarious moment in our hotel on the way home.

We would drive into the park WAY before sunrise to hit the ONE trail we wanted before the roaming herds of smoking white trash came rumbling by on $20,000 of straight pipes and chrome (and no riding skill). Alum Cave was cool but by the time we were coming down the trail was PACKED and people were parked all along the road to get to the trail head. To say the pRk gets crowded is an understatement. The Cataloochee Valley was a peaceful escape that the no-riding skill herds of chrome cattle didn't seem to visit.

(I have nothing against motorcycles, I was a motor cop, I have serious bias against poor riding skill and obnoxious people).

This is from the valley:

image.jpg

This is from on the trail of Alum Cave:

image.jpg

This is sunset from the overlook on the road into the valley:
image.jpg

This was in the campground in the valley:

image.jpg
 

ShawnR

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Wow, beautiful area. And thanks for the info. I will definitely do some research on the Catalochee Valley. Looks like a beautiful location to visit. But if we bring home a snake, my wife will go through the roof. lol Thanks again. Your images really make me want to get out and do some shooting.
 
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RescueRangers

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an amazing place, and not to be missed. But it is the most visited national park in the country, and traffic is miserable in the summer. Go there some day, but not summer unless you are extremely patient. (After the entire road is blocked for 1/2 mile with people getting out and photographing the 478th deer of the day, even a patient man's patience wears thin...) And getting to the park through Gatlinburg is like an endless big city traffic jam, with cars backed up completely through town and out the west side. I love GSMNP, but I hate going there. :) The surrounding state and national forests are pretty nice if you can get there without going through the surrounding tourist trap towns.
I concur, GSMNP is a must see. We have visited the GSMNP twice, the first time the Sugarland VC and Cades Cove. The second was the Oconaluftee VC and Clingmans Dome. Many people may say Gatlinburg is a must visit but in our opinion it was a rip off tourist trap and an absolute nightmare to get through. We will never go anywhere near Gatlinburg again. The second time we went through Cherokee in July. Granted, it was a Tuesday but there was NO traffic. At Clingmans Dome there were maybe ten cars.
 
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RescueRangers

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We are planning another trip up the Appalachian for spring with the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area as the primary place we would like to explore.

Last July we did our first Appalachian Mountain trip. We had several things we wanted to focus on, the GSMNP, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Skyline Drive / Shenandoah National Park while spending as much time as possible on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Our trip was two weeks from home to Dahlonega, GA then a quick stop at the Ocoee Whitewater Center in Tennessee then up to Cherokee and the GSMNP then up the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive to Harpers Ferry, WV, to Gettysburg then back down the coast to Yorktown, Cape Hatteras, and then Charleston, SC. We didn't have very much time for trail runs but the only interstate we drove on was from Charleston back home in Jacksonville.

If we were to do this trip again, we would have made only one major change. We would have cut out the coastal return, too many miles with little reward. There is just too much to see on the Parkway and Skyline, we could have returned on the same route and still not have see everything. The traffic, even in mid-July was not a problem with only locals traveling from point A to B on the Parkway being anything close to an issue. We met a number of other Overlanders and lots of great people. As Steve pointed out, there are tons of trails to hike, not only along the Skyline, in the GSMNP and along the Parkway (including the AT).

My recommendation, take your first Appalachian trip up the Parkway and Skyline Drive. This will give you a really good bench mark for what the Appalachians are about.

P.S. Spend a night at the Switzerland Inn in Little Switzerland, NC, your will get some serious brownie points with the wife.
 
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ShawnR

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We are planning another trip up the Appalachian for spring with the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area as the primary place we would like to explore.

Last July we did our first Appalachian Mountain trip. We had several things we wanted to focus on, the GSMNP, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Skyline Drive / Shenandoah National Park while spending as much time as possible on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Our trip was two weeks from home to Dahlonega, GA then a quick stop at the Ocoee Whitewater Center in Tennessee then up to Cherokee and the GSMNP then up the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive to Harpers Ferry, WV, to Gettysburg then back down the coast to Yorktown, Cape Hatteras, and then Charleston, SC. We didn't have very much time for trail runs but the only interstate we drove on was from Charleston back home in Jacksonville.

If we were to do this trip again, we would have made only one major change. We would have cut out the coastal return, too many miles with little reward. There is just too much to see on the Parkway and Skyline, we could have returned on the same route and still not have see everything. The traffic, even in mid-July was not a problem with only locals traveling from point A to B on the Parkway being anything close to an issue. We met a number of other Overlanders and lots of great people. As Steve pointed out, there are tons of trails to hike, not only along the Skyline, in the GSMNP and along the Parkway (including the AT).

My recommendation, take your first Appalachian trip up the Parkway and Skyline Drive. This will give you a really good bench mark for what the Appalachians are about.

P.S. Spend a night at the Switzerland Inn in Little Switzerland, NC, your will get some serious brownie points with the wife.
Thank you so much for all the great info. This is really helping me and the wife out to plan our trip. She's already googling the Switzerland Inn. Sounds like it must be a definite place to stay! I looked at it myself and it looks impressive. I have a feeling this trip is going to be more expensive than I anticipated. lol
 

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Like other said; GSMNP is a must. The traffic can be rough but if you plan around some of the larger events you can navigate it fairly easily. We usually take back roads into the park via Townsend. If you're into hiking, there are tons of great trails as well. Make sure you ride through Cades Cove, either early in the morning, or at dusk to see the wildlife.

Big South Fork is a fun time too.

If you want some true "trails" then go check out Windrock Park with miles of trails of varying difficulty.

Also, I would hit up East Tennessee Overlanders (Facebook Group) and/or Tennessee Overlanders (Facebook too) for more input. Great folks!
 
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RescueRangers

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I have a feeling this trip is going to be more expensive than I anticipated. lol
Well, "expensive" is a relative term, what may be expensive for one may be reasonable for another. Basically what I mean is we did this trip in conjunction with our 30th anniversary so we didn't camp but hit a bunch of hotels that pushed our budget,Pisgah Inn, Switzerland Inn, The Osceola Mill for example. We spent two nights in Charleston which accounted for $500 alone. We also did the Great Smoky Mountain Rail Road trip, first class of course, which was another $220. Our total expenses were $1,665. We drove a '14 JKU that was pretty loaded and averaged 19.6 mpg for the whole trip. Fuel costs came to $330 with an average per gallon cost of $2.54.

If you are camping the whole time you can cut down a bunch of the expenses. Besides our anniversary, this was our first major expedition and wanted to shake out our vehicle and see if this was really what we wanted to commit to before investing a ton of money into it. We have plenty of camping experience so this trip was more about the driving and what we wanted to explore. Our next trip will be hotel free. Fuel costs have also dropped so you should be able to get away with less than $330 for fuel. Most all of our food was stuff we did on the side of the road so food costs was pretty low.

We picked this trip as our first because it was a very good mix of nature, history, and culture but was well supported be near by urban areas. The only real concern is watch your fuel, gas stations can be few and far between in sections. The bottom line is, just get out and do it, you will find the means to accomplish it and when you get back home you will say "that was worth every penny".
 
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ShawnR

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You are correct, it is all relative. I'm an explorer, my wife is vacationer. So we have to accommodate each other on trips like this. I'd prefer to camp, but she wants to stay in hotels. Thankfully gas prices have come down though. Right now we're debating between trading in our Avalanche and Grand Cherokee for a 3/4 ton truck so we can buy a 5th wheel, or just get a motor home and tow the Wrangler. I think the best for us eventually is getting a motor home so I can feel like I'm half way camping, and we can bring the Jeep along. But I think this time around we will probably stay in hotels and get out and explore the surroundings. Thanks again for all the great info. We've been using it to start planning our trip.
 

RescueRangers

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You are correct, it is all relative. I'm an explorer, my wife is vacationer. So we have to accommodate each other on trips like this. I'd prefer to camp, but she wants to stay in hotels. Thankfully gas prices have come down though. Right now we're debating between trading in our Avalanche and Grand Cherokee for a 3/4 ton truck so we can buy a 5th wheel, or just get a motor home and tow the Wrangler. I think the best for us eventually is getting a motor home so I can feel like I'm half way camping, and we can bring the Jeep along. But I think this time around we will probably stay in hotels and get out and explore the surroundings. Thanks again for all the great info. We've been using it to start planning our trip.
This kind of rolls up several discussions that have taken place on this forum, it doesn't matter what vehicle you use or what you explore, its all about doing what works for both of you. For us, we are debating the very same things, ground tent or roof top tent, or Teardrop or pop-up or B or C class. We do a lot of asphalt but want the ability to get to the back of Canyon Land or Moab. I can't count the number of times I have gone off into the woods with a shove and the wife has spent a fair amount of time behind a bush but she isn't as happy with just a whore bath as I am. To be successful we have to find what keeps each of us happy, find our own style of Overlanding.
 

ShawnR

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We're both in our mid 40's. Some day our goal is to have a 5th wheel and just travel. Not sure that day will ever come but hopefully. Now if I can just hit the lottery. lol
 
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WUzombies

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And my dream is a fully built 4-door Unimog expedition class vehicle. I just need you and 10,000,000 of your closest friends to buy my books. :tonguewink:
 
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Being in Virginia the AT is my backyard and where I go whenever I can although, I've never been able to make it as far north as NY. I've done the first two legs of the trail from Tennessee to near D.C. We've Hiked, biked and drove a lot. Driving is a bit boring but beautiful. The reason I say it can be boring is you can only drive over the crest of a mountain Hwy so many times before it starts to get less and les spectacular. For driving I much prefer the High Desert of California and Death Valley.

One day I'd like to take a month off and hike or bike the first two legs of the trail.
 
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ShawnR

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Being in Virginia the AT is my backyard and where I go whenever I can although, I've never been able to make it as far north as NY. I've done the first two legs of the trail from Tennessee to near D.C. We've Hiked, biked and drove a lot. Driving is a bit boring but beautiful. The reason I say it can be boring is you can only drive over the crest of a mountain Hwy so many times before it starts to get less and spectacular. For driving I much prefer the High Desert of California and Death Valley.

One day I'd like to take a month off and hike or bike the first two legs of the trail.
That would be awesome. Wish I could take a month off and do something like that too. Right now I'm looking for a mountain bike to take with me on our trip out there.
 

RescueRangers

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If you are seriously looking at hiking the AT, check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (appalachiantrail.org), they are the governing body for the AT and have tons of maps, guide books and other information. You may want to check the rules on bikes on the AT, my understanding is the AT is foot traffic only.
 
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ShawnR

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If you are seriously looking at hiking the AT, check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (appalachiantrail.org), they are the governing body for the AT and have tons of maps, guide books and other information. You may want to check the rules on bikes on the AT, my understanding is the AT is foot traffic only.
Thanks for the heads up. And thanks again for the helpful info. Much appreciated from everyone.
 
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JKUOverland

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I have some limited time left and scheduling as much as possible. For March 2017 I want to car camp(2016 Wrangler) one or two night along the BRP. But I see the official camp sites are closed in March. Is there dispersed camp sites along the BRP. I have read you can't car camp on the parkway but there are spots or RV friendly WalMarts? Does anyone have locations of camp sites or last resort Friendly WalMarts along the way? I coming from the South and going North. Not worried about tickets or arrest(probably won't never make the court date -lol) however, I just don't want the hassles. Just want to do this and move to the next thing! Castro died so maybe I will car camp Cuba! Hey thanks for all the help.....wish I would have done this Overland thing a long long time ago......but its a cool way to head West! You can reply here or email ebec.usa @ gmail