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  1. Default Minnesota to the Great Smoky Mountains in October

    My husband and I are planning a trip the the Great Smoky Mountains. We'd love some advice. We are very interested in the nature, not so much in touristy trap things - but we do love the offbeat and unique experiences. We want to avoid the Chicago area going to/from Minnesota, does anyone have a "best route" - My husband is looking at St. Louis for layover, but I'm also seeing Kentucky? We've done a few caves - is Mammoth so unique? I'm wondering if wandering through the Ozarks on the way would be a viable route. He's a little nervous that we'll get "natured out" - how many days do people generally spend in the park? We do have 7 or 8 days for exploring. I think we should see the Biltmore, take the route from Franklin to Highlands...what about going into Georgia to see Fox Fire, or are we going to be seeing enough of early Appalachian life if we explore the Mountain Museum at the park? I'd love to see clogging and local music - these seem hard to find. It sounds like I'd rather avoid Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge with their crowds. Is it reasonable to rent a cabin in Townsend or NC as a base, or should we plan on staying more along-the-way? Would you take in Nashville and Memphis on a trip like this?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Welcome to RTA!

    Answering the bit about Mammoth Cave: yes, it's worth it, very unique among caves since it's so.....well, mammoth sized (huge). There are several tours available. At most national monument and park caves, you go on a tour so they can explain what you are seeing (and keep you on the safe path).

    It's your trip, so some of your questions are only going to be able to be answered by you, dependent on how much time you have. Are you on a timetable or strict budget? If you have the time, wandering through the Ozarks is a great idea. Avoiding Chicago, if you don't want to go there, should be easy enough.

    Are you planning this from paper maps or a road atlas? If not, it's time to go get some maps or an atlas -- if you're AAA, of course you can get some from your local office.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default starting points

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Lets start with asking where in Minnesota you're starting from? It's a big state, afterall. Second, does the 7-8 days to explore mean your entire trip time, including the 2 days each way you need for the drive, or are you talking about 7-8 days plus another 4 for the miles?

    If you're starting from somewhere in the Twin Cities metro, St. Louis wouldn't be a horrible place to stop, but it's also a pretty big detour, even from other routes that would avoid Chicago. The easier and shorter way to avoid Chicago would be to take I-94/I-90 through Wisconsin, then continue south on I-39 at Rockford to Bloomington, and then head over to Indianapolis on I-74.

    Mammoth Cave is the world's largest cave system, and one of only two Caves to be designated as a National Park, so yes, I think it's safe to say it's unique.

    Personally, I would not include the Ozarks on this trip, as is really is a pretty big detour. You'd be looking at an additional 300 miles or so of driving to make the detour to western Missouri/Arkansas. Memphis is just about as big of a detour, so I probably wouldn't include it on this trip either. Nashville, on the other hand, would be a pretty easy city to add to your agenda, if it's a place you are interested in.

    I don't think it's possible to get "natured out," and if it is, it would take a whole lot longer than just a week, but again, that's me. You'll have to decide for yourself what works for you. There is no shortage of other great natural places to see near the Smokies. You could drive through Cumberland Gap National Historic Park along the way. The Blue Ridge Parkway would be an easy addition, even if you only did part of it. A bit farther out, Land Between the Lakes on the Kentucky/Tennessee border and New River Gorge in West Virginia might also fit into your plans.

  4. Default

    Michael, thank you SO much! Yes, we're starting from the Twin Cities and counting on two days each to get there and back, so 7-8 days to explore the Smoky Mountain area. Thank you for the Ozark and Memphis tips. Do you know anything about Fox Fire and whether dipping into Georgia would be a worthwhile detour?

  5. Default

    Thank you, Donna,

    Have just started to plan from ideas and websites. You're right, I think it's time to go to the atlas. I'm liking the idea of Mammoth and Cumberland Gap along the way now.

  6. #6


    Welcome to the RTA Forum.

    You mentioned Biltmore Estate and, while it isn't 'nature' it is well worth seeing. You will also get lots of fall foliage in October, so the Blue Ridge Parkway is a good way to see it. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is also a great place for nature hikes and fall color.

    If you go through Kentucky, Cumberland Falls is a neat place that has a 'moonbow' but it only occurs when the moon is full and the sky clear. Few get to see it, but those who do say it is beautiful.

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