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  1. Default Smokey Mountains and the Carolina coast


    Im in the very early stages of planning a road trip with my wife and son. We're hoping to be heading to the U.S. in late September - however work commitments might push the trip back to the following Spring time, late May early June. Im planning the trip for September though.

    My son will be around 2 years old so we're looking for short drives between places and a direct flight from the UK therefore we'll be flying from Manchester to Atlanta (about 9 hours direct) and will be landing mid afternoon. The outline of my plan is this:

    Day 1 - land mid afternoon - either stay near the airport or drive 3.5 hours to Savannah.

    Day 2 - Savannah

    Day 3 - Drive 2 hours to Charlston, spend half a day there then drive 2 more hours to Myrtle Beach

    Day 4 - Drive 1.5 hours to Wilmington for breakfast then 4 hours to Raleigh

    Day 5 - Drive into Virginia, possibly to Richmond. I was thinking we could visit some historical sights around and about then stop for the night. Any suggestions for this would be welcome

    Day 6 - Monticello, Charlottesville

    Day 7 - Get on the Blue Ridge Parkway - should be go higher than Charlottesville to join it? I was planning 3 or even 4 days to drive this to the Smokey Mountains with time for lots of stops, photography and some short walks if there are any available - obviously we won't be able to hike with our son.

    Day 10/11 - Smokey Mountains - 3 days here? Again we're looking for some little towns to visit or nice scenic drives. Our days probably won't be very long so it would be good to have a base we can see quite a lot from without having to drive hours.

    Back to the airport!

    Its a bit sketchy at the moment - I haven't managed to look too much into exactly where i want to stop. Im a history buff so Id like to visit a battle ground, plantation, sites of significance etc while my wife is basing her list off Nicholas Sparks novels!!

    Any help or suggestions are welcome. I used the site when planning a Canadian road trip in 2013 and found the advice so useful.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Problems and Opportunities

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    First a couple of small problems. As with all people arriving from Europe in the "mid-afternoon", we feel compelled to point out that it will be closer to 9:00 to 10:00 PM back in Manchester by the time you deplane, clear customs, and pick up your hire car. You will be in no shape to then drive four or five hours to Savannah, getting in at 3:00 AM by your body clock, the only one that matters. Much better to get a hotel room just a bit south-southeast of Atlanta and settle in for a long night's sleep to get over the effects of moving five or so time zones. Just get out as far as say McDonough, Blacksville or Locust Grove so that you don't have to deal with Atlanta traffic the next morning. Unfortunately, you will be arriving at mid-afternoon meaning that, depending on the day, you will be driving into the teeth of Atlanta's rush hour traffic as you leave the airport.

    The other place where a 'temporal' alteration might be worth considering is in your balance between time spent along the coast and time spent in the mountains. As it is, your visits to Savannah, Charleston, Richmond and Charlottesville all seem unduly rushed with less than a day, sometimes just a few hours, in each. Savannah, Charleston and Monticello could all use a full day. If I were looking to find time in your current itinerary to devote to those cities instead, I'd probably drop Myrtle Beach (think Brighton) and/or Raleigh and maybe 'borrow' a day from your time in the Appalachian Mountains.

    The Blue Ridge Parkway is a lovely stretch of road, but it will be slow going. I think that the posted speed limit for much of it is 35 mph and even that will seem generous if/when traffic backs up. It's only two lanes with limited places to pass slower traffic and many opportunities for gawking leading to slower traffic. Be sure to stop at the first available Visitors Center or Ranger Office where there will be people more than happy to point out chances to take short walks with your toddler.

    If you're a history buff, that's all the more reason to spend time in Charleston and Richmond. Charleston in particular is full of (American) Civil War history, especially Fort Sumter where the first shots of that conflict were fired. I would suggest taking the ferry from Patriots Point and its collection of WWII naval vessels. Also in Charleston the CSS Hunley, the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy warship, is undergoing restoration. Another area not on your itinerary, but worth considering is Virginia's Historic Triangle just north and west of Norfolk which includes important sites from our Colonial and Revolutionary War periods.

    I'm afraid that I'm not familiar with the works of Nicholas Sparks, but if there are specific sites or general themes that your wife is interested in, let us know and we'll see what we can do to direct her to places she might like to explore.

    Last edited by AZBuck; 05-25-2016 at 09:15 PM.

  3. #3

    Default Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP)

    Hello Parky,

    My friend AZ Buck is on target, as usual, with his recommendations. I've just a few tidbits to add:

    The BRP's northern terminus is at Rockfish Gap, some 20 miles west of Charlottesville along I-64. The 105 miles north of there belong to Shenandoah National Park (SNP) and the road there is officially the Skyline Drive (SD). Driving the SD through SNP requires purchase of admission to SNP while the BRP has no admission fee to use the road.

    There are some, self included, who feel that the entire 469 mile BRP plus the 105 mile SD can sometimes be "too much of a good thing", where the maximum posted speed limit is 45 mph and there are many 35 mph zones. Adding nearly constant curves and ups and downs and heavier seasonal use (late September through mid-October are prime "leaf season" weeks), and one might find oneself ready for a break. Adding to that is the reality that fog can sock in everything for hours to days on end. All of this should be read to say a Plan B should be in the ready.

    Perhaps part of a Plan B, or even Plan A, could be to visit the northern end of SNP/SD at Front Royal, VA, but over just a few miles west within the Shenandoah Valley, where the Civil War battlefields of Cedar Creek and Newmarket provide for visitors with viewpoints and displays. There are a few viewpoints and displays at Port Republic, site of the final battle of Stonewall Jackson's 1862 "Valley Campaign". I-81 runs along the heart of "The Valley", which by the way is some 20-30 miles wide and contains some rather hilly ranges in its center. One can essentially parallel the SD and the BRP just 10-15 miles to the west by traversing I-81 between Front Royal/Winchester and Roanoke, and really all the way do about Wytheville, VA. The point being you may find enjoyment in seeing some Civil War sites and traveling through a fine pastoral valley by using I-81 on the northern end of the BRP.

    Part of my personal bias towards the southern one-third to one-half of the BRP is that North Carolina is my home state. I do find the views along the BRP from about the NC-VA state line all the way to Mile 0 at Cherokee, NC to be rather more dramatic than those found along the SD and northern BRP. The BRP passes by Grandfather Mountain, a nearly 6,000' peak which one can drive up to 5,300' on (with some easy hiking trails near the top), as well as passing by Mount Mitchell State Park, farther down by Asheville. Mitchell is just under 6,800' at the summit, and its summit is a complete drive-up. South of Asheville, the BRP reaches its maximum elevation of over 6,000' and the views along the segment for around the last 75 miles from Asheville to Cherokee are splendid. Some travelers choose to skip down I-81 to I-77 to Fancy Gap, VA to enter the BRP there, not far north of the VA-NC state line. A two to three day allowance from Fancy Gap to Cherokee would afford much time to enjoy the many overlooks and several visitor centers.

    There is a very handy book entitled "Hiking Trails of the Blue Ridge Parkway", by Randy Johnson. It's a Falcon Guidebook and Johnson has done a great job of describing and rating the many, many trails, from easy to difficult. The National Park Service, of which the BRP is a unit, has downloadable/printable maps and brochures with much information, including trail information, as well.

    Perhaps a comment or two about the "coastal" portion of your trip are in order. I much enjoy Savannah, Charleston, and Wilmington (Myrtle Beach--not so much--personal preference). Of the 4 communities, only Myrtle Beach is directly on the ocean. The other 3 are port cities some 10-15 miles upriver from the ocean. The main highway between Savannah and Wilmington, US 17, is practically nowhere in view of the ocean. It does bear the name "Ocean Highway", but not because you can often see it from the highway. So, if it's the cities you seek to visit, you're in the right place. To see the ocean, you'll need to consider flying to Raleigh (international service from Heathrow?), and driving to the Outer Banks, thence north into Tidewater section of Virginia, thence up I-64 towards Charlottesville and The Valley. More on that if you're interested.

    Have fun planning and taking your Carolinas Road Trip!


  4. Default back to the drawing board

    Thank you both so much for the very detailed feedback. It has led to a major re-think.

    We will spend our first night nearer to Atlanta and then devote a day each to Savannah, Charleston and Wilmington with time spent in Georgetown along the way. We will also spend 3 nights around Richmond to take in Yorktown, Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Monticello etc.

    We'll then head down 1-81 to I-77 to join the BRP down to Cherokee. We'll probably spend 3 days doing this as well as a drive through the Smokeys to Gatlinburg then a leisurly drive back to the airport on our last day.

    So this gives us 3 spare days.

    I was thinking that we may need another day for the Richmond section. If we base ourselves in Charlottesville we could head north into Shenandoah, which I haven't currently factored in, and then head back south along the 1-81. So 3 nights in Richmond and 2 in Charlottesville. Any suggestions on places to stay while heading down to Cherokee?

    We would absolutely love to squeeze the outer banks in to our itinerary but Im conscious of doing too much with a toddler in tow. Could it be done in 2 days? I'd be equally happy to add a day to the 'coast' section of our trip.
    Last edited by parky; 05-29-2016 at 11:08 PM.

  5. Default

    For the Smokey's. One of my favorite drives is from Gatlinburg is 441 to Cherokee to 19 to 74 to 28 Tail of the Dragon is part of this stretch which now has higher traffic issues and driving enthusiasts to 129 to 411 to 321 Gatlinburg or exit just past Townsend back into the park to 441 to Gatlinburg. This is a long loop and is a good day of driving but well worth it.

  6. #6


    If you have time, why not visit the last resting place of Marshal Ney?
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 06-23-2016 at 06:20 AM. Reason: Link format.

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