Ok, so two friends and myself are planning on driving to the Smoky Moutains this Spring Break, which is in two weeks or so. As I'm a relatiely inexperienced road tripper, I have a few questions I'd like to ask.
Is mid-April a good time to visit the Smoky Mountains? From what I've read, this time of year is less crowded than summer time. Although I like the idea of less people being around, is there a reason behind this? I'm thinking people just aren't able to take vacations this time of year, but I'd like to be sure.
Next, I calculated that each one of us should bring $200, making a total of $600. I estimated the cost of the campsite for five days, a hundred dollars more than what fuel is expected to cost, plus another $100 for food. Is this too much, too little, or just right?
Also, I'm expecting there to be at least 12 hours of driving. Even with taking four or so hour shifts at a time, is this safe?
Thank you for any advice.
Some Hard Knocks
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The first thing you'll have to do is seriously up your estimate of the cost. Sorry, but you're simply not going to be able to do this on $200 each. I'm assuming that the trip will last a week and cover about 1600 miles round-trip from other hints you've dropped. You're looking at around $200 for campsites, another $150 or so for gas and maybe another $50 minimum for entrance fees. So $400 of your $600 is gone and you haven't had a bite to eat yet. My best guess at what you'll need to make this enjoyable is more on the order of $400-500 per person. By the same token, if you're getting your driving time estimates from a mapping routine like Mapquest or Google Maps, you need to add about 20% to them for things like getting gas, eating meals, bathroom breaks, traffic delays and a host of other real world things that don't get accounted for in those programs. You shouldn't plan on driving more than 500-550 miles or so on any one day. Yes trying to push too far or to 'make up time' to keep to some impossibly optimistic estimate are both unsafe. Spring can be a tricky time of year for weather, particularly in the mountains. But I think you have a slightly better than even chance of good weather and the lack of crowds can often be reward enough for a little rain or chill, just be prepared.
Please tell us where you are starting from and returning to, it's difficult to analyze your trip without that information.
Pretty much any time can be a good time to visit the Smokies if you're prepared for the weather. The lower elevations are generally between 2-3,000' in the area and the highest peaks approach 7,000'. Temperatures generally change 3 to 5 degrees F for every 1,000' of elevation. While you may certainly enjoy balmy weather, it's just as possible to endure sleet or snow higher up.
The week preceding Easter is Spring Break for many public school systems. While I wouldn't expect summertime-like crowds, I wouldn't expect the Park and environs to be "deserted".
Your vistas will be largely bare, gray trees, as the deciduous trees don't bud out up there until late April-early May, and mid-May way up top.