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  1. Default Michigan to Great Smoky Mountains/Nashville

    Hi! We'd like to take a family road trip during late summer/early fall (Sept/Oct) from southwest Michigan (two hours east of Chicago) to the Great Smoky Mountains and back. We'd like to include at least a day, maybe two, in Nashville. We have 16-25 days, depending on how many vacation days we want to spend. Traveling closer to two weeks (rather than three) is likely, but we wanna enjoy the trip!

    About us:
    • Two parents, late 30s
    • Eight kids, ages baby through 16
    • We homeschool, so timing is flexible and educational things are always cool
    • We have an old, hardy Sprinter van and will likely be towing a pop-up
    • Have not ruled out staying in Airbnb/hotels instead
    • Budget is always a concern when you have eight kids
    • We love to be outdoors, hike kid-friendly trails, run free. We are not afraid to get dirty or walk a while. We're pretty good at wearing babies and toddlers.


    So, what do we have to see on the way there, back, or nearby? We are willing to go farther for great sites. Would love your thoughts. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,629

    Default State Parks are Your Friend

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    The very first suggestion that I'd make is for you to contact the highway department, tourist bureau, or parks department of each and every state you'll be visiting. Just do a search on "statename tourism". You can usually get free maps, brochures, and lists of facilities that will make your planning much easier and more rewarding. State parks in particular offer the best balance between cost and facilities for camping purposes, and I simply can't imagine that you're going to find any AirBnB or motel that is going to be as cost effective.

    Educationally, you're going to be traveling through the heart of Lincoln's childhood and a number of significant, if not famous, Civil War battles. So what you might want to think about is making those two topics (related, of course) the subject matter of your 'home' schooling for the trip. You can also throw in some modern trivia by stopping in Corbin KY to see the original motel/restaurant that started Harlan Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

    For outdoor hikes I would again recommend state parks, but also national forests which will get larger and more numerous as you approach the Appalachians. And for a splurge, the very family-oriented Dollywood in Pigeon Forge TN.

    You will need a minimum of two days each way, but if you really plan to see as many historic and teachable sites as you can, then consider three days each way. I would also strongly urge you to look for two completely different routes down and back so as to maximize the number f sites you can visit without backtracking.

    This should help get you started in you planning, but please feel free to ask more specific questions as that planning progresses.

    AZBuck

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,894

    Default

    Get the older kids involved in the planning! They can do much of the research and requesting the brochures from the states you'll be traveling through.

    To add to the national monument/park idea, Mammoth Cave NP is in Kentucky and isn't all that far from the Lincoln Birthplace NHS.


    Donna

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,629

    Default Two Things More

    Right! Donna reminded me of a couple of things that are well worth mentioning. Both have to do with getting the most out of YOUR national parks. The first is cost. While national parks are an incredibly good deal in their own right (and charge a single entry price for an entire car-load of people!), if you end up planning to visit four or more you should get an annual pass. Since the 'year' starts at the time of purchase and these are available at the entrance gates of all national parks, just plan on getting one at the first park you come to.

    Second, and perhaps more important in your case, is the Junior Rangers Program. These are park and age specific programs that will allow each of your children to participate, learn a bit about the parks, and earn badges, certificates and other souvenirs. Best of all, the programs are free.

    If you do decide to visit Mammoth Cave, I would urge you to show up at the Visitors Center as early in the morning as you possibly can. Doing so means that you have a far better chance of getting a good tour immediately. Later in the morning the tours start to book up and you may be faced with a significant wait for some of the easier, child-friendly tours.

    AZBuck

  5. Default

    You mention home schooling and the interest in something educational.

    Well, if you don't mind adding about 40 miles to your trip, let me suggest rerouting your Michigan to Great Smoky Mountain drive through Dayton, Ohio.

    That is the location of the National Museum of the USAF. It is a gigantic Smithsonian complex and is FREE! It is divided into several time periods from WWI to today. You'll see everything from biplanes (some gigantic) to the SR 71 Blackhawk, B1 Bomber, and several ICBMs standing erect. There are several planes that formerly served as Air Force One that you can walk through. You can walk under a B52 and look up into the open bomb bay doors. And you can also see BOCKSCAR, the B29 that dropped the Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki. You cannot see it all in a day!

    If you are lucky, some USAF planes might fly overhead.

    https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit.aspx

    Look through all they have to offer now, have the kids study up on aviation history ahead of time and let them see it all with their own eyes. What a fantastic opportunity and it's free.

  6. Default

    Great idea to stop at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, if not this trip, another time since you are in Michigan. One small correction however, it is not part of the Smithsonian. I happen to like it better than the two Air & Space Smothsonian museums in DC as it’s easliy twice as large. There is so much there. My son stopped on his way to the Indy 500 last year expecting to spend two hours. He came out six hours later.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,894

    Default

    Here's a "third-it!" on the recommendation for Wright-Patterson's National Museum of the Air Force. Hubby and I went back in 2012, and would go again if we ever had the chance. Click here and scroll down to Post 30, then 31, to read about the many things we saw there. We spent two days, but could have spent a week.


    Donna

  8. Default

    This is great, folks! Love the ideas.

    I actually remember going to that museum in Dayton as a kid! That would be really fun. Especially since we live near the Air Zoo (Portage, MI) and our kids love the planes.

    Definitely have Mammoth Caves on the list.

    A lot of things end up being divide-and-conquer sort of thing, as the older kids are interested and able to hike in caves; our 2yo, however, will likely be terrified 😄.

    Ideas for camping near the Smokies at a place WITH showers?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,629

    Default Both Sides Now

    On the western side of GSMNP, there's:
    Eagle's Nest Campground
    Up the Creek RV Camp

    and on the eastern side:
    Indian Creek Campground
    River Valley Campground
    Mile High Campground

    AZBuck

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