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Old 02-10-2013, 09:22 AM   #1
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Chicago to Smokey Mts. Advice?

Greetings everyone.

The mrs. and I are considering a trip to the Great Smokey Mts. Towards the end of April.

Can anyone suggest a route into the area that may be a little less hilly and easier on our beloved VW Eurovan, trailer, and occupants?

After years of towing to different parts of the Midwest, Kentuckey, Badlands, we feel pretty confident with careful driving and navigation, we can add this to our list.

Also, what is the area like at that time of the year? Any recommendation where to camp, visit and so on?


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Old 02-10-2013, 09:32 AM   #2
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Ooooh, love the Smokies.

I think if you're going to go, you will be doing mountains. There's no way to see them without that.

Going south and picking up Interstate 40 to 441 is probably the best way, in our opinion. There are mountains, but the roads are good and no 90 degree turns to navigate as you might find with side roads.

In late April you should find beautiful, springtime weather. The higher elevations will be coolish but probably little to no snow.

The mama bears will be out and about with their new cubs.

May be best to find a spot on the western slopes somewhere, leaving the trailer behind to peruse the Smokies themselves. There are tons of campgrounds off 441.

Be sure to see Cades Cove.

I see you're in Illinois. There is a great rally at Moraine View state park just a couple hours south of you, second weekend in June. Come on down!

Travel safe,


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Old 02-10-2013, 09:45 AM   #3
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Can't help you with which route to take as I'm not that familiar with the roads in the area... just been there one time.

As for Cades Cove - I second the motion. Danielle and I enjoyed it immensely - particularly during the week when the traffic and crowds are down - the weekend can be just crazy. Cades cove is a 10 mile (or so) one-way road through a cove that was a rural community until the late 40's or so. I think there may have been a few people living there even within the last 20 years. Many of the buildings still exist and they're on the driving tour.

There are several campgrounds in the Smoky Mountain National Park. Be sure to check them out. Klingman's Dome is in the Smoky Mountain park and it's an interesting place to see.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are nearby as is the Cherokee Reservation. Lots to do and see although some of it can be quite the tourist trap.

Avoid the weekend if possible. The crowds can be overwhelming.

Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
1996 GMC Suburban C2500 7.4L
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 02-10-2013, 10:05 AM   #4
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May I add a question?

There is one ( maybe more ) mountain pass that is often VERY foggy. It's very scenic, spooky, and surreal. Does anyone know where I am talking about ?
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Old 02-10-2013, 04:52 PM   #5
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Thanks all.

Examining a map of the park, it looks like we'll head for Cade's Cove campground and use that as basecamp and then do road trips from there. There seems to be two routes there from Townshend. The more direct route looks a little twisty turny. There is another road that is east of Townshend that takes you east of Cade's but looks like ther are fewer turns. At least looking at the map. Could be more hilly though.

Anyone familiar with either of those routes?

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Old 02-10-2013, 05:48 PM   #6
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FYI -- 441 is currently closed 9 miles north of Cherokee, NC. About 200' of roadway slid down the hill. Given the importance of this road in the park, it could affect your plans if it's not reopened before your trip.


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Old 02-11-2013, 06:22 AM   #7
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FYI, avoid us129 in eastern tn known as the tail of the dragon. My brothers GPS sent him down this road, very dif with a trailer. Jim
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Old 02-11-2013, 07:37 AM   #8
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Are you towing with the Eurovan? What trailer do you have?
You can run the Interstate highways almost all the way to the park. The last 30 miles you will be on state roads. As you get near the mountains there are many long up and down grades but they are not too steep. I think your van will strugle hard on those long grades. In your favor; the Interstates were built with heavy trucks in mind. There is always a truck lane for the big rigs to crawl up the hills. Drop into a lower gear and go for it.
Once you're off the Interstate things change. The run from the Interstate to Pidgon Forge is fairly easy. You'll have no trouble there. Closer to the park, the roads get steeper and often narrow.
Camping spots in the park are at a premium. Do you have a place reserved? If not, there is little chance you can get one now. They also limit camper size, length of stay and a raft of other rules. There are many commercial RV parks near by. The closer to the park entrance, the higher the price.
We stayed near Bryson City at the Deep Creek RV park. I know the owners were trying to sell so I don't know what it's like now. Bryson is a good 20 min. drive to the park entrance but it's on the North Carolina side. All the major commercial developement is on the Tennessee side. In Tennessee is possible to spend all of you time at tourist traps, theme parks, shopping, eating and other amusements without ever entering the park!
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Old 02-11-2013, 08:19 AM   #9
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Misty rivers near Waiiand on the Towsend side of the park is a great place to stay. there are several good campgrounds in Towsend. both routes from Towsend to Gatlinburg are twisty and hilly. good campgrounds near the GTlinburg area are off I40 near Newport. jelly stone and Crazy Horse are good ones. If you decide to do that Bryson city side be very wary of following the GPS. Check all routes out on the map and ask locally before you head out. 441 across the park is the main sightseeing area and is a easy, pleasant drive. But hilly and curved. I fish in the park and go through the Towsend side 95 percent of the time.
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Old 02-11-2013, 02:15 PM   #10
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You might be referring to Newfound Gap on Hiway 441 between Cherokee and Pigeon Forge. From Newfound Gap you can climb further up the mountain and go to Clingman's Dome. Beautiful country.
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Old 02-11-2013, 02:39 PM   #11
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Depending on your desires at the time, there are several good camp grounds in the area. Of the three we have stayed at, River Edge Campground in Pigeon Forge probably was the one we found most desirable with all the amenities, cable TV, power, water, sewer, etc. (Plus they offer campsites right on the Little Pigeon River) You are only five miles from Gatlinburg and within a few minutes of many restaurants and shopping for the wife (if she likes to spend your money). You can also catch a trolley to most any where in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg if you so desire.

We also have stayed at Elkmont Campground in the Smokies which is approximately five miles from Gatlinburg on the north side of Gatlinburg.

Once you arrive, you might take a look at the campgrounds to see which best meets your needs.

We have made the trip to the area most years since 1965. We just enjoy the area, actually owned a cabin for a short time, however, felt it less expensive to find a place or carry the camper for our annual ritual!

Hope you have a enjoyable trip.
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Old 02-11-2013, 02:48 PM   #12
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Thanks folks.

I spoke with a NPS person about driving with our trailer (19' CCD Bambi) and van. They stated that going into Cades Cove (elev. 1800ft) is not to bad and lots of giant rigs take that route with out to much fuss. My plan as usual is to take it nice and slow, let people pass.

To give you a reference, we pulled our AS to the Badlands from Chicago. Pretty flat all the way, but once in the park there are a few white knuckle moments. The van did great though! We still have the same engine, transmission and brakes!!! We also pack very light, mostly underwear and beer.

Elkmont campground (Elev. 2000ft) sounds really nice with the river flowing through it, but there is no dump station within 9 miles.

We will have our Honda 2000 for power and battery recharge during quiet hours.

Also the NPS said at the time of year we are going, end of April, getting a site should not be a problem especially if we arrive during the week.

We'll probably spend little time at the really touristy places and more time hiking and tooling around in the van.

It looks like 441 is closed (for now) between Cherokee and Gatlinburg. That's the entire north-south road!
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Old 02-11-2013, 02:55 PM   #13
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Pigon Forge is as posted earlier, everthing you would want on vacation (if you have children) Every outlet store you can think of, plenty of restaurants, lots of campgrounds Rivers Edge Campground is the most convient. You can catch the shuttle in front of the campground,and go anywhere in Pigon Forge ( Traffic is a major problem.) If you like being in the mountains Cades Cove is the best choice(limited services) If you are looking for something different to do rent a bicycle and ride the loop, lot of wildlife. I believe Wednesday Morning, all car traffic is held. Have FUN
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Old 02-11-2013, 03:28 PM   #14
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We tent camped just outside the Smokies years ago in early spring. Unzipped the tent in the morning to find 4 inches of fresh snow covering everything. After packing up, we drove up the mountains through the most beautiful ice-covered wonderland we had ever seen. Sometimes what seems like bad weather can be a gift.

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