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Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

Pitman, New Jersey
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Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

We are planning a trip to the Smokies area in August and are looking for some input in planning. In addition to the smokies, we would like to visit Asheville, NC, Chattanooga, TN, and Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. We would be travelling by car from the southern New Jersey area. I have mapped out the following rough itinerary:

Day 1: Drive to Asheville. Stop at Luray Caverns, VA enroute.

Day 2: Biltmore Estate

Day 3: Chimney Rock Park, then drive to Pigeon Forge

Day 4: Smoky Mountains Nat'l Park

Day 5: Possible additional time at Nat'l Park . Also to include Tuckaleechee Caverns, Ripley's Aquarium or Ober Gatlinburg

Day 6: Dollywood

Day 7: Drive to Chattanooga. See the Lost Sea in Swiftwater enroute

Day 8: Ruby Falls/Incline Railway; Rock City

Day 9: Tennessee Aquarium, plus any other points of interest in this area.

Day 10: Drive to Mammoth Cave. Possibly see one or two of the private caves in the area (i.e. Diamond Caverns, Cave Museum in Horse Cave)

Day 11: Tour Mammoth Cave

Day 12: Kentucky Down Under

Day 13: Head for home

I am looking for input as to any other points of interest I may have missed. We are a family of three (2 adults & a 9-year old). We enjoy caves, moderate hikes (no more than 1.5 miles) nature walks, historic homes, museums, and scenic drives.

Please let me know if I have alloted too much/not enough time for any area.

Also, I would appreciate opinions on Dollywood. I am not an amusement rider, nor do I enjoy country music. My husband and daughter enjoy rides but not the music. Is it worth the high admission?

Is Ober Gatlinburg worth seeing, or is it touristy?

Finally, would you recommend going to both Ripley's Aquarium and the Tennessee Aquarium, or is one enough? Which one is best?

Thanks in advance for your opinions/input.

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1. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

Hi,

You've obviously already done a lot of planning for your trip, and it for the most part seems good. Here are some suggestions.

You cited visits to possibly seven caves! While caves are great, I think seven is over doing it just a little bit. :) Cutting that down to maybe two would be more reasonable. Believe me, after a while they all start to look the same. The only caves you mentioned that I've been to were Ruby Falls and the Lost Sea. Ruby Falls is over-priced, over-commercialized, and has been vandalized to the point that it's loses credibility against other caves in the region. On the other hand, I love the Lost Sea, and along with the lake, it is steeped in history and has some interesting formations. The tour guides that I've had have been interesting and involved, as opposed to Ruby Falls’, which can be good but more often just sound tired. The two caves I'd go to would be the Lost Sea and Mammoth Cave, which I think is the largest tunnel system in the world.

Originally I was critical of the Chimney Rock Park, but after visiting their website it looks to be much like our Rock City, but with better views and a little smaller. They both would be good ideas.

Since while you're in Gatlinburg it looks like you'll be spending most of your time in the Nat'l Park and maybe a little in Gatlinburg, I would highly dis-reccomend staying in Pigeon Forge, home to (IMHO) the most tourist traps and worst traffic in the state. Instead stay in Gatlinburg which still has traffic but has a nicer atmosphere, or in Townsend, a small town near the park, near the attractions of Gatlinburg without the traffic.

Dollywood is a possibility, but given that you don't like country music or theme rides, it wouldn't have any interest for you. The rides are good, though, so your other family members would probably enjoy it.

The Tennessee Aquarium in value blows Ripley's out of the water. Ripley’s includes and extensive touching area, an Amazon rainforest habitat, and an extremely good shark tunnel. If I attempted to list all the exhibits in the TNaqua in the detail that I just did for Ripley's list would go on and on... The TNaqua is the largest freshwater aquarium in world, and has a new $30 million dollar salt-water edition. Given all this, Ripley's costs about $5 more.

Summing up the above, I'd give two full days to the Nat'l Park, one for other things (it's also a possibly that you'll like the park so much you won't want to got to Gatlinburg; it's happened before). For the two days in the park, Cades Cove and Clingman's Dome would be good ideas.

So to sum up all the above, here’s a revised itinerary:

Day 1: Drive to Ashville

Day 2: Biltmore Estate

Day 3: Chimney Rock Park, then drive to Gatlinburg/Townsend

Day 4&5: Nat’l Park

Day 6: Gatlinburg attractions

Day 7: Drive to Chattanooga. See the Lost Sea in Sweetwater enroute

Day 8&9: TNaqua, other attractions (detail on this later)

Same for rest…

Hope all this helps!

Blue

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2. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

I just wanted to comment on your cave city options actually. Sounds like you have everything else planned out alright, pretty busy but should work.

Kentucky down under is nice BUT it will take you two hours at most, do teh commercial caves teh same day with Kuntukcy down under and leave two days for mammoth YOULL NEED IT. IN fact you may want to leave off the commercial caves all together and explore mammoths surface, I would recommend a canoe trip on teh green rive, we saw about 20 deer and LOTS of other wildlife plus youll learn more on how the cave is formed by exploring the surface as well. Once you go into mammoth all the other caves are pityful!

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3. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

Blue gave you terrific advice! I agree completely about visiting Chatt.'s aquarium and skipping Ripley's, and stay in Gatlinburg if you can.

Dollywood focuses on Appalachian culture quite a bit... lots of mountain craft shops, music (bluegrass, gospel, oldies), museums for gospel music and Dolly memorabilia, rides and food with a country theme. I love it but am not sure that you all would enjoy it much, based on what you said. It's not jam-packed with rides like a Six Flags would be. You might go and be pleasantly surprised, or you might hate it.

I haven't been to Ober Gatlinburg, but from what I've heard it's pretty much a tourist trap except for the winter when skiing is available.

About Chimney Rock Park, I probably wouldn't have planned a detour there, especially since you're on your way to the Smokies. That's just me, though. You will find spectacular views in the Smokies for free, and if you're interested in seeing waterfalls, you might want to consider Fall Creek Falls State Park in TN, northwest of Chattanooga. I think the Jungle Book was filmed there, and possibly a few other movies. (Someone else please chime in on this one!)

If you enjoy museums, Asheville has some interesting options that you might want to consider. I had bookmarked this site while looking into a weekend trip for myself and the dh. It may serve as a useful starting point for you: www.romanticasheville.com/attractions.html

You may even want to spend a day there instead of Dollywood... I think it'd be more to your liking.

Have fun!

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4. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

YES the jungle book was filmed at fall creek falls and its worht the extra 30 to 40 min drive!!!

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5. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

Coincidentally, I'm planning a Gatlinburg trip, with a stop in Chattanooga on our way back to Birmingham. I've been to both aquariums twice, and while Chattanooga's is definitely bigger, I think Ripley's is the one to see if you can't do both (which I would if you can).

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6. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

And another thing, I would skip Ober. It's really touristy, and honestly not worth the trip in my opinion. You should definitely check out the arts & craft area in Gatlinburg, and also Cades Cove in the park. I hear, but haven't been there yet, that Roaring Fork motor trail is something not to be missed while you're in the area. Check out the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge forums, and you'll fine a goldmine of information.

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7. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

Chasm-

I think that the itinerary is already crowded enough without adding another destination. On top of that, when I visited Fall Creek Falls I found it too much resort and too little park. If that's what you're looking for then it may be a good idea, but in my opinion the Smokies have a lot more to offer.

Dixiegirl-

Why did you think that Ripley's was a better aquarium than the TNaqua, even though as you said, it is bigger?

Planner-

A note on the TNaqua for you- when you visit the TNaqua they will've added another gallery onto Ocean Journey (the salt-water edition), a 16,000 gallon penguin exhibit which will open in May. Also, another idea for your stay in Chattanooga is walk around the newly renovated riverfront- here's a goList I made with a tour: tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i4832-Walking_T…

Blue

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8. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

You will be in the South in August. Caves are a GREAT idea, so are mountain tops.

We hike extensively around Chattanooga. A short and beautiful hike that will get you wet and cool you down is the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge section of the Cumberland Trail, off 153. Bring old tennis shoes, they'll get wet. After the Creek, the trail goes steep and hard, so just stay in the first section. ILookout Mountain has Rainbow Falls, not as big as Fall Creek, but it's treesy and you have another chance to get wet...and it's a shorter detour than Fall Creek. It's a steep trail, however. A wonderful historic hike is Red Clay State Park, on the TN/GA border. It was one of the departure points for the Trail of Tears. There are reconstructed 1830's cabins and a spring fed creek. $3 parking fee. Turn over the rocks to see some cool caddisfly rock cases. Do it in the morning, you really can't escape the humidity. Pretty flat.

Aquarium here in Chatt is better in several respects, but you must go in the early evening, if coming on a Saturday. You can stay 1 1/2 hours past the 8:00 closing time (8:00 on weekends). Animals behave differently at different times of day, and the crowds have left.

Reflection Riding near the Chattanooga Nature Center has a short scenic drive or hike, and is well loved by us locals.

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9. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

Your absolutly right, another destination would be too much.

Desoto falls on lookout mtn is even bigger than fall creek falls and nicer in my opinion HOWEVER it too is further down the road and would only suggest it if you are planning more days in chattanooga and had the time to explore teh hidden parts of lookout mtn!

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10. Re: Need Help in Planning a Smokies Vacation

also skip ripleys and do chattanoogas, ripleys is nice but chattanoogas is much nicer!