Your Own Eastern National Park Road Trip
Editor's note: Having driven the Blue Ridge Parkway and through Shenandoah National Park, our lodging experts, David and Kay Scott, are moving west on their 2010 odyssey across the National Park System. Before leaving Shenandoah, though, they offered some thoughts on how to plan your own journey through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Shenandoah National Park.
Several years ago we wrote The Best National Park Trip, an article that described the wonders of visiting Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon national parks during a tour of the West. This is indeed a great trip that can be extended with visits to Lake Powell, Cedar Breaks, and other nearby units administered by the National Park Service. The article was directed at residents of the Eastern United States who plan to visit the West, but have limited time.
An equally interesting trip is a drive through Great Smokey Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Shenandoah National Park. The three parks offer more than 600 miles of scenic driving in the slow lane. For those too far away to drive their own vehicle, fly to Knoxville, Tennessee, rent a car and drive north. Or fly to Washington, D.C., and drive south through the three parks.
We are talking about a 10-day to two-week trip in slow motion. Stay overnight in Knoxville and spend the next day touring Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Stay a night at Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then motor north, staying in each of the three other lodges along the parkway.
There is plenty to explore in the 75 to 100 miles between each of the lodges. Enjoy the grits, country ham, fried chicken, buckwheat pancakes, and all the other foods you generally avoid at home. Take time to talk with the people who live here and have no desire to live anywhere else. Strike up a conversation in the West and you are likely to be talking with someone who moved there from Minnesota, Iowa, or Ohio. Strike up a conversation with someone along the Blue Ridge Parkway and it may be the third- or fourth-generation of a family from the same community.
Stay a night in Lewis Mountain Cabins and two or three nights in either Skyland Resort or Big Meadows Lodge. Sign up for some of the hikes and tour Herbert Hoover’s summer retreat. Enjoy ranger talks and gaze at the mountains and valleys that crowd out urban blight in this beautiful area of the United States.
Return your rental vehicle in Washington, D.C., and spend the remainder of your vacation absorbing our country’s history and future. This is the trip of a lifetime and you shouldn’t miss it.
By the time you read this we should be through West Virginia (there is no easy way to do this) and Ohio, and near our temporary destination of Rushville, Indiana, where David will take in his 50th high school class reunion. In preparation for this event, he purchased one of the most outstanding Elvis shirts seen in this great country since rock 'n roll conquered Memphis. Kurt permitting, a photo will be forthcoming.
Following the reunion, our plan is to drive west on U.S. 36 that crosses through Indianapolis and Springfield, Illinois, until arriving in St. Joseph, Missouri, one of the departure points for the Oregon Trail. St. Joseph also served as the eastern terminus of the Pony Express. We will report from Abraham Lincoln’s Home in Springfield, and also from St. Joseph, Missouri, where we will begin tracing the Oregon Trail.
Until we meet again.