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Author Topic: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation  (Read 1139 times)

John Stephens

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Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« on: September 21, 2015, 01:14:22 PM »
We just returned from a 19 day vacation to spots in the Midwest, the Smoky's and Asheville, NC. We began the trip from Cape Coral, FL. Travelers included myself, my wife, Judy, and our two dogs, Rusty, a nine year old Collie and Laddie, a 12 year old Sheltie. This report will be primarily about the campgrounds in which we stayed and one particular problem with Google Maps that I want to share so what happened to us may be avoided by future travelers.

We dry camped our first night at a Flying J in Lake Park, GA, just over the Florida state line on I-75. Several spaces for RV's, and RV island with dump, reasonably quiet at night for sleeping. The store is one of their large ones.

Our second night, we dry camped in a Walmart parking lot west of Chattanooga, in Kimball, TN just before the mountain leading up to Monteagle on I-24. We had originally planned on camping in a rest area outside of Adairsville, GA that allowed overnighters, but when we got there, we weren't tired, it was early in the day, and we decided to keep moving. I'll blame it on the new Flexsteet seats we installed that allowed us to travel for eight hours and not feel tired. The spot we parked in is in a lot that is shared by both Walmart and Cracker Barrel, and both businesses cater to RV'ers. There were at least a dozen 18 wheelers parked there also because it was storming and they didn't want to climb the mountain in the rain.

Our first destination and campground was Two Rivers Campground on Music Valley Dr. in Nashville, TN. It is about two miles from the Grand Ole Opry and its surrounding attractions. It has a shuttle bus stop at the grounds for trips to downtown Nashville. The grounds are well kept, clean, and the service and friendliness from the owners and workers are outstanding. The sites are relatively small but comfortable, gravel with concrete pad for a patio with a table, and they have cable and wifi. The camp store is very reasonably priced for everything in the store including the touristy items such as t-shirts or coffee mugs. They have a fenced dog park so the pups could go off lead for a while that was also very clean and well kept. We enjoyed our stay there with the only negative being a very loud and disturbing firetruck siren that blasts two or three times each day in a Yogi Bear campground very close by. The owner said he has been putting up with that for ten years and can't do anything about it.

Our next campground was the 370 Lakeside Park in St. Peters, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. St. Louis has very few campgrounds around the area and this is a one year old city park developed by St. Peters for boating, fishing, canoeing, and camping. The sites are decent sized with gravel pads and concrete pads for a patio with fire ring and pit, weak wifi, no cable, and heightened security. They overlook a lake created by the 1993 Great Flood of the Mississippi River, which is located just out of sight behind a row of trees. The area is extremely clean. The only negative is the newness - the trees do not yet offer any shade and it will take ten years before they do. The campground is located within 35-45 minutes of anything you may want to see in St. Louis. We took in a Cardinal's game while there and had a great number of fantastic dinners and lunches at good restaurants in the area.

We dry camped at Judy's mother's house in Palestine, IL for several days over the Labor Day weekend, not really wanting to be on the road at that time.

Our next destination was Cumberland Falls in the Daniel Boone Natl. Forest outside of Corbin, KY. We camped at Falls Creek Cabins and Campground and literally were the only ones there, having the entire grounds to ourselves. The gravel sites were a decent size but were not very level. The workers were very nice and helpful. No cable and very poor wifi. The grounds are kept neat and clean.

We then drove to Pigeon Forge, TN and camped at Creekside RV Park. This park is located off the beaten path but still in town with several other campgrounds near it. We were not that impressed with this campground. The sites are small and crowded together, the cable was poor and the wifi worse, but this was one of the most expensive parks we stayed at. The Fun Time Trolley will pick up at the office and take you to the main drag but is so slow, you will waste most of your day either on the trolley or waiting for it. Every park in which we stayed was pet friendly, but we saw and heard more dogs at this campground than any other. The campground was extremely crowded with the antique car show being the following weekend and the participants already arriving.

Our next stop was going to be Asheville, NC to see our boy and his family with our three year old grandchildren twins. We initially planned on dry camping in front of his house until he informed me that he didn't think I would be able to get my 38 footer up a windy hill on his street. No problem. We made reservations at Mama Gertie's Hideaway on the recommendation of Gary RV Roamer on this forum who was staying there for a couple of months. We wanted to have a scenic drive through the Smoky's on Hwy. 441 from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, NC that we had taken by car in the past. Knowing it may be a bit difficult in a long RV, I checked this forum for advice and found a preponderance of opinions indicating that if you were longer than 30 feet, it wouldn't be a good idea. So we decided to take Hwy. 321 from Gatlinburg to I-40 and then cross the Smoky's on the interstate. It would still afford us a scenic drive, just not as good.

I hadn't really paid close attention to the exact route we were going to take but I knew that we would be on two lane highways until hitting the interstate. When we came to a T in the road, Google Maps told us to turn right and follow Hwy. 32 for 12 miles. Hwy. 321 turned left but I wasn't sure which highway was going to get us to I-40 so I followed the verbal directions I was given. Highway 32 began its ascent of a mountain and started throwing switchbacks at us. There was no place to turn around. We were driving up the side of a mountain with the mountain on one side and a drop off with no floor in sight on the other side. We weren't sure what to do and began thinking that a mistake had been made because this was not a road for a 38 foot motor coach. What Google Maps didn't tell us was what was at the end of that 12 mile road. We found out when the road turned to a gravel 1-½ lane road a little wider than a driveway. But now, we were going down the other side of the mountain. The switchbacks got even narrower and on three occasions, I had to back the coach up two, three, or four times before able to make the turn and continue straight without falling off the edge of the cliff. This was a road that would be difficult to traverse in a Jeep, much less a long coach. It was the first time in my life driving that I actually was in fear of my life, not sure if we were going to make it and if we did, not sure of where this road was going to end. I had visions of the movie Deliverance running through my mind and was worried the road would turn into a driveway to Bubba's house.

After another eleven miles of gravel road, we found a sign that said "I-40, 2 miles" to the left and an intersection with paved roads. We took the turn and breathed a sigh of relief until we began crossing one lane bridges and then came across a sign that indicated a bridge ahead had a load limit of 10 tons. We weighed 23,000 lb. There was no way I was going to turn around and go back down that gravel road with the switchbacks for a total of 23 miles just to get back to Hwy. 321, so we held our breath when we crossed the bridge. No problem. We stopped at a stop sign and found ourselves on the exit to the highway to the left and the entrance ramp to the highway to the right.

I have driven OTR. I have driven LeMans style racing. I have played around with roads like this in a car when I was a kid and too stupid to realize how close to dying I got. But I have never been in fear like I was driving a 38 foot coach on roads that were designed for a four wheeler. We got lucky. I took the curves and switchbacks at a crawl. It took us almost five hours to drive 23 miles. The coach was not damaged to my knowledge other than I think I blew a seal on my bedroom slide because it now doesn't want to stay retracted. Whew! Let this be a lesson that no one else has to repeat. DO NOT take Hwy. 32 from 321 to get to I-40 if you are in an RV.

We made it to Mama Gertie's in Swannanoa, just east of Asheville, and found ourselves going nearly straight uphill to our site because this campground was terraced out of the side of a mountain. I thought to myself that after taking that switchback road, I could easily take the hill to my son's house, but I'm glad we made reservations at Mama's because this turned out to be the best campground of the entire trip.

The office building appears to be brand new. The desk worker was very friendly and helpful and this was the only park we visited where a worker actually guided you to your campsite with a golf cart and then assisted you backing in. The views are spectacular. The gravel site for the coach was bordered with landscape brick and as soon as we got backed in, the young man who aided us got out a string trimmer and trimmed the grass around the borders of the site. Everything was very neat and clean. The wifi was adequate, albeit weak. The cable gave us a problem because they have a signal booster in the cable that produced a very loud hum through our home theater system. I had the chance to walk down the mountain to the next level and meet Gary RV Roamer and have a nice chat.

In our travels, we look for spots we may be interested in spending more time - getting away from the heat in South Florida for the summer - and Mama Gertie's is a campground I would be interested in making a monthly home.

When we left Asheville and Mama's, we drove to Savannah and dry camped at a Cracker Barrel in Pooler, GA. Five RV spaces on the side of the building and only one other RV, a class C. This particular CB was a very good restaurant; excellent food and excellent service. We firmly believe in patronizing the businesses that allow us to dry camp.

I could have driven home from there, but Judy didn't want the vacation to end yet, so we stopped at Lazydays Campground in Seffner, FL just outside of Tampa. We are quite familiar with the sales area of this business, having been there twice trying to purchase an RV, but we had never stayed at their campground.

This was the largest campground we stayed in and the least personable. And that's strange because the sales and service side of this business is all about guest service and making the customer happy. But the lady at the check in desk was short and curt in her attitude, very unhelpful, and when I later pointed out that they had a problem with the 30 amp breaker continuing to trip for no reason, I was told it was my coaches fault and not theirs without even taking a look at the problem. No help was provided and the complaint went unaddressed.

Other than that, this is a nice campground with asphalt paved sites, concrete patios and large sites. We had a corner site, making it even larger, but the length was a problem since in order to make all my hookups, I had to back up so far, there was only a ten inch space between the back of my coach and the one in back of me. But once we were settled and wanted to take a walk to the parts store, we found a member of the sales staff in a golf cart willing to ride us anywhere we wanted to go and got several trips to and from the coach so we wouldn't have to walk.

From there, we made it home and cleaned up the coach, inside and out, to put in storage. First though, the mechanic has to fix the slide and patch a couple of leaks that I can't reach.

All in all, this was an excellent vacation. It was our first long vacation in the coach since purchasing it in January and we both were not completely sure if we were going to be happy living in a smaller home while on the road. We did just fine and the dogs took to the coach as though it was home. They even began sleeping while I drove after a couple of days. After this, we now know that several month trips will not be an issue and we can't wait for the next.
John

2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J

Alfa38User

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2015, 01:47:22 PM »
Excellent, well written summary John. Glad you had fun!!
Stu
Montréal, Canada 🍁
Snowbird, Naples Florida
Alfa Gold 38 (2000) 5ver (parked!)

"Of course I talk to myself, sometimes I need expert advise!!!"

John Stephens

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2015, 02:07:13 PM »
Thank you, Stu. Your comment is appreciated.
John

2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J

ArdraF

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2015, 03:27:18 PM »
Wow, that was quite a drive!  I'm glad you made it in one piece, John.  I immediately checked Mountain Directory East to see what it says about routes 32 and 320.  Nothing!  It talks about 441 that you avoided, but not the route you took.  So I've copied your description of the route and made a copy which is already in the Mountain Directory East section on Tennessee.  In 2010 WhiteEagle had quite an experience going up Lookout Mountain near Tennessee.  That road is in the Mountain Directory East.  Thank you for taking the time to warn us about it.  Tennessee has a lot of treacherous mountain roads so this is a good lesson for us all to plan in advance.  There's a reason our GPS units have a disclaimer notice when they turn on warning users to check for local road conditions before proceeding.

ArdraF
ArdraF
:D :D

John Stephens

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2015, 04:02:41 PM »
Wow, that was quite a drive!  I'm glad you made it in one piece, John.  I immediately checked Mountain Directory East to see what it says about routes 32 and 320.  Nothing!  It talks about 441 that you avoided, but not the route you took.  So I've copied your description of the route and made a copy which is already in the Mountain Directory East section on Tennessee.  In 2010 WhiteEagle had quite an experience going up Lookout Mountain near Tennessee.  That road is in the Mountain Directory East.  Thank you for taking the time to warn us about it.  Tennessee has a lot of treacherous mountain roads so this is a good lesson for us all to plan in advance.  There's a reason our GPS units have a disclaimer notice when they turn on warning users to check for local road conditions before proceeding.

ArdraF

Ardra, thanks for the thoughts. If you have Google Maps on your computer or phone, zoom in where 321 and 32 meet, and then follow 32 as far as you can. When I got home, I zoomed in as far as I could and with the satellite imagery, could see the road I took and could remember the switchbacks that caused me the most trouble.

I haven't used the mountain directories since I quit driving for a living, but if I'm going to be traveling in mountains such as this in the future, will get a copy of both east and west. We plan on seeing a lot of the national parks in the Rockies in the future. Hwy. 441 that is listed in the directory is actually a piece of cake compared to 321 and its extended gravel road. I was thankful that we didn't meet a single car coming from the other direction during the entire time we were on that road.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2015, 04:04:41 PM by John Stephens »
John

2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J

ArdraF

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2015, 04:19:50 PM »
It's funny you mentioned that John.  A few years ago my niece and I were driving from Greenville SC to Gatlinburg.  I-40 was a mess because of an accident with traffic tied up for miles.  We considered taking a shortcut, route 329, which is the next crossover from 321 to I-40.  I looked at my trusty AAA PAPER map and said I didn't think it was a good idea so we didn't.  On the way back there was a large sign at the 321/329 intersection warning about large vehicles going on 329 so we were glad we didn't take it even though we were in a van.  Anyway, I just looked at the official Tennessee paper map and that 32 is on it but not even numbered.  Just an unmarked squiggly gray line!  So I Googled it and checked the online map.  Ohmygoodness!  No wonder it took five hours to go 23 miles!  Unfortunately the Mountain Directory East wouldn't have helped in this case because 32 isn't in it.  We always carry AAA state maps because they're the best.  When I see a gray line like that it's usually a place we don't want to go in a large vehicle.  I guess you weren't towing which is fortunate - or you unhooked and drove separately.

ArdraF
ArdraF
:D :D

John Stephens

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2015, 05:34:35 PM »
No, this is probably the only trip we'll take without having a toad. We're planning on buying a dolly for one of our cars next year before our next trip. You're right, we already mentioned to ourselves that we would have never made it with a toad.
John

2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J

blw2

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2015, 07:24:32 AM »
what's the nearest town
or better yet the lat long?
I find TN32 and US321 in newport, connecting near I-40 but I'm not seeing this switch back road....
Brad (DW + 3 kids)
’13 Thor Chateau 31L Class C on Ford E-450
'06 Silverado
'05 Rockwood Freedom 1910 (5-1/2 years)
former tent campers

John Stephens

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2015, 09:58:32 AM »
what's the nearest town
or better yet the lat long?
I find TN32 and US321 in newport, connecting near I-40 but I'm not seeing this switch back road....

Newport is too far north. Follow US321 from Gatlinburg east/north. A few miles before Cosby, TN32 intersects and 32 & 321 share the same road. But to the east of that intersection TN32 runs all the way to the NC border and turns into 1397 and then 1332. My problem was that instead of Google Maps telling me to turn LEFT on US321/TN32, it told me to turn right. As the crow flies, this route probably is shorter, so I understand why the instructions were given. They're just not for anything other than a 4 wheeler. If you're having difficulty finding this, zoom in further.
John

2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J

blw2

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Re: Midwest and Smoky Mtn. Vacation
« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2015, 01:56:22 PM »
got it, nice drive... if you're in a sports car!
Brad (DW + 3 kids)
’13 Thor Chateau 31L Class C on Ford E-450
'06 Silverado
'05 Rockwood Freedom 1910 (5-1/2 years)
former tent campers

 

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