The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited of the National Parks and there is no better time to go than fall to witness the changing colors of the foliage. You can easily spend a week in the surrounding area including Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN and Asheville, NC.
My drive from Charleston to Gatlinburg, mostly via I-40, took about 6 hours. In addition to being the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is the home to over 100 artists and craftsman on an eight mile loop located three miles from downtown. Shops range from an old-fashioned soda fountain to art galleries to candles to a year-round Christmas shop plus shops with marvelous delicacies and music of the area. Stop for lunch at The Wild Plum Tea Room (on the loop and more of a restaurant than a tea room), leaving room for a fabulous dessert (try the bread pudding).
For an exciting overview, take the aerial tramway at Ober Gatlinburg and enjoy browsing the shops, having lunch or dinner at the German Restaurant or continuing further up the mountain on a chairlift. Read more
Kitsap Peninsula’s Gig Harbor has retained its small town charm. Walk about the harbor ~ gaze at Mt. Rainier in the distance ~ explore the local shops and art galleries ~ check out the local coffee shops & restaurants, including Il Lucano (fabulous, Italian), Cutter’s Point (local artisan roasted coffee), Green House, Morso, Tide’s Tavern and Devoted Kiss Café ~ rent a kayak, take a gondola ride, walk Cushman Trail. Located near Tacoma (take time to explore Point Defiance Park), Bremerton (ferry to/from Seattle) and Port Orchard, Gig Harbor is a terrific stopover when exploring the Pacific Northwest.
The largest of the San Juan Islands is gorgeous any time of year, especially spring and fall. Your adventure starts when you board the ferry at Anacortes. Go outside, enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Puget Sound. You will need a car to get about the island and explore. It’s a short, scenic drive from the ferry to the main town of Eastsound. Restaurants to check out include Mia’s Café (fabulous breakfast), Brown Bear Baking and Madrona Bar and Grill. Walk the labyrinth at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on the water, enjoy the beautiful gardens at the library, stroll about the town, and browse local shops including Darvill’s book store (terrific collection plus great coffee drinks) and find treasures at Orcas Island Pottery. Visit Moran State Park with its many hiking trails, opt to go on a whale watching tours or go kayaking. Take the ferry to Friday Harbor for a fun filled day, either as a walk on passenger (free) or with your car. There are numerous hotels, BandB’s and camp sites. My favorite is Rosario’s Resort and Spa: beautiful property, nice bar & restaurant; plus if you are in luck, you can see deer outside your room. Orcas is a special place and too soon your ferry awaits for your return to reality. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/
Fly to Fairbanks: Check out the terrific Museum of the North at the University of Alaska plus their marvelous botanical garden (HUGE cabbages, plants, flowers). Take a half-day Steamboat tour where you will see a demonstration of seaplanes plus the highlight seeing the friendly Alaska sled dogs and a visit to the Chena Eskimo Village.
Train to Denali National Park. Take the one day tour to Mt. McKinley which is spectacular on a sunny day. The National Park has a nice exhibit and if bears are in the area, signs are posted.
I stayed at The Princess Denali Lodge (next to the Park) which has shuttle service & very good restaurants, especially the Grizzly Bar & Grill. Gorgeous area to walk about. Glad that I spent several days here, rather than being rushed as people on tours seem to be.
Alaska Railroad Train a super experience between Fairbanks and Denali (sit upstairs!) and then Denali to Anchorage. In Anchorage, check out Orso, a marvelous Italian restaurant. Would I return? Oh yes! In addition to spectacular scenery, people are great and the food is quite good. Very memorable journey.
Start your quest to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark at the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center. You’ll receive a brochure with information about the twelve sites spread over 40 miles which comprise the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Peruse the gift shop for guidebooks, maps, toys and an extensive selection of books. The staff recommended Stephen Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage” to gain an informative understanding of the epic journey.
Browse the exhibit hall which includes a detailed list of preparations for the journey, a panoramic map of the expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific, their clothing, rifles and muskets which were used for hunting, trading and self-defense, the tools they utilized, a replica of a canoe and a diorama of the natives showing the explorers a beached whale. View the two orientation movies: “Confluence of Time and Courage” about their journey and “A Clatsop Winter Story,” representing Native American views of the visitors, with their different customs and rules.