Enjoy the epic beauty of the Blue Ridge from Gatlinburg to Gettysburg.
ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST FAMOUS ROUTES
is in fact older than the idea of America. And each fall, when fleets of RVs steer northeast up—or southwest down—the Blue Ridge Mountains, they take an ancient track. Of Native Americans
on the Great Indian Warpath. Of armies dueling in the Civil War. Today, the perils lie dormant in historical landmarks. But the soul of the land still blazes in unmatched autumn glory across both mountain and valley. Timing is truly everything in travel. While Appalachia maintains an aura of majesty in every season, fall is when the region truly peaks. Now is the time of year to drive with windows down, to fill your lungs with crisp mountain air and taste the temporal tinge of autumn. From the family-friendly fun of Gatlinburg to camping among “dirtbags” on the vaunted Appalachian Trail, each small migration offers its own reward—not least among them being the awesome shadow of history at Gettysburg.
Riding Up the Blue Ridge
Just southeast of Knoxville and I-40, Gatlinburg is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. With local delights like Anakeesta on-hand and Dollywood just a short drive away, hold your
hurry for a few days. When the highway calls, you can easily drift back north to I-40 and merge left onto I-81—which runs like a smooth, steady line through the mountains. Heading northeast, you’ll soon cross into Virginia passing Blacksburg (and all other sorts of ‘Burgs). From Roanoke, it’s another 87 miles to Staunton, where you can get some food and stretch your legs. Thirty minutes further up I-81 at exit 235, follow VA-276 N and US-33 E onto Skyline Drive— officially putting you on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Cutting north through the Shenandoah Valley, the road returns to I-81 after Front Royal. Take exit 35 onto I-70 in Maryland then follow MD-66 N and PA-116 E. In under an hour, you’ll reach America’s most hallowed battlefield.
An Explosion of Color
Lots of factors come into play when you’re planning a road trip. This fall, let this be one of them: Leaves reach peak color on I-81 around mid-October. The French philosopher Albert Camus once said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” And on I-81, you’ll be surrounded by a sea of orange, gold, red, and maroon blooms that make one of North America’s greatest deciduous delights. Birches glow yellow. Sassafras ignite like orange suns. Red maples crown ridgelines in crimson. This time of year, every bend in the road is beautiful to behold.
A Historic Hike and Bike
Tim S.—an avid hiker, biker, and I Heart RVing reader— has a hot tip for the area: “A great hiking trail in Gettysburg is the Pole Steeple Trail. It is a blue blaze off the Appalachian Trail. (It has a great view.) And, of course, you have the AT Museum in Pine Grove Furnace (i.e., the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail). This is about 30 minutes from Gettysburg.
Step into Fall’s Splendor
Some places defy the powers of description. Stand atop a mountain in Shenandoah and survey the red-gold landscape below you, and you’ll know what we mean. It’s one of the country’s most beautiful autumn spectacles. You could take our word for it, but you don’t have to.
The World’s Largest Knife Store
There are just some places that you don’t drive by. Smoky Mountain Knife Works is one of them. It’s the world’s largest knife store. We’re talking massive—with a 108,000 square-foot showroom. Whether you’re thru-hiking a stretch of the AT or just making a weekend excursion, you need a knife. Shop thousands of options, from full-tang fixed blades to everyday-carry folders.