Overview: What is this and why should I care?
It's time again to start initial planning for the Mountain Lakes Drive, also known as "the Scottsboro meet." The 2017 version was held March 25; you'll notice "2017?" appears (for now) in the subject line of this post. That's because we may be shifting this meet to its original fall dates, and if that happens, there's a chance we could have the next one this fall rather than waiting until fall 2018, which would end up being a 16-month delay from the last one.
For those of you who have never been on this meet, this is one of the oldest meets in the club, and a rare driving meet. The centerpiece of the trip is a roughly 200-mile loop through mountain and lakeside roads in scenic northeast Alabama and southeast Tennessee. It's a chance to get your car out on the road and experience its well-designed handling firsthand and get to see a lot of pretty stuff at the same time.
This thread, until we select a date, will serve as a community planning page, and then it will become the official itinerary and resource page for those wanting to come along. Even if you're a veteran of the meet, please read carefully the next passage, as there are significant changes planned from how we've typically done things in the past.
Section 1: What's going to be different this time?
1. The first thing we'll be doing differently is, after years of batting this around and looking for feedback, we're going to take the plunge and do this: This meet is expanding from one full day (Saturday only) to two (Friday and Saturday), with Sunday remaining an optional third day for hanging out/driving home early. This won't necessarily expand the amount of miles driven, however. In the past, we've tried to shove in non-driving activities on Saturday and it was just too tiring or complex. As such, Melena and I are going to block out the Friday before the drive and organize side trips to Unclaimed Baggage (see the section on activities, below) and probably Cathedral Caverns (same thing, see below). We might also sneak in an optional drive Friday at sunset over to Fort Payne to go through the Little River Canyon Preserve, The drive is only 11 miles in distance but takes around 40 minutes to get there from Scottsboro. Saturday will remain the official drive day.
2. We've kicked around moving this meet back to fall for some time to take advantage of fall colors, but the only free weekend I'll have this year is Oct. 27-29. That's perilously close to Halloween, so if you have small kids and want to trick-or-treat with them over the weekend instead of coming here, please speak up sooner rather than later. Also, Oct. 27 is about a week past the peak of fall colors, at least on the mountains. After deciding whether to put this back in the fall again, the next question to ask is which fall, 2017 or 2018. If we wait until 2018, we won't have available dates to pick from until at least Christmas. If we stay on a spring schedule, the date will likely be the weekend of April 6-8.
3. We're probably moving the lodging from Scottsboro to Guntersville. This is going to require some small edits to the itinerary, but what it's going to allow us to do is utilize either the Wyndham Garden hotel in Lake Guntersville -- which is actually ON the lake, and has a boardwalk and pier with 180+ degree views -- or the Lake Guntersville State Park lodge. The Wyndham is a good bit more expensive off the rack than was Scottsboro's Quality Inn, but I was able to negotiate a group rate last year that we opted not to take. The state park lodge is on top of the mountain, with a nice restaurant and incredible views, but it is not cheap (average $115-$150/night). The other issue, if we decided to go back this fall, is that we're a bit late to the dance at this point and negotiating rates might be tougher. All of these towns turn into fishing resorts in peak seasons, so getting in ahead of those folks is paramount to getting an affordable rate. I will say a cursory search of rooms seems to be cheaper in the fall than the spring, at both venues.
4. For those who have had issues driving a car to Scottsboro they didn't intend to actually drive on the meet, we're going to have a "drop point" for cars in downtown Scottsboro somewhere, where you can pick up your car between routes.
Section 2: How much does this meet usually cost?
For those who have never been, the original ethos of this meet was to make it completely doable for the cost of a tank of gas. The driving portion of the meet remains that way. We typically eat dinner together on Saturday night after the drive at one of the nicer places we can find (budget $15 - $20/person for meal). We strive really hard to get the cost of the hotel under $90/night, to put it on par with Vacation Lodge at the Pigeon Forge meet. Last year it was $75/night in Scottsboro. Aside from that, we charge no entry fee.
Section 3: Itinerary, Format and Route
The Mountain Lakes Drive is a driving meet. We're going to be on a schedule in order to handle lodging logistics, although it won't be set in concrete. We build in a little "bump time" on all the routes.
Your car doesn't have to be perfect to go but I would definitely pay attention to suspension and brakes, and especially overheating issues. All roads on the drive but one are fairly challenging in one way or another. None are on the level of the Tail of the Dragon or the Cherohala, however. The meet lasts a full day and has 4+ hours of steady driving in it, with a total length of approximately 200 miles.
TBD: Shopping trip to Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Ala. Ever wonder where lost luggage ends up? Eventually here. Lots of deals to be had on everything from clothes to jewelry to cameras, etc.
TBD: Mild walk/hike through Cathedral Caverns in Woodville, Ala. Walk as far in as you want. The mouth of the cave pulls up to the parking lot, so no Clingman's Dome situation here. Guided tours available, and experienced hikers can request private tours at additional cost. This is an Alabama state park. The walk is pretty easy.
TBD: Scenic sunset drive through Little River Canyon Preserve in Fort Payne. This would likely culminate in us having dinner in Fort Payne. Not a long drive.
8:30 a.m.: Drivers dropping off cars at the drop point can meet in Scottsboro (location TBD)
9 a.m.: Meet at the Stevenson City Park in Stevenson, Ala., for initial staging
10 a.m.: Drive starts, get on Alabama 117 North (road changes to Tennessee 56 at the state line)
11:15 a.m.: Arrive in Sewanee, Tenn., have lunch, tour Sewanee University campus on way back to route
12:30 p.m.: Get back on the road, take U.S. 41A South through Cowan to Winchester, Tenn., then get on U.S. 64 and go to Huntland, Tenn. U.S. 64 is the only straight road on the trek.
1:30 p.m. Arrive in Huntland, get on Tennessee 97 (turns into Alabama 65 South at the state line), drive this through the Paint Rock River Origin Watershed to U.S. 72 near Woodville
3 p.m.: Take U.S. 72 East to Scottsboro, drivers leaving cars at the drop point can pick them up now
3:30 p.m.: Begin Lakes Loop, get on Alabama Highway 79 South to Guntersville
4:45 p.m.: Arrive in Guntersville at the hotel (Wyndham Garden Inn), check in. (If staying at the Lake Guntersville State Park, we'll need to edit this.)
5:30 p.m.: Get on Alabama Highway 227, take it through Lake Guntersville State Park, this road becomes South Sauty Road at the end of the park, then Jackson County Road 67/John B. Benson Highway/Langston Highway and goes back to Alabama Highway 35 South
6:15 p.m.: This is where we'd usually find a restaurant in Scottsboro. Staying in Guntersville, though, we might opt to backtrack to the state park lodge or some other place in Guntersville itself.
8:30 p.m.: Dinner over, back to hotel, usually someone has video from the drive to watch, go to bed whenever
The above is a "fat" itinerary, allowing for stops at gas stations, emergency repairs, etc. There are also some roads we've used in the past that aren't listed here; we'll include them only if we have a gap to fill in the itinerary (most notably the SCCA Hillclimb route, Jackson County 33).
If you've never been before, I think you'll love it if you actually like to get out and exercise your car. We don't race, we don't do dangerous stuff and if that's your thing, come back and run it the next day without me. We typically get 2-way radios, talk back and forth as a group, etc. There's a lot to do off route (see the next post in this thread for details). If you turn this into a mini vacation you won't be disappointed. It's also more than a little bit romantic so bring your significant other if you want. Melena and I might make this a three-day event this time out. This is my personal favorite meet, on par with Pigeon Forge. We typically have 8-10 cars show up but I'd love to get more than that.
Edited by JessN16, 05 July 2017 - 10:29 PM.