If you're thinking about squeezing one more getaway into the summer before the kids go back to school, consider Gatlinburg (yes, Gatlinburg and hang in for a few sentences and I'll tell you why). We just came back from there having spent Wednesday through Saturday of last week off from work and it was, to my surprise, only about half full. For those of us who have been going for over 40 years (I had family there), or who go sometimes in the off season, this summer's sparse crowds remind you of a typical March crowd or of the typical summer crowd 20-30 years ago. We drove the speed limit from I-40 through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge all the way into Gatlinburg on Wednesday afternoon at around 4:00. We drove into the mountains on Saturday, again at the speed limit, all the way to Cherokee, NC.
Besides the light crowds, and the natural beauty, there are deals. I saw about a half dozen motel signs in Pigeon Forge advertising rates from $25 - $28 per night. Now, this is Family Inn accommodations and it might not be your cup of tea. We were in a Bed and Breakfast (Eight Gables Inn and we recommend it highly) with 16 rooms and no more than 4 were filled any night we were there. Old Guard restaurants like The Peddler where 1 hour waits are common had immediate seating. The outlet malls had more clearance merchandise that usual due to light sales from the light crowds.
According to the locals, three things are hurting the crowds. (1) Gas prices are limiting the drive-in tourism, (2) last year's hurricanes closed so many beaches that the crowds were unusually large, and (3) last year's large crowds led to traffic and congestion that caused people to stay away this year.
So, if you have some PTO time available and need to squeeze in one last vacation, you could offset the higher fuel costs to get there by the savings at motels and retails stores. The Eddie Bauer Store at Five Oaks Outlet Mall has a particularly impressive 60% off section.