Living in Florida, something I really miss is fall foliage. The other day I got a photo from my mom (who lives in Belarus) and it made me feel quite nostalgic.
It also made me realize that I haven’t seen proper fall foliage in over a decade. What!? So, I started looking at ways to change that. I checked the school calendar and saw that my kids would be off on Friday of the following week. The most logical option would be for us to drive to North Carolina and visit the Smoky Mountains National park.
My MIL also expressed desire to go, so there would be five of us traveling. I’m not a fan of long road trips, but driving 10 hours to North Carolina is the most cost-effective option in our case. Even if we bought cheap Southwest tickets to Atlanta, we would still have to drive 3 hours and pay for a van rental.
Due to several major unplanned expenses, we didn’t have any cash to spare, so booking a cabin via AirBnB was out of the question. I decided to check Vacasa options (bookable via Wyndham points), and there was one house available in Franklin (NC), my preferred location. Perfect.
Our whirlwind trip to the mountains
Since my kids had to be back to school on Monday, we only had a total of three nights. We would have to pick up the kids on Thursday, drive 6 hours to Georgia, and overnight in a hotel there. We used IHG points to book Avid Hotel Perry for 17k points per night (two rooms). It was my first time staying at this particular brand, and it was just fine. Fairly basic rooms, but clean and reasonably comfortable.
Would I stay again? Absolutely. My standards for airport and road trip hotels are fairly low. As long as the room is clean, that’s all I really need.
The main reason we chose Perry is due to its proximity to Warner Robins museum of aviation. This is one of my husband’s favorite places in the world, so we simply had to spend several hours there on the way to North Carolina.
I’m not into aviation, but found this poster quite amusing. Made me think of the term “lady blogger” that was quite popular in the miles and points community some years ago.
After spending what seemed like an obscene amount of time at this museum, we drove 4 hours to our Vacasa rental in Franklin, NC (scroll to the end of the post for a short review).
The next day we were off to the mountains, trying to see as much as we could before heading back to Florida the next morning. What a feast for the eyes!
Fall is really a special time in the Smoky mountains. The air is cool and crisp, and there is beauty everywhere you look.
I just tried to soak it all in
After driving around the park for a few hours, we headed to historic Tapoco lodge for dinner. This sort of became a family tradition, and something we do each time we come to North Carolina.
Since it was Saturday, the lodge was quite busy. But it was still worth the effort. Someday I want to book a stay here for just me and my husband. Though October is quite pricey, and rooms start at $350 per night. So, coming here for dinner is the next best thing.
We also stopped at Cherokee to get our kids some souvenirs and ice cream. It’s a cute town, but a bit on a touristy side.
If you are thinking about coming to North Carolina for the first time, I would probably recommend focusing on Asheville area. It’s a good base for driving to Mount Mitchell and visiting Biltmore estate. But for us it means an extra 1.5 hours of driving, so we usually end up in Franklin instead.
We had to get home at a reasonable hour on Sunday since the kids had school the following day. As it was, we left our Vacasa cabin at 10 AM and got home at 10 PM. A very busy weekend, but a memorable one.
Review of our Vacasa cabin
This was the only 1-bedroom option available in Franklin, so that’s what I ended up booking (see this listing). I paid a total of 30k Wyndham points. The cash cost was $500 total for two nights. The cottage wasn’t ideal for our needs, but beggars can’t be choosers. It had 1.5 bathrooms, and the full bathroom was upstairs. This meant that my mobility-challenged MIL had to deal with steps, but she insisted it would be OK.
We managed this time, and we were only there for two nights. But it’s something I definitely need to avoid going forward.
Otherwise, the cottage was really cute and had a nice porch outside where we enjoyed hot cocoa. We used Doordash (my referral link that will give you $20) for breakfast delivery one morning, and bought a few groceries at a nearby store.
The view is of the woods and a gravel road:
The house was clean and quite comfortable.
There is a full kitchen and washer/dryer combo, a must when you are traveling with family.
If you are a family of four, the setup is really neat. You have two queen beds and two twin bunks upstairs. My MIL slept on a sofa sleeper in the living room.
My 15-year old daughter also used the bunk bed and said it was comfortable
It was very helpful to have a half-bathroom in the living room. I do wish it also had a shower, so my MIL wouldn’t have to use stairs.
But considering the fact that I’ve acquired 30k Wyndham points for a total of $158 (renewal fee on discontinued Wyndham credit card X 2), I really can’t complain. The only thing I didn’t like about the cottage is the lack of blinds on the windows in the living room. What’s that about? It didn’t disturb my MIL’s sleep since sunrise this time of year is quite late. Still, it’s something I plan to mention in my Vacasa review.
Also, while not a dealbreaker, there is a house next door. I think they might own this cottage and use it for guests when it’s not rented out via Vacasa. We never saw the owners and I don’t consider it a big negative. However, if you want total privacy, this cabin is not for you.
For more information on using Wyndham points for Vacasa rentals, see this post Also, Travel with Grant blog has a good overview of pros and cons of this partnership. For me personally, Vacasa option represents tremendous value. It’s really hard to beat paying $69 per night for a cabin in North Carolina during peak foliage season, especially one that fits five people. Even buying Wyndham points at 1 cent apiece (when on sale) could makes sense.
Also, don’t forget that you can transfer Capital On points on 1:1 basis, though ROI isn’t that great in my opinion. But it’s certainly an option for high-value locations like Hawaii when there isn’t a sale on points going on. The offers on Wyndham credit cards are down right now, but they will likely go up in the future.
I do think that Vacasa/Wyndham partnership will die at some point, but we might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
Update: according to this FlyerTalk thread, it looks like there is a new cap of $350 per night (all fees included) on 1-bedroom Vacasa redemptions. It was previously $500. So, using points in Hawaii will be tough going forward. But you can still get many cabins in NC, including this one.
I didn’t realize how much I missed fall in the mountains until we got to North Carolina. One thing is for sure, I won’t wait another decade to do it again. While the trip wasn’t free, it was quite affordable thanks to Wyndham points. We did spend $200 on gas and some money on dining+souvenirs.
But it’s hard to put a price on memories. My MIL kept saying that when she is gone, she wants us to think about this trip and how much fun she had with her grandkids.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.