Q: We are planning a trip this fall to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When will the foliage be at its peak? Are there any guidelines on campgrounds?
A: The peak foliage season in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Tennessee and North Carolina, is usually the last two weeks of October. There are 10 car campgrounds in the park, and between May 15 and Oct. 31, three of them must be reserved through the Mistix ticket service, (800) 365-2267; reservations are accepted starting eight weeks ahead. They are the Cades Cove, on the western end of the park in Tennessee, the most popular campground, in a valley with buildings from the early 19th century; Elkmont, on the Little River, near the town of Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Smokemont, in North Carolina, at about 2,000-feet elevation, with fishing and riding available nearby.
These sites are $11 a night. The demand for space in the second half of October is high, and park officials recommend making reservations as early as possible. The non-reserved campgrounds, $6 or $8 a night, often fill up on weekends, according to the park, and getting in by Friday afternoon will allow for some choice.
There are always campsites somewhere in the park, they say, but to get one you may have to drive some distance if you arrive on a Saturday afternoon. Information is available from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tenn. 37738, (615) 436-1200, or at the park in the Cades Cove and Sugarlands visitor centers, both in Tennessee, and the Oconaluftee visitor center, near Cherokee, N.C.
There is also backcountry camping at numerous tent sites; permits, which are required, are available at ranger stations throughout the park and at the visitor centers. Reservations, (615) 436-1231, are required for use of backcountry shelters, situated at 13 points along the Appalachian Trail and at Mount Le Conte, Laurel Gap, Kephart, Scott Gap and Rich Mountain.
Another lodging possibility in the park is Le Conte Lodge, on the top of Mount Le Conte at 6,593 feet, near Gatlinburg. The lodge can be reached only by hiking trail. There are five routes, the shortest 5 1/2 miles and the longest 8 miles, with the elevation increasing 1,000 to 3,300 feet, depending on the trail. Hiking is considered moderate to strenuous.
The lodge, which can accommodate up to 50 guests at $59 a person a night including dinner and breakfast, has no electricity or showers, and guests make use of outhouses with flush toilet. The lodge is fully booked (1993 reservations will be taken starting Oct. 1), but cancellations do occur, and openings are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. The lodge closes Nov. 14 and reopens March 26. Information: Le Conte Lodge, 250 Apple Valley Road, Sevierville, Tenn. 37862; (615) 429-5704.
Another lodge in the park, the Wonderland Hotel, Box 610, Gatlinburg, Tenn. 37738, (615) 436-5490, can be driven to. It is open until Nov. 15 (and is fully booked except for a few days in early October) and then will not reopen next season. A spokesman for the hotel said the Park Service did not renew its lease.
Q: Are airlines liable to their passengers in the event of delays or cancellations caused by weather? The recent TWA plane that burned at Kennedy International Airport and the subsequent runway closure afterward caused great inconveniences for passengers. Were airlines responsible for looking after their customers in that case?
A: The only circumstance under which an airline passenger is entitled to compensation from an airline is when a passenger is "bumped" because of overbooking, according to the Aviation Consumer Action Project, a consumer organization. If a flight is held up or canceled because of weather, mechanical problem or air traffic control delay, the airlines are not liable. The contract the airline makes is to deliver the ticket buyer safely, and if anything makes conditions unsafe, the airlines are considered free from their contract, according to the project. The closing of a runway on July 30 after a TWA jet's aborted takeoff and subsequent fire would qualify as such a condition, a project spokesman said.
tTC Airlines generally book passengers on the next available flight in case of delay or cancellation; the project recommends that a passenger ask that the airline absorb the additional cost if the ticket for the new flight costs more than that for the old one. And airlines sometimes provide vouchers for meals or hotel rooms if passengers must wait a long time for a new flight. T.W.A. says it gave meal and hotel vouchers to all its passengers who were delayed July 30 and that all passengers were eventually flown to their final destination.
Q: I will be traveling to London and am interested in exploring garden mazes. Is there a guide to them?
A: Mazes have existed in Britain for centuries, and with a revival of interest in them, a number of new ones have been opening; last year, designated "The Year of the Maze" in Britain, 14 new ones opened. To mark "The Year of the Maze," the British Tourist Authority put out a listing of about 80 mazes. For a free copy, contact British Tourist Authority, 40 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019; (212) 581-4700.
The list gives names and locations of 80 mazes, organized under the headings of ancient turf mazes, modern turf mazes, hedge mazes and other mazes.