Some of us Ohio guys just got back from a 4 day trip. We wanted some time on the AT walking the ridge line but not wanting to stay in the shelters because we wanted to hang. We found that we had to hike some substantial distances to get to camp sites (long descents & return climbs) each evening and back the next morning. We wound up calling the back country office from the parking lot of Clingman's dome which is one of the few spots in the park where there is cell service and changing our reservations (luckily). This is much easier with a small group.
We used 2 cars so we could shuttle ourselves between starting and ending locations.
Initially we had planned to take out on the lower elevations of the NC side near Cherokee but changed around to hike out at the campgrounds in Cades Cove. I think next year we will hike the side trails of the other side of the main ridge.