We live about three hours away from the Smoky Mountains and visit there every chance we get. Our four boys are huge fans of the area, and my husband and I really enjoy it, too.
Since we’ve been there more times than we can count, I wanted to share with you some of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains with kids in tow. Sure, Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas are great for adventurous solo travelers, couples, and, well, just about anyone, but going with kids provides a unique take on the area.
The towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are very touristy and if you like those kinds of activities, by all means stay in town and do the typical tourist trap-type things: arcades, cheesy gift shops, chain restaurants and such. But, if you’re looking for more, then the Smokies still has a lot to offer that you’re going to love.
Top Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains with Kids
1. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This is the most visited National Park in the country, and for good reason! You can find miles and miles of hiking trails (even hike on a portion of the Appalachian Trail itself!), view incredible scenery from strategic lookout points, visit amazing waterfalls, picnic, fly fish for trout and so much more. There is also regular camping and backcountry camping, so you can stay in the park if you like.
If you’re not into hiking but want to visit the outdoors, check out Cades Cove. This driveable loop takes you through some great scenery and there are even stops at historic buildings, where you can learn about the history of the area. You can see lots of wildlife while you’re there, too. Be aware that the road closes to cars on certain days in the warmer months for bicycling, so check the schedule before you head out.
2. Enjoy a Day at Dollywood
Dollywood is one of our favorite destinations in the Smokies and we get season passes almost every year. I know it’s kind of a touristy thing to do, but it’s not like most other theme parks I’ve visited. It’s clean, it has a ton of Southern hospitality and charm, and there are rides for every age, from tiny ones who can’t walk yet all the way up to the thrill seekers.
If you’re not into rides, it’s still a great place to go. They have award-winning shows all over the park, and you can take a 20-minute train ride up the mountain to view some great scenery, especially in the fall months.
If it’s hot, you can also visit Dollywood’s Splash Country, the neighboring water park. Let’s face it, the South gets pretty hot in the summers, and this is a refreshing way to beat the heat and have a great time. A lot of their water slides have low height requirements, so those over 36″ can ride a lot of them.
You can see all of our Dollywood adventures and read more about this amazing theme park here.
3. Visit Anakeesta
This is one of the newer things to do and you can find it in downtown Gatlinburg, which is also worth a visit. Ride the chair lift or chondola up the mountain to do all the amazing things Anakeesta has to offer. Kids can climb a huge treehouse playground, go ziplining, mine for gems and even ride a mountain coaster.
While the kids have lots of activities, mom and dad can visit the shops and take in the breathtaking views from high atop Gatlinburg.
4. Visit the Aquarium of the Smokies
This is something my kids absolutely love to do. This is also located in downtown Gatlinburg and is rated one of the top aquariums in the nation. Let the kids run around in the huge indoor play structure, explore the shark tunnel and even feed the rays.
If you have a kiddo who is interested in nature and sea life, then I highly suggest a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. There are more than 10,000 animals here in tons of exhibits. We love the shark tunnel, touch a jellyfish area and penguin playhouse.
I hope this gives you some ideas of the top things to do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the Smoky Mountains. It’s by no means an exhaustive list! There are a million activities in this area, most of which are perfect for family fun (save the moonshine tastings for the adults!).
Come visit our home state and enjoy the Smokies!
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