With its beautiful peaks, unspoiled wilderness, and exciting tourist attractions, it’s no wonder the Smoky Mountains region has become a vacation hot spot for families. Kid-friendly entertainment ranges from lookouts and hiking trails to petting zoos and amusement parks. Here are 12 exciting activities within easy driving distance of your Smoky Mountains vacation rental that your kids are sure to enjoy.

1. Have Fun at Dollywood

dollywood
Source: Flickr/cotterpin

No visit to the Smoky Mountains is complete without spending some time at Dollywood, a theme park featuring an exciting FireChaser Express roller coaster, countless kiddie rides, and Demolition Derby bumper cars. While the park caters to all ages, attractions such as Granny Gardens and Firehouse Fun Yard are designed specifically for tiny tots. Be sure to take take a train ride through the Smokies on the Dollywood Express before calling it a day.

2. View the Mountains From Clingman’s Dome

clingmans dome
Source: Flickr/joelmutate

Clingman’s Dome is an easy-access viewing platform accessible via a lengthy, stroller-friendly ramp. Take the whole family and enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of the vast Smoky Mountains National Park from the highest point in Tennessee.

3. Help Kids Earn Their Junior Ranger Badge

junior ranger badges
Source: Flickr/Kate Ter Haar

Smoky Mountain National Park offers a fun Junior Ranger program that lets kids of all age groups earn a badge to take home. Purchase booklets at the visitor’s center for your kids to complete and turn in before the end of your Smoky Mountains vacation.

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4. Spend a Day in Pigeon Forgef

pigeon forge
Source: Flickr/Jim Grey

Pigeon Forge is the family entertainment capital of the Smokies, offering everything from kid-friendly comedy shows at Comedy Barn to hot air balloon rides and magic shows. Kids of all ages love zipping down the hillside on the alpine coaster, and the Island amusement park has fun rides for everyone. Pigeon Forge also offers a Titanic museum, a WonderWorks museum with interactive exhibits, and a general store where kids can feed real bears. Before heading back to your vacation rental, be sure to catch a dinner show at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede.

5. Hike Through Great Smoky Mountains National Park

smoky mountains

Cascading waterfalls, beautiful mountain views, and wild rivers await along the kid-friendly trails of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While challenging hikes to places like the Chimney Tops natural rock structures are better suited for older kids and teens, easy trails such as Kephart Prong Trail and Porters Creek are ideal for the whole family. Check out the old mills, cabins, and other structures throughout the park, and enjoy a picnic in one of the scenic picnic areas while taking in the mountain views.

6. Ride the Gatlinburg Sky Lift

gatlinburg
Source: Flickr/Smoky Dan

First opened in the 1950s, this vintage chairlift in Gatlinburg offers a relaxing ride for all ages with beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains as it brings you to the summit of Crocket Mountain more than 1,800 feet up. Once there, enjoy the sweeping vistas from the lookout area, grab a bite to eat at the snack bar, and buy souvenirs for the kids at the gift shop before riding the lift back down.

7. Visit Ripley‘s Aquarium of the Smokies

ripleys aquarium
Source: Flickr/Matt Chan

The whole family can enjoy a trip to this unique attraction, which stands as the top-rated aquarium in the United States as of 2017. Walk under sharks and sea turtles in the 340-foot aquarium tunnel, wander through a crawl tunnel to see real African black-footed penguins in the Penguin Playhouse, and explore dozens of other exhibits to see more than 100,000 exotic fish and other sea creatures.

8. Venture Into the Forbidden Caverns

forbidden caverns

Head over to Sevierville from your rustic vacation rental for a journey hundreds of feet below ground to see stalactites, an underground river, and other wonders. The tour only takes about an hour, but be sure to bring warm clothing for the whole family as the temperature stays just below 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Drink from the gift shop water fountain before you leave, which sources its water from the underground river.

9. Ride the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel

smoky mountain wheel

Situated in Pigeon Forge, this 200-foot wheel offers a laid-back ride with unbeatable views of the surrounding Smokies. Step into one of the climate-controlled gondolas for an eight-minute ride that includes four revolutions. Although a daytime ride provides the best mountain views, you can also ride at night to see Pigeon Forge light up.

10. Visit the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Exotic Petting Zoo

kangaroo

A favorite among younger kids, this unique petting zoo houses more than just your typical goats and ponies. Here, children get to interact with kangaroos, zebras, and friendly deer as well as elk and reindeer. Kids can even step inside the baby goat pens and deer pens to get up close and personal with the curious animals, and you can buy snacks to feed the zebras and camels.

11. Spot Wildlife in Cades Cove

national park

Bike or drive through this Smoky Mountains National Park family favorite to see wild turkeys, black bears, and deer in their natural habitat. The loop also features buildings from the 1800s and a working mill.

12. Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

alfred reagans mill
Source: Flickr/Timothy Wildey

If you can’t get enough of the Smoky Mountain wilderness, drive this trail to see beautiful waterfalls, creeks, and historic buildings. Your kids are sure to enjoy spotting black bears and cubs along the road.

 
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