With their towering peaks, vibrant towns, and stunning outdoor areas, the Smoky Mountains make a fun-filled family vacation destination. From the fun-filled streets of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to the quiet wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this area of Tennessee offers something for all types of travelers. After you’ve booked your Smoky Mountains vacation rental, start planning your itinerary with these great kid-friendly activities that are fun for everyone in the family.
1. Explore Cades Cove
Explore a restored historical settlement in Cades Cove, a lovely valley located approximately an hour and a half from Gatlinburg. Drive the 11-mile loop road, stopping to hike different trails and check out the log homes and functioning grist mill. If you’re visiting between May and September, bring your bikes and head to Cades Cove on a Saturday or Wednesday morning. On those days, the road is closed to cars until 10:00 am, so your family can pedal the loop safely. With two additional roads that cross the loop, it’s a breeze to adjust the trip to suit your little ones.
2. Go Tubing on the Little River
Cool off on a hot summer day with an afternoon of tubing on the Little River. The best place to access the river is Townsend, a tiny town on the western end of the Smoky Mountains. Rent tubes and PFDs for the whole family at one of the many outfitters in town. Some outfitters also rent kayaks and canoes, so you can accommodate non-swimmers with ease. Most rentals include a shuttle back to the drop-off point, as well as storage for your valuables.
3. Become Junior Rangers
Educate and entertain your little ones with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Junior Ranger program. Joining is easy: simply purchase an inexpensive Junior Ranger booklet at the park or online. Then, work through the activities on your own time. When you’re finished, head to one of the park’s visitor centers to get a badge. The park also features a regular series of ranger-led kids’ programs during the summer that are fun for everyone in the family.
4. Climb to Clingmans Dome Overlook
Perched high in the Smoky Mountains, the Clingmans Dome offers 360-degree views of the forest-covered peaks. The trip involves a steep, half-mile paved hike up a unique curving walkway that rises out of the trees. Tall railings line the path, so your little ones can work off their energy safely. Be sure to bring jackets and hats, as the weather at the top of the mountain is often cool and rainy.
Keep your kids busy for days at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s famous theme park located just a few minutes from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Spend a full day at the theme park, which features rides for adults and kids of all ages. If you’re visiting in the height of summer, escape the heat with a trip to the Dollywood water park, where you can float down a lazy river, ride multi-person water slides, or play in the toddler area.
6. Go Skiing
Amp up your winter trip to the Smoky Mountains with an afternoon of skiing at Ober Gatlinburg. Rent everything you need onsite, including equipment and clothing. Alternatively, try tubing down the dedicated hill, and don’t worry about climbing the mountain with kids; the resort has an outdoor escalator to carry you and your tubes. If you’re visiting with small adrenaline junkies, check out the terrain park. Ober Gatlinburg is also a great summer stop. Ride the aerial tram, mountain coaster, and water slide, or enjoy indoor ice skating.
7. Fish at Little River
When you need a break from hiking and sightseeing, head to the Little River in Townsend for world-class fishing. Bring your own gear, or stop at one of the many local outfitters to stock up. The East Prong of the Little River inside the national park is packed with excellent fly fishing opportunities. Alternatively, stop at one of the many open pools for fun, snag-free casting. For rainbow trout, head to the warm-water intersection of Meigs Creek and the Little River.
8. Go Underground
A series of caves run underneath the Smoky Mountains; explore this fascinating network with a trip underground. Visit the Forbidden Caverns in Sevierville to see enormous stalactites and stalagmites, an underground stream, and beautiful grottoes. On each tour, you can also experience a once-in-a-lifetime light show on the cave walls. If you’re closer to Townsend, check out the Tuckaleechee Caverns to see a cave as large as a football stadium and a thrilling subterranean waterfall.
9. Explore the Mountains on Horseback
Help your kids feel like cowboys and cowgirls with a trail ride through the Smoky Mountains. A variety of outfitters offers guided trips, including Five Oaks Riding Stables in Sevierville, Smoky Mountains Riding Stables in Gatlinburg, and Sugarlands Riding Stables in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Adults can ride double with toddlers and very young children, while older kids are usually able to ride their own horses. Be sure to book in advance during the busy summer tourist season.
10. See a Live Show
The towns surrounding the Smoky Mountains are packed with live entertainment that’s great for the whole family. If you’re visiting Dollywood, check out the Dixie Stampede dinner show, which includes a musical production and horseback tricks. For magic fans, the Magic Beyond Belief show in Pigeon Forge is a must-see. Another Smokies favorite is Country Tonite, a fun-filled performance that packs in singing, dancing, and comedy.
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