The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the most beloved vacation destinations for families from all over. Natural wonders like vast valleys, rushing rivers and magnificent wildlife afford a plethora of adventurous outdoor activities.
The abundance of family fun in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is sure to introduce you to kid-friendly live entertainment you’ve never tried before. Plus, there’s no place like Appalachia to whip up down-home deliciousness like country fried chicken and collard greens. These five types of attractions are more than enough reasons to get started planning a memorable family vacation in the Smokies!
It wouldn’t be a complete trip to the Smokies without getting lost among the Great Smoky Mountains National Park trails. Whether you’re a hardcore backpacker or just looking for an afternoon stroll through the woods, there are trails and campsites to accommodate every experience level.
Cades Cove is a popular starting point if you’re new to the area. Wander along any of the trails through old-growth forests to see black bears, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and other wildlife. At the same time, you can take in historical sites like old grist mills, churches, barns and log houses from the comfort of your car on the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road. The 5.5-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is another drive-able loop featuring historical sites like an authentic tubmill on the stream and a handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system at the Ogle farmstead.
The popular Ramsey Cascades hike traverses 4 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation until you reach an impressive 100-foot waterfall. Make sure to bring your camera and keep your eyes peeled for the distinct Smoky Mountains salamanders that like to bathe in the cooling waters!
Thanks to the natural changes in elevation, the Smoky Mountains are an ideal venue for ziplining. Feel the rush of wind through your hair and take in the crisp views of Mount LeConte as you fly along the extreme 2,000-foot line at Wears Valley Ziplines. If it’s your first time, start off easy on the Treetop Zipline Tour at CLIMB Works Zipline, featuring a total of nine zips, the longest of which measures 900 feet.
Would you rather spend an entire day or more experiencing the outdoors through the most adventurous means possible? At Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park, you can choose between ziplining, camping, hiking and whitewater rafting — or budget enough time for all of the above! Their Waterfall Canopy Zipline Tour soars over the Lost Mine Falls and a picturesque mountain creek, while the Goliath Zipline Tour boasts five of the nation’s fastest and longest zips at 60 mph!
3. Amusement Parks
Though just a small town tucked away in the mountains, Pigeon Forge is known across the nation for its amusement parks. Namely, Dollywood has been ranked in the top ten best theme parks in the world by TripAdvisor. The Dolly Parton-themed amusement park features 43 rides and attractions of varying intensity. Thrill-seekers will revel in the 60-foot drop down a waterfall at a terrifying 50 mph on the Daredevil Falls ride, while youngsters can have fun without fear on delightful roundabout rides like Frogs and Fireflies.
If you’re planning your vacation for the warmer seasons, you can’t miss out on Dollywood Splash Country. Relax on the lazy river amidst gorgeous mountain views, or seek out heart-racing slides like the 70-foot Firetower Falls and the whitewater adventure at Big Bear Plunge!
Looking for an exciting amusement ride that doesn’t require an all-day commitment or a hefty price tag? Rocky Top Mountain Coaster is touted as the longest coaster in East Tennessee, shooting down the scenic mountainside at 30 mph to catch twists, turns, fun-themed tunnels and stunning LED nighttime lights.
4. Dinner Theaters
Pigeon Forge is home to some of the best live entertainment in the Smokies. One such performance takes place at the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud. This hilarious show encourages you to pick a side between two hillbilly families, whose generations-long feud sees them competitively singing, dancing, pulling unbelievable stunts, and acting like hilarious fools.
Dinner theaters are so popular because they are a convenient way to share a family meal while enjoying some spectacular talent and showmanship. For instance, the acrobatics, exotic animals, fiery special effects and adventurous storytelling at Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show will surely turn your kids into sea-farin’ scallywags in no time.
The dinner theaters in Pigeon Forge don’t skimp on the food, either. At Dolly Parton’s Stampede, you’ll dig into a delicious feast of creamy veggie soup, rotisserie chicken, hickory-smoked barbecue pork loin, buttery corn on the cob and herbed potato — all while the musical performances and horseback riding stunts take your breath away. No matter which venue you choose, you’re bound to be in for a night of unforgettable laughs, wonder and adventure that leaves you full and satisfied, too!
5. Southern Home Cookin’
Families hailing from the South already know what the fuss is about when it comes to fried okra, country chicken, collard greens and fried green ‘maters. As for those who don’t — the restaurants of the Smokies will set you straight!
When you’re craving that special flavor of Mom’s scratch-made fried chicken, make yourself at home at Mama’s Farmhouse in Pigeon Forge or Mama’s Chicken Kitchen in Gatlinburg. Or sit down for a family dinner at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen to sample classic Deen family recipes like chicken-fried pork chop and Georgia-fried catfish, or Paula’s famous sides like fresh candied yams, creamed corn and collard greens.
There’s no more classic Tennessee flavor than barbecue. Sink your teeth into your favorite kind of smoky meats at Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que. Their melt-off-the-bone spare ribs, tender beef brisket, hickory-smoked pulled pork and homemade barbecue sauce are to die for!
The best family vacations are those that are equally exciting for the adults as for the kids. After all, amusement parks, outdoor activities, dinner theaters, and Southern cuisine aren’t exclusively geared toward kids. If your family is headed for the hills, the all-ages entertainment found in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge will round out a one-of-a-kind getaway that everyone in the family will enjoy.