12 Kid-Friendly Attractions and Things to Do in the Great Smoky Mountains
Families will love the nature opportunities and kid-friendly attractions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge —all within about 30 minutes of each other. This weekend getaway in Tennessee, about four hours from Atlanta, will have your kids wanting to come back for more.
Kid-Friendly Hikes in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. America’s most visited national park is free and has lots of fun hikes for families. Laurel Falls Trail is 2.6 miles roundtrip and features an 80-foot high waterfall. Ogel Place Nature Trail is perfect for kids of all ages. The mile long loop trail features multiple small creek crossings, a small grist mill, big rocks, a larger creek and a historic homestead. Clingman’s Dome is the most popular viewing spot in the park. A half mile steep hike takes you to majestic views of the Smokies.
Become a Junior Ranger. Kids ages 5-12 can purchase a Junior Ranger booklet at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park visitor center. Complete the activities and visit with a ranger to earn a Junior Ranger badge. Check the park schedule for special ranger-led programs for kids like blacksmithing and more.
Kid-Friendly Things to Do in Gatlinburg, TN. Only two miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor’s center, Gatlinburg combines the feel of Helen, Georgia and Las Vegas. The streets are packed with people, shops, food, and attractions. It’s fun, but just like Vegas, it gets pricey quickly.
Anakeesta Theme Park in Gatlinburg. Anakeesta is the newest and most centrally located lift attraction in Gatlinburg. Take a traditional open-air ski lift or choose an enclosed cabin to the top of the mountain. At the top, kids can explore a treehouse playground, and walk the tree canopy 60 feet above the forest floor. Zipline for over 1,000 feet for the adventurous or take in the shops and gem mining activity, too. Ride on the variable speed mountain coaster with a 400 ft elevation change and speeds up to 25mph.
Ripley’s Attractions in Gatlinburg. Ripley’s Believe It or Not has a host of attractions here, led by their main attraction, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.The newly renovated Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum has oddities of all kinds. Visit the haunted house, miniature golf and more nearby. Consider buying a pass to save money if you want to do more than one Ripley’s Attraction. Also, look for coupons at establishments around town beforehand.
Ride a mountain coaster in Gatlinburg. Kids can ride with parents on open air coasters where you control your own speed. We rode at the Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster.
Pancake lovers rejoice in the Smoky Mountains. If you have even just one pancake lover in your family, you won’t want to miss Pancake Pantry. Tennessee’s first pancake house has a large kids menu with options like Snowy Bear pancakes with M & Ms and powdered sugar. Adults can eat pancakes as well or choose from sandwiches and other lunch fare. Going on a weekday for lunch will help you beat the crowds.
Get thrills galore at Dollywood. From the Wild Eagle, America’s first wing coaster, to the Thunderhead or the Tennessee Tornado, there will be screams of delight from the daredevils in your family at Dollywood. Feel as though you are whitewater rafting at Smoky Mountain River Rampage, get close-up to giant birds of prey at the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, and let kids drive their very own classic, kid-sized car at Rockin’ Roadway.
Visit Wilderness at the Smokies Resort, a water park, family adventure center and hotel. We spent most of our stay at the huge water park. It opens at 9am, so go early and ride the water slides with minimal lines. Toddlers will love the slide, spouts, swings and zero entry pool —plus a kids fort with slide and a huge overflowing bucket. Kids can also try out surfing, jump in the wave pool and play basketball in the indoor pool. To top things off, relax in the indoor/outdoor hot tub. Along with indoor water fun, during the spring and summer, enjoy the outdoor waterpark with 150 foot long tube slides and huge multilevel play structures. For night owls, pay a little extra and enjoy the water park after 10 pm.
When you want a break from the water, the Wilderness Adventure Forest at Wilderness at the Smokies offers pin bowling, mini golf, laser tag, rock climbing, tree top towers rope course, kids climbing tower and arcade. Plus, there is a kids activity center with arts and crafts, reading nook, games and more upstairs.