If you’re ready for your next family getaway with plenty of activities for the kids, picturesque views and outdoor fitness, you’re going to love my Smoky Mountain Travel Guide.
The Smoky Mountains make a great vacation for families for several reasons. The area is reasonably priced, there are tons of activities for kids, and renting a mountain chalet allows for plenty of room to spread out. This would also be a great location to travel with multiple families or generations.
We visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in July 2021 with Leo (4.5), Warren (2). My family grew up hiking the smoky mountains and I knew I wanted to come back with my kids one day. While we had a wonderful time, I will say that the sweet spot would be to visit with kids in elementary and middle school. Read on for my recommendations on where to stay, what to do, and the best hikes for kids!
Smoky Mountains: Where to Stay
When researching where to stay, you’ll find that the main towns in and around the Smoky Mountains are Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sieverville.
Gatlinburg is closest to the entrance of Smoky Mountain National Park, has a busy main street with lots of restaurants, close to Ober Gatlinburg, Anakeesta, Gatlinburg Skylift Park, and the Aquarium.
Pigeon Forge looks and feels like Branson, Missouri. You’ll find gimmicky and kitschy attractions, restaurants, and tourist traps here. It is also the closest to Dollywood.
Sieverville is quieter, furthest from the park entrance, and also has an amazing outlet mall including Tory Burch and Vineyard Vines.
I always start my research on the areas and then look for airbnb’s or vrbo’s in that area. One of the biggest tips I can give you when renting a house is to find one you love and see if it is represented by an agency. If it is, I ALWAYS book directly through the agency and their website, which saves hundreds on airbnb fees, and more often than not, is listed at a lower price on their website.
We stayed here in Gatlinburg because of its proximity to the entrance of Smoky Mountain National Park as well as downtown Gatlinburg window shopping and attractions.
Smoky Mountains: Family Friendly Hikes
The Smoky Mountains has over 800 miles of hikes, including 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail. There are so many to choose from! A relatively easy hike with beautiful views and a waterfall topped our list when traveling with young kids. Plan to make a stop first at the visitor center to grab a map before heading to the trails.
Laurel Falls (2.5 miles roundtrip, about 2 hours)
We loved Laurel Falls! This was our first hike, and the most popular in the entire park. Because of that, I would recommend getting here very early before the crowds. We were treated with beautiful views of the waterfall and even spotted a mama bear with two cubs. Bears are quite active in this part!
Grotto Falls (2.6 miles roundtrip, about 2 hours)
The Grotto Falls hike was also a favorite of our trip and less crowded than Laurel Falls. When you reach the waterfall, you are even able to walk behind it, which was a real treat for our little boys. We packed picnic lunches to enjoy on the big rocks at the turn. This hike is great in the morning before the crowds, and is paired perfectly with a drive on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail on your way out.
Cades Cove Loop (11 miles roundtrip, closed to cars on Wednesday’s)
This 11 mile loop is best explored by bike, especially on Wednesday’s when it is closed to motor traffic. At the entrance, you’ll find brochures detailing the stops and historic buildings along the way.
This is a great family friendly walking trail along the river from Gatlinburg into the visitor center. We even managed it with a stroller. Stop along the way for a photo op at the national park sign.
Smoky Mountains: Where to Eat
The Smoky Mountains are not necessarily known for their amazing food, but you will find reasonably priced restaurants with family friendly menus, and large tables to accommodate big groups. Many restaurants do not accept reservations, so plan to window shop while you wait. On this particular trip, we preferred to mostly make meals at our rental home, but did try a few local places for dinners.
The Peddler Steakhouse– most recommended to us, call at 4pm when they open for a spot!
Calhoun’s BBQ in Gatlinburg
Puckett’s Grocery in Pigeon Forge
Mellow Mushroom Pigeon Forge
Smoky Mountains: What to Do
One of the reasons the Smoky Mountains make for a great family vacation is the ample amount of activities for kids.
Ober Gatlinburg: alpine slide, water raft rides, mini golf, chairlift
Anakeesta family adventure park
Gatlinburg Skylift Park
Busy main Street with Ripley’s, museums, dinner theatre shows, mini golf, and everything else!
Dollywood: if you’ve never been, it is a must! For those traveling with young kids, hang a left upon entering the park to have your child’s height measured and receive a coordinating wristband. Rides are color coded for height and this will save you tons of time throughout the day!
Have you been to the Smoky Mountains? I’d love to hear your favorite hikes, places to eat, and things to do to add to this list!
Looking for another great spot for family travel? We love 30A!
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