10 Fun Family Outings in the Great Smoky Mountains

White houses are located in the Smoky Mountains

From the well-trodden paths that offer easy walks with stunning views to the excitement of amusement parks and interactive museums, the Great Smoky Mountains provide a perfect backdrop for family outings. This guide discusses various activities that ensure every family member, from the youngest to the oldest, finds something thrilling and enjoyable. Whether you’re looking to connect with nature, dive into the local culture, or simply have fun, the Great Smoky Mountains are an ideal destination for an unforgettable family vacation.

1. Hiking the Family-Friendly Trails

Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains often begins with hiking, and there’s no shortage of trails suitable for all ages. The Gatlinburg Trail, one of the few pet-friendly trails in the park, offers a relatively flat and easy hike that features views of the Little Pigeon River and remnants of old settlements. For those with young children, the Cades Cove Loop is a must-visit. This wide, scenic path allows stroller access and is perfect for spotting white-tailed deer, black bears, and other wildlife in their natural habitat. These trails not only provide a great physical activity but also teach kids about the importance of nature conservation.

2. Dining in the Smokies

After a day of adventure in the Smoky Mountains, refueling at any of the best places to eat in Pigeon Forge is a delightful experience for the whole family. Besides the historic charm of The Old Mill Restaurant, which offers a glimpse into the local culture through its Southern classics, you can also explore No Way Jose’s Cantina for a lively Mexican feast featuring sizzling fajitas and enchiladas, complemented by an array of signature cocktails.

The Local Goat, known for its innovative burgers and locally sourced ingredients, offers a vibrant dining atmosphere. Meanwhile, the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe and Grill provides a slightly upscale dining experience with Southern dishes with a creative bistro flair, set against a beautiful rock fireplace and outdoor seating near a fountain. Each restaurant brings its own unique flavor to the table, ensuring a memorable dining experience in Pigeon Forge.

3. Visiting Dollywood

A visit to Dollywood is an essential part of any family vacation in the Smokies. This beloved theme park, which draws inspiration from Dolly Parton’s own experiences growing up in the area, features a wide range of attractions suitable for visitors of all ages. Younger children will love the Country Fair area, featuring classic rides and games, while thrill-seekers can brave the exciting roller coasters. Don’t miss the live shows, which often include country, bluegrass, and gospel performances that provide a taste of local music traditions. Dollywood also offers a glimpse into the past with craftsmen and artisans demonstrating glass blowing, blacksmithing, and more, making it a fun and educational experience for the whole family.

4. Horseback Riding Adventures

Experience the mountain scenery from a different perspective with a family-friendly horseback ride. Local stables such as Sugarlands Riding Stables offer guided tours along trails that meander through the park, suitable for beginners and experienced riders alike. Horseback riding offers a quieter, more intimate way to explore the landscape, and even young children can participate, making it a memorable part of any family vacation in the Smokies.

5. The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Located in nearby Gatlinburg, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a wonderland for families. The aquarium is home to a vast array of sea creatures, from the graceful movements of stingrays in Touch a Ray Bay to the playful antics of penguins in the Penguin Playhouse. Interactive experiences like the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure provide unique ways to learn about marine life and the importance of ocean conservation. It’s not only fun but also an educational outing that sparks curiosity in young minds about the world beneath the waves.

6. Ziplining for All Ages

For an adrenaline rush with a view, ziplining in the Smoky Mountains is a must-try adventure. It’s a thrilling way for the whole family to see the forest from a new perspective. Companies like Smoky Mountain Ziplines offer tours that are designed with families in mind, providing all necessary safety gear and instruction. The ziplines vary in length and height, accommodating everyone from the cautious to the thrill-seekers. As you zip through the canopy, look out for stunning views of the mountains and forest, making it a memorable experience for everyone.

7. The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster

The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is a unique attraction that combines the thrill of a roller coaster with the scenic beauty of the Smokies. The coaster allows you to control the speed of your own cart as you wind down a mountain track, making it suitable for families with children. It’s a fun and exhilarating way to enjoy the mountain scenery without a strenuous hike, and since you can ride in pairs, it’s perfect for younger children who might be nervous about going alone.

8. Educational Centers and Museums

For families interested in learning more about the natural and cultural history of the Smoky Mountains, visiting local educational centers and museums is a great activity. The Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg offers interactive exhibits, free ranger-led programs, and educational films about the park. The Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee provides a glimpse into 19th-century farm life with restored buildings and live demonstrations. These centers are excellent for hands-on learning experiences that are as fun as they are informative.

9. Picnicking in the Park

Picnicking is a relaxing way to enjoy the beauty of the Smokies while spending quality family time. The park offers several picturesque picnic areas equipped with tables and grills. Cades Cove, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms are popular spots because of their beautiful settings and easy access. Pack a lunch, grab a blanket, and enjoy a peaceful meal surrounded by nature. It’s a simple yet perfect way to take a break from more active adventures.

10. Arts and Crafts Community

The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community is an 8-mile loop of shops, studios, and galleries located in Gatlinburg. It’s home to the largest group of independent artisans in North America. Families can watch demonstrations of pottery, painting, weaving, and other crafts, often with opportunities for children to try their hands at making their own creations. This outing not only supports local artisans but also introduces kids to traditional crafts in a fun and interactive way.

Making Memories in the Smokies

Each adventure, whether it’s soaring through the treetops on a zipline, learning about Appalachian culture, or simply enjoying a picnic amidst the stunning scenery, contributes to a memorable family vacation. The Smokies invite families to explore, learn, and create lasting memories together. By engaging in these diverse outings, your family can experience the full beauty and vibrancy of the Smoky Mountains, making each moment of your trip unforgettable.