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Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains have long been a favorite spot for family vacations. The towns of Gatlinburg, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and the smaller communities are chock full of things to do for all ages and interests.
Give yourself at least a long weekend, if not a week, and check out some of the unique accommodation options like cabins and camping. Alternatively, there are plenty of family-friendly accommodations in town, including Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, Wilderness at the Smokies, and Bearskin Lodge.
There’s little “low season” in the Smokies. Winter brings in skiers and the fall is ideal for changing leaves and wildlife spotting. Summer and spring have their own set of outdoors activities to enjoy. Look for discounts and deals on attractions on RetailMeNot, Groupon, and Visit My Smokies.
Museums and Attractions
The Smokies’ greatest attractions are also some of its most unusual. There’s an equal mix of indoor and outdoor activities so that you can enjoy yourself, no matter the weather.
- Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum– In terms of offbeat attractions, this is the top. Nowhere else can you see this diverse collection of salt and pepper shakers in all ranges of sizes and styles. Over 20,000 pairs make it up.
- Titanic Museum– Like its counterpart in Branson, this massive museum is shaped as a replica of the famously sunken ship. Inside, you’ll find artifacts as well as educational panels. There’s even a memorial to those lost on board. Get your tickets here.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies– Let the little ones roam the habitats of the sharks, eels, and stingrays, which you can even touch. Purchase a combo ticket with Ripley’s other attractions around town for extra savings.
- Anakeesta– The mountaintop theme park has everything from zip lines to treehouses to a restaurant overlooking Gatlinburg. Get to the top by riding in an open-air truck or scenic gondola.
Parks and Gardens
While there’s no shortage of wide-open spaces in the Smoky Mountains, you won’t find traditional city parks like in other destinations. Instead, enter the national park, which extends for many miles.
- Great Smoky Mountain National Park– The most visited national park encompasses over 500,000 acres. Highlights include Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail as well as the many hikes.
- Rocky Fork State Park– This state park borders the Smokies to the north and is another place you can explore the great outdoors.
You’d better bring your stretchy pants because there’s no shortage of hearty portions and decadent dishes in the Great Smoky Mountains.
- Pancake Pantry– Be prepared to wait at this Tennessee favorite, which opened in 1960. The homemade pancakes are the main draw, but they also have burgers, sandwiches, and omelets. Let the kids be entertained by the taffy pulling window next door.
- Courthouse Donuts– Located across the street from the historic courthouse and the statue of Dolly Parton, get your sweet fix at this local spot. Design your own donut with various sauces and toppings like Fruity Pebbles.
- Big Daddy’s Pizzeria– Get your Italian fix in Pigeon Forge with these wood-fired pizzas. They also have salads, sandwiches, and an arcade to keep the kids busy.
- Tony Gore’s Smoky Mountain BBQ & Grill– For a hearty meal, go to Tony’s, owned by a local gospel singer. Here you’ll find massive portions of barbecue, potato chips, and slices of homemade cakes.
Apart from museums, active adventures abound for all ages in the Smokies. Seek out thrill rides for older kids or offbeat attractions for curious younger audiences. Rafting and horseback riding are also seasonal options.
- Wilderness At The Smokies– There’s nowhere else like this indoor water park, which is open year-round. There are also two outdoor water parks, a ropes course, laser tag, and an arcade.
- Dollywood– Founded by country superstar Dolly Parton, Dollywood is a family-friendly theme park offering thrill rides like the new Lightning Rod as well as year-round experiences. There’s also a seasonal water park.
- WonderWorks– Like the Myrtle Beach location, this unusual attraction has hands-on educational experiences for kids. The “Wonder Zones” cover different aspects of science.
- Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster– Inspired by those found in Europe, this hillside coaster is open seasonally. The thrilling ride lasts less than 10 minutes. Get discounted tickets here.
- Outdoor Gravity Park– Inspired by zorbing in New Zealand, Outdoor Gravity Park is one of the few places you can do it in the United States. You can go down various courses on the hill, with a friend, and even in water, depending on the season. Get discounted tickets here.
- Great Smoky Mountain Wheel at The Island– Set above Pigeon Forge’s largest entertainment complex, this Ferris Wheel offers views of the Parkway and beyond. It soars to over 200 feet and has enclosed glass gondolas for 360-degree views.
- Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park– This Sevierville park is a former farm that includes a zipline course, ropes course, climbing wall, and swinging bridge.
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad– Starting in Bryson City, North Carolina, this scenic railway is a family favorite. They also have optional add-ons like excursions to Nantahala Gorge and Tuckasegee River as well as meals. During the holiday season, the trains are transformed into the Polar Express.
- Smokies Game– Get your minor league baseball fix at this Chicago Cubs-affiliated team’s games. Smokies Stadium is open from April to September.
- Shows- There’s no shortage of affordable and family-friendly dinner shows like Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, Hatfield and McCoy Feud Dinner Show, The Comedy Barn, and Dolly Parton’s Stampede.
There’s never a shortage of events going on in the Great Smoky Mountains, no matter what time of year you visit!
- Winterfest– Running late fall into the winter, the Smokies are transformed by local lights displays throughout the towns.
- Smoky Mountains Tunes and Tales– This seasonal event includes musicians, storytellers, and character actors.
- Fireflies– Every summer, synchronous fireflies light up the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Viewing is available through a lottery system.
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My trip to the Smoky Mountains was coordinated by Geiger Public Relations and the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. This post contains affiliate links.