If you’ve ever wanted to visit one of America’s National Parks but are worried this type of holiday isn’t suitable for kids, then look no further than The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
Located in Southeastern USA, not only are The Great Smokies America’s most visited National Park, but the surrounding area is also home to a multitude of family friendly activities guaranteed to please kids of all ages *and disguise the fact that you are actually going on a hiking trip*
More roller coaster riding, moonshine drinking, country music listening than your traditional hiking trip, read on to discover the highlights of our outdoor American family adventure.
We visited The Great Smoky Mountains in 2019 on a multi generational holiday with Grandma and Grandpa. The kids were 10, 8 and 5.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With over 800 miles of hiking trails, The Great Smokies has earned its crown as America’s most popular National Park for a number of reasons.
Named after the swirling blue coloured mist which rises above its forested peaks, it attracts millions each year due to its cascading waterfalls, roaming wildlife (including bears), wildflower meadows, fascinating history, easily accessible trails and the fact that it’s free to enter.
Given the ages of the kids we went in with realistic expectations about the amount of hiking we would be doing.
After chatting to the extremely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful volunteers at the Gatlinburg Visitor Center, we left with maps and a long list of family friendly trails and local recommendations.
Abrams Falls Trail
Our favourite hike was the Abrams Falls Trail and, despite being quite steep at times, it was completely manageable with kids.
A beautiful hike full of winding trails and breathtaking vistas which rewards you with Abrams Falls as your turning point. The perfect place to cool down and have a well deserved picnic whilst you slowly start to compare yourself to Reece Witherspoon in the movie Wild!
Of course there was some whining on the trail, but we managed to distract them easily with their newly acquired ‘Junior Ranger’ activity sheets.
The National Park Service Junior Ranger programme is aimed at kids aged 5 to 13 years old who want to ‘Learn, Explore and Protect’ the parks. By carrying out various activities throughout their hikes and learning from the friendly volunteers, they were each issued with official patches and certificates.
Please note, in addition to walking you can also explore this stunning area by bike, horseback or from the comfort of your car as there are a variety of scenic drives available.
Dollywood Parks & Resorts
Dollywood Theme Park
After “Walking 9 to 5” on the trails, it was time for some more excitement.
For this Disney loving family a trip to Dollywood, located a mere 25 miles away from the Great Smokies, was an absolute must.
Set in 150 acres with over 40 rides, live entertainment, restaurants, seasonal festivals, museums and historical buildings around every corner, Dollywood is more country music and southern hospitality than Mickey Mouse and friends.
We spent the entire day here and instantly fell in love with its southern charm.
You could almost absorb the rich heritage and artistry of the Smokies by watching master craftsmen at work, listening to county, southern gospel, classic rock and Appalachian music or by simply tucking into some good ‘ole fashioned southern cooking.
Yes, its a world class theme park with some extremely scary rides, but it also caters for families with young kids and Dolly Parton fans who are interested in learning about her fascinating life and entertainment career.
To fully experience Dollywood I recommend 2 days here and 1 day at the Splash Country Water Park.
For further details and ticket prices click here.
Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park
Recently ranked as one of the world’s best outdoor water parks, Splash Country was a welcome respite from the Tennessee heat.
Set in 35 acres and reflecting Dolly Parton’s childhood love of swimming in the creeks and rivers of The Smokies, here you’ll discover a wide variety of water slides and attractions.
With a heavy focus on families, the rides are designed for either a mild or wild experience or you can simply relax by the pool while sampling some more southern fare.
Whether it’s taking a relaxing ride along the lazy river before splashing around in Little Creek Falls with the kids or hurtling down the the Smoky Mountains hillsides on Fire Tower Falls, you are guaranteed to have an absolutely fantastic time here.
For prices and opening times, click here.
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountains Cabins
You know that moment when you open your accommodation door and just want to be completely and utterly wowed? Well, Dollywood Cabins certainly delivers on this.
From the moment we stepped inside, a chorus of “Wows” erupted with every door opening.
These luxury log cabins have everything you need to make this holiday truly memorable.
Not only were there stunning mountain views from the comfort of the veranda or hot tub, but a fully equipped kitchen, bbq and fireplaces all complimented by rustic and quirky finishing touches.
For the kids, the highlight of our cabin was the enormous ice hockey rink which they played constantly.
For the adults, you simply couldn’t beat sitting on the veranda with a drink whilst enjoying the spectacular mountain scene which went on for miles.
Our only regret on this trip was that we didn’t factor in a day relaxing here as we only used the cabin as a base to explore Dollywood’s theme and water park.
Our cabin comfortably slept 9 people and was located a short drive away from Dollywood and Splash Country Water Park.
Benefits of staying here include early Saturday entry and free parking at the parks.
For further details click here.
Driving along Pigeon Forge Parkway you’d easily be forgiven for thinking you’d made a wrong turn and were nowhere near the Great Smokies.
Full of wonderfully over the top attractions, restaurants, motels, shops and shows, it’s more Las Vegas than National Park.
You can go trampolining, play mini golf, head to a museum, try go karting or visit one of many unique amusement parks and museums on offer.
There are also a number of country music venues, including the Smoky Mountain Opry, and lots of dining options which include family entertainment such as the Dolly Parton’s Stampede or Pirates Voyage.
For a full list of all the exciting activities Pigeon Forge has on offer click here.
Distilleries & Moonshine
I’m all for a bit of holiday planning, but sometimes you stumble across the best travel experiences simply by wandering around.
In the old town of Pigeon Forge we discovered The Old Forge Distillery where you can see how moonshine is made and sample free shots while learning all about this *ahem* distinctive drink.
Much to the amusement of the kids, who loved watching our reactions, it was fascinating hearing about the history of moonshine while shooting back 8 different flavours of varying strength.
Quite possibly the strongest spirit I’ve ever tasted but hey, when in Tennessee!
I hope you enjoyed reading about our trip to The Great Smoky Mountains.
We may have come here for a simple outdoor adventure, but we ended up experiencing a surprisingly action packed, moonshine charged week and left with a southern twang in our hearts.
If you would like to book this holiday for your family, check out our 7 day itinerary which contains all the information and top tips you need for a truly unique outdoor adventure in the USA.