If you’ve always wanted to visit one of America’s World famous National Parks but are concerned that the kids will get bored, then The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee is the perfect choice.
Not only can you hike along beautiful trails, but it’s also home to Dollywood Theme & Water Park, a Las Vegas style strip full of family friendly activities, live county music and amazing Southern Hospitality *which cleverly disguise the fact you are actually on a hiking holiday*
We visited this beautiful, diverse and action packed area on a multi-generational summer trip for 7 days and it was the perfect destination for an outdoor adventure which the entire family enjoyed.
Day 1: Check into your cabin in Sevierville then head to your local National Park Service Visitor Center to meet the park rangers, collect maps and get some advice on which hiking trails are suitable for your family.
Day 2: Take your family shot by the iconic Great Smoky Mountains sign (located at the entrance to the park) and go for a hike.
We kicked off with the Abrams Falls Trail which is a 3-4 mile moderately difficult hike which rewards you with a refreshing waterfall and beautiful scenery.
Day 3: Drive to Pigeon Forge parkway for an action packed day of family fun at one of the many attractions, museums or themed restaurants.
Day 4: Drive to Clingman’s Dome to climb the highest viewpoint for miles.
Day 6: Spend the day at Dollywood Theme Park.
Day 7: Check out of the cabin and head into Gatlinburg for some souvenir shopping and lunch before departing back to the UK.
1. Getting There
This is definitely a fly and drive holiday.
We drove there as we were living in the USA at the time. It took 10 hours from New Jersey and we crossed multiple state lines; Pennslvania, West Virginia and Virginia.
2. Car Hire
I would highly recommend booking this advance so that you can get the right car for your family (and get a good deal).
3. Accommodation in Sevierville
There are extremely limited accommodation options within the National Park itself, so in order to explore the Great Smokies it is highly recommended that you stay in one of the four main gateway areas; Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Wears Valley.
Each one is located within a short driving distance of the National Park and is overflowing with hotel, cabin and resort accommodation options to suit all budgets.
We chose to stay in Sevierville for 4 nights at the Return to Me log cabin which comfortably slept all seven of us in 3 bedrooms.
It had everything you would expect from a log cabin including fantastic views from the verandah, hot tub, full kitchen, bbq, cozy country style bedrooms, washer and dryer, pool table and a relaxing porch out front.
Our cabin was ideally located for all of our excursions, food shopping trips and close to a number of restaurants where you could eat in or simply grab a takeaway.
4. National Park Service Visitor Centres
The National Park Service’s Visitor Centres are truly an invaluable source of information.
Staffed by enthusiastic and friendly volunteers, they are a fantastic first port of call for any visitor to The Great Smoky National Park.
Within the space of half an hour of talking with the rangers, we had our week all planned out and it was specifically tailored to our needs as a multi generational family hiking with young children.
In addition to this, some of the centres also have learning resources and amazing souvenir shops.
5. Dollywood Theme Park
With over 50 rides and attractions, southern style entertainment, unique dining options and seasonal offerings, the Dollywood experience is one not to be missed.
I would recommend spending one or two days here as there is so much to do. For the thrill seeker in the family there are world class roller coasters and for the younger family members there are specific areas such Wildwood Grove to explore.
Tickets can be purchased in advance online or directly at the gate.
I would recommend purchasing tickets in advance so that you can take advantage of their offers.
6. Dollywood Splash Country
The perfect place to cool down in the Tennessee heat and an absolute must for kids of all ages, Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park is a fantastic day out.
It’s easy to see why it was recently voted one of the USA’s best outdoor water parks as, once again, there are loads of pools, slides and attractions to experience.
There are plenty of free life jackets dotted around the park and you can also eat there at one of their southern style restautants.
Book in advance online or pay upon arrival.
7. Accommodation at Dollywood Parks & Resorts
Guaranteed to impress even the most seasoned traveller, Dollywood Cabins is in a league of its own!
These luxury log cabins are truly exceptional as not only do they have breathtaking views of The Great Smoky Mountains, but there are endless amenities and each room is decorated with so many finishing touches that you feel you are visiting a friends house.
With over 81 cabins to choose from, you are guaranteed to find one suitable for your family.
There are also exclusive benefits of staying on site.
In addition to the cabins, you can also book a room at the Dollywood DreamMore Resort and Spa.
I cannot emphasize enough how helpful the rangers are at the Visitor Centres. Make sure you visit one upon our arrival to collect maps, discuss suitable hiking trails and sign the kids up for the Junior Ranger Programme.
Purchase a National Park Passport so that you can collect official NPS stamps every time you visit. My kids absolutely love collecting these stamps and it’s a fantastic souvenir.
Wear in shoes before you hit the trails. Whilst we didn’t purchase specific hiking shoes for this trip, we made sure that all shoes were sufficiently worn in to avoid problems in the mountains.
If you are over 21 take your ID everywhere with you. When we did the moonshine tasting absolutely everyone had to provide ID including Grandpa who was *ahem* clearly over 21!
Bring a first aid kit and water bottles/hydration bladders with you so that you don’t have to worry about purchasing these upon arrival. The Great Smoky Mountains can be quite isolated at times so it’s best to be prepared.