10 Things to Do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for Families
Summertime is just around the corner and the mountains are calling! Are you packing up the family and heading for the hills of Tennessee? If so, check out this list of 10 things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that the entire family will enjoy!
1. Take a Hike
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is packed with hiking trails of all levels of difficulty, trails that go to beautiful destinations and trails that are just simply a beautiful walk in the woods. Starting your children out on easy trails is an excellent way to foster a love for the outdoors and to keep them active and healthy. We recommend checking out the Little River Trail, Middle Prong Trail, Porters Creek Trail to the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club Cabin and the West Prong Trail to start off with the little ones. The NOC in Gatlinburg is located near the Gatlinburg entrance to the national park and is a great stop to make on before setting off on your adventure. Our friends at the NOC can set you up with any info or equipment that you may need and they have daily trail and weather reports from the park as well. Ask about their rental kid carriers as a way to hike safely with the smallest of the children but also save some money without having to purchase a pack. Sugarlands Visitor Center is a great spot for maps, details on hikes and you can check out the museum for free. Don’t forget to ask about the Junior Ranger Program!
2. Picnic and Play
Pack a picnic or pick up a to-go meal at one of the local restaurants in Gatlinburg and head into the park for an afternoon picnic and playtime. Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area is wonderful for families and on most summer days the water flow in the river is gentle and safe for fun with the family. We have numerous picnic areas on this side of the mountains including in the Cades Cove area, Greenbrier, Cosby and on Newfound Gap Road at the Chimneys Picnic Area. You can also just find a nice tucked away spot alongside the river if you’re seeking a more private spot. Just remember to always pack out all of your trash, dispose of it in the picnic area’s waste containers and never feed the wildlife.
3. Explore Cades Cove
Taking a trip around the Cades Cove Loop is on the to do list for most guests and it is a great way to spend time with the family. If you’re planning on spending the day in the cove with children be sure to pack plenty of snacks, drinks and patience during busy months. Spend some time on the side roads, explore the historical structures, take binoculars and let the kids try to spot wildlife along the way. Keep in mind that federal law requires visitors in the park to stay at least 150ft away from wildlife at all times and to not disrupt the park residents in any way. Plus, sitting back and watching a family of bears live life naturally is far more rewarding than chasing them off and it’s an experience that your children will remember forever.
4. Climb to the Highest Peak of The Smoky Mountains
Take a trip up to Clingmans Dome and let the kids climb to the highest point of the Great Smoky Mountains. The views are gorgeous and they’ll feel like they’ve just climbed Mount Everest. On the way back down Clingmans Dome Road, stop off at the Spruce Fir Nature Trail. The trail is one of the most overlooked gems in the Smokies!
5. Tour the Mountain Farm Museum
If you’re taking a drive over the mountain to check out the views then head on over to Oconaluftee. You’ll find the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, a riverside trail, possibly spot some elk and you can tour the Mountain Farm Museum for free. This is also a great stop to pair with a visit to Cherokee.
6. Visit Little Greenbrier School
The Little Greenbrier School is a historical school in the park that is a great learning experience for children. The school is far different than their school and it will most certainly open their eyes to the ways of yesteryear. If they get extra excited take a walk out to the Walker Sisters Cabin for a little time exploring the life of families that once called the park home.
7. Take a Walk on the Sugarlands Nature Trail
Families with very small children will enjoy a trip around the Sugarlands Nature Trail that is located on Newfound Gap Road near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trail is wide, handicap accessible, stroller friendly and paved. It’s a simple trail but it’s also filled with beauty, gorgeous spots along the river and historical structures. Bonus: If you have the kids look closely on the side near the river they might just spot a couple of bear cub prints that were left behind when a mischievous cub came walking by during the time when the pavement was drying!
8. Visit Cataract Falls
Everyone loves a waterfall and Cataract Falls is a very family friendly destination that is located near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Combine this with a trip along the Gatlinburg Trail, a stop in at Sugarlands or just an afternoon of exploring.
9. Go on a Scavenger Hunt
Do your kids get bored easily? Plan a scavenger hunt in the mountains and they’ll not only stay excited but they’ll also have a blast learning about the park. You can find plenty of print outs online, make up your own or purchase a copy of Scavenger Hike Adventures and Mountain Journal from the Great Smoky Mountains Association. The book is filled with clues and treasures to look for along specific trails that lead to gems of the Smokies! You can find the book online or at the visitor centers.
10. Drop in a Donation
Unlike many other national parks, you can visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as many times as you want to for free. We think it’s a pretty amazing thing to have access to 520,000 acres of beauty at no cost. However, to keep the park maintained, staffed and running it’s certainly not free. Throughout the park you’ll find donation boxes and even just a $1 as roll by is appreciated. If you’re spending time in the park with your family this year, take a few minutes to talk to the kids about the park and let them toss in a few bucks. It will help the park, make them feel proud to help and they’ll get to experience that joyful feeling that giving gives you back.
Are you ready to plan your next family vacation?
We would love to welcome your family as our guests here at The Lodge at Five Oaks in Sevierville! Our Guest Rooms are filled with in-room amenities and they make the perfect home away from home. You can balance out time in the mountains by visiting some of the area’s best attractions with Our Ticket Deals that are available to all guests.
You can Click Here to browse our rooms, rates and available dates!
We hope to see you soon!