If you are looking for a great family vacation destination, look no further than Gatlinburg, TN. This Southeast destination is located at the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you love nature and want an endless offering of kid friendly activities, entertainment, and dining options keep reading and get ready to be amazed!
1. National Park
Tucked away in a charming valley, Gatlinburg is the gateway to the nearly 520,000 acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is America’s most visited national park, with over 11.42 million visitors in 2018.
There is no cost to enter the park as is not the case with many other national parks. If nature and hiking is your thing then you will want to check out the 800+ miles of hiking trails throughout. You will have your choice of easy, all the way to strenuous hiking, depending on your fitness level. The park is filled with glistening waterfalls, spectacular mountain overlooks, and abundant wildlife. It also boasts the largest concentration of wild black bears anywhere in the United States.
Be sure to bring your picnic basket! There are numerous spots you can get off of the beaten path to relax and have a wonderful picnic lunch.
2. Gatlinburg Sky Lift
Opened in 1954, the Gatlinburg Skylift is an icon of the city. You can catch a lift from the bottom located on the Parkway downtown. You will then be lifted approximately 500 vertical feet to the top where you will then have the option to walk across the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. The bridge is 680 feet long and spans the valley 140 feet below your feet! And just when you think that is as extreme as it gets, you will then come to find the center sections of the bridge are made of clear glass which will surely play mind games with you!
If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, take a trip up to Anakeesta. You could spend the better part your day at this great family vacation destination, and there is plenty to keep the entire family entertained. With places to eat, shopping, special events, and activities there is no shortage on fun up this mountain. Anakeesta is located 600 feet above the Gatlinburg strip on a small mountain. You will need to purchase a wrist band for entry and ride the chair lift to the top. If riding the chair lift not your thing, they also have 45 person trucks called Ridge Ramblers to get you to the there.
Once you are at the summit you have to check out the Treetop Skywalk! With over 800 feet of sky-bridges, it is the longest tree-based bridge in North America. As you walk from treetop to treetop keep your eyes open for wildlife, or even a bear on the forest floor below.
The area around Gatlinburg has no shortage of lodging to fit your needs. From hotels to rental cabins there is something for everyone! Many groups choose to come to the area and stay in a cabin. There are over 10,000 cabins in the area to choose from that sleep from 2 people to 50 people. A rental cabin will give you the space you need at an affordable price. Everyone can have their own private bedroom and spread out a bit more. Most of the cabins in the area have games, hot tubs, and spectacular mountain views which make them a great family vacation destination.
If you love to hike you must plan a visit to LeConte Lodge. The lodge is situated just below the summit of Mt LeConte. It is the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States. The lodge is only accessible by hiking and space is EXTREMELY limited. You will likely need to make your reservations up to a year in advance. Guests are housed in hand built rough hewn log cabins with kerosene lanterns, propane heat, clean linens and warm blankets. Warm meals are served family style in the dining room.
5. Ripley’s Aquarium
If you have time, you should check out Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. The aquarium is located on the main strip in downtown Gatlinburg. It is home to hundreds of species of fish and other sea life. There is also a shark lagoon, stingray exhibit, tropical rain forest, and an adorable live penguin habitat. Be sure to book one of the penguin encounters where you can meet the penguins in person face-to-beak!
You can also book special experience packages! Some of those include camps, sleepovers, and other educational sessions. There is also a glass bottom boat ride that will take you over a shark infested lagoon. Three inches of glass will be the only thing separating you from the sharks below your feet.
If you need some lodging we have two properties for rent that are less than a mile from Ripley’s Aquarium and the downtown strip. Those properties are Bella Vista Lodge and Roaring Fork Lodge.
6. Ziplining Adventures
There are many zip-lining companies to choose from in the area. One of the largest and best known is Climbworks, which is located about 15 minutes east of downtown Gatlinburg.
There are two different zip-line tours available at Climbworks. The Mountaintop Zipline Tour is an epic adventure with 5 dual zip-lines and 360˚ panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains. The Treetop Canopy Tour boasts 9 exciting zip-lines. You will participate in a fun ATV adventure ride to the top and then an exhilarating flight through the treetops on the world class zip lines.
We also own 2 luxury cabins extremely close to Climbworks if you need a place to stay. Our Star Dancer Cabin is up the mountain from Climbworks, and you can watch the adventurers glide along the treetops from our rear decks. Our other property, Smoky Mountain Sunrise is within a 5 minute drive as well.
7. Ober Gatlinburg
If you are planning your visit during the winter months be sure to head up to Ober Gatlinburg. You can ride the tram up to Ober or drive up Ski Mountain Road. The tram ride is my favorite, but it can get crowded during busy season. You can do some skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing at Ober. If you do not know how to ski don’t worry! Lessons are available too!
During warm weather months when snow is not around, Ober Gatliburg has a ton of other fun stuff to offer as well. Some of the activities open are summer tubing, ice skating, an alpine slide, mountain coaster, wildlife encounters, and a whole lot more. Ober is not just a Winter destination anymore. There are plenty of exciting activities for the whole family to do year-round at this great family vacation destination!
8. Pancake Pancakes Pancakes
If you are like me and you love to eat, you will have no shortage of options in Gatlinburg. Some people say the area has the highest concentration of pancake houses in the world. That may be correct! One of my favorites is The Little House of Pancakes on East Parkway. This is not a flashy restaurant, but the food is excellent and this is where the locals eat! Personally, I think they have The Pancake Pantry easily beaten in pancake department. The staff is always friendly and you will feel like a local eating here. Be sure to ask for the all-you-can-eat pancakes. You will be treated to a pizza sized pancake, and if you can manage to stuff it away you are welcome to have another one!
9. Walk the Gatlinburg Strip
A trip to Gatlinburg is not complete until you take a stroll along the downtown strip. There are hundreds of small shops and restaurants along the way. Be sure to grab some of the famous Smoky Mountain taffy or fudge while you are out. You will have endless options for dining along the strip as well. You can easily spend a whole day downtown and never come close to doing everything you want to do.
10. Moonshine Distilleries
This is for the adults in your family. Moonshine has a long history in Tennessee. Since the legalization of moonshine, distilleries are popping up everywhere. A couple of the more famous ones are Ole Smoky and Sugarlands. Both offer free tastings and a wide ranging assortment of moonshine flavors to choose from.
Ole Smoky, which claims it is America’s most visited distillery, offers tours at The Holler. Go behind the scenes and see how moonshine is made. You will see it, smell it, and taste it if you desire.
Much More to Do In Gatlinburg
There you have it! I have provided you 10 of the most popular things to do in the Gatlinburg area, and why it is such a great family vacation destination. There is so much more available to do in the that you will never be able to see it all in one trip. New attractions are popping up every year, so there is always something new to see and do. These are just some of my most recommended things to do if you are visiting the Gatlinburg area. I hope this list will help you with your decision making when planning your trip to the mountains!