School’s out- now what? The heat and storms in the South have families heading for the hills- or perhaps they were headed up there anyway. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited parks in America, and the small mountain communities around the park offer family-friendly fun for all ages. So pack those bags and escape the summer heat and head for a summer in the Smokies. Make this summer a family time to remember.
Here’s a run down of the best summer family adventures in the Smoky Mountains to help you get started.
Summer in the Smokies
The small town of Townsend is best known as the quieter side of the Great Smoky Mountains, but with that quieter life comes fun of the outdoor and old-fashioned kind. Townsend calls home to the entrance to the popular Cades Cove, and also the outfitters where you can go tubing down the river.
- Tuckaleechee Caverns
Townsend is also the only place where you can go underneath the Smoky Mountains- at Tuckaleechee Caverns. Take a mile hike through the incredible world beneath the Smokies. It’s a family adventure you’ll never forget.
Read more: Beneath the Smokies at Tuckaleechee Caverns
Get your kids to read Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams or Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer prior to this adventure.
Gatlinburg is a tiny town smack up against the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cell phone reception can be iffy at times, but this little town is packed with enough amusements to keep everyone off their phone.
- The Sky Lift
The neatest adventure you can take here is not for the faint-hearted- it’s the Sky-Lift of Gatlinburg. Travel 1,800 feet up Crockett Mountain for the best view of Gatlinburg and the mountains around. Go at sunset or twilight so you can still see the mountain views and the lights coming on in the city. You’ll probably even see the mist settling across the mountains- that’s why they call it the Smoky Mountains. Multiple-rides are only a few dollars more and they do offer military discounts.
Have someone afraid of heights? Let them stay on the ground with one adult and do a swap after your ride, where you watch them and your partner enjoys the Sky Lift.
Added note: My daughter wanted to go on the Sky Lift so badly that we ended up leaving the boys to explore the Car Museum and took the trip ourselves- but there’s something about your feet dangling as you ride up the side of a mountain that can make you nervous..and she got scared. If this happens to you- redirect their attention- a light in the distance- can you read that sign, shoot a silly video, give them a hug- have them look at the mountain tops instead of below.
Pigeon Forge was built strictly for family fun- or so we all believe. Filled with go-kart tracks, escape rooms, mazes, aerial obstacle courses, dinner shows and tons of other amusements, this is the place to go after a day in the mountains.
- Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster
This unique roller coaster puts you in control. Take it fast or slow on the mile+ long track down the mountain. You control the speed. Gravity takes care of the rest. Go again for a discounted rate.
Stop by one of the two Pigeon Forge Visitor Centers for discounts to this and many of the area attractions.
Read More: Family Fun at Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster
- Outdoor Gravity Park
Another gravity-based amusement, this one has you riding inside giant plastic balls- called Zorbs. Now you’ll know what it really feels like to be a hamster in a ball!
Dollywood is Pigeon Forge, and most visitors to this area will spend a day or more at the friendliest amusement park in Tennessee. Filled with roller coasters, a raging rapid river, an old fashioned steam locomotive, county carnival, live music, Appalachian crafts and the best food imaginable. Dollywood and their hospitality will redefine your definition of theme parks.
Read More: Riding the Rails at Dollywood
There are splash areas to cool down here, so bring a change of clothes!
- Dinner Shows
You must do a dinner show. It’s just that simple. The hardest decision is choosing which one. You have a horse extravaganza at Dollywood Stampede, a toe-tapping musical family-feud at The Hatfield & McCoys Dinner Show or the incredible acrobatics at Dolly Parton’s Celebration. Eat dinner while you enjoy the live music and family-friendly (thank you!) antics. You may never go back to dinner & TV! The Pigeon Forge Tourism Board has a full list of dinner shows in their area.
- Whitewater Rafting
The thought of rafting up in the mountains may seem incongruous, but outfitters launch their rubber rafts onto the whitewater of the Big Pigeon River for some incredible family fun in Hartford, Tennessee and an unforgettable adventure.
Read more: Rafting in the Smokies
- Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Every train fan should take a ride about the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Leaving from an old-fashioned depot in Bryson City, North Carolina, the train takes the 2 hour journey following the Nantahala River down into the Nantahala Gorge. Let the kids stretch their legs and dip their toes into the icy water at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) before heading for the return journey or choose to add a whitewater rafting trip and take your outfitter’s bus back to Bryson City.
Read More: Riding the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Exploring in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is always the highlight of everyone’s visit to this Appalachian area. With waterfalls and creeks to play in, hikes and breathtaking look-out views, it’s easy to understand why this is everyone’s favorite park- but this place is a monster-in size. So here’s a break down of the best family-friendly areas to explore.
- Cades Cove
Cade’s Cove is the vacationer’s favorite- a hidden valley in the mountains. This shangri-la of farmland was where the first settlers farmed, and you can visit their cabins and farmsteads on your trip there. Because of the vast swathes of open meadows and pastures, this is the place to spot wildlife. Deer. Bear. Even elk. Come early or later in the day for the best wild life spotting.
- Roaring Fork
This lesser known motor nature trail winds up through old-forest. You’ll be able to see some of the fire damage from the big fires in the past. Hiking trails lead to waterfalls and old farmstead cabins. Some of them follow alongside roaring creeks (thus the name Roaring Fork). One trail even takes hikers behind a waterfall! Quieter than Cades Cove, this shadier area has a beauty of it’s own. Be sure to stop at the overlooks for the views across the Smoky Mountains.
Family fun in the Smokies. Are you ready for it? Pack your bags and head for the hills for a Summer in the Smokies.