With the return of summer comes the promise of adventure for families all over the country. As soon as school lets out in May or June, you finally get to use your saved-up vacation days to take the kids somewhere new and exciting. Thanks to its wealth of amusement rides, outdoor excursions, family-friendly entertainment, and nature experiences, the Great Smoky Mountains region is a prime choice for traveling families. Read on for a taste of some of the most popular kids’ activities in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg!
Thrilling Amusement Rides
A quaint town along the Little Pigeon River just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge is a mountain-side getaway filled with a multitude of fun family-friendly activities. The town is perhaps best known for Dollywood, an amusement park named after Eastern Tennessean musical and philanthropic legend Dolly Parton.
You could center an entire vacation around Dollywood, which is much like a self-contained resort. Stay on-site at the Dollywood Resort to qualify for special ticket packages to both the amusement park, featuring over 40 rides, and the water park, with 16 splash-filled rides. When you’ve gotten your fill of adrenaline-pumping rides, Dollywood’s shops, restaurants, dinner shows, live entertainment, and events will certainly keep you busy!
On the other hand, you may want to hit some amusement rides, but maybe you want to preserve some of your limited time in the Smokies for other activities, too. Rather than spending all day at an amusement park, you may prefer to try something like the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster. This standalone thrill ride is known as the longest coaster in East Tennessee, stretching across over 20 acres of land for a 9-minute long ride. You get to be the one in control of your mountain coaster sled and optionally hit top speeds of 30 mph as you wind through the Smoky Mountain scenery.
Outdoor Fun for Speed Lovers
Amusement rides aren’t the only way to catch some airtime. If you’re a family of speed demons and nature enthusiasts, you can’t miss out on all the ziplining and off-roading opportunities in the area. Head over to Gatlinburg to encounter some of the best views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the height of a zipline. At CLIMB Works Zipline, you’ll feel the wind in your hair as you rush past panoramic scenes of the forest treetops, mountain creeks, valleys and ridgelines. Throughout their two-hour guided tour, you’ll take an ATV ride to the top of the mountain, soar across six dual ziplines, traverse four aerial bridges, and conclude with a rappel back to ground level.
Meanwhile, families with older kids will find the off-roading trails to hold so much more than cheap thrills. At Bluff Mountain ATV Rides, individuals at least 14 to 16 years of age and 57″ tall will hop on an automatic four-wheeling vehicle of their choice: 450 ATV, Rhino/Wolverine UTV, Viking UTV, or Teryx UTV. From there, you’ll drive 2,300 feet to the top of Bluff Mountain or explore over 6,000 acres of foothills, encountering spectacular views of the mountain and forest landscapes and drifting through curves at top speed along the way.
Indoor Entertainment for a Rainy Day
From hiking, ziplining, and off-roading to whitewater rafting, camping, and fishing, the Smokies are undoubtedly one of the best regions in the South for diverse outdoor exploits. However, Pigeon Forge is also known for its dinner theater shows and kid-friendly entertainment.
The world of the indoors is just as exciting when it involves getting swept out to sea aboard the pirate ships of the Crimson and Sapphire. At Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show, you’ll venture on land, deck and high waters alongside Captain Blackbeard and Quartermaster Calico Jack to find the legendary Davy Jones’ treasure. Sea lions, mermaids, scary skeletons, and tropical birds captivate your kids’ imaginations and pose challenges for our swashbuckling heroes along the way. From stunts and acrobatics to sword-fighting and cannon battles, this spectacular show of talent will take your breath away while you dine on a four-course feast of Southern homestyle cuisine.
Do you have a future scientist in the family? If so, they’re going to love the interactive games and exhibits designed specially for kids at WonderWorks. This indoor amusement park turned science museum is located in the wacky upside-down secret laboratory of Professor Wonder, whose science experiments sometimes get a little out of hand. Explore all six Wonder Zones of hands-on activities teaching core science concepts about light, sound, physics, space, climate, perception, and more.
Hands-On Animal Encounters
As every parent knows, kids are like bundles of unfiltered joy. Their unconditional love naturally extends toward all the living creatures of the earth. Yet, the earth’s wild animals don’t generally understand their positive intentions. The Smokies are a place of abundant wildlife, most of which will skitter away into the woods upon the approach of humans. However, this enchanting region is also a place where animals and humans can be friends and interact with each other in prescribed ways.
Parrot Mountain deserves high priority on your itinerary if you’re the parent of such an animal lover. Spread across four acres in Sevierville, this eco-tourist park is a home for hundreds of tropical birds. Explore the vast gardens and pose for a picture by the waterfall as you spot colorful birds in flight and listen to their song echoing across the mountains. Stroll through the nursery to see various species of baby birds, and visit the aviary to hand-feed nectar to the lories. A lush and secret garden tucked away in the mountains, Parrot Mountain is an island of serenity.
For a completely different type of animal encounter, you and your family could each befriend a horse at Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa. You’ll depart on the back of a well-tempered, trusty steed, one of over eighty horses living at the ranch, equipped with a safety helmet and your camera. Their horseback riding tours guide you through the Smoky Mountain trails, where you’re likely to stumble upon all manner of native wildlife. Keep an eye out for black bears, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, foxes, salamanders, elk, birds, etc. When you return from the 3.5-mile ride, continue the family fun at the fishing pond, gem mine, petting zoo, ATV riding center, or picnic area.
While planning your summertime family vacation, it’s important to brainstorm what kinds of kid-friendly attractions are available. Are your children fascinated by the sciences or captivated by compelling adventure stories? Can they never get enough petting time with animals, nor enough thrills from the speed of a roller coaster or the height of a zipline? Consider taking a family getaway to the Great Smoky Mountains, known not only for their natural splendor but also for all-ages activities that the whole family will love.