That year as my youngest was just about to turn two, I knew that we needed activities that would appeal to him yet also keep three teens and a husband occupied and happy. I was able to find a stroller-friendly hiking trail as well as other family-friendly activities to appeal to just about every interest. Here I’ve compiled a handy list of Gatlinburg area activities that will please the entire family.
Laurel Falls Trail With Young Kids
This is a paved 2.6-mile trail that leads to an 80-foot waterfall. All of my online research showed this trail as being stroller-friendly and we saw several people on the trail with strollers and one with a wheelchair, so while the official National Park Service website says ‘no strollers’ I don’t think that it’s followed, (though for liability reasons, something to consider) many trail maps do call it a stroller-friendly trail.
We hiked the majority of the trail but had to turn around as we neared the falls. A Mama bear and her cub were on the trail and we and many others around us did not want to upset her in any way. The trail is paved but does have roots and natural obstacles, but a stroller with good wheels will navigate them just fine. We were using the Baby Trend Expedition Jogging Stroller. I just wish we could have made it to the falls.
Laurel Falls Trail Parking
If you’re in Gatlinburg at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, getting to the Laurel Falls Trail is easy. Drive 3.5 miles toward Cades Cove from Little River Road to reach the Laurel Falls trailhead. Parking is located on either side of the road.
Fun in the Smokies Along the Roaring Fork Motorway
Staying anywhere near Traffic Light #8 on The Parkway in Gatlinburg is the perfect spot if you want to drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This is a beautiful 6-mile loop that brings you through the Great Smoky Mountains with stop-offs with limited parking to visit waterfalls, creeks, historic buildings, and gorgeous views. To get to the trailhead you simply turn toward the mountains at Traffic Light #8 and drive straight to it.
Ober Gatlinburg for Summer Fun in the Smokies
While most people know Ober Gatlinburg for its skiing and snow tubing, I highly recommend visiting during the warmer months. This amusement park is probably some of the most fun you’ll have in the smokies. Getting there can be done one of two ways; you can drive the curvy roads (which we did GASP!!) or take the Aerial Tramway.
You can take the skylift to the alpine slides, ice skate indoors, shop, visit the bear and other animals in the Wildlife Encounter, go on some rides, play mini-golf, visit the arcade and have lunch. Each activity does have a fee, so that is something to take into consideration.
Ober Gatlinburg Pricing
Visitors can get a Basic Wristband which includes summer tubing, the alpine slide, the chairlift, Wildlife Encounter, rock climbing, Blue Cyclone Rapids, AmazeNMaze, chair swings, mini-golf, kiddie rides, and the carousel. The Premium Wristband includes all of those as well as one session each of ice skating, ice bumper cars and one ride on the Ski Mountain Coaster. For a full list of all activities and their respective, individual prices, check out the Ober Gatlinburg activities rates.
Where to Eat With Kids in Gatlinburg
Best Italian Gatlinburg
Driving on the parkway, I was intrigued by a sign at an Italian restaurant that was boasting the best Bloody Mary’s and the best food so of course, I had to check it out! We stopped in at Best Italian and ordered a few pizzas; the big kids had the calzones. Let’s just talk a minute about the calzones; these are not your average stuffed dough treat.. these are larger than your head, monster of a calzone, and absolutely delicious!
The Donut Friar
One early morning, my youngest and I headed out by ourselves to walk around and do some shopping; we wound up at Donut Friar and brought a dozen donuts back for everyone!
Blaine’s Grill and Bar / Smith and Son Corner Kitchen
2020 Update: This post was originally written in 2016. We have visited Blaine’s twice between 2016 and 2019 and weren’t impressed with the food or the service. In the Spring of 2020, Blaine’s became Smith and Son Corner Kitchen which we’ve yet to visit, but once we do, I’ll be sure to update.
We did, however, get fantastic service at Blaine’s Grill and Bar. Our server Zach was attentive and courteous and the food was so good that we actually ate there twice; once at the restaurant and the other time we brought it back to the condo with us.
Our visit included trips to a few other restaurants like Five Guys Burgers and Fries, We also visited Crawdaddy’s Restaurant but that experience was our worst during the visit. The service was sub-par and I’m not at all picky when it comes to waitstaff.
Grocery Shopping in Gatlinburg
Because we have a larger family and dining out gets expensive, we tend to buy groceries and cook some meals at the condo. Prior to the trip I researched grocery stores nearby and found a store called Food City that is located right before you get into the main Gatlinburg Area.
I signed up for their rewards card weeks before and took it with me to take advantage of the weekly specials and loaded up before we arrived at the condo. I like to bring a crockpot and make meals in the condo on our family vacations using prepped freezer meals I’ve made before the trip. Sometimes I’ll even make quick road-trip meals like muffaletta to either eat on the way at a rest stop or once we arrive at our destination.
Fun in the Smokies at Ripley’s Aquarium
We try to do a few educational things on vacation so that we can incorporate homeschool field trip days into our school year. Since we homeschool year-round, incorporating field trips into our vacation makes the most sense. What I love about traveling and visiting museums and aquariums is that often our homeschool association membership cards get us discounted admission.
Homeschool Discount at Ripley’s Aquarium
Had we paid the regular price, our admission would have been $115.95. With our homeschoolers discount, we were able to get in for $7/adult and student and $4.99 for preschool-aged children. Once we checked in we received 3 Guidebooks and activity books/pencils for free, normally the guidebooks are $2/each.
Our total admission was just 45.90 for six people. If you’re looking for something fun to do in the Smokies, especially on a rainy day, Ripley’s Aquarium is a great choice. The aquarium has an extensive shark exhibit and an adorable penguin area. Additionally, many of the fish featured in the Finding Nemo movie are grouped together near an interactive play area to keep a toddler’s interest. Occasionally the aquarium will host a meet and greet with characters like Disney mermaid Ariel or Spongebob Squarepants.
The Gatlinburg Space Needle
Down the street from Town Square Resort is the Gatlinburg Space Needle; a 400-foot observation tower with sweeping views of the Great Smoky Mountains. We paid $7.50/pp for the elevator ride up to the top of the tower. The full 360-degree panoramic views of Gatlinburg were absolutely breathtaking.
At the time, my youngest was in a stroller and really young, but he did like the ride up the elevator and the view from the top of the Space Needle! The entrance to the Space Needle in Gatlinburg is located inside a building with tons of fun for tweens and teens in the smokies. Clingman’s Dome is another one of our favorite kid friendly hikes near Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains.
Downtown Gatlinburg July 4 Parade
We also were able to experience the annual midnight ‘First Independence Day Parade in the Nation.’ Since we were traveling with a toddler at the time, we planned our day accordingly. We were able to tire him out during the early morning and afternoon hours. This set him up for a good nap at around 6 p.m. It worked perfectly. He napped for about an hour then ate dinner. At around 11:30 we headed to the Parkway to find parade viewing spot. We stopped for a snack and enjoyed the parade then headed back to the condo for bed.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a great place to visit for anyone, but especially for homeschooling families. Whether you choose to stay close to your resort or rent a cabin, there’s plenty to see and do. Another great option that is guaranteed fun in the Smokies is the National Park Service Junior Ranger program. Kids between the ages of 4 and 12 will enjoy learning about the area and work toward earning their Smoky Mountains Junior Ranger Badge.