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10 Family-Friendly Ways to Have Fun in Gatlinburg

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Nestled in the scenic Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a haven for families seeking a blend of adventure and relaxation. This charming mountain town is not only a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but also a treasure trove of activities that don’t break the bank. From picturesque hiking trails to educational nature programs, Gatlinburg offers a plethora of free or low-cost options that promise fun for the entire family. Here, we explore some of the best ways to enjoy what Gatlinburg has to offer, ensuring a memorable experience for all ages.

  1. Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the biggest draws of Gatlinburg is its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a paradise for nature lovers. The park offers a wide range of family-friendly trails, from easy strolls like the Cades Cove Nature Trail to moderate hikes such as the Laurel Falls Trail. Each trail presents an opportunity to immerse in the beauty of the Smokies, with chances to spot wildlife like deer and black bears. The trails also offer educational experiences, with interpretive signs providing insights into the region’s diverse flora and fauna. Hiking in the national park is not only a great way to explore the natural beauty of Gatlinburg but also a chance for families to bond over shared adventures.

  1. Exploring Ripley’s Attractions

For an entertaining twist to your Gatlinburg visit, explore the quirky and educational exhibits at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Gatlinburg. This attraction is a wonderland of oddities and curiosities that appeal to both kids and adults. From bizarre artifacts to interactive displays, Ripley’s provides a unique experience that sparks curiosity and wonder. It’s an opportunity for families to learn about the world’s peculiar phenomena while enjoying a day filled with fun and laughter.

  1. Picnicking in the Park

Enjoying a family picnic in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a delightful way to spend a day. Pack a lunch, grab a blanket, and head to one of the many picturesque picnic areas in the park. Popular spots like Cades Cove, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms offer scenic views and open spaces for children to play. While picnicking, families can enjoy the natural beauty of the park, spot wildlife, and relax in the tranquility of the mountains. Remember to follow the park’s guidelines to protect wildlife and preserve the natural environment.

  1. Enjoying Scenic Drives

If hiking isn’t on your agenda, consider taking a scenic drive through the Smoky Mountains. Routes like the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and the Foothills Parkway offer stunning views of the mountain landscape from the comfort of your car. Along the way, stop at overlooks for breathtaking vistas and photo opportunities. These drives can also be educational, with various stops featuring historical buildings, rushing streams, and abundant wildlife. A scenic drive is an excellent way for families to explore the area’s natural beauty without the need for hiking.

  1. Participating in Nature Programs

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a variety of free nature programs designed for families. These programs, led by park rangers, include guided walks, talks, and workshops that educate visitors about the park’s ecosystem, wildlife, and history. Children can participate in the Junior Ranger program, which provides interactive learning experiences about conservation and the environment. These programs not only offer educational value but also foster a deeper appreciation for nature among young ones.

  1. Bird Watching and Nature Photography

Gatlinburg and its surrounding areas are a paradise for bird watchers and nature photographers. The diverse ecosystems of the Smoky Mountains are home to over 200 species of birds, making it an ideal spot for birding enthusiasts. Families can spend a day spotting colorful songbirds, majestic birds of prey, and even the occasional owl. Nature photography offers a fun and engaging way to capture the stunning landscapes and wildlife of Gatlinburg. Encourage your children to bring along a camera or use a smartphone to photograph the scenic vistas, blooming wildflowers, and any wildlife you encounter (from a safe distance). This activity not only provides a memorable experience but also helps in nurturing a child’s observation skills and appreciation for nature.

  1. Exploring Historic Sites

Gatlinburg is steeped in history, with several historic sites that provide a glimpse into the region’s past. Exploring these sites is a great way for families to learn about the area’s heritage. Visit locations like the Ogle Cabin or the Roaring Fork Historic District to see preserved historic buildings and learn about the early settlers’ way of life. Many of these sites offer self-guided tours, allowing families to explore at their own pace. This educational excursion is not just a journey back in time but also an opportunity to understand and appreciate the roots of Gatlinburg.

  1. Enjoying Gatlinburg’s Community Centers

Gatlinburg’s community centers are hubs of activity, offering a variety of amenities and programs that are family-friendly and often free or low-cost. These centers might feature playgrounds, sports fields, and indoor facilities like swimming pools or basketball courts. Participating in community-led activities or simply enjoying the facilities can be a great way for families to have fun and meet locals. Check the local community center schedules for special events, classes, or activities that align with your family’s interests.

  1. Visiting Local Artisan Shops

Take a stroll through Gatlinburg’s artisan shops, where local craftspeople showcase their talents. This is an excellent opportunity for families to observe artisans at work, whether they’re making pottery, blowing glass, weaving baskets, or crafting handmade jewelry. Many artisans are happy to demonstrate their craft and talk about their work. This experience is not only entertaining but also educational, offering insights into the local culture and art. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to pick up unique souvenirs to remember your trip by.

  1. Stargazing in the Smokies

The Smoky Mountains offer some of the best stargazing opportunities, thanks to the limited light pollution in the area. On a clear night, families can gaze at the stars, spot constellations, and even catch sight of the Milky Way. Bring a blanket, lie back, and enjoy the celestial show. For an educational twist, download a stargazing app or bring a star chart to help identify different celestial bodies. This peaceful activity is not only awe-inspiring but also a perfect way to end a day of adventure in Gatlinburg.


Gatlinburg, with its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, offers a myriad of activities that are both engaging and family-friendly. From the serenity of bird watching and the excitement of exploring historic sites to the creative stimulation of visiting artisan shops and the wonder of stargazing, there’s something in Gatlinburg for every family to enjoy. These activities provide not only entertainment but also educational experiences that can enrich your family’s vacation. Gatlinburg is more than just a destination; it’s a place where families can come together to explore, learn, and create unforgettable memories.

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