Tucked away in the core of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a town filled with joy, adventure, and an abundance of activities for families looking to create memorable experiences. From the natural beauty of the mountains to the bustling downtown area, Gatlinburg is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway with the kids. The town offers a mix of outdoor adventures, educational experiences, and fun-filled attractions that cater to children and adults alike. Whether you’re planning your first trip or returning for more fun, here are some invaluable tips to ensure your family weekend in Gatlinburg is unforgettable.
- EXPLORE THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
First on your list should be the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, filled with adventure and natural beauty. There’s a small parking fee, but other than that, you can enter the park for free, which is great for budget-conscious families. Consider taking a leisurely hike along one of the many trails suitable for all ages. The park offers short and easy trails like the Gatlinburg Trail, which also offers beautiful views of the river.
For a more educational experience, check out the Junior Ranger Program. Kids aged 5-12 can complete fun and engaging activities to earn a badge and certificate. It’s a fantastic way to encourage learning about the park’s history, wildlife, and conservation efforts. Remember, the weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to dress in layers and bring rain gear, just in case. With a little preparation, a day in the Great Smoky Mountains can be a highlight of your family’s weekend getaway.
- DIVE INTO FUN AT RIPLEY’S GATLINBURG
A trip to Gatlinburg would be incomplete without visiting one of its most iconic attractions, perfect for families. Ripley’s Gatlinburg attractions offer a variety of activities that are sure to keep the kids entertained. One of the standout attractions is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Here, your family can explore underwater tunnels, look at sharks, and even enjoy experiences like penguin encounters or touching a real live jellyfish!
The aquarium is designed with kids in mind, featuring play areas, educational talks, and dive/feeding shows that are frequent throughout the day. It’s not just about watching; it’s about participating and learning. It’s what makes it a hit for the entire family.
- INDULGE IN LOCAL CUISINE
One of the joys of exploring a new place with your family is trying the local food, and Gatlinburg has plenty to offer. The town is packed with a variety of dining options that cater to all tastes, ensuring that even the pickiest of eaters will find something they love. Pancake houses are a local specialty, and you’ll find several establishments throughout town offering stacks of fresh, fluffy pancakes – perfect for a family breakfast!
For lunch or dinner, there are numerous family-friendly restaurants serving everything from classic American fare to hearty Italian and even seafood. A few places also offer good old southern BBQ, a must-try when you’re in this part of the country. Remember, kids love fun environments, so choosing a restaurant with unique themes or interesting décor might make mealtime more exciting for them. Lastly, don’t forget to treat the family to some local desserts, like homemade fudge or taffy – popular choices in Gatlinburg.
- ENJOY OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AT OBER MOUNTAIN
If your family loves outdoor adventures, then a visit to Ober Mountain is a must. Accessible via the Aerial Tramway, this amusement park and ski area offer a host of activities year-round. In the winter, there’s snow tubing, skiing, and snowboarding with gear rental available on-site, so don’t worry if you didn’t come prepared. There are activities suitable for all skill levels, making it perfect for families.
Summertime transforms the area into an amusement park with an alpine slide, mountain coaster, chair swings, and more. The wildlife encounter offers a chance to see native animals like black bears, bobcats, and otters. As with most attractions, purchasing tickets ahead of time can save you some waiting in lines, which is always a plus when you have excited kids in tow.
- LEARN AND CREATE AT HANDS-ON MUSEUMS
Gatlinburg is home to several museums that aren’t just about looking – they’re about getting involved. Places like the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum offer a quirky and fun glimpse into the world’s largest collection of salt and pepper shakers. Kids will be amazed by the variety, and it’s a great way to spark conversations about different cultures and history.
Another spot is the Gatlinburg Pinball Museum, an interactive museum where you can play on a vast array of vintage pinball machines. It’s fun for kids and nostalgic for parents, making it a great family bonding activity. These museums offer a different kind of educational experience, one that’s hands-on and engaging, so the kids are learning without even realizing it.
- JOIN LOCAL FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
There’s often something happening in Gatlinburg, with various events and festivals held throughout the year. These range from parades and craft fairs to music festivals and seasonal celebrations. Not only are these events incredibly fun, but they also provide a chance to immerse your family in the local culture and community spirit.
For example, the Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales event in the summer offers free street performances featuring music, storytelling, and more. Events like these are captivating for kids, as they can dance to the music, interact with performers, and even learn a thing or two about the region’s heritage.
- PLAN FOR RELAXATION AND DOWNTIME
While it’s tempting to pack your schedule to make the most out of your weekend in Gatlinburg, it’s also important to plan for some relaxation and downtime. Kids can easily become overwhelmed with too much activity, and tired children might lead to stressful outings. Consider spending an afternoon in one of Gatlinburg’s peaceful parks or take a gentle stroll along the Little Pigeon River.
You might also find some quiet time by visiting a local library or family-friendly cafe. Some families might enjoy simply relaxing in their cabin, maybe having a swim in the indoor pool or watching a movie together. This downtime is not only essential for the kids but also provides parents with a much-needed break.
Gatlinburg is a treasure trove of family-friendly activities, from the excitement of Ripley’s attractions to the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. By combining fun, learning, and relaxation, your weekend getaway can be a memorable experience that the whole family cherishes. So, take in the scenic views, enjoy the local flavors, and immerse yourself in all that Gatlinburg has to offer. Every moment spent together is an opportunity to create lasting memories that your family will reminisce about for years to come.