Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a popular vacation spot, well within driving distance from many Midwestern cities in the United States. It has an unusual balance between kid friendly tourist attractions and easily accessible nature opportunities, situated as the main gateway city to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The National Park boasts over 600 miles of trails, waterfalls, mountains, long range views, and off-road adrenaline activities. Keep your eyes peeled; black bear sightings are common, along with elk and salamanders. Inside the city proper, there are several amusement parks, kids museums, and entertainment opportunities.
Gatlinburg has something to do year-round, but the main tourism season stretches from early spring to late fall. Weather tends to be mild, with frequent rain, so be sure to pack rainjackets, comfy shoes for walking, and bug spray to ward off mosquitoes! There are plenty of drug stores and supermarkets to pick up any kid essentials you’ve forgotten or traveled without.
The city’s main drag is full of rustic restaurants with hearty American food alongside souvenir gift shops. Most places have a kid’s menu and children are welcome virtually everywhere! Two of the most popular family friendly restaurants in Gatlinburg are Log Cabin Pancake House and Big Daddy’s Pizzeria. If you hire a sitter for a break from the kids, or are traveling with creative teenagers, consider checking out the thriving artist community for unique shopping and workshops.
Tourism is the main industry in the area so there are lots of hotels, secluded cabins, and AirBNBs to choose from. If you’re looking for more of a relaxing vacation instead of an exploration adventure, opt for one of the family friendly resorts that have in-house activities, a water park, and restaurants like Dollywood’s Dreammore Resort & Spa, Riverstone Resort & Spa, or Country Cascades Waterpark Resort.
If you run out of things to do in Gatlinburg, consider a day trip within the area. Gatlinburg is just an hour and a half away from Asheville, so keep exploring the mountains and find out what different things to do with kids in Asheville there are to consider for a day trip! On the other side of the national park is Cherokee, North Carolina, which also has tourist attractions and is a fun place to spend an afternoon.
Things to do in Gatlinburg with kids
This list includes things for kids to do in Gatlinburg and neighboring Pigeon Forge since they’re so close together. After you’ve picked a destination, double check Smoky Mountain Coupons and print out or screenshot a coupon to save some money!
Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park– Get into the mountains and enjoy the lush greenery and beautiful wildlife of the area! Check out this list and choose one of these kid friendly hikes in smoky mountain national park. You can also drive and walk up to the Clingman’s Dome concrete overlook or simply cruise the Cades Cove loop in your car and look for bears! Kids will love doing the junior ranger program and earning a badge, accessible at any of the visitor’s centers.
Ride a zip line- Zip lines send you soaring through the air and give kids a nice adrenaline rush while exploring the tops of the tree canopy! Teenagers especially will have fun with this exciting outdoor activity.
Go to Anakeesta– A family theme park with a “dueling” side by side zipline so you can race each other! It’s easy to spend a full day here with all the other activities available.
Check out CLIMBworks– Spend hours zooming atop the trees in this dedicated zipline park.
See a show- Top off a day of exploring outside with family friendly entertainment in a show! This is a great way to relax if you spend the day hiking or swimming, especially during hot summer weather.
Channel your inner rogue at the Pirates Voyage dinner show– A lively show filled with pirates, mermaids, and merriment that your whole family can enjoy while eating dinner together.
Be amazed at the Impossibilities Magic Show– Family friendly magic, mind reading, and shenanigans from two local performers!
Soar into the sky on an aerial lift- See the mountains from up high on a mechanical lift into the sky! Not for the faint of heart, these are an easy way to see for miles without hiking up high elevations.
Visit Ober Gatlinburg– A mini theme park with something to do year round, you can ride the lift and then try skiing, tubing, an alpine slide and more! This is the only skiing available in the area during winter.
Visit the Titanic Museum– Young history buffs will enjoy this museum, with hands on exhibits and artifacts on display. Live action actors make this historic ship come to life, squeezing in some fun education in between coasters and lazy rivers.
Take a theme park day at Dollywood– Ride rollercoasters, enjoy shows, eat food, and watch the craftspeople at work at this Americana-themed entertainment spot! If you’ve ever been to Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO, this has a similar vibe with country music, American fried food, and down home ambiance at every turn.
Hit up the waterpark with Dollywood Splash Country– For hot days, this huge water park will be a surefire hit with slides, a lazy river, and wave pool. There are age appropriate attractions for everyone here!
Take a horseback ride; saddle up with Smoky Mountain Riding Stables or Sugarlands Riding Stables– Ride inside the park with their well trained horses & professional trail leaders. This is a special way to see the trails and hopefully spot some wildlife!
Go white water rafting with Nantahala Outdoor Center– Get wild as a family along the Pigeon River, inside the park. This is on rougher water, full of heart pumping excitement and challenges as you battle the rapids.
Explore at Magiquest– A unique, live action game with a fantasy theme will have wizard and magic loving kids thrilled! Technology lets you go on quests, solve problems, and slay dragons. There is also indoor pirate themed putt-putt here, perfect for rainy days.
Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies– See penguins, sharks, tropical fish, and even pet a stingray at this popular aquarium. You can pay extra for special experiences like feeding turtles and riding in a glass bottom boat!
Be shocked at the Ripley’s Odditorium– Strange exhibits, artifacts, and questionable oddities will keep kids on their toes and entertained. Not for kids who suffer from nightmares, but teens and tweens will love this weird spot!
Float peacefully in Deep Creek with Deep Creek Tube Center– If white water rapids aren’t your style, float in peace alongside waterfalls inside the park. Hikers on the Deep Creek trails will wave as you drift by on the quiet water.
Work together and defeat the Ripley’s Amazing Mirror Maze– Navigate through this family friendly maze, surrounded by reflections of yourself! This is a unique family bonding challenge!
Visit an old-time candy shop- Snack on some sugar to fuel your downtown fun, stopping in at one of the several area candy shops. Aunt Mahalia’s lets you see the candy being made the old-fashioned way through the window, Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen has top notch taffy, and Kilwins is the best place for tasty fudge.
Take in the views up in the Gatlinburg Space Needle– If you prefer enclosed spaces when soaring into the sky, skip the ski lifts and go up in the space needle! If you’re scared of heights, you can also enjoy the on side arcade or escape room.
Be amazed at WonderWorks– Part kids museum, part indoor amusement park, this place will keep kids of all ages busy and having fun with the exhibits, laser tag, or ropes course. This place is busy and loud, with flashing lights and loud music, so kids with sensory sensitivities will want to steer clear.
Try a mountain coaster- Propelled by gravity, these coasters are fun for everyone to ride and marvel at! There are two in the area; one at Ober Gatlinburg and one at Rowdy Bear Mountain and it’s a unique experience amidst the Smokys.
Hit the putt-putt links at Hillbilly Golf– A classic family activity, this course is themed with Appalachian sight gags and funny jokes!
Get spooked at Mysterious Mansion– This year-round haunted house isn’t appropriate for little kids but big kids will get a kick out of getting scared during summer instead of waiting for Halloween!
Take a Double Decker Bus Tour– You can buy an on-off ticket and cruise about town to the main attractions while saving your feet, or take a specialty tour to a specific location with your kids.
Catch a “5D” Movie at Ripley’ Moving Theater– These movies have your seat moving and you feeling like you’re actually there as all 5 senses are activated watching the show!
Stephanie Woodson is a traveler and blogger at Explore More Clean Less. Her site focuses on family travel with young kids, sharing their past adventures alongside fun round-ups featuring other bloggers’ experiences like the Best Castles for Kids & the Coolest Playgrounds Across the World. See where she’s been recently on Instagram at @exploremorecleanless.