Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a vacationer’s paradise! From hiking trails and amazing wonders to classic rides and bold adventures, there are unforgettable experiences around each corner. And every season offers a one-of-a-kind marvel! June through August brings warm weather, outdoor activities and the phenomenal smoky fog with bluish tint that gives the Smoky Mountains its signature name. Not to be outdone, September through November are the best times to experience the changing colors of fall when foliage transforms from greens to yellows, reds, oranges and every shade in between. Around December when the temps go low the snow-covered mountains transform into a winter wonderland and put on another show. As the ice melts and spring rolls in, the scene is followed by a dazzling display of colors that herald the rebirth of nature as the cycle starts over again. So gas up the car for a road trip of hop on a train or plane, an unforgettable vacation is waiting in the Smoky terrain. To get you started, we've put together this list of 10 Top Attractions for Families in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge or read these things to do in the Smoky Mountains in our travel blog.
1. Ober Gatlinburg. No matter the season, there is always a long list of fun and exciting things to do. During the cold months, Ober Gatlinburg becomes a winter playground with snow-making machines extending the season if it ends earlier than expected. Here guests can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snow tubing and other activities on ice. When the snow melts and the weather warms, opt for Summer Tubing, Alpine Slide, Rock Wall, Wildlife Encounters, Water Raft Rides, Mini Golf, Kiddie Land rides and the list goes on all year long.
2. Dollywood. This is by far one of the hottest attractions for families in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area - and totally worth a visit! Dollywood offers classic amusement park rides like wild thrill rides, mild carousels and water rides at Dollywood’s Splash Country. One of its most popular rides is the Dollywood Express, a coal-fired steam engine that takes you on a 20-minute, five-mile journey through the foothills of the Smokies so you can soak up the spectacular scenery of nature and take pictures along the way.
Guests can also enjoy live entertainment that changes every season to feature fresh musical talents and traditional style artists showcasing woodcarvings, glass blowing, jewelry making and other amazing creations. The onsite restaurants serve Southern cuisine while food vendors offer eclectic menus of everything in between.
Tip: One-day passes for guests 10-61 years old start at $79 while special pricing is available for younger children and seniors. Be sure to check the website for resort, cabin, theme parks, water park discounts and other special offers.
3. Smoky Mountains. There’s no better place to see nature’s marvel up close than the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, TN. This is God’s country and few things can compare to the crisp mountain air, breathtaking panoramic views, lush valleys and the feeling of accomplishment you get from standing on top of the mountain like king – or queen of the world! As one of the largest protected areas in the country, this unspoiled beauty is also home to an abundance of diverse wildlife, ancient culture and endless family friendly adventures.
If you have your sight set to visit, June, July and August through fall are the best times to see nature’s beauty in all her glory. The rich tapestry of red, orange, gold and yellow appear in the fall months of September, October and November. Keep in mind that the fall colors peak in October while less crowds visit in September and November. Spring is the perfect time to view dazzling displays of flowering plants that reemerge after the snow retreats. Summer’s heat and humidity herald the only time to experience the “smoky fog” from the area’s vegetation that gives the mountains their name. Summer is also the best time to watch bear, elk, wildflowers and fireflies.
If you are looking for a stress-free woosah retreat where time slows down and troubles fade, this is the perfect spot to renew yourself and bond with the family.
4. Downtown Gatlinburg. Add the gorgeous downtown area to your list of places to visit. Catch a free ride on the Gatlinburg Trolley for the best seat in the house and enjoy the beautiful sights around town. Be sure to stop at The Needle and enjoy 200 square feet of gaming action, restaurants and the famous Gatlinburg Space Needle. The 407’ observation deck offers 360-degree views of the stunning Smokies and Downtown Gatlinburg stretch.
If your family loves the theater, the Iris Theater is the best place to catch eye-popping live performances, and funny shows that serve up plates of laughter. Other attractions in Downtown Gatlinburg include Guinness World Records Museum and The Captured, a live escape game and other exciting happenings.
Tip: Tickets to Space Needle start at $7.95.
5. SkyLift. Adventure starts the moment you arrive! Board the state-of-the-art 3-seat SkyLift chair and soak up amazing views as you ascend 500 feet up Crockett Mountain. While you’re there if you feel adventurous, visit the one and only Gatlinburg Skybridge for an even more spectacular experience! Its claim to fame is being the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America that stretches 680 feet across the sky to offer incredible panoramic views of the valley below and mountains in the distance. If you’re up for the challenge, walk the full length and come back again for an incredible experience you’ll never forget! Tickets for the Skybridge start at $19.95.
If you prefer to keep your feet firmly planted to the ground, lounge on the SkyDeck and take in the breathtaking view. Outdoor seating is available for you to enjoy snacks, snapshots and best of all, soak up Gatlinburg’s best sights!
6. Anakeesta Mountain. Feel the excitement as you soar 600’ high to the top of the Anakeesta Mountain and into the whimsical Firefly Village onboard a 4-person open-air chair or enclosed in a gondola cabin with seating for 6. From this vantage point you will see the natural habitats of forest friends and maybe a bear or two. If the views from up high are not your elixir for excitement, opt for a scenic guided tour through the 70-acre forest on Ridge Rambler vehicles.
The treetop Skywalk is another adventure the family can experience together. At 800’ long and 50-60 feet up high, it is well known as the longest tree-based bridge in North America and one of the best ways to get a bird’s eye view of Smoky’s awesome vistas. Tickets to Anakeetsa are $21.99 for adults and $17.99 for children.
7. Gatlin Fun Center. No matter your age, the Gatlin Fun Center offers some form of fun for everyone. Whether Bumper Cars, Mini Golf course, Escape Rooms, Laser Tag, there’s even a Rope Course, Laser Maze and other fun escapades that will provide loads of fun. You may purchase single tickets, but for the best value, mix and match any of the 6 activities for only $19.99.
8. Island of Pigeon Forge. There are 23 acres of family friendly entertainment, including 80 shops, restaurants and attractions where you can shop, eat and play. For the best view of the Great Smoky Mountains in the distance, take a ride on the 200-foot Observation Wheel with glass gondolas that are climate controlled and hold 4-6 people. Capture amazing pictures by the Island Show Fountains programmed to perform to music and light year-round.
There are also Escape Games, Laser Tag, Bumper Cars, Island Ropes Course, you name it, they have it or a ride close to it! And when you’re hungry, head to Auntie Anne’s, Island Yogurt, Yee Haw Snack Shack, Timberwood Grill and others for delicious grub!
9. Ripley's Aquarium. The best thing about Ripley’s is that you get a one-of-a-kind experience that will entertain and engage everyone in the family. Whether you spend a night to “sleep with the sharks” – or at least under their watchful eye, see a dive show, join a scavenger hunt or get an up-close and personal look at Stingrays, giant Sea Turtles, Green Moray Eel, Grunts, Squirrelfish, Sawfish, enormous Sharks and Penguins – yes Penguins, this will be an educational and bonding experience with a touch of adventure for both kids and adults.
10. If you have a need for speed, head to The Track for thrills, spills and tons of excitement in between. There are Go Carts, Thrill Zones, Fat Daddy Arcade games, Mini Golf, Blaster Boats, Bumper Cars, Family Rides and next level fun for the whole family.
Last Minute Wrap!
If you’ve been combing the Internet to find a killer vacation spot that will please everyone, tap into your sense of adventure and choose the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area for your next family adventure! There’s an endless list of fantastic escapades, offbeat Smoky attractions and unique places that will inspire even the littlest explorer. Feel abandoned excitement as you breathe in the fresh mountain air and capture memorable shots of wildflowers, waterfalls and gems found nowhere else. Share in the exuberance from childlike joy as the kids experience whitewater rafting on Pigeon River, Pigeon Forge snow for the first time or some novelty they will remember forever.
And just in case you prefer a different kind of vacation experience, be sure to check out Myrtle Beach attractions for families, best winter activities for kids in NYC or if you’re thinking of heading more south, check out family friendly hotels in Orlando for the best bang for your buck, attractions on International Drive, things to do in Miami Beach and other amazing options in our travel blog. In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” so savor the adventures and meaningful moments with the people you love. Happy travelling!