Millions of people visit the Smokies each year because of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most visited national park in the National Park Service, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts 800+ miles of trails ripe for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The 11-mile Cades Cove loop road is home to an impressive diversity of wildlife, wildflowers, and trees. Roads in and around the national park are perfect for scenic drives and feature interesting historic sites and buildings.
With so many things to do and see in this massive natural playground, it’s no wonder it’s such a draw for tourists. And while families can find plenty of fun in the national park and in community parks in the area, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are also home to dozens of family-friendly attractions that are also a big reason so many people visit the area.
If you’re planning a family vacation and are looking for some fun outside of the national park, read on. Our top family-friendly attractions in the Smokies have something for every age, from the little ones to the grandparents!
Dollywood in Pigeon Forge is the ultimate family-friendly attraction in the Smokies. The 150-acre campus boasts 40+ rides, 15 live shows, tons of great restaurants and cafes, plenty of shops, and lots of carnival games and prizes. The Dollywood Express is a fun ride around the park, and 2017 brings 3 new rides! Dollywood also hosts the annual Festival of Nations, taking you on a virtual trip around the world with music, food, art, dance, and more.
Dollywood’s Splash Country
If you’re in the Smokies with family this summer, don’t miss out on Dollywood’s Splash Country. Named a Top 10 Waterpark by TripAdvisor, the 35-acre park features rides, slides, and water features for every age. You can fly down Tailspin Racer, get soaked at Bear Mountain Fire Tower, relax on a float at the Downbound Float Trip in the lazy river, or let the little ones splash around at Little Creek Falls. They even have canopies and retreats where you can keep cool and shaded (and order food!) between rides.
Gatlinburg Space Needle
Take a glass elevator 400+ feet in the air for 360-degree views of the city below at the Gatlinburg Space Needle in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg. It also has an arcade and pizza place, and it’s the host of the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show in Gatlinburg.
The Escape Game
If your family loves a challenge, be sure to book a spot at The Escape Game at The Island in Pigeon Forge. You’ll have 1 hour to break out of a locked room, figuring out riddles, decoding secret messages, and putting together puzzles – all while working together. Try Gold Rush, The Heist, Prison Break, or Classified – or try a new one each day during your getaway!
Skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in winter…the Ski Mountain Coaster, Alpine Slide, and mini golf in spring and summer…indoor ice skating, arcade games, and shopping year-round…Ober Gatlinburg is a one-stop shop for family fun no matter what time you visit the Smokies. Take the Aerial Tramway up from downtown Gatlinburg for incredible Smoky Mountain views (and save when you stay with Cabins for YOU).
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Get hands-on at Touch-A-Ray Bay, explore underseas below the sharks and fish in the underwater tunnel, get up close and personal with the waddling creatures in the Penguin Playhouse, or explore Gallery of the Seas, the Discovery Center, Shark Lagoon, Coral Reef, Ocean Realm, Tropical Rainforest, and more!
Smoky Mountain Ziplines
If your family likes to get their adrenaline pumping to have fun, head over to Smoky Mountain Ziplines in Pigeon Forge. Their guides will take you flying through the trees, giving you beautiful views of the Smoky Mountain woods and a thrill at the same time.
Ripley’s Haunted Adventure
Not for the faint of heart, this downtown Gatlinburg haunted house features Hollywood-grade makeup and props. Live actors are always ready to pop out – 365 days a year – in the 10,000+ square-foot space.
Hollywood Wax Museum
The perfect place for funny shots with the family, the Hollywood Wax Museum lets you “meet” celebrities, from the kids’ favorite pop stars to the grandparents’ favorites from classic movies. There is even trivia throughout the attraction, a horror movie section, and a VIP ticket option. When you’re on your way to the Smokies, you can’t miss the celebrity “Mount Rushmore” on the Parkway.
With 6 wonder zones – Natural Disasters, Physical Challenge Zone, Light & Sound Zone, Space Discovery, Imagination Lab, and Far Out Art Gallery – WonderWorks (the upside-down building on the Parkway) is the ultimate hands-on attraction for families. There’s something exciting around every corner, perfectly blending education with entertainment. They even have an indoor ropes course and laser tag arena!