Disclosure: I was provided with lodging and complimentary attraction experiences in Gatlinburg, TN. All opinions are my own.
If you’re looking for the ultimate family vacation that includes relaxing down-time as well as a bustling town with activities for the entire family, Gatlinburg, Tennessee is where you need to go. Situated in eastern Tennessee, Gatlinburg is known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Regardless of the time of year you choose to visit you will always find something to do. Here are 11 Family Friendly Things to Do in Gatlinburg, TN.
11 Family Friendly Things to Do in Gatlinburg, TN
There is so much to see and do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Whether you are looking to unplug and spend time in nature, or visit the many attractions in town, Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the perfect place for a family vacation. I have prepared a list of 11 Family Friendly Things to Do in Gatlinburg, TN.
1. Stay in Town
This was my first time to visit Gatlinburg and stay in a hotel in town. Every other visit we have stayed in a cabin several miles away. While the added space and kitchen amenities found in a cabin are ideal, being able to walk to all attractions and not have to pay for parking was so very convenient. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg which is conveniently located on River Road, one street away from the strip. My kids were thrilled to be able to swim in the indoor pool in the middle of winter. I personally enjoyed being able to sit in the hot tub at the end of every evening next to the fire pit. If you are wanting to spend time visiting the many attractions in town, I highly recommend booking your stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg.
2. Ride the Gatlinburg Ski Lift
One of my favorite things to do in the Smoky Mountains is to ride the Gatlinburg Ski Lift. The view is absolutely incredible as you ride to the top of Crockett Mountain and back down. Adult tickets are $16 and children’s tickets are $13. Military discounts are offered.
Distracted Tip: Afraid of heights? This is not the attraction for you.
3. Ride to the Top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle
The Gatlinburg Space Needle is a 407 foot tower with an observation deck at the top offering a 360 degree view of the City of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains. Tickets to ride the glass elevator to the top are $10.95 for adults and $5.95 for children ages 4-11. Discounts for senior citizens and military personnel are available.
Distracted Tip: Once again, if you are afraid of heights this is not the attraction for you. I myself am not overly afraid of heights but did find myself a little dizzy when looking over the railing.
4. Spend the day at Ober Gatlinburg
The Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park and Ski Area is an absolute must-do when visiting the Smoky Mountains. Ride the aerial tramway cable car to the top of the mountain where you can spend an entire day enjoying the many activities. Ober Gatlinburg attractions include:
- Wildlife Encounter
- Ski Mountain Coaster
- Snow Tubing (November-April)
- Indoor Ice Skating Rink
- Alpine Slide
- Scenic Chairlift
- Mini Golf
- Water Raft Rides (Spring & Summer only)
- Snow Skiing (November-April)
- Restaurants & Shopping
- Snow Boarding (November-April)
- Amaze’n Maze (closed in winter)
- Kiddie Land Playground
- Indoor Carousel
The highlight of our visit was snow tubing. So. Much. Fun!
5. Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is both educational and fun. Guests can make reservations to waddle with the penguins (up close penguin encounters), splash with the rays (actually get in the water with the stingrays), and sleep with the sharks (add a sleep over to your visit). You can also take a ride on the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure.
Aquarium exhibits include an Ocean Realm, Shark Lagoon, Touch a Ray Bay, Tropical Rainforest, Coral Reef, Discovery Center, Gallery of the Seas, Stingray Bay, and a Penguin Playhouse. Ever wanted to pet a stingray or a jellyfish? You can here. This is the perfect place to visit with the kids especially when it is cold or rainy outside. Admission to the aquarium is $34.99 for adults, $19.99 for children ages 6-11, and $9.99 for children ages 2-5. Discounted tickets can be purchased in advance online.
6. Play Mini-Golf
Living near the beach one of my family’s favorite things to do is play mini-golf. There is no shortage of mini-golf locations in the Great Smoky Mountains. Treasure Quest Mini-Golf, located on the main strip in Gatlinburg, offers an indoor 18-hole facility with 5 of the holes in black light. The entire course is handicap accessible and playable by wheelchair. We visited the week before Christmas when it was raining and the temperatures were rather chilly so being able to play in an indoor course was ideal. Treasure Quest is open from 10:00 am – 10:00 pm Monday through Thursday and 9:00 am – midnight Friday through Sunday. If you’re looking for a late night activity with the kids, this is the place.
7. Tour the Hollywood Star Cars Museum
One of my husband’s favorite things to do in Gatlinburg is tour the Hollywood Star Cars Museum. The museum is home to over 40 vehicles from some of our favorite movies, TV shows and celebrities. Are you a fan of the Fast & Furious movie franchise? You can get up close a personal with the 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by Paul Walker in The Fast and the Furious and the Aston Martin DB9 driven by Jason Statham in Furious 7.
Also included in the museum is the Ecto-1 from The Ghostbusters, the 1990 Chevy Lumina driven by Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder, and the 1981 DeLorean Time Machine driven by Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. You can also see vehicles owned by celebrities including Mike Tyson, Sir Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, and Elvis. Admission tickets are $12.99 for adults and $6.99 for children (ages 6-12), plus tax. Make sure to set aside at least an hour to fully enjoy everything the museum has to offer.
8. Hike the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the perfect place for people who like to walk in the mountains. With over 150 different maintained trails within the park (over 800 miles) hikers have many options to keep them busy. Worried about the kids being able to keep up? There are many different kid-friendly trails available so the whole family can enjoy.
My favorite place to visit within the park is Cades Cove. This breathtaking valley surrounded by mountains offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing within the park. The 11-mile one-way loop road circles the cove, allowing you to drive through at your own pace. Make sure to set aside at least 2-4 hours to fully be able to enjoy the cove. The drive from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove is 27 miles, however, the drive takes approximately 1 hour. Please don’t let this deter you from visiting as words cannot describe how beautiful it is.
Distracted Tip: Wildlife viewing is best when visiting first thing in the morning or late afternoon, just before dusk. We arrived at 3:00 p.m. and were able to get up close and personal with an 8-point buck.
9. Eat at a Pancake House
One thing you will notice in Gatlinburg is there is no shortage of pancake houses. Seriously, there is one on almost every corner. While there are many different pancake houses to choose from, my family is a firm believer in Flapjacks Pancake Cabin. With three locations in Gatlinburg you will have ample opportunity to try this place out. From the moment you walk in the door you are greeted with a smile. I have honestly never eaten anywhere before where the employees seem genuinely happy to serve you. The service is impeccable and the food is out of this world.
If you have a sweet tooth you must try their Reese’s Peanut Butter and chocolate chip pancakes. Amazing. Another item on the menu that I highly recommend is the honey dipped chicken and waffles. Their chicken will melt in your mouth.
10. Tour the Ole Smoky Holler Distillery
I was blown away by our experience at the Ole Smoky Distillery in Gatlinburg. We were provided with a private tour of the distillery as well as an opportunity to sample some of their famous moonshine. Let me just say their Cinnamon Whiskey puts Fireball to shame. True statement.
A tour of a distillery is considered family friendly? In my opinion, absolutely. We took our kids with us and they were fascinated to see how the distillery operated. They also really enjoyed sitting in the rocking chairs listening to live music.
11. Visit The Incredible Christmas Place
Regardless of the time of year a visit to the incredible Christmas Place is an absolute must-do. Located just outside of Gatlinburg in Pigeon Forge, this store is known as the South’s Largest Christmas Shop. Commemorate your visit to the Smoky Mountains with a one-of-a-kind ornament. You can find just about any kind of Christmas decor here.
Have you recently visited the Gatlinburg area? What are your favorite things to do? If you are interested in planning a trip, I encourage you to reach out to the Gatlinburg Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. They will be happy to answer any questions you may have and mail you information on the area.