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Editor Pick

10 Best Ideas for Family Fun in the Smokies

Updated: June 14, 2024

Written by

AAA Travel Editor, Sherry Mims

You get much more than a park when you visit the Smoky Mountains; you get a vacation destination for all ages. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts 12 million visitors on average, cementing its lead as America’s most visited national park. Not only do you experience beautiful mountain scenery with a number of recreational opportunities but also a land steeped with history and tradition. That, in turn, has drawn entertainment such as shopping and outdoor shows to the surrounding areas. Ranging from Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Townsend in Tennessee to Bryson City and Cherokee in North Carolina, these places to go in the Smokies are fun for the whole family.

Cades Cove

Townsend, Tennessee

This small community, preserved like a time capsule, harks back to hard-scrabble pioneer days. Visitors can see historical log homes and churches along the 11-mile loop as well as wildlife like deer and wild turkey within the park. Plan in advance to either take a ranger-led talk or traverse the area on horseback or bike.Read More


Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Singer Dolly Parton, who grew up in the Smokies, has worked tirelessly to promote the region and lends her name to one of the most popular Smoky Mountains attractions: Dollywood. Over the years, the theme park has grown to include roller coasters and even a water park. If you’re not much for rides, plan to browse the craft exhibits and catch various live music shows.Read More

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Bryson City, North Carolina

Options abound on this railroad, where you can choose from a number of scenic train rides; some are available on vintage locomotives. Sightseeing as well as rafting and ziplining packages are popular, especially if you decide to visit the Nantahala Gorge and its Nantahala Outdoor Center, a hub for outdoor adventures. For an even cooler twist, check the calendar for themed excursions, such as the Polar Express.Read More

The Inn at Christmas Place

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

This themed AAA Three Diamond® hotel celebrates the holidays year-round and offers a number of amenities designed with families in mind. There are lush gardens, indoor and outdoor pools and Christmas-themed shopping across the street as well as nearby Pigeon Forge music venues, but the best perk of all is an on-site visit from Santa himself—from summer through December, he sings to children during his biweekly stops at the hotel.Book Now

Ober Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

When you’re in Gatlinburg, it’s basically a time-honored tradition to take the Aerial Tramway up to Mount Harrison. Once there, you can enjoy the views, shop, ice skate in the indoor ice rink or take in a seasonal attraction; think skiing or snowboarding in winter or riding the Ski Mountain Coaster in summer.Read More

The Old Mill Restaurant

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

This is an attraction as much as a restaurant with a functioning gristmill that provides cornmeal and flour for the restaurant, so you’ll want to order home-style comfort food with these special ingredients in mind. One great option is the rainbow trout with a side of corn chowder—top it off with a pecan pie. Afterward, you can go buy a tasty souvenir like grits or pancake mix in the restaurant’s store.Read More

Peter's Pancakes and Waffles

Cherokee, North Carolina

This local favorite breakfast place offers a hearty selection of eggs, French toast, and of course, pancakes and waffles. People come for miles to eat down-home favorites by the scenic Oconaluftee River. If you’re extra hungry, order the Country Boy Special, which comes with eggs, pancakes, and your choice of ham, bacon or corned beef hash.Read More

Tanger Outlets

Sevierville, Tennessee

Anyone who’s been to the Smokies knows that there’s no shortage of places to shop. However, this outlet mall is the best in the area, offering an assortment of apparel and accessories at great prices. If you want to shop until you drop near all the local attractions, this is the place to go.

“Unto These Hills”

Cherokee, North Carolina

The long-running drama shares the history of the Cherokee people from their storied origins to the heart-rending Trail of Tears and its legacy. Performed in the open-air Mountainside Theatre from late May to mid-August, the play includes elaborate costumes and special effects, as well as singing and dancing.Read More

Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Waterpark

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

This AAA Three Diamond property is big enough for everyone, including your extended family, with accommodations ranging from a studio to a five-bedroom villa. It’s conveniently located by Great Smoky Mountains National Park and close to Gatlinburg attractions and fudge shops. If you feel like staying in, you can relax in the spa, play mini golf or hit the indoor water park.Book Now

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Written by

AAA Travel Editor, Sherry Mims

Sherry is an experienced #AAAEditor and former journalist who enjoys writing informative travel articles and reviews. Her commitment to making meaningful connections with people and places fuels her work for AAA. Favorite activities range from skiing to backpacking abroad and taking ghost tours.

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