24 May 2023
The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee are beloved by all, and for very good reason. There are activities to suit every taste, no matter a person's age or interests. In fact, the abundance of things to do can even feel a bit overwhelming, simply because there are so many options. We've sifted through the offerings and narrowed them down to make life easier for you. If you're a parent or guardian with preschool or elementary aged kids, here's our take on the top five Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge activities for families with young kids.
UNDERWATER WONDERS: RIPLEY'S AQUARIUM OF THE SMOKIES
88 River Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738 | Hours: M-Th, 9am-9pm; F-Su, 9am-10pm | (865) 430-8808
Come and explore the wonders of the ocean like never before at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. This attraction offers a range of exciting experiences, from meeting the penguins at Penguin Playhouse to touching the stingrays at Ray Bay, and even taking a ride on the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure. The Aquarium is packed with interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages, with a host of special events held throughout the year. Get up close and personal with the adorable penguins in a uniquely interactive exhibit where you can view them from above or below the water and even visit their private beach. Journey through Shark Lagoon to experience the beauty and danger of the ocean as you encounter thousands of fish of every shape and size, including some of the most fearsome and toothy sharks. This is a must-see exhibit that will give you a whole new perspective on the ocean. The whole family will have a blast at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, and you'll each learn something new, guaranteed!
Ticket prices vary based on age, which makes it more affordable with younger children. Adult tickets (ages 12 and up) are $39.99. Children ages 6–11 are $24.99, and kids ages 2–5 are only $9.99. Kids under 2 are free. Pro Tip: Your entry ticket is good for the entire day, so don't feel like you have to cram all of the sightseeing in at once. Consider visiting part of the aquarium in the morning, breaking at lunchtime for a meal and a rest time back in your chalet. Once everyone has a second wind, head back to the aquarium and continue on with the fun. There is certainly enough to see and do to make a full day of this attraction!
A CHILDREN'S MUSEUM EVEN ADULTS WILL LOVE: WONDERWORKS
100 Music Rd., Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 | Hours: 9am-9pm daily | (865) 868-1800
WonderWorks Indoor Amusement Park stands out as a premier destination in Pigeon Forge. Spanning an impressive 42,000 square feet, WonderWorks offers an extraordinary blend of education and entertainment. This captivating amusement park features over 100 interactive exhibits that ignite curiosity and unleash boundless imagination. Prepare for a thrilling experience as both adults and children immerse themselves in the dynamic displays, including exhilarating 4-D rides, captivating science exhibits, a whimsical bubble room, an exhilarating rock wall, and an expansive three-story indoor ropes course. Prepare for an unforgettable adventure in this truly enjoyable attraction.
Ticket prices vary based on age. Adult tickets (ages 13–59) are $32.99. Senior citizens (60+) and children (ages 4–12) receive discounted admission at $24.99. Children 3 and under are free. In addition, because Wonderworks is part of the Xplorie program, guests of Mountain Laurel Chalets will receive one free ticket to the attraction for each day of your stay. Pro Tip: Although it might feel counterintuitive, make plans to visit WonderWorks on a sunny day to avoid big crowds and long lines as most folks tend to visit attractions like this on cloudy or rainy days.
ADVENTURES IN NATURE: BIG CREEK EXPEDITIONS RAFTING
3671 Hartford Road, Hartford TN 37753 | Office Hours: 8am-5pm daily | (877) 642-7238
Get ready for a thrilling experience while rafting on the picturesque Pigeon River, conveniently situated near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Big Creek Expeditions offers two incredible rafting trips that cater to different preferences. For those seeking an adrenaline-pumping adventure, the white water trip (minimum age is 8) on the Upper Pigeon River is perfect. If a more relaxed experience is what you're after, the gentle float trip (minimum age is 3) on the Lower Pigeon River is a great choice. With experienced guides by your side, safety and enjoyment are top priorities at Big Creek Expeditions. Prepare for a fantastic time and be prepared to be awestruck by the breathtaking views of the surrounding natural beauty. So gather your crew and get ready for an unforgettable adventure on the Pigeon River!
Excursion prices vary based on selection. The Upper Pigeon white water rafting trip and Lower Pigeon float trip both start at $46.95 per person. Operations run March–September (white water rafting) and April–October (float trip). This, too, is an Xplorie-approved adventure, and all MLC guests will receive one free rafting trip for each day of your stay. Pro Tip: Allow our Xplorie concierge to book your group's rafting trip (including your free ticket), and ask them to use promo code BCE$10 at checkout to receive $10 off each of your remaining tickets.
COASTERS & CARNIVAL RIDES: DOLLYWOOD
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 | Hours & Calendar | (800) DOLLYWOOD
Dollywood the perfect family attraction. If you love roller coasters, you'll be hooked on their impressive variety and tech-enhanced options. If you opt for slower, most youngster-friendly activities, Wildwood Grove has you covered. They even have a pre-K area with rides and activities that are perfect for the tiniest Dolly fans. In addition, their shows and live entertainment options will keep the entire family entertained. You can always count on the folks at Dollywood to offer high-quality, wholesome entertainment options for everyone in your crew. They have festivals and special events happening throughout the year, so make sure you check out what's happening during your upcoming trip to the Smokies.
Ticket prices vary. Multi-day tickets reduce the cost of the price per day. Combo tickets for Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country are also available. Additionally, there is great value in purchasing annual passes if you plan on visiting the park(s) more than once or twice in a calendar year. Again, this attraction is part of the Xplorie program, and guests will receive a free entry ticket to Dollywood (and Dollywood's Splash Country) for each day of your stay! Pro Tip: Stay all day! You don't need to leave the park for meals; they have a wide variety of mouth-watering menu options to choose from. The park's food is quite delicious!
BIKE RIDES, CRITTERS, AND A PICNIC: CADES COVE
5686 Cades Cove Loop Rd., Townsend, TN 37882 | Open daily except Christmas | (865) 436-7318
Cades Cove, nestled amidst the majestic Smoky Mountains, is a sprawling green valley renowned as one of the top attractions in the region. It presents exceptional opportunities for observing wildlife within the park. The area is frequented by numerous white-tailed deer, and visitors may also catch glimpses of black bears, coyotes, ground hogs, turkeys, raccoons, skunks, and other fascinating creatures. To enhance the experience, every Wednesday from May 3 to September 27, 2023, the Cades Cove Loop Road becomes free from vehicle traffic, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to relish the 11-mile loop at their own pace.
The scenic cove encompasses an 11-mile, one-way loop road that encircles the valley, offering motorists a leisurely journey to admire the scenery. Exploring Cades Cove typically requires a minimum of two to four hours, with additional time if you choose to explore some of the area's trails on foot. During the tourist season in summer and fall, as well as on weekends throughout the year, traffic tends to be heavy.
Along the loop road, you'll encounter several enchanting landmarks, including three churches, a functioning gristmill, barns, log houses, and meticulously restored structures from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To learn about the historical significance of these buildings and the lives of the people who once inhabited them, be sure to pick up the self-guiding tour booklet available at the entrance to the loop road.
Cades Cove also serves as a gateway to numerous hiking trails, including the scenic five-mile roundtrip trail leading to Abrams Falls and the shorter Cades Cove Nature Trail. For those seeking more challenging treks, the trails to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top (immortalized by a popular song) begin their ascent from the cove.
A leisurely picnic is always in order when one visits Cades Cove. There are plenty of places to spread out a blanket and kick back. After you eat, a post-lunch nap in the midday sun offers a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of activity; just make sure someone keeps watch or you might wake up face to face with a racoon!
There are no tickets necessary to visit Cades Cove, but Great Smoky Mountains National Park now requires a paid parking tag to be displayed if your vehicle is parked for longer than 10 minutes. Pro Tip: Pack plenty of water and snacks for the kids. A family hike is always more fun when everyone's blood sugar is stable!
Mountain Laurel Chalets has a wide variety of rental properties available for you to choose from.
We've highlighted a few of our favorite homes for families below (think bunk beds, pool tables, arcade games, game rooms, theater rooms and more). Book your stay today and starting planning your kid-friendly getaway to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area!
APPALACHIAN DREAM LODGE: twin-over-full bunk beds, foosball table, hot tub
HIKER'S LODGE: twin bunk beds, pool table, game room, hot tub
MOUNTAIN HIDEAWAY: pool table, game room, theater room, hot tub
HIGH FIVE: game room, pool table, hot tub
MOUNTAIN VIEW: pool table, theater room, hot tub