Gatlinburg Family Vacation

Starting to plan your next family vacation? I recommend going to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area in Tennessee. These two towns are about 8 miles apart via the Great Smoky Mountains Parkway.

This area is so gorgeous and very family friendly. It is the perfect choice for your next family vacation.

When to Go

Vacationing in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area is great any time of the year. Each season has its benefits and different experiences.

We went over our Spring Break in March. It would also be fun during the summer although likely much more busier.  

I know the fall is absolutely gorgeous with all of the leaf color. Winter would also be phenomenal to cozy up in a cabin and have an amazing view of the snowy mountains. 

Overall, I really think you can’t go wrong with the time of year to visit. There are advantages for visiting in each season.

When deciding which time of year you want to go, I would think about what exactly you want to do there.

If you want to spend some time at Great Smoky Mountain National Park you probably want to go during June, July, August or early fall. When we were there in March there were still a few parts of the park closed from winter. 

No matter when you go, there are SO many attractions you can visit and enjoy in this area year round.

How Long to Stay

I would say that staying 4 days is sufficient but that 5 days would be even better. There is enough to do in the area that I think you could easily even do a week if you wanted to. 

Where to Stay

The Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area has so many great vacation rental options. I get so excited when I find a vacation spot with excellent vacation rentals and this is definitely one of those areas. 

We stayed in a cabin in Sevierville which is about a 20 minute drive to Gatlinburg and 13 minutes to Pigeon Forge.

Sevierville is a mountain town with indescribable views of the Smoky Mountains.

Our rental had humongous windows and three decks with absolutely stunning views of the mountains. You definitely cannot go wrong with a vacation rental in this area.

If you are looking for a hotel or resort, I would suggest Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa. They have junior suites that can sleep up to 6 guests. It is one of the most family friendly resorts. DreamMore also has gorgeous indoor and outdoor pools plus so much to do around the resort. 

There are many other great options for hotels and resorts in the area too. 

What To Do

There is SO much to do for families in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area.

Take a photo with every bear statue you see

This was not on our original list of activities for our trip but our boys noticed that there were tons of bear statues, and they were EVERYWHERE!

They decided they wanted to take a picture with every bear statue they saw. This turned into a very fun activity that I would suggest your family do too!

Meander through downtown Gatlinburg

The main strip in Gatlinburg is .8 miles long and has so much to see and do! There are lots of cute touristy shops, restaurants, and attractions along this strip as well as some bear statues. 

When you arrive in Gatlinburg, I would suggest first checking out downtown and making some plans of what you want to do and even do a couple of spontaneous things along the way.

For example, we stopped and did a mirror maze and played a game of laser tag. 

To learn more about downtown Gatlinburg, click here.

View of Downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Downtown Gatlinburg

Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

This aquarium was voted best aquarium by USA Today for numerous years so we had to check it out. The verdict–it is definitely a pretty amazing aquarium! We had a super fun time here. 

One unique thing about this aquarium that I had not seen before was the penguin parade. The penguins parade around the aquarium a couple of times a day. It is so cool! 

My kids always also have a blast in any type of play structure so they spent a significant amount of time playing here. 

Another cool area is the Penguin Playground. The kids can crawl through tunnels and get up close to the penguin exhibit. The Penguin Playground allows you to see the penguins both in their indoor and outdoor habitats. 

Definitely check out this aquarium if you get a chance.


This is a MUST DO! You need to for sure find time to go to Anakeesta. This was my favorite attraction in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area.

Anakeesta is a theme park up a mountain and it is AMAZING! To get to the summit, you have two options–ride the Chondola up or take the Ridge Rambler Adventure Vehicle. We took the Chondola up and the Ridge Rambler down. 

Some of the things to do at Anakeesta included with admission are the observation tower, treetop skywalk, a couple of challenge courses (kids WILL love), treehouse village play area, and a splash pad.

There are also some other activities for an extra cost including zip lining, mountain coaster, gem mining, and Astra Lumina (night walk) which is a new activity. 

Anakeesta also has many shops and dining options too as well as some bear statues and gorgeous views!

Read my post Ultimate Guide to Anakeesta for even MORE information.

The Island at Pigeon Forge

The Island is an outdoor mall and entertainment complex. There is so much to do here. I would recommend checking this area out too. 

One of our favorite things at the Island was the fountain show. The fountain show goes every half hour and plays two songs. It is very entertaining.

Another one of our favorite things about The Island was the amusement rides and other activities. Our two year old did a ropes course for toddlers which he really enjoyed. My 6 year old did the larger ropes course.

We also did the Mirror Maze and SkyFly: Soar America. We had a great time!

There is also great shopping and tons of great restaurants and fun snack shops. 

Young boy doing the toddler ropes course at The Island in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is also a MUST DO if you are in the area and is the reason that many people come here in the first place! Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park in the country. Pretty crazy!

First of all, make sure you get your family picture in front of the National Park sign. This is always a MUST DO for our family.

Second of all, make a stop at the visitor center to get your national park passport stamped, pick up your junior ranger booklet, grab some souvenirs, and take a look around. You can also get a map and ask the park rangers for recommendations or any questions you have.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has four visitor centers. The one closest to Gatlinburg is the Sugarlands Visitor Center. 

Next, find your adventure! After stopping at the Sugarlands Visitor Center we proceeded up the road a little bit to the Laurel Falls Trail. We got there fairly early and parking was already busy so we had to find a spot down the road a bit.

The Laurel Falls Trail is about 2.5 miles round trip. It is a beautiful hike and doable for kids and those newer to hiking.  It is so exciting to see the 80 ft Laurel Falls. We had so much fun taking pictures. I definitely recommend this hike for your family.

Some other sights in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that are recommended include Clingsman Dome. This is the highest point in the national park. When we were there the road to it was closed. If you do get to go when it is open, there is a paved path to an observation tower with amazing views. 

Note: I know parking here can get very tricky as it is a popular sight. 

Another Great Smoky Mountains activity is to drive the Cades Cove Loop or bike it. You can rent bikes on a first come first serve basis.

These are just a couple of the many sights and activities you can do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This will help you at least get your feet wet and feel like you experienced this amazing and popular national park.

Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway

This tramway not only has stunning views but also when you get to the top of the summit of Ober Mountain, there is SO much to do.

Some of these attractions include the mountain coaster, ice skating, ice bumper cars, mini golf, amusement rides, alpine slide, snow tubing, and so much more!

Note: Some of these attractions are available year round and some are seasonal.

Gatlinburg Space Needle

You can ride the glass elevators to the top of the observation tower for a 360 degree view of the surrounding area.

It has educational exhibits and there is also a large arcade and some other attractions onsite.

Gatlinburg Sky Bridge

The Sky Bridge stretches about 700 feet and you can walk across it! In the middle of it there is a glass floor that you can see through.

This would definitely be a super cool and unique experience.

Dollywood Theme Park

This is another great option for a way to spend a day or two in the area. Dollywood has tons of fun rides, attractions, restaurants, and more. The theme park is also known for being very friendly!

Mini golf

There are a ton of themed mini golf courses in the area. Super fun!

Horseback riding

Did you know that you can go horseback riding in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

There are four stables throughout the park that offer guided horseback rides. Additionally there is even a hayride around Cades Cove Loop Road that you can make reservations to do through Cades Cove Riding Stables.

This would be another fun and unique way to see parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Lots of fun museums

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge both have a ton of unique museums that are fun for families to check out. Below is a list of museums that I put together:

  • Titanic Museum (Pigeon Forge)
  • Hollywood Wax Museum (Pigeon Forge)
  • Hollywood Stars Cars Museum (Gatlinburg)
  • Gatlinburg Pinball Museum (Gatlinburg)
  • Alcatraz East Crime Museum (Pigeon Forge)
  • Beyond the Lens! Family Fun (Pigeon Forge)
  • Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (Gatlinburg)
  • Wonderworks (Pigeon Forge)

Where to Eat

There are so many great restaurants in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area. We ate at our vacation rental a few times and got take out. We had to take advantage of the stunning views from the large picnic table on our deck. 

We did eat at a couple of restaurants at The Island in Pigeon Forge.

One night we ate at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen–so good! They can seat a large family like ours which is great. The wait can be long though so consider going early or put your name in and then plan to explore The Island.

People eating at Paula Deen's Family Kitchen at The Island in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen

We also ate at Timberwood Grill at The Island. It was also delicious and had excellent service. This is also a great place for large groups. They had huge round tables to fit a large family.

I hope this helps you get an idea of all the fun things you can do and see in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

SAVE and PIN this post to help you with all your planning.

May you LOVE your adventure! KW

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