THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS: THE PERFECT FAMILY VACATION
If you are looking for the perfect family vacation that combines nature, adventure, thrill, fun, and excitement then, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great destination.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular national Parks in the country, so if you are looking for a more intimate experience try one of the least visited National Parks for fewer crowds.
Families with kids from toddlers to teenagers will enjoy this lush green oasis. Trust us, the whole family will enjoy this trip.
Our guide will help you make the most out of your time in the Great Smoky Mountains with kids. Please remember to follow the rules of the national park, we want to all continue to enjoy these beautiful places.
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BEST TIME TO VISIT THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS WITH KIDS
Many people will recommend visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in the summer, but honestly, it is too hot and crowded to enjoy.
The best time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains with kids is in the spring (late April to Mid June) or fall (late August to late October). This way, it won’t be as crowded or as hot and humid.
Nothing ruins a hike like excessive crowds and brutally hot weather.
If you want to enjoy the Smokies with kids, late spring and fall are the best times to visit.
SMOKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: KID-FRIENDLY HIKES
You can’t go to Smoky Mountain National Park and not do a few hikes. We all know kids are more difficult, so you want to stick to kid-friendly hikes.
For this guide, all our recommended hikes are less than five miles round trip. That means if you have a toddler, you may want to have a comfortable toddler carrier. (You’ll read why next)
Although some of these hikes can accommodate a stroller, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Laurel Falls (2.6 mi roundtrip)
Laurel Falls was hands-down my favorite hike, although, for us, it was more difficult than it should have been. The trail is only 2.6 miles roundtrip and should take 2 to 2.5 hours to complete.
Once you get to the top waterfall, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of an 80-foot waterfall.
This trail is great for kids because it is not steep, mostly shaded, and has no difficult crossings. It’s just a walk straight up and back, but the views on the way up are amazing.
Hiking Laurel Falls with a Toddler Story
Our son skipped his afternoon nap and decided to fall asleep 10 minutes before we arrived at the Smokies. Of course, we decided to let him sleep, and I made my way up the Laurel Falls while my wife stayed behind with our sleeping toddler.
After making it to the top of the waterfall, I spent 45 minutes enjoying the view and relaxing in the water.
When it was time to head back down, I figured my wife decided to stay in the car with the baby, and I’d see them in the parking lot. I was wrong.
I made it 30% back down the hill when I saw my wife pushing the stroller up the hill, my face dropped. Honestly, I wasn’t happy to see them lol.
Seeing them meant I had to walk back to the top of the waterfall (the things we do for family). I pushed the stroller up the hill and encountered a few rocky areas that required me to carry the stroller; with the baby inside.
For some reason, he thought this was hilarious; I didn’t.
All this could have been avoided if one of us remembered to pack the baby carrier. That is why I mention a toddler carrier more than once throughout this post, don’t be like me lol.
Noah “Bud” Ogle Self-Guiding Trail (0.8 mi loop)
The Noah “Bud” Ogle Self-Guiding Trail is one of the easiest and most kid-friendly trails in the Smokies. This trail is a loop around the Ogle Cabin. The family has roots in Gatlinburg, dating back to the early 1800s.
If you’d like to have more information, you can purchase a guide to provide more details on the sites and family.
As you continue on the trail, remain left to continue on the loop. You’ll eventually reach another part of their farm where there are tools that were used to help farmers cultivate their crops.
This is a cool place to explore with kids without a strenuous workout.
Grotto Falls (2.4 mi roundtrip)
To get to Grotto Falls, you must go through Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. When you get to stop number five, you can park in the large parking lot and start your hike.
Most of the hike towards the waterfall is uphill, but it is only 1.4 miles. There are a few stream-crossing, but nothing too difficult. Your little one will be able to make the trek to the spectacular views.
Grotto Falls is one of the only waterfalls that you can walk behind, how cool is that?
Caution: Do not climb the rocks near the waterfall; they are slippery and can result in falls leading to serious injury.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (5.5 mi one-way)
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a must when visiting the Smoky Mountains with kids. This trail isn’t a hike; it’s a road to drive through with stopping points to explore.
It is perfect for kids wanting to see historic homes, wildlife, and streams. The best part is, there isn’t much walking. Just be careful to drive slowly and to watch out for others enjoying the views.
Many people have spotted black bears while on this trail, so keep an eye out.
Porter’s Creek (4 mi roundtrip)
If you are looking for a more secluded hike away from crowds, head to Porter’s Creek Trail. It is in the Greenbrier section of the Smokies and gives you history along with beautiful nature.
Also, it is one of the areas of the park that is open year-round, so you can hike this path anytime. The elevation is lower than in other areas of the park, making it perfect for kids.
You’ll walk on a gravel pathway and have views of streams, trees, wildflowers (in the spring), and you’ll even pass by a cabin built in the late 1800s.
As you hike along the trail, you’ll reach a fork, continue left to remain on Porter’s Creek Trail.
THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS NEAR THE SMOKIES
There is so much to do in the areas around the Smokies with kids.
You don’t have to stay at the Great Smoky National Park to have fun; the surrounding cities have plenty of activities for your kids.
If you want to have some of the best BBQ in the country, stopping in Nashville is worth considering.
The closest cities to the Smoky Mountains are Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. Each city has something to offer to make the most of your family vacation.
Sevierville with Kids
Sevierville gets lost between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, but this is where many of the hotels and attractions are located.
Gatlinburg with Kids
Pigeon Forge with Kids
TIPS FOR EXPLORING THE SMOKIES WITH KIDS
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is over 500,000 acres, which means it’s huge. There are a lot of trails, wildlife, waterfalls, and campsites. Remember, safety is always the number one priority.
When traveling with kids, especially toddlers, we know how unpredictable they can be.. For some reason, their little legs move quicker than you’d expect.
Here are a few tips for packing that’ll keep you safe while enjoying the smokies with your kids.
- Wear breathable/comfortable clothing such as leggings, or hiking pants
- Pack good insect repellent
- Always have a travel first aid kit
- Pack extra socks, you don’t want to have wet feet
- Get your little one an insulated water bottle or sippy cup
- A good toddler carrier will be a lifesaver
- Pack snacks!!!!! We use this snack bowl
- Stop at one of the Visitor Centers
- Check our Junior Ranger’s activities (some are digital)
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN THE SMOKIES WITH KIDS
When traveling with kids, especially toddlers, certain things are essential when looking for the best place to stay with kids. These things not only save you money, but they help to keep you sane.
Here are things that are important to us when looking for the best places to stay with kids.
- Swimming Pool
- Separate Room
Club Wyndham Smoky Mountains
If you are familiar with our blog, you will notice we stay at Club Wyndham often.
We like their resorts because they are family-friendly, have activities for kids, have a full kitchen, there is a separate sleeping/sitting area, and there are a washer and dryer.
We stayed near the Great Smoky Mountains with our toddler at Club Wyndham Smoky Mountains.
We elected for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite. Our toddler slept in the extra bedroom in his peapod sleeping tent.
Since we had a full kitchen we didn’t dine out much, but there are a lot of great good options around Pigeon Forge.
For the days we didn’t want to be outside in the heat we took advantage of some of the amenities.
The included amenities were great for kids; there’s a splash pad, mini-golf, swimming pools, and playground.
As much as I love to stay at Club Wyndham, there are a few pain points.
My biggest complaint is the lack of sidewalks. Wyndham is known for its family-friendly resorts, the lack of sidewalks is an oversight, and frankly a safety hazard.
While walking to the pool with our one-year-old, we had to walk in the parking lot where cars were backing up, parking, and driving.
It felt very unsafe; I’d love to see Wyndham add sidewalks to their properties for the safety of families with younger children.
My second complaint, albeit small, is the checkout time. Most hotels have a checkout time of 11 am or 12 pm. The checkout time at Wyndham is 10 am, which is very early considering check-in is after 4 pm.
Overall, we love staying at Club Wyndham when we travel. It’s like having the comfort and convenience of a home, while on vacation.
Note: You don’t have to be an owner to stay at the timeshare. Check out the prices below. Club Wyndham Smoky Mountains Price & Reviews
Club Wyndham Great Smokies Lodge
If we hadn’t already booked our accommodation, we would have stayed here. Having access to two waterparks would have been fun for our toddler.
There is a dedicated toddler area, water slides, wave pool, body surfing, lazy river, and other fun things to keep your kids busy.
The best part is the rooms aren’t your standard hotel rooms. There is a living room, dining room, kitchen, and relaxing soaking tub.
If you are going with a larger group, there are two-bedroom suites available that can accommodate your family. You’ll never want to leave once you arrive. Club Wyndham Great Smokies Lodge Price & Reviews
Greystone Lodge on the River
If you want to be on the river Greystone Lodge in Gatlinburg is the place to be.
Let me start by saying this property is hotel-style, there isn’t a kitchen, but there is a separate seating area.
The real claim to fame for this lodge is the location. The rooms with a view of the river are phenomenal. If you would like to sit on the patio with a glass of wine and enjoy the view, book this lodge.
Also, it is close to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. You can get there in less than five minutes on foot.
There are other attractions in the area such as the Anakeesta (lots of fun), Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, Gatlinburg Space Needle (360° views).
Note: If you want to kick your relaxation up a notch, get a room with a tub. There is a TV in the bathroom for you to soak your day away with a glass of wine. Greystone Lodge on the River Price & Reviews
Country Cascades Waterpark Resort
If you plan on spending most of your time in Pigeon Forge, Country Cascades Waterpark Resort is a great choice for families with kids.
There is an indoor pool for you to enjoy during the colder months if you visit in the winter. One of our favorite things about this hotel is the buffet breakfast, not just granola bars and milk.
If the name didn’t already give it away, there is a waterpark for your kids to enjoy. The toddler area is a lot of fun, slides and water are coming out everywhere. Your big kids can enjoy the water slides and swim in the outdoor pool.
For families looking to have fun at Dollywood, this hotel is only 10 minutes away from the park entrance. It is also close to The Island in Pigeon Forge, one of the most popular places in the area to explore.
If you decide to go, I recommend the moonshine tasting, you’ll thank me later. Country Cascades Waterpark Resort Price & Reviews
Final Thoughts: Tennessee Smoky Mountains with Kids
When we first started planning our trip to the Smoky Mountains with our toddler, we didn’t expect to have so much fun. We aren’t nature people, but after this trip, I think we are converting.
It was so refreshing to be somewhere so green, beautiful, and fresh. Getting outside in the fresh air was exhilarating.
We plan on returning to Pigeon Forge to spend another week seeing what this amazing place has to offer (more hikes).