The Great Smoky Mountains are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains that draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors to its peaks each year. The appeal is obvious, with emerald green forests, enchanting wildlife, relaxing freshwater streams, and rolling blue crests around every bend in the road. Yet, the Smokies offer so much more than scenic beauty alone!
Countless kid-friendly games, thrilling amusement rides, outdoor adventures, and more set the small Smoky Mountain towns abuzz with excitement and energy. Get your creative vacation-planning juices flowing with these family-friendly things to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg!
Warm Up With Mini Golf
When you’re fresh off the plane or the road, perhaps a bit of gentle exercise in the outdoors is what you need to regain your legs. Warm up at one of the Pigeon Forge mini-golf courses, like Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf.
First, you’ll take a WWII-era mining train to the top of the course before golfing your way back down the mountain. The two 18-hole courses retrace the adventure path of archaeologist-explorer Professor Hacker across the Fogclift Islands of South America. Your shots will wander through caves and waterfalls, past a pirate ship and a volcano, and even through an ancient temple. Just as Professor Hacker once did, your mission on this mini-golfing trip is not just to get a hole-in-one but also to seek out the rumored diamonds and gold left behind by the ancients!
Burn Rubber at the Go-Kart Track
Do you have thrill-chasers in the family or love friendly-competition? Imagine how much fun you’ll have drifting through a bend, catching a satisfying whiff of burning rubber, and getting ready to overtake your slowpoke family member just ahead of you. When you’re ready for some high-speed action, challenge your party to a race in go-karts!
The Smokies are home to several go-kart racing tracks, but Ripley’s Super Fun Park is one you can’t miss. Kids and adults of all ages and driving skill levels can hop in a go-kart and zoom through the 3-level racing track. Even after you’ve each had a chance to win first place, there’s still so much fun to explore. Ripley Super Fun Park also has a 10,000-square foot arcade, kids’ amusement rides, and bumper boats with water cannons.
Discover the Smokies on Horseback
You can’t say you’ve been to the Smokies if you haven’t had any outdoor time – specifically, on the trails wandering through lush green forests and across crystal clear mountain streams. That said, why bother with hiking when you could explore these beautiful peaks on horseback instead?
Head toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but make a pit stop at Sugarlands Riding Stables to meet your equine co-adventurer. Never rode a horse before? Don’t worry. The pros at Sugarlands Riding Stables will show you what to do, and the tours are beginner- and kid-friendly. Once you’re saddled up on your horse, the experienced guides will lead you on a tour of the trails and teach you all about the local history and culture. As you trot along at a steady walking pace, you might even get to see wild turkeys, black bears, white-tailed deer, salamanders, and countless other mountain species!
Experience Outdoor Thrills
Hiking and horseback riding aside, there are also a couple of thrilling ways to discover the natural wonder of the Smokies. Hold on tight as you soar through the air 120 feet above the river on a zipline, or get up-close and personal with those river rapids on a whitewater rafting trip! Thankfully, you can do both at Wildwater Zipline & Rafting.
The 3-hour zipline canopy tour is available for families with kids at least 8 years of age and 60 lbs. Once outfitted with helmets, gloves and harnesses for safety, you’ll get to race each other across the dual zips over spectacular views of the Pigeon River. You’ll zoom through 12 zips and traverse 4 scenic sky bridges, concluding with an ultra-long zip of 1,300 feet!
Alternatively, you could embark as a family on a whitewater rafting expedition on the Pigeon River. Wildwater hosts two rafting trips according to intensity. The Upper Pigeon River trip is best suited for kids at least 8 years old and crosses class III and IV rapids, while the Lower River trip is open to age 4 and up with class I and II rapids. You could spend an entire day in the Smoky Mountain outdoors and still look forward to more!
Make Science Your Playground
Perhaps your kid is the “in one ear, out the other” type when it comes to learning things at school. On the other hand, your child could be a budding scientist who can never absorb enough. Whether you wish you could sneak in some extra-curricular educational content on vacation or you want to foster your kid’s interest in STEM, WonderWorks should be on your Smoky Mountains bucket list.
WonderWorks is the brainchild of Professor Wonder. His experiment to harness the force of a tornado caused the entire laboratory to fly from its home in the Bermuda Triangle all the way to Pigeon Forge. Enter the upside-down mansion, and you’ll find six interactive exhibits teaching scientific concepts. For instance, you get to try on an astronaut’s suit in the Space Discover Zone and feel what an earthquake is like in the Extreme Weather Zone. With over 100 hands-on games and imaginative activities of “edu-tainment,” WonderWorks makes learning feel like playtime for kids!
You’ll know your family vacation is a big success when everyone begs to play just one more game or take just one more ride. After all, the extraordinary ways to experience the Smokies’ natural environment like horseback riding and ziplining would leave any child breathless and enchanted. The nearby mountain towns’ kid-friendly activities like mini-golf and go-kart racing are also entertaining for adults! The Great Smoky Mountains should be a top contender if you’re looking for the perfect destination for your next family vacation.