The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited National Parks. It’s easy to see why with loads of trails, gorgeous views around every bend, and fun towns on either side of the park.
But what is there to do if you’re visiting with a young family? Our kids are currently 3 and 6, and we regularly visit the park and have since they were babies. Here are our top 5 favorite activities for in the park itself.
Chimney Picnic Grounds- located along the Little River, Chimney Picnic Grounds offers charcoal grills, picnic tables, parking, and plenty of gorgeous nature to immerse yourself in. If all the tables are taken, bring a big blanket to lay alongside the river.
Just make sure to keep the hiking motto in mind- take only photos, leave only footprints. If you have little messy eaters like us, that means folding your blanket inward so the crumbs stay inside it, and shaking it out when you get home or out of bear country.
Leave plenty of time to hop from rock to rock in the river. It brings such joy to little faces, and it’s a great way to cool off in the summer months.
Clingman’s Dome- if you’re looking for a mostly paved hiking path and a breathtaking view to reward you, this is the spot for you. There are benches along the path for taking a short break. The view from the top is truly spectacular.
A waterfall hike- this is one of the most rewarding hikes you can take, because there’s just something magical about waterfalls. Little ones can splash in the pond, and everyone else in the group will enjoy the view and the cool breeze.
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular hikes, which makes parking an adventure unto itself. Be aware- we have seen bears on this hike.
Cataract Falls- This path is easier to follow, mostly flat with a few man-made stairs along the way. There’s plenty of parking at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The bathrooms are a must visit before and after your hike, as bathrooms are sparse up in the Smokies.
The Sinks- this accidentally man-made creation is a sight to behold, and offers the opportunity to stretch legs between stops along a day-long Smoky Mountains exploration. The placards are informational and interesting, providing some historical background, and hiking trails branch off of this parking lot for longer leg stretches if needed.
Tennessee-North Carolina state line- If you’ve ever wanted to be two places at once, here’s your chance! Straddle the Tennessee- North Carolina state line and voila- impossible is possible. Plenty of parking, lots of gorgeous overlooks, and beautiful photo opportunities await.
One of our favorite activities after visiting the parks is to enjoy dinner in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. With lots of touristy attractions, there’s always something new and interesting to see. One of our favorite restaurants is Bennet’s Pit BBQ, for its fun booths, a tasty menu, and being kid friendly! If we don’t have time for a restaurant style dinner and we need to get the kids fed and home to bed, we may just hit a favorite drive through or grab some Publix ready-made food for when we get home.
What’s your favorite way to experience the Smoky Mountains?