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Are you visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park with kids and wondering what there is to do in the Smoky Mountains with kids? You’ve come to the right place! Read our guide for exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park with kids to find out what are the best kid friendly hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, how to participate in the Junior Ranger program and what there is to see and do with kids in the park.
How to get to get to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky National Park is located across two states-TN and NC. Because the park is so large, you will need to figure out a home base and which entrance you will use to enter the park. Because we were flying into Knoxville, we based ourselves in Pigeon Forge and entered the park near the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Knoxville is one hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg just 15 minutes away, Pigeon Forge is 20 minutes away, and Atlanta around 3 hours. We found Knoxville to be a great airport to fly into and start our adventure.
Best time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Because Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited US National Park, you are going to want to plan your trip in the off season. Summer is the most popular time to visit however it’s hot and it’s crowded.
We visited in October and the weather was perfect for hiking. Not too hot and the crowds on a Monday in October were much better than a summer day. If you time it right, you can even spot some fall foliage which we did!
Where to stay when visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Because of its size and different entrances, there are many family friendly hotels near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, something for all budgets. If camping is more of your thing, there are different types of campgrounds as well.
Camping near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are several different types of campsites near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Be sure to check their website for reservations and opening dates if you plan to camp during your visit.
Best family-friendly hotels near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
If you’re looking for family friendly hotels near Great Smoky Mountain National Park, you’re in luck as there are many. Because we stayed in Pigeon Forge, we chose the Holiday Inn & Suites Pigeon Forge Convention Center. We had IHG points to use so our stay was completely free. The IHG Rewards card from Chase can help you earn points to get free nights at IHG properties all over the world.
We normally stay at Marriott properties due to my status but since the IHG points were about to expire I wanted to use them before they did. But if I was redeeming Marriott free nights, I would have stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Gatlinburg Downtown. Most of our hotel stays are free because we book using points. I highly recommend getting one of these Marriott cards, I have both the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless from Chase and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant from American Express. As a result, we have stayed free all over the world and earned amazing upgrades because of my Titanium status.
Things to bring when visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park with kids
- National Parks Journal: My daughter brings this on all of our National Park trips. She stamps the inside and fills out details about the park.
- Trekking poles: Many of the trails are uphill, so these will be useful to help you get up those hills.
- Water bottle holder: We bring these every time we go to Disney and now to National Parks. Everyone can easily access their water bottle and it’s comfortable to hold for hours.
- Binoculars: My daughter loved using her binoculars here since there were so many overlooks we stopped at.
- Hiking boots: Now this might some obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people had flip flops and crocs, something we haven’t seen at other National Parks. Wear quality hiking boots if you are planning to hike.
Books and games about Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with kids
With close to 400 miles of road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is popular for auto touring. Pick up a brochure to see different destinations and head out on an adventure where you can see the beauty of the park from the comfort of your car. This is great when your kids are napping or if you have people with mobility issues in your group who may not be able to hike some of the trails. I think this is the way the majority toured this park since every single trail we went on was deserted but the roads were packed! Probably why it’s the most visited park in the US, people don’t like to hike and can just drive instead.
Best kid-friendly hiking trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are many trails to choose from in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, something for all abilities. Here are some of our favorite kid friendly hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
- Clingmans Dome: The highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome offers 360 views from the top. The trail to the top of the observation tower is just a half mile, but it’s steep so something to keep in mind if you have younger kids. I will say, this trail is NOT worth it. The view was awful and we had a super clear day. Just a bunch of dying trees and nothing spectacular at all, we saw much better views just driving around the park. It can take you an hour to find parking here, do not do it if you have to wait. Others agreed, waste of time and a trail I would skip next time. There are much more scenic trails and overlooks to be wasting your time here!
- Kephart Prong Trail: This trail is 4 miles round trip and better suited for kids 6 and up since you will be crossing log bridges that may be tricky for younger kids. This was our favorite trail in the park. The first mile or so is just going uphill (gradually) but then you start to cross the log bridges and it becomes so fun! We saw a handful of people on this trail, everyone was turning back without continuing but keep going to see the cool log bridges!
- Porters Creek: A 2 mile round trip hike, this trail will take you Porters Flat, where your kids can see a barn, springhouse and cabin and imagine what life was like in the 19th century.
- Laurel Falls: If you want to see a waterfall, head to this popular family friendly hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trail is just over 2 miles round trip and is perfect for kids of all ages.
- Grotto Falls: If you want to walk behind a waterfall, then this 3 mile trail is perfect for you.
Junior Ranger program in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Just like other National Parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park participates in the Junior Ranger program. Be sure to pick up your activity booklet at one of the visitor centers and once your kids complete the required activities, they will earn their Junior Ranger badge. Keep in mind that this park charges for these books, it was $2.50 at the time of our visit. And be sure to pick the appropriate age book for your child since there are 4 to choose from.
Where to eat with kids near Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Since the area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park where we entered is located near Gatlinburg, the food options are endless. We brought in our own snacks that we bring on all of our travels so we didn’t need to leave the park to eat but if you do, there are tons of restaurants to choose from in Gatlinburg. If you want snack ideas, be sure to check out our travel snack recommendations.
Before heading to the park, we had breakfast at the Sunliner Diner in Pigeon Forge. They are a 50s themed diner and even have classic cars you can dine in!
Have you visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park with kids? It’s one of the best National Parks to visit with kids because of all the different trails and activities. Want to save this to read later? Pin one of the images below.