9 Must-Do’s for a Family Vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

gatlinburg, smoky mountains, cabin with a view

Gatlinburg, Tennessee is an incredible destination, and even that much better for families. We’ve been taking family vacations there since I was a little kid, and whether I was 7, 11, or 16, it was always a fun trip. Our family of 5 used to spend two weeks of every summer in the Great Smoky Mountains, and some of my greatest memories are there. Seeing lists of things to do can be overwhelming, so I narrowed it down to the top 9 must-do’s in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for families.

Whether your “family” is just you and a spouse, or a giant reunion of 20-30 people, Gatlinburg is an awesome vacation destination.

1. Rent a cabin for the ultimate family time.

Gatlinburg and the surrounding towns have plenty of hotels, but rent a cabin if you want to take full advantage of family time! We’ve always rented through Jackson Mountain Homes, and have been very happy with the cabins and process.

Most recently, we stayed at Majestic Point Lodge, a 5 bedroom, 5 bathroom home with stunning views of the mountains. Some of the best and most memorable moments of our trip were spent on the balcony together. We loved watching the sunset and sipping on wine while sharing laughs and stories.

RELATED: 5 Reasons Every Family Needs to Rent a Cabin in Gatlinburg, TN

  • Most cabins come with entertainment! Our cabin had a pool table, air hockey, arcade game, and hot tub. It was impossible to get bored. We added in some adult beverages during our game nights and always ended up laughing til we cried!
  • Cabins are budget-friendly! Staying together in one home meant we all got our own space (including my niece), and all the amenities of a home. We cooked dinner three nights, breakfast a few times, and always had a snack on hand. Think of all those meals, snacks, and drinks added up for a family of nine. And again, some of our best memories are around the dinner table.
  • You can find cabins of all sizes. There’s a variety of cabins, from a cozy one bedroom to gigantic homes with 10 or more bedrooms, that are ready to accommodate your family. Some of the sleeping arrangements allow up to 50 family members in one home! This makes renting a cabin one of my top must-do’s in Gatlinburg!

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, cabin with a view

2. If you don’t eat out anywhere else, you must eat at the Pancake Pantry!

Okay, I just got finished saying we loved our meals at the cabin, but The Pancake Pantry is, hands-down, the best breakfast restaurant we’ve ever visited. This is the only restaurant on my must-do’s in Gatlinburg list. So, don’t miss it!

There’s often a wait, but it’s worth it. The line moves fast and Pancake Pantry actually prioritizes parties with children! The French toast, covered in powdered sugar with a homemade cinnamon maple syrup, is our family favorite, but you can’t go wrong with a single item on the menu! Prepare for a sugar-high and full tummy. 😉

pancake pantry, gatlinburg, must-eat restaurant

Smoky Mountain Brewery, pretzel and beer cheese

3. Dive into the downtown experience.

Downtown Gatlinburg has recovered well after the fires of 2016, and downtown is bustling more than ever. There are plenty of must-do’s in Gatlinburg located right in the downtown area. You can walk to all of them.

  • SkyLift – check out a bird’s eye view of this beautiful town around sunset. This is completely updated now and has a giant Sky Bridge along with shops and restaurants.Gatlinburg, sky lift, mountain view
  • Moonshine Tasting – Grab the adults and sip on some of the best moonshine in Tennessee! We say that Ole Smoky Distillery is one of the must-do’s in Gatlinburg, but if wine is more your style, there’s plenty of wine tastings, too!Gatlinburg, Ole Smoky Distillery, MoonshineGatlinburg, Ole Smoky Distillery, Moonshine
  • Mountain Coaster – this town has something for everyone in the family, and if zipping down the mountain is your style, then don’t miss the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster!
  • Ripley’s – we never made it to the Aquarium this trip (because the weather was too amazing to be inside!), but we’ll be back!
  • Anakeetsa – Take a “chondola”or “ridge rambler” to the ride up to Gatlinburg’s theme park! There are rides, restaurants, and shopping.
  • The Villages – the shopping here is charming and fun. Located near The Pancake Pantry, you’ll find a little something for everyone.

4. Visit America’s “Most Beautiful Theme Park”, DollyWood.

Ok, so it’s not in Gatlinburg, but Dollywood is located nearby in Pigeon Forge, a tourist town about a 15 minute drive from downtown Gatlinburg. As a Floridian and theme park addict, DollyWood is still at the top of my list. It’s a beautiful park with the perfect combination of rides for little kids, big kids, and families. 

It has entertaining shows, fun shops, educational stops, beautiful landscaping, and again, has something for everyone! As far as entertainment goes, DollyWood is at the top of the must-do’s in Gatlinburg.

  • Get in line at The Grist Mill to snag a loaf of the homemade cinnamon bread!
  • Mystery Mine is my new favorite ride at any theme park!
  • Note that DollyWood is a “dry” park. No alcohol is served in DollyWood.Dollywood, TennesseeDollywood, Grist Mill, TennesseeDollywood, Tennessee, carousel

5. Take the family to a dinner show.

Pigeon Forge has a plenty to choose from, so enjoy a dinner show with the family! With my 18 month old niece, we went to Dolly Parton’s Stampede Show, and she was happily entertained the entire time. Next time, we’ll try out Smoky Mountain Adventures and Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show.

Comedy Barn is another family-friendly must-do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee!

Dixie Stampede, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

6. Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains is absolutely on the list of must-do’s for Gatlinburg!

The Smoky Mountains are the best. With trails and hikes for every age, experience, and health, getting outdoors with the family is an absolute must. From a one mile loop for Cataract Falls to eight mile trips to Ramsey Falls, hiking is an adventure for everyone to enjoy.

  • We loved Laurel Falls (2.4 mile hike) with my niece in tow. It was long enough, but short enough, and had a beautiful waterfall to enjoy.
  • Alum Cave Trail is about 4.4 miles and an excellent, adventurous hike for families.
  • Looking for a longer hike? Continue on to Mt. Leconte via Alum Cave Trail. It’s almost 11 miles round-trip and has some of the most beautiful panoramic views.Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains, Laurel Falls hike

7. Enjoy the beauty of Cade’s Cove and have a picnic with the family.

Family time is the common denominator here. Pack up the cooler, drive to Cade’s Cove, and enjoy your lunch by the water. Afterwards, play in the rocks and streams nearby and keep making the memories that’ll last forever. You can also rent bikes to go around the 11 mile loop at Cade’s Cove!

  • Remember to bring some water shoes!Gatlinburg, Cade's Cove

8. Take advantage of everyone being together & get some family photos.

Our family has not had family photos taken in years, and we were finally all in one place at one time. I found a local photographer to meet us at Metcalf Bottoms for a quick family session during a picnic. If you don’t want to pay a photographer, bring a tripod, or even download a timer app on your phone. At the end of the day, you don’t want every photo displayed in your home to be a selfie!

Gatlinburg, Metcalf Bottoms, family photos

9. Try something new as a family!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s so much to do in Gatlinburg! As a family vacation, everyone may not always want to do the same thing, and that’s okay!

Split up for a day and go horseback riding, whitewater rafting, zip-lining, or explore the Forbidden Caverns.

During this wild season of our life, our little family needed this vacation. Gatlinburg holds so many memories, and we made many more. It’s a destination that we will always keep going back to and experiencing new things together.

The Weekend Fox Tips

  • Summer and October are typically the busiest times in Gatlinburg. Avoid the crowds and higher cost for lodging by booking a trip in the other months.
  • Getting into the National Park is free, which is incredible, but parking in downtown Gatlinburg can be anywhere from $6 – $20. Keep some cash on you and be smart about when and where you decide to park.
  • Check the location of the cabin you book. There have been times that our cabin was a 30-45 minute drive up a curvy, steep mountain which took a lot of time out of the day.
  • I encourage families to spend plenty of time together, but also allow some separation! Being all together under one roof can get overwhelming when you haven’t done it in a while.
  • Bring your favorite board games. During a time where electronics rule the world, playing Monopoly with the whole family is a wonderful bonding experience.

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