Visiting Gatlinburg with kids? You’ll find plenty for them to do here beyond the obvious opportunities for hiking and exploring nature. These options will get you out, exploring and learning, whether you’re traveling with the young or looking for ways to enrich your own vacation! These are also great options for not-so-great weather days when you’d prefer to be in and out of the elements a bit. Pair one or two stops from the list below with a couple of strategic stops at Gatlinburg’s top restaurants, and you’ll have a day full of learning and fun that suits pretty much everyone in the family.
1. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Gatlinburg might not seem like the most natural place for an expansive, well-equipped aquarium–but Ripley’s has pulled it off! Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies rivals larger aquariums in major cities, offering hours of things to see. Time your visit just right for a mermaid show, or just take your time to wander through the exhibits and enjoy up-close-and-personal views of sea life. All exhibits are meticulously maintained, and the entire facility feels clean, fresh, and open to exploration by kids of all ages. The aquarium–and some of Ripley’s other attractions–are awesome options for rainy days!
2. Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Kids and the outdoors go together like peanut butter and jelly, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers plenty of trails that accommodate all levels of hikers. Stop at the visitor’s center for info on the National Parks’ Junior Ranger Program, and check one (or more) of their top kid-friendly hikes off your list. The Porters Creek Trail and Kephart Prong Trail are both recommended for their educational potential and ease of use for the younger set of Smoky Mountains visitors.
3. Visit the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community
Travel all or part of the 8-mile loop road in Gatlinburg that features over 100 vendors carrying their handmade wares. Gatlinburg is home to some incredibly talented artisans and craftsmen, many of whom love to talk to kids about their techniques and processes. Your kids might come away with a burgeoning interest in ceramics, woodcraft, or another art or skill, and they’ll certainly pick up an appreciation for traditional handcrafts that have been lost in contemporary culture.
4. Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium
Ripley’s offers three floors of exhibits to explore at your own pace–and kids of all ages love the huge assortment of novelties, oddities, and out-of-this-world collections that you won’t encounter anywhere else. From exotic animal skeletons to shrunken human heads, kids will find something to snag their interest. The atmosphere is clean and well-organized, as well. Overall, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium offers a solid way to spend a few hours with kiddos who have a penchant for the bizarre.
5. Hollywood Star Cars Museum
Another great stop for movie aficionados, the Hollywood Star Cars Museum features–you guessed it!–a slew of famous cars spanning two floors of exhibits. Walk around the original General Lee and the 1966 Batmobile, as well as a huge collection of Fast and Furious cars on display. A reasonable price of admission makes this an accessible, fun way to spend a couple of hours, particularly if your kids are movie or car buffs!
6. The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
For a quirky, very off-the-beaten-path destination hit up the one-of-a-kind Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg. This odd museum features decades of various salt and pepper shakers, ranging from kitschy to bizarre. The $3 admission fee can be applied to any salt and pepper shaker in the gift shop on your way out, and kids under 12 are free! This might not top your list of dream destinations in Gatlinburg, but it’s a fun stop that quirky kids will love.