Smoky Mountains Activities

There are many different types of vacations you can experience with your family. My family enjoys outdoor nature type vacations that bring us closer together. This year we took our first trip to the Smoky Mountains and stayed in Pigeon Forge, TN. After we decided on the Smoky Mountains as our destination, we started to research Smoky Mountains Activities.

The Smoky Mountains area is packed with exciting activities that are fun for all ages. Essentially, you have three main areas of activity.

Pigeon Forge

We drove in through Knoxville, so Pigeon Forge was our first area to experience. Honestly, Pigeon Forge is not ideal for my family. We have two girls on the younger side and they just were not interested in the things Pigeon Forge had to offer. There were tons of “carnival type” attractions including go-carts, putt-putt, zip line things and many more. Really, the strip was dominated by go-cart places. Ideal for a family that has teens, especially boys. If you have boys, you’ll love Pigeon Forge.

Again this is another matter of opinion, but I also didn’t really care for the shops. They were filled with overpriced junk and most of them carried the same stuff. However, the Three Bears General Store was good. Had some unique stuff and was by far the best laid out. That’s where we bought the majority of our souvenirs.

The Christmas Place was extremely impressive. It had thousands of items that were very unique and it was all around a good experience.

The highlights of Pigeon Forge have to be Dollywood, The Dixie Stampede and the Titanic Museum. Each were 100% worth the ticket price and deserving of a slot on your itinerary.

Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg was more of our family style. The shops and general atmosphere were more to our liking. The main road was far easier to walk and literally provided a different experience with every step.

Gatlinburg also offers a ton of general activities include sky lifts, Ober Gatlinburg, Ripley’s Aquarium and many different restaurants.

Gatlinburg also provides excellent views of the Smoky Mountains from pretty much anyplace in the town.

Smoky Mountains National Park

The most exciting of all the Smoky Mountains activities we experienced has to be the Smoky Mountains National Park. You can spend an entire week exploring the park and never cross the same path twice.

The highlights have to be Newfound Gap Road Auto Tour, Cades Cove, Clingmans’s Dome and Laurel Falls.

The park provides photo opportunity after photo opportunity of some of the most breathtaking views in the country. It’s also a very active park with hundreds of miles of nature walks and hiking trails.

The wildlife in the park is plenteous. From butterflies to bears, it has it all. Yes, many bears can be seen in the Cades Cove area along with a large amount of deer.

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Smoky Mountains Map

One of the first things that we did as soon as we got to the visitor center was buy a Smoky Mountains map. You can not accurately get GPS information in the mountains, so don’t think your TomTom will be good enough. There are too many back roads and turns that you can get lost on, so don’t be cheap.

The main National Park Store has a full page of maps for sale it’s only $5. That’s $5 well spend considering all the information the package contains. You’ll get full map information and information guides on Newfound Gap Road, Cades Cove and many other Smoky Mountains attractions.

Download the map here: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Map

The above map is similar to the free ones that you can take at the park or download off the park’s Web site.

If this is your first time to the Smoky Mountains, I highly recommend you allocate one full day for the Newfound Gap Road Auto Tour and one full day for the Cades Cove Tour. The Newfound Gap Tour has over 25 stops on it that you can take some really awesome pictures. Cades Cove has around 15 and they are equally exceptional photo opportunities.

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Ripley’s Aquarium Of The Smokies

On Wednesday, we took a day to explore Gatlinburg and part of that was Ripley’s Aquarium. Honestly, my expectations were not that high. I mean really, how good could a small tourist town aquarium be? Answer, in short very good.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was truly awesome. It had far more exhibits than I had expected and the underwater tour of the shark lagoon was one of the best aquarium exhibits I have ever experienced.

Here’s some pictures of our time at Ripley’s.

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Smoky Mountains Attractions – Cades Cove

One of the best Smoky Mountains attractions we experienced was Cades Cove. Cades cove is in the Smoky Mountains National Park and is free to tour. It’s your best opportunity to see bears. Not only see, but get up close and personal with them!

The drive through Cades Cove is extremely relaxing. It’s a tour of several homes, churches and all around scenic drive through the Smoky Mountains.

Below are some pictures that we took, more to come.

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Dollywood

No trip to the Pigeon Forge area should go without a trip to Dollywood. So far, Dollywood has been one of our most favorite of all the Smoky Mountains Attractions.

Here are some pictures of our visit to Dollywood on Monday. Contrary to other reviews, we did not have any of the hassles people mention. There were no lines and parking was a breeze.

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Smoky Mountains Attractions – Newfound Gap Road

One of the first Smoky Mountains Attractions we decided to expereince was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is a free so that makes it to the top of our favorite of all the Smoky Mountains Attractions.

We will go into a lot more detail about the Newfound Gap Road Auto Tour a bit later, but here are some of our pics from the adventure.

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Places To Stay In The Smoky Mountains

Our first great dilemma with our Smoky Mountains vacation was deciding on a place to stay. In the Smoky Mountains area, you really have two choices. Either a hotel or a cabin.

We really wanted to do a cabin to provide the most memorable vacation possible. Something just not right about coming to the Smoky Mountains and staying in a hotel. Half the attraction of the area is nature, so we thought it best to go with the cabin.

Now comes the hard part, finding a cabin. We literally spent 3 weeks looking online at cabins and reading reviews. It was extremely difficult because for every good review we read, there was a horrible review. Just so hard to really gauge the quality of the cabins.

Some would say a 5 out of 5 star and the next review would be 1 out of 5. And talk about some horror stories! My only advice is to search TripAdvisor.com before you make any reservations.

As for us, we settled on the Mountain Vista Getaways at the Big Bear Lodge and Resort cabin 336. Why?

First, we are travelling over 900 miles and we could not risk starting our vacation with horrible or complicated accommodations. We wanted to arrive, have everything be perfect and rest a little after that drive.

Second, the cains looked clean and awesome.

Third, it includes a hot tub.

Forth, it’s a resort so it has resort amenities.

Fifth, the price was far less expesive than anything else that looked remotely livable.

Again, it took us literally weeks to find the right one and we will be posting tons of real pictures when we arrive.

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Our Smoky Mountains Vacation

The purpose of this site is to document our 2010 family vacation to the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area including The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We decided on a Smoky Mountains vacation because we felt it was important to take our kids on an adventure to one of the most beautiful natural creations on the planet. We live in Texas, which is predominantly flat. So, anything with elevation is going to be a change for the kids.

As for us, it’s also our first time to the Smoky Mountains.

The following posts on this blog will be a record of our trip and the process in how we decided on where to stay and most importantly which Smoky Mountains attractions are worth it and which are not!

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