Is there anywhere that is more family friendly than the entire Great Smoky Mountains region? With the many outdoor activities, fun attractions and destinations, amazing foods, and towns full of shopping, shows and activities, it is the perfect spot to plan a holiday with the kids.
However, when considering the many things to do in Gatlinburg, parents (and grandparents) need to think about age appropriateness. This is particularly true of kids in the three to five year age range. While there is an abundance (some might say overabundance) of activities for children over the age of five, it is important to think about the best things to do in Gatlinburg with the smaller kids.
Though a vacation is meant to be an event in which you see and do many things, kids aged three to five can get exhausted fairly quickly. Even if the family paces itself, stops for snacks and breaks, and cleverly plans nap time to occur at the same time as a stretch of driving, often the three to five-year-olds just cannot keep up. This is why it is best to look for an accommodation that also serves as one of the best things to do in Gatlinburg.
For example, a well-chosen Gatlinburg cabin can allow the family to enjoy a lot of private space outdoors and indoors. You can choose from cabins that have community centers with pools and sports facilities. There are options along the various rivers, allowing kids to enjoy time swimming and exploring, and there are some that feature so many amenities that they are a destination on their own. Game rooms, entertainment systems, hot tubs and traditional living spaces can all make it much easier for the younger kids to enjoy their holiday.
With a family friendly Gatlinburg cabin, you have the foundation on which to build an unforgettable holiday. In fact, you can even select a Gatlinburg cabin that puts you within minutes of the many fun and exciting things to do in Gatlinburg. This makes it easier than ever to schedule a bit of a break back at the old "homestead" before continuing on with the many things to do in Gatlinburg.
Once you have settled into a Gatlinburg cabin, it is time to familiarize yourself with town. One of the most exciting things for kids to do (especially after a long car ride or plane trip) is to enjoy an alternative form of transportation. In terms of the best things to do with kids three to five in Gatlinburg, there is little that can compare with the Gatlinburg Trolley.
Not only can you hop on or off at more than 100 spots in the Gatlinburg area, but it will take your entire family to most of the most popular destinations. This means you and the kids can stay out of the car, stay on your feet until you are too tired or ready to move on to another attraction, and all in the fun and excitement of a classic trolley ride.
Since there are almost no major destinations it does not reach, you may want to count on the trolley to take you to the other kid-friendly things to do in Gatlinburg. In fact, it is so fun and useful, you may even want to find out if your Gatlinburg cabin is close to one of the stops.
And what are the attractions and destinations we suggest? Let's start with the big names and then go on to the lesser known activities that are ideal for your three to five year old.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies - It goes without saying that aquariums are one of the best things to do with young kids, but this one actually ranks as the top aquarium in the country. With a long list of specialized experiences, it even offers sleepovers and splashes with their stingrays. This is an ideal way to spend half a day or more with the little ones before heading back to your Gatlinburg cabin. Encounter more than 10,000 sea creatures and 350 different species and enjoy the Penguin Playhouse where your little ones crawl through tunnels to watch penguins swim and play.
Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country - Even if you think you are not the amusement park type, this is a spot with so much to offer that you simply must spend a few hours exploring it. There are more than 40 rides, with many suited to little ones, as well as the water park. It is in Pigeon Forge, but you can easily catch the trolley at the #5 stoplight in Gatlinburg. If you want to learn more about it as a fall destination for families, they have a simple planning guide you can download for free.
Gatlinburg Space Needle - One of the top family attractions in town, it reaches more than 400 feet into the sky and offers unbeatable views. You reach the top via elevator and savor the scenery, but your three to five-year-olds will appreciate what awaits back on the ground. Arcadia is a 25k square foot playground suited to kids of all ages.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - While you may not be a family that regularly heads into the woods and hikes the trails, it does not mean that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is out of the question. There are ranger led programs suited to younger kids, and your five-year-olds can even become junior rangers! They can also go on a hay wagon ride; explore the Townsend River Walk (which is one of the easier trails); they are welcome to ride on the public bicycle trails - particularly the historic Townsend Route traveled by Native Americans and early settlers; and there is never-ending water fun on the rivers. There are also the Tuckaleechee Caverns, though this may be best for the five-year-olds and up.
Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors - Kids who like fairy tales appreciate this interactive attraction. It is, as its name implies, a maze made of mirrors, but designed for the whole family. It is often called one of the best family attractions and perfect for even younger kids.
Hillbilly Golf - Easily one of the world's most unusual miniature golf courses, it is a wonderful way for the entire family to play a few rounds and savor the woodland scenery of the Smokies. You ride a trolley to the top of the mountain and then begin playing your way down. There are two courses and though there are challenges, even younger kids will find plenty to love about a game of golf.
Ober Gatlinburg - Another amusement park, it is also a ski area and has an aerial tramway, ice skating and a wildlife encounter. It also has a mountain coaster, but it is only kids over 38 pounds who can safely ride it, so be aware that smaller children may be left out. The wildlife encounter is one of the best things to do in Gatlinburg with the little ones and allows them to encounter live bears, otters and other natives of the Smokies. The Tram is also fun and is one of the country's largest, offering amazing views of the town below. There are special packages where families can save money and enjoy an array of activities that include the maze, water raft rides, kiddie rides, the carousel, mini golf, ice skating and more.
Gatlin's Smoky Mountain Fun - With affordable "Pick 6" passes or "Do it All" options, this is the perfect way to enjoy a family day of fun. It features indoor and outdoor golf, laser tag, bumper cars, and easily one of the coolest things to do in Gatlinburg with a three to five year old, gem mining. Group discounts are an option and there are games for older kids to enjoy, too.
Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster - Though this is opened to kids ages three and up, if your little ones are not more than 38 pounds they cannot ride. Those under 56" cannot ride alone, but most parents prefer to ride with their youngest. Fun and thrilling, it is a fantastic way to see the town and experience the woodland setting.
You will definitely want to pace yourself when enjoying some of the best things to do with kids. Be sure to book "downtime" for yourselves at your Gatlinburg cabin. If your property has a pool, water access or a private yard, it is a good idea to allow your little one to enjoy this sort of fun. You can also schedule your time spent at attractions to occur opposite your days in the national park. This way you really experience the area and not just the fun activities designed to keep kids entertained.
Savvy parents will often choose a Gatlinburg cabin in order to keep a tighter control on their food budgets. Dining out is a major part of any holiday, and particularly when there is so much delicious food as there is in Gatlinburg. However, that can be a budget breaker and so a Gatlinburg cabin with its full kitchen, dining room, and deck with dining area can let you control that one area of expense.
However, since one of the most enjoyable things to do in Gatlinburg is to savor the local favorites, be sure that you also arrange for your kids to enjoy some of the most kid-friendly dining options. These include:
Fannie Farkle's - Famous for their Ogle Dogs, they are the perfect choice for kids as young as three. Do be prepared, though, because they also feature all kinds of games. Be sure you arrive hungry because the foot-long hot dogs, cheese steak sandwiches and sausage subs are the stuff of a food lover's day dreams. Many locals pop in to grab a bite.
Crockett's Breakfast Camp - Named after the famous frontiersman, it is a great spot for the entire family to enjoy. Equal parts destination and restaurant, it serves up hearty breakfasts emphasizing local favorites. There is a shop attached to the restaurant and the décor will catch the eye of most kids with its rustic, "camp" like setting. Be prepared to have at least one Davy Crockett fan when you leave.
Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen - Though you may want to be very careful about a visit to a tempting candy shop, this one is worth the risk. It was opened in 1950 and has been a Gatlinburg institution ever since. It features entirely homemade treats and some candies are still made in full view of the public. Let the kids learn how taffy, candied apples, fudge and many other treats are made. You can buy one piece or an entire box!
Donut Friar - This is a good spot when you’ve already eaten an early breakfast at your Gatlinburg cabin, but want a breakfast time treat. Noted for donuts that are not too sweet, they are a local favorite. Made from scratch each day, they do not come in a dizzying variety but are instead made to perfection. Kids love their simple glazed donuts.
Any visit to Gatlinburg is about fun and food, but also about simple enjoyment. Taking a well-chosen Gatlinburg cabin is a great way to savor true family time. You don't have to worry about noisy kids, temper tantrums or fussy eaters when you spend time in a luxuriously private cabin. Close to everything, it can easily become a major "attraction" for your youngest kids, and the whole family.
We hope the activities we suggested provide you with plenty to do on your holiday. Remember that many kids love just heading into the national park with a picnic basket and visiting such popular spots as Cades Cove or The Chimneys; so a bit of less structured time in nature is always a ‘win-win’, too!
Take time and have fun while visiting Gatlinburg. It is likely that you will want to return because there are just so many things to do. As your kids grow, the list of activities grows with them, but even the little ones aged three to five will find a lot to love about the region.