It’s hard to think of a better family travel destination than the Great Smoky Mountains. After all, not only do the mountains themselves boast zip-lining courses and hiking trails for all ages, but the legendary Dollywood theme park, the historic Old Mill District, and numerous interactive museums are located within the region. Read our below guide for details on these and other venues for family-friendly activities.


There are so many unique and family-friendly museums throughout the Smokies, from the Titanic Museum to a gallery housing the world’s largest collection of salt-and-pepper shakers. Children especially enjoy some of the more interactive venues, like Medieval-themed attraction MagiQuest and indoor theme park-meets-science museum WonderWorks.

Zip-Lining Courses

It’s truly thrilling to view the Smokies from a zip-line hundreds of feet in the air, and as Pigeon Forge’s Adventure Park Ziplines company boasts, this is a great activity “for ages three to 103.” Sail through the peaks on courses running up to two full miles, or with Gatlinburg’s CLIMB Works — managing the top-rated zip line in all of Tennessee.

Hiking Trails

There are more than eighty hiking trails in the Smokies, and roughly a third of them are considered beginner-friendly. Round up the gang and head out on treks such as Abram’s Falls, the Little River Trail, the Kephart Prong Trail, or the Schoolhouse Gap Trail, all of which are fairly flat and run four miles or under.

Family-Style Meals

Your family vacation is a great excuse to indulge in family-style meals at top Smokies restaurants. Sit down for country breakfasts at Log Cabin Pancake House and Pancake Pantry, or dive into pulled-pork ribs and hickory-smoked chicken at Deep South Smokehouse, Delauder’s Smoky Mountain BBQ, and Tony Gore’s.

Historic Old Mill District

For a more historic family experience, stop by the Old Mill District. Even when it’s not hosting demonstrations with artisans like quilters, woodcarvers, and soapmakers, it’s home to an impressive nineteenth-century gristmill and a general store selling fudge and taffy that youngsters love. 

Field School

For a truly memorable family adventure, sign up for a session with the Junior Ranger Program, or better yet, the Smoky Mountain Field School. You can brush up on skills like nature photography and orienteering, or sign up for a multi-day tour around nature trails, lookouts, and waterfalls.

Dinner Theaters

Dinner shows are a huge part of Pigeon Forge culture, and nearly all of them are family-friendly, from the Hatfield and McCoy Feud to performances at the Sweet Fanny Adams musical-comedy theater. A favorite among locals is the Comedy Barn show, blending comedy, country music, juggling, magic, and ventriloquy.


Dollywood is positively bursting with family-friendly attractions. Admire the vistas from the Ferris wheel, experience the flying-elephants ride, watch a traditional bluegrass performance, learn about Dolly’s own childhood, and when the weather permits, jump over to the adjacent Splash Country water park.


In a country with nearly 800 theme parks, Dollywood has consistently managed to land top-10 rankings from publications such as USA Today, and it’s easy to see why. Not only was this amusement complex created with the same joyful, fun-loving spirit that made Dolly Parton herself a household name, but it offers record-setting rides, award-winning food, and some of the most dazzling live entertainment in the world. Here’s our guide of the best things to do in Dollywood.


Ten Themed Villages

There are 10 Dollywood themed areas in total, and you’ll probably want to visit at least three or four. Start with Rivertown Junction, whose whitewater-rafting river caters to adventurous and nature-loving guests, and the nostalgic Country Fair section (complete with a Dumbo-style flying-elephant ride). Another village of note is Timber Canyon, which references the history of the Smokies’ logging industry.


Dollywood Express

The Dollywood Express heritage trains have been in operation since World War II, before Dolly Parton was even born, and so along with taking you among the Smokies scenery, they offer quite a bit of history. Wave to fellow park-goers waiting alongside the tracks, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and take in picturesque views of the woods surrounding Dollywood on this attraction that is just as iconic as the various villages.


*Please note that the train pumps out coal smoke and visitors may get soot in their eyes.


Live Entertainment

As you would expect from a theme park inspired by an exuberant, over-the-top country-music superstar, Dollywood offers a staggering amount of entertainment. Among the numerous music, dance, and cinema venues are the Heartsong Theater, which takes you on a multi-sensory video journey of the Smokies; the Pines Theater, hosting the nostalgic Dreamland Drive-In spectacular; and the Showstreet Gazebo, featuring Dollywood’s own resident string band.


Record-Setting Rides


Have you ever heard of a wing coaster? A ride where seats are placed on either side of the tracks, as if suspended in mid-air, rather than directly atop the tracks themselves? If you haven’t, it’s because there’s only one such coaster in the U.S., located at — you guessed it — Dollywood. And the Wild Eagle is just one of many record-breaking rides at Dolly’s theme park, which also houses the world’s largest wooden coaster (the Lightning Rod) and a steel coaster shaped like a butterfly.


Southern Gospel and Chasing Rainbow Museums

As the name suggests, the on-site Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame celebrates pioneers of the namesake music genre and displays artifacts from many of their lives and careers, making for yet another fascinating Dollywood stop. The second museum at Dollywood, however, the Chasing Rainbows Museum, is just as destination-worthy, showcasing artifacts from Dolly’s own life and career.


Dining-and-Drinking Outlets

The culinary offerings at Dollywood are arguably as enticing as those throughout surrounding Pigeon Forge. From Dippin’ Dots outposts to funnel cake to fudge and popcorn from the fully operational gristmill, there’s something for everyone at Dollywood’s 25 food-and-drink venues, which received their own Golden Ticket from Amusement Today magazine.