Americans find no shortage of good reasons to visit the Smoky Mountains, with its central attraction of Great Smoky Mountains National Park starring as the nation's most popular national park, open all year and with no admission charges.
And the gateway towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are packed with family-friendly attractions, eateries, shopping, arts and accommodations, which makes it easy to have fun in the midst of the stunning natural beauty.
This post may contain affiliate links which means we receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please see my disclosure for more information.
What Makes the Smoky Mountains So Popular
While the national park is the jewel in the crown of the Smoky Mountains, the surrounding area of East Tennessee and North Carolina is also stunningly beautiful, with abundant waters that make a fishing and sporting paradise.
There are several other state parks and scenic highways that extend the old lush forests, ancient mountains with layer upon layer of ridges to the horizon, and the abundant rainfall that gives rise to the mists that hang in the valleys - smoky, you could say.
This breathtaking backdrop for outdoor activities is served well by a relatively temperate climate by mountain standards, and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, camping, fishing, rafting and skiing. The national park alone has over 2,000 miles of flowing water and 800 miles of hiking trails, many of which are quite easy.
As a UN-designated unique biosphere, the park is home to a vast variety of species of life, and more than 100 species of trees, some in dense, old-growth forests. The famous black bears roam here, and each year countless visitors strive to see a cute bear cub as a highlight of their stay.
The area is replete with history, as part of the Appalachian settler culture, and with legacy from earlier inhabitation by the Cherokee. Museums, historic sites, and cultural attractions such as the Oconaluftee Indian Village and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, offer testimony to this.
The Smoky Mountains are Family Friendly
The Smoky Mountains could be custom-made for families with kids. Nature itself holds a great attraction for children, which we often forget, and the area is filled with stunning sights and encounters that kids will long remember.
The park offers ranger-led activities for kids also. Beyond the natural, there are countless human-made attractions and entertainments to keep the kids engaged.
Dollywood's famous amusement park is here, with its sister water park in summer, offering stage shows, festivals, live music, food, fireworks and rides for all ages - setting the high bar for fun that other attractions in the area live up to.
Mountaintop venues such as Ober Gatlinburg ski resort, Anakeesta's magical entertainment playground, and SkyLift Park with the nation's longest pedestrian sky bridge (with a challenging glass bottom in part!) all serve to get visitors off the ground and aloft with the peaks, where scenic views abound.
One of the nation's best aquariums is in Gatlinburg, with hands-on marine encounters and interactive exhibits. The towns are packed with min-golf course, go-karts, rides, downhill coasters, arcades and immersive games, as well as spectacular innovations such as indoor snow tubing and sky diving, downhill zorbing, and other unique attractions.
There are also numerous animal and petting zoos where children can encounter other life, and get warm and cuddly.
The Smoky Mountains are Great For All Ages
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge host hundreds of restaurants of all kinds, with (now-legal) moonshine distilleries and wineries to help the adults stay refreshed. While this popular area can be very crowded at peak times, there are numerous ways to change pace and relax as well as to go all-out on an adventure.
It's a great place for a multi-generational vacation, where grandparents may prefer the lovely city parks and golf courses while the kids are going crazy watching taffy being made.
Many of the attractions are of interest to all ages, such as Tuckaleechee Caverns, with the country's tallest underground waterfall. Gentle horseback tours are available throughout the area, as are river tubing floats in summer.
Shopping in the area is an adventure in itself, with name-brand stores, factory outlets, unique mom-and pop eclectic shops, as well as galleries and studios by the dozens.
With the country's largest community of independent artisans, the unique arts and craft works here constitute an entire added dimension of heirloom-quality gifts and purchases. No one leaves the Smoky Mountains without at least one unique souvenir.
There are lots of Accommodations in the Smoky Mountains
With millions of visitors each year, accommodations naturally proliferate throughout the area. While many prefer lodges and hotels, the great favorites are hundreds of luxury vacation cabins nestled in the foothills.
Rental cabins in the Smoky Mountains can vary greatly in terms of size, style, amenities, and location. Prices are generally affordable, and cheap Gatlinburg cabins can often be found as rental agencies hold specials up to half price.
Cabins typically feature a hot tub outside on the covered deck, and often a Jacuzzi in the master en suite. The layouts tend to be spacious, and often multilevel, which allows an entire family or group to share a large cabin (they range from 1-bedroom up to 20-bedroom) and still have private moments as well as plenty of communal gathering around the table for meals. Cabins come with fully equipped kitchens for a home away from home lifestyle.
Other amenities that you typically find in Smoky Mountain rental cabins include fireplaces, Wi-Fi, and cable TV. Some cabins also offer additional features such as game rooms, home theaters, and private, indoor swimming pools or saunas. Typically the views range from those with vaulted windows and breathtaking mountain views to those in the woods in park-like settings.
Are you planning a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains?ARE YOU CRAVING MORE DELICIOUS RECIPES AND TRAVEL INSPIRATION? Sign up below to receive my newsletter filled with delicious recipes, fun crafts, and family adventures straight into your inbox: