Review of Tennessee’s Wilderness at the Smokies: 3 Pros and Cons

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Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort includes an impressive list of amenities, including Tennessee’s largest indoor waterpark, two outdoor waterparks, an adventure ropes course, laser tag, mini golf, an arcade, on-site restaurants and much more. 

The resort opened in the late 2000s, so unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of experiencing it as a kid. But I think young me would have really liked it. 

Okay, I’ll admit that adult me really liked it, too. But with just about anything, there are pros and cons about this place, so let’s dive in. (Pun intended). We’ll start out on a positive note. 

The Adventure Forest alone will keep kids entertained for hours (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Pro #1 – It’s Convenient (and fun)

Theoretically, you could pack up your family, drive them to the Wilderness at the Smokies, never leave the resort and still have a great vacation. There’s a lot to do here, and it will take a while for your kiddos to get bored. Also, there’s just something nice about staying where the action is. It’s not very fun to spend your vacation sitting in traffic.

Guests can ride a water slide in any weather at Wilderness at the Smokies (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

The indoor waterpark is pretty impressive, and when I was there it didn’t feel overly crowded, either. There’s a surf rider, a wave pool, “vortex” water slides and hot tubs — basically everything you could want when you visit a waterpark. 

The resort also provides towels for their guests, and parking is free. Never underestimate free parking, people. 

The shuttle was extremely convenient (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com) 

Pro #2 – The Shuttle

There are two main buildings to this place: Stone Hill Lodge and River Lodge. The River Lodge usually runs a bit more expensive because that’s where most of the amenities are. But, if you want to save a little money, you can easily stay at either location and have a shuttle take you back and forth between the two lodges.

Now you may be thinking, “What if I go in the winter and don’t want my kids to be outside in the cold in wet swimsuits?” — And that’s a good thought. There is a convenience to being in the same building, probably more so in the winter. If you do decide to “shuttle it” in colder months, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and bring some layers that are easy to change in and out of.

The bar area, unfortunately not open at around 9 am (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Pro #3 – Food and Drinks

You technically can’t bring in outside food or drinks, but the prices aren’t totally unreasonable if you want to eat on-site. The pizza is pretty affordable, and they have a buffet spot where kids eat free (with one paid adult). 

There’s a lot of places to eat within the resort, such as the Mountain Marketplace for coffee and convenience items; there’s also the Thirsty Miner Restaurant, Grizzly’s Grill, Billy Jack’s, Firefly Bar and Grill, Coyote Cove, Hidden Trail Restaurant and more. There’s also a bar area within the waterpark area so the adults can unwind. 

And now for the complaints. In the grand scheme of things, the complaints are minor. Let me clarify that overall, I was actually quite impressed. But no place is perfect.

Complaint #1 – The Resort Fee

There is a mandatory daily fee of $23.04 (plus tax) for all guests. To their credit, it does mention this on their website, but unfortunately for me, I missed that when I booked my stay, so I was surprised when I arrived to be immediately hit with another charge. I understand that amenities cost money, but personally I’d just rather it just be included in the base cost to avoid surprises.

The walls can be a tad thin, but overall the room is nice (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Complaint #2 – The Weird Noises

I arrived after dark with my mom and parked my car in the garage. We heard a very strange screeching sound and thought a wild animal had made its way into the garage and decided to die there. We hurriedly rushed into the elevator, wondering what in-the-hell-kind of animal makes that noise. The next morning, we heard it again, and embarrassed, noticed speakers this time. Wilderness, if you’re listening, I recommend a new soundtrack.

The walls are also a little thin for a place that is sure to have a lot of young kids running around, but it didn’t become a major issue for us during our stay. 

Complaint #3 – The Hospitality

Honestly I felt like the staff wasn’t all that friendly. This is something I never truly enjoy critiquing because I have worked in customer service, and I know I was never perfect. Maybe they were having an off day. But that being said, I just didn’t feel that overly-friendly, Southern hospitality that you get when you go to say, I don’t know, Dollywood. And maybe I’m biased — Dollywood is basically my happy place — and you can almost tell that it’s a lot of people’s happy place because everyone seems to just genuinely be in a fantastic mood. It’s not quite the same vibe at Wilderness at the Smokies, but perhaps I’m just spoiled. 

The hot tub opens to the outside and is available in colder months (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Tips for your trip

  • Get an early start — When I was there, the waterpark was not very crowded when it first opened, so arriving early in the day is a good way to avoid long lines. Check in starts at 4 pm, but you can pre-register as early as noon to enjoy the amenities. Check out is at 10:30 am, but you can still enjoy the parks all day after checkout. 
  • It’s (probably) better in the winter — Winter months are usually an affordable time to visit, and it’s a good way to scratch an itch from winter blues by throwing on a swimsuit despite whatever Tennessee weather is happening outside. Plus, from mid-November to early January, they have an ice rink! 
  • Know your own expectations — I would rate this fantastic for families, and still fun for young (and young-at-heart) adults. While it’s good for all ages, it’s definitely more geared for families. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway or an adults-only vacation, there are other places to see in the Smokies. 
  • Deals — In the low season, you can find deals as low as about $79-99 per night (plus the resort fees). They also offer free and discounted attraction tickets in the area. Promotions are subject to change, but you can ask about the discounts at the guest services desk. Note: I have heard of people getting sucked into timeshare talks here too, so buyer beware, although I have not experienced this personally. 
  • Consider a day pass — If you’re curious about the resort but not committed to stay on-site, you can always get a day pass instead. Prices range depending on the season, but it’s (roughly) half the price for a resort stay. 
The wave pool is a popular spot inside the Wild Water Dome (Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com) 

And if you like waterparks, their sister park, Soaky Mountain Waterpark, is scheduled to open soon. 

READ: Soaky Mountain Waterpark coming soon (And the name isn’t even the best part) 

Wilderness at the Smokies is located at 1424 Old Knoxville Hwy, Sevierville, TN 37876. For more information, visit their website at wildernessatthesmokies.com

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.


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