We have three kids with ages ranging from 16 to 6.
It’s interesting to see the world through their eyes, to get them talking and get them to explain things from their point of view.
Well, not the 16-year-old so much. Most of the time we’d like her to keep her opinions a little more to herself.
At any rate, I find we function best while on a family vacation. Gatlinburg, the beach, Disney World, most of the time I find that our interests align well on a road trip.
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Is Gatlinburg TN good for kids?
Sure. You wouldn’t necessarily think of Gatlinburg as a town for kids. However, there’s lots of stuff for kids to do in Gatlinburg.
Still, compared to the neon Candyland that is Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg is much more geared to older kids and adults, which may be noticeable with all the distilleries and wineries along the strip.
And so, I’ve had people ask how we juggle what the kids want to do when we go to the mountains because 6-year-olds and 16-year-olds certainly have different interests.
We’re lucky in some ways that the 16-year-old still enjoys being a kid and isn’t pushing too hard toward the freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood.
And, I think, she likes sharing the favorite things she did when she was younger with her siblings.
So what are the best things to do in Gatlinburg with kids? Let me offer a ranking.
19. Earthquake The Ride
Ranked last for a reason, Earthquake The Ride is a cheesy tourist trap along the strip in Gatlinburg.
The attraction promises to offer “high-tech special effects” and simulate the feel of a real earthquake.
My friends, it is cheesy, but depending on the ages of your kids, they might just like it.
18. Crazy Mason Milkshake Bar
The Crazy Mason Milkshake Bar is a utopia with an ice cream cookie sandwich.
Essentially, they serve upscale sundaes with a variety of flavors and sweet treats and topping choices stuffed into a mason jar that is not equipped to hold everything.
These desserts are picturesque and something that your kids will certainly go crazy for.
17. Visit the Hollywood Star Cars Museum
This museum may not be for everyone, but if there’s any car enthusiasts in the family, it can be a fun little attraction to visit.
They have a 1992 Batmobile and a collection of cars from the Fast and Furious.
The museum is easily accessible along the main strip downtown.
16. Visit an arcade
There are a handful of arcades in the downtown Gatlinburg area, and you don’t have to try too hard to find a good one.
A popular one that comes to mind is Arcadia, which is located at the base of the Space Needle. As one of the tallest structures in Gatlinburg, you can’t miss it.
Fannie Farkles and Chicken Guy! also offer great arcades.
15. Rent a UTV
There are plenty of ways to explore the area, but it’s hard to beat the feeling of wind in your hair as you cruise around town in a UTV rental.
There are many great options in the area, many of which are conveniently located in Gatlinburg.
14. Try your hand at Activate Games
This one is for the older kids in the family, as Activate Games is recommended for ages 10 and up.
Still, it’s one of the more unique gaming experiences in the Gatlinburg area.
It features offers high-tech games that test players’ physical and mental agility across a wide variety of challenges.
13. Eat a good pancake breakfast
I’ve never met a kid that didn’t like a pancake, especially one decorated with a funny face or covered in fruit and whipped cream.
It’s a fun way to start the day, and the odd European architecture of the Pancake Pantry makes it feel a little like something out of a fairy story.
Even if your child doesn’t understand why, if they’ve grown up being read fairy tales or watching the classics, they’ll pick up on the vibe. Also, frankly, the sugar will help them make it through to lunch without a whining fit.
Finally, Gatlinburg is a walking town and if they’re a little too big for a stroller, they will need the extra boost.
Arrive early if you partake in the pancakes, especially if you’re going on a weekend.
As a bonus, Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen is about a five-minute walk from the Pancake Pantry if anyone has room in their bellies.
Speaking of which …
12. Visit the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
The Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen is a fun place to visit for all ages. Watch as they make homemade taffy, which has been made daily since 1950.
They also offer treats like fudge and caramel apples. Located near The Village, you can also explore nearby gift shops for gifts, trinkets and memorabilia for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
11. Ride a mountain coaster
The mountain coasters in Gatlinburg are like the arcades. There are several options in the area, and they are all pretty similar. And pretty good.
It’s a fun ride that kids are sure to enjoy. Just be sure to check the height requirements when you make your plans. Most rides require riders to be at least three years old and 38 inches tall to ride as a passenger, or 16 years old to ride alone.
Of course, this requirement may vary by attraction.
10. Wild Bear Falls Water Park
Located in the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort, this water park has a state-of-the art retractable roof and heated indoor water so guests can enjoy the festivities no matter the weather.
That means your kids can enjoy the lazy river, water slides or treehouse at any time they please.
It’s the perfect oasis for families.
9. Try an escape room
Escape rooms have popped up like mushrooms in tourist towns across the nation. Although there’s nothing particularly unique about the ones in the Smokies, it’s still a fun family vacation activity to do together.
Depending on the room or attraction, many will accept kids of all ages. But note that the recommended age is usually about ten years old.
Gatlin’s Escape Games is one of the recommended ones in the area.
8. Visit Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
The Odditorium is one of the weirdest places in Gatlinburg. It has themed galleries, artifacts and hands-on exhibits that families can enjoy together.
Again, the older kids may appreciate this one a little more than the littles.
But as a bonus, you can bundle your Ripley’s tickets and save up to $25 per person if you visit other attractions, including the Moving Theater, the Amazing Mirror Maze, Haunted Adventure or Davy Crockett Mini Golf.
This bundle also works on …
7. Visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Speaking of bundling Ripley’s attractions, someone once asked, what is there to do in Gatlinburg with a 3-year-old?
The aquarium is the answer.
In fact, it is the perfect family destination. It’s great for kids of all ages. It’s entertaining and educational.
Plus, it’s great for pictures. One of my favorite pictures is my wife kneeling to speak eye-to-eye with my daughter, their silhouettes backlit by the dark blue of the giant tanks behind them.
The kids can see sharks and sea turtles, barracuda and piranha and all manner of tropical fish. My kids also love the underwater tunnel and the area where they can pet stingrays.
Above all, you have penguins.
And who doesn’t love penguins? My kids LOVE penguins.
The aquarium is simply the best place year-round to take your kids in Gatlinburg.
The more attractions you visit, the more you save. You can visit the aquarium and three other attractions and save up to $35 when you bundle.
6. Visit Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Gatlinburg SkyLift Park is one of the top attractions in Gatlinburg, and it’s home of the famous SkyBridge.
The SkyBridge is the longest cable pedestrian bridge. If your little ones are okay with heights, it’s worth it to visit this iconic landmark at least once.
5. Visit the Gatlinburg Space Needle
The Space Needle is one of the more iconic attractions in downtown Gatlinburg.
It offers an observation deck and stunning views of the city. And, the kids in your family will enjoy the fact that the previously mentioned Arcadia game center is at the bottom.
This 25,000 square-foot indoor playground features video and redemption games, as well as escape games.
Visitors of all ages enjoy the ride in the glass elevator to the observation tower.
It’s a win-win since the little ones will get something to look forward to with the game center.
Check Groupon for discounts before you go. The Space Needle is located at 115 Historic Nature Trail.
4. Visit Anakeesta
Anakeesta is one of the premier attractions in downtown Gatlinburg.
It’s a beautiful place for adults to explore and relax. But it has fun things to do for the little ones too.
For example, the TreeVenture Challenge Course and BearVenture Challenge Course are included with the price of admission.
For an extra cost, they also have a mountain coaster and gem mining.
You can get your tickets ahead of time and usually save a couple of dollars when you book your tickets with Tripster.
3. Take a picnic in the mountains
Someone asked me if there was anything free to do in Gatlinburg. After I finished laughing an authentic, hearty laugh, I pointed them to the Great Smoky Mountains.
At least, it’s mostly free until they start implementing the parking pass system in March 2023.
The Smokies are filled with wildlife, nature and memories waiting to be made.
Anyway, we love going to the Chimneys Picnic Area. It’s next to the stream so the kids can wade when the weather is warm. They have always loved tossing pebbles into the water and exploring the area around the campground.
It’s a great place to do s’mores and relax.
Also, there is no cell service, so the kids won’t be asking you for the phone all the time. In fact, they are forced to play and use their imaginations. It’s wonderful.
If you opt for more than just a picnic, the national park offers many simple trails that kids of all ages can enjoy.
The Gatlinburg Trail is also a favorite for families with young children.
2. Play some mini golf
Ainsley, our youngest, is as competitive as her older brother and sister but does not yet understand golf scoring, which is a blessing.
“Daddy, am I winning?” she’ll ask.
I don’t lie.
“You’ve got the most strokes,” I’ll respond enthusiastically.
Then she’ll skip to the next hole where she will work the ball down the green, course-correcting with little taps until it goes in the hole.
We have to let a lot of people play through, typically.
Anyway, there are multiple mini golf courses in Gatlinburg, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of them.
1. Visit Ober Mountain
I prefer Anakeesta for myself, but with the kids, there’s more to do at Ober.
There’s sledding in the winter or the Alpine slide in the summer months as well as ice skating, ice bumper cars, games and a lot more.
Ober Mountain, formerly known as Ober Gatlinburg, is a great place for kids to be able to stretch themselves, have some fun and enjoy some safe kid-friendly adventure.
In the winter, it even offers skiing, which makes it the only ski and snowboard destination in Tennessee.
If you ride the Aerial Tramway up the mountain, check Tripster for discounts.
Do you have recommendations for visitors taking family trips? Where do you like to take your kids in Gatlinburg, TN? Let us know in the comments.