As a parent of three, I’ve done my fair share of travelling with a baby or toddler.
In fact, we’ve done big trips and small ones. We’ve taken little ones to Florida, to Gulf Shores, to the Outer Islands of the Carolinas and frequently to the mountains.
Our family has had great trips and some that were not so great.
One of the not so great trips includes a 10-hour return from Florida in which my toddler son cried so much, it was like a hellish science experiment committed by massive aliens in a Twilight Zone episode.
But while there aren’t a lot of things specifically designed for babies and toddlers, there are many things you can do to keep them entertained while the older kids and adults have fun, too.
With this in mind, here are our top picks for toddler friendly activities throughout the Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg:
6. Take a drive, see the lights
This is especially true around Christmas time, but year round, Pigeon Forge gets lit up at night.
For the especially little ones, the magic of the mountains is nothing compared to the twinkling Christmas lights, or the various twinkling neon up and down the strip.
5. Picnic at Metcalf Bottoms
Metcalf Bottoms picnic area is a peaceful spot to rest, relax and enjoy the great outdoors.
The waters of the Little River typically run a little faster here, but there are spots where your little one, under your close guidance, can dip their toes in the water.
4. Picnic at The Wye in Townsend
Not far from Metcalf Bottoms is the Wye in Townsend.
There are a lot of places you can get off and dip your toes in a mountain stream, but none are more accessible or gentle than the Wye.
Located just inside the park at the intersection of Laurel Creek Road, Little River Gorge Road and Townsend Entrance Road, the Wye may be the closest thing you find to a beach within the park.
There’s a gentle grassy slope that locals use for sunbathing and picnics. And there’s also a deep swimming hole created where the prongs of the Little River meet.
The water is typically gentle – but very cold. It can get a little crowded and/or hectic at the height of swimming season.
However, it’s a reliable place to take your young one where you don’t have to negotiate giant rocks just to get to the water.
3. Spend time in Wildwood Grove at Dollywood
Designed specifically for older adults and families with small children, Wildwood Grove within Dollywood offers a splash pad when seasonally appropriate, rides for small children and an indoor play area known as the Hidden Hollow.
The Hidden Hollow offers air conditioning and cool black lit elements which can be a little noisy, but is still a good place to hangout.
Wildwood Grove was designed with plenty of spaces to rest, to relax and enjoy Dollywood at a gentler pace.
If your family wants to tackle big fun while the little one needs a different pace, Wildwood Grove is the perfect compromise. Kids under 4 are admitted free.
Dollywood tickets for children 4-9 are $69. Adult tickets are $79 with pricing options changing the more days you purchase.
Sometimes booking with Tripster can save you a couple bucks.
2. Visit the petting zoo at Big Rock Dude Ranch
The main feature at the Big Rock Dude Ranch is the horseback riding, but there’s a lot more to do including gem mining and the fishing pond.
It’s free to take your little one to the petting zoo, which features goats, ponies, rabbits, llamas, emus, chickens, ducks and more.
A bag of feed is just $3.
1. Visit Ripley’s Aquarium
Temperature controlled with calming mood music and lighting, the aquarium is a great place to nap.
And your toddler might even get some winks in, too.
There are toddler-eye level brightly colored exotic fish. There are plenty of dark spaces where you can pull off and let your young one soak up the atmosphere.
If your little one is walking, there’s plenty of room to safely roam around. The penguins will delight them and entertain the rest of the family as well.
Children under 2 are free. Ages 2-5 are $9.99, and ages 6-11 are $19.99. Everyone over 12 is $39.99.
Also, the more you buy, the more you save with combo passes.
Still, if you’re looking for a place to entertain your young one while the family shops or explores the area, you could do worse than the aquarium.
Bonus attraction: Soaky Mountain Waterpark
If you’re visiting in the summer, Soaky Mountain Waterpark is definitely worth a mention for the little ones.
Soaky Mountain has something to offer for the whole family, but Boomer’s Bay is specifically built for the tiniest “tadpoles” in your family.
Where are your favorite places to take toddlers in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments.