Our Favorite Things to do in the Smoky Mountains
I’ve been visiting The Great Smoky Mountain National Park since I was a kid. Just the thought of vacationing there makes me excited like a little kid again. I also love taking my kiddos there and making new memories with them.
There seems to be two totally different sides to The Smoky Mountains. There is the quiet side, where you stay in a cozy cabin deep in woods. It is so dark and quiet and peaceful, you sleep late and are so well rested. You sit in your warm and cozy cabin under a blanket with some hot cocoa and a good book.
Then there is the other side of The Smoky Mountains. The touristy, commercialistic side. Restaurants, attractions, shows, and hundreds of places to entertain you. In all honesty, I love both sides. I love sleeping late, enjoying great food and fun activities, and then resting and taking it easy back at the cabin or room when we’re all worn out.
There are about 40 bajillion things to do in while visiting this area, but here are just a few of my family’s favorites…
Above photo via
Cades Cove is a beautiful, scenic loop in a valley surrounded by The Great Smoky Mountains. The loop is 11 miles long and is a fantastic place to see scenery and (maybe) some wildlife.
You can drive the Cades Cove loop (or bike it – vehicles aren’t allowed until 10:00 a.m.). There are also several hiking trails. We did a little horse and buggy ride. Next time we visit, we want to let the kids ride horses.
**As of January 2016 some trails are closed due to recent fire damage**
Cades Cove Visitor Center // 1 Cades Cove Loop Rd, Townsend, TN 37882 // 865-436-7318
Cades Cove WEBSITE
Taffy, Pecans, & Fudge…Oh My!
There are SO MANY candy shops in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. There are candy shops, fudge shops, and chocolate shops (many shops offer several different typed of candy). Some even have glass windows to watch the candy as it is being made. They also offer pecans and kettle corn at these stores. Don’t worry about finding a sweets shop. They are EVERYWHERE!
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
My kids loved petting the stingrays and getting up close and personal with the penguins. Ripley’s Aquarium is known for its sharks, and the kids were fascinated as they watched them swim overhead.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies Website
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies // 88 River Road, Gatlinburg TN 37738 // 865.430.8808
No Way Jose’s Mexican Restaurant
No Way Jose’s Cantina is located in Gatlinburg near Ripley’s Aquarium and is our favorite Mexican restaurants in the Smoky Mountains. (There is also one in Pigeon Forge, but we always seem to end up at the one in Gatlinburg). The chips are light and crispy and the salsa is fresh and chunky – YUM! I have enjoyed everything that I have tried at No Way Jose’s. The last time we were there, I ordered pulled pork street tacos and they were fantastic. They also offer kid’s meals (my kids like the cheese nachos).
They offer gluten-free options and their prices are also very reasonable, which is nice.
Gatlinburg No Way Jose’s Cantina // 555 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 // (865) 430-JOSE (5673)
Pigeon Forge No Way Jose’s Cantina // 104 Walden’s Main Street Pigeon Forge, 37863 // (865) 429-7779
Website: No Way Jose’s Cantina
RainForest’s Adventure Discovery Zoo
Above: A family photo…Haha…just kidding…Golden Headed Lion Tamarins – photo via
Above: My kiddos loved getting to pet and hold baby goats.
RainForest Adventure Zoo was a great experience for the kids. They got to see pythons, cobras, and tree frogs. They also loved seeing all the birds. I was impressed with the lemurs and cats. We went outside to a small outdoor area and the kids were able to see goats, chickens, and emus. The kids got to feed the goats an even hold a few baby ones.
RainForest’s Adventure Discovery Zoo Website
RainForest Adventure Discovery Zoo // 1430 Hurley Drive – Sevierville, TN 37862 // 865.428.4091
Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant & Grill
Above photo via
Imagine if your grandma and Cracker Barrel had a baby in an apple orchard and that baby was a restaurant, winery, candy shop, and gift shop. That is what I thought after visiting Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant.
There is a large restaurant, and a gift shop with every apple flavored and apple themed gift and food you can imagine. There is a little shopping center type area that links the restaurant to the gift shop. You can walk through the area, pick up some wine, candy, or ice cream while sipping on apple cider or while nibbling on sweet kettle corn.
The food in the restaurant is really good. It is good ol’ down-home, Southern cooking. I had the vegetable soup which, with one bite, transported me right back to my childhood at my sweet grandma’s house. I loved the mashed potatoes which I think they should rename to Mashed Butter. I also think the fried chicken is a must try. The chicken pot pie is huge and comes in a large bowl with a crispy crust that covers the entire top of the bowl (can you tell I tried a bite from everyone’s plate?). The majority of menu items aren’t heart healthy, but there are a few lighter options and the option of gluten-free bread. It was a bit of a calorie splurge, but it was delicious.
There was a LONG line to get a seat at the restaurant, but it moved pretty quickly, and we were seated within about 20 minutes.
Miss H got the Kid’s Meal and chose the carbs overload options.
Above: Complimentary Apple Fritters served with Apple Butter. We were also given a juice cocktail that is made of apple, pineapple, orange, and lemon juices.
Hours: 8am-9pm Daily
Breakfast: 8am-11am Daily
Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant & Grill Website
Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant & Grill // 240 Apple Valley Road – Sevierville, TN 37862 // 865.420.1222
Alpine Coasters & Go Carts
Goats on the Roof seems like an odd name for an Alpine Coaster, but it sure grabs your attention. After arriving and parking, we realized that there were goats literally playing on the roof of the gift shop area. You can purchase food to put in a can and ride a bike that sends the can on a pulley to the roof to feed the goats. My son thought this was the greatest idea in the history of humankind.
This coaster was very smooth and enjoyable. It was definitely a family favorite. After getting off the coaster, you can look at your photo from the coaster ride (these are available for purchase, but I stood behind the photo/exit area and took my own photo).
In addition to the coaster and the goat-feeding, there is a gift shop, fudge, and ice cream. There is also an area where you can mine for gems. The staff is very kind and friendly and they are great with kids. It’s a great place to spend a little time with your family.
Goats On The Roof // 1341 Wears Valley Road, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 // 865-366-7139
Goat On The Roof Of The Smokies WEBSITE
The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster was also a lot of fun, but it did have a “jerky” feel and wasn’t as smooth as Goats on a Roof. This one did feel more like a thrill ride. There were quite a few moments when I thought I was going to fly off the rails. My nine-year-old, however, loved it, so maybe I’m just a big sissy-pants.
Gatlinburg Alpine Coaster // 306 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN (Traffic Light #2) 37738 // 865-430-5577
Gatlinburg Alpine Coaster WEBSITE
There is no shortage of go-cart tracks along the Pigeon Forge Parkway. We picked this one because they were having a $6 per person/per ride special. There are so many go-cart tracks with a variety of tracks and ramps. Again, like the candy shops, the go-cart tracks are EVERYWHERE, especially in Pigeon Forge.
Best Italian Restaurant
Above: I thought I had died and gone to garlic rolls heaven! These are covered in parmesan cheese, small garlic chunks, and fresh parsley. Look in the bottom of your bowl and there is a puddle of melted butter (with more garlic, cheese, and parsley) to dip your bread in. Oh man, they are so good!
Above: My son’s kid’s meal cheese pizza. It was bigger than the plate!
This a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It’s not fancy, but the food is great. I recommend non-restrictive pants so that you can eat as many garlic rolls and pizza slices as you like! We visited the restaurant in Gatlinburg and really enjoyed ourselves!
The Best Italian on the Parkway // Between Aunt Mahalia’s Candy & World Of Illusions // 865-436-4345
The Original Best Italian Restaurant // Across the Parkway from The Hampton Inn & TGI Friday’s in Gatlinburg // 865-430-4090
Wear Stretchy Pants…
There are SO MANY fun and delicious things to do in The Great Smoky Mountains. We have been visiting this National Park for decades and we always find something new to do in addition to our favorites. I’m working on a bigger, longer list of awesome shows, restaurants, and activities for the family in the Smoky Mountains so keep checking back.
My best advice: wear your tightest pants early in the trip, and then move on to your more stretchy, comfy pants as the trip continues because the food is wonderful. Or only wear stretchy pants the whole trip like me.
Have you been to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg, or Pigeon Forge? What is your family’s favorite activity? Favorite Restaurant? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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