Our family just spent a week in October in Gatlinburg, Tennessee with our 1 and 3 year old. If you’ve been following our family, we take a lot of RV trips but, for this trip, we chose to fly and stay in a VRBO rental. If you are considering a road trip with your RV from Texas to the Smokies, check out my previous post about our Roadtrip to the Smokies in 2020. We had so much fun & made so many memories on both trips! Today, I’m sharing our 7 days in Gatlinburg with kids to help you in planning your next Fall family getaway to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
About Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most breathtaking places to visit in the Fall. And if the gorgeous Fall colors, cascades and wildlife are not enough, there is a plethora of activities and things to do in nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Gatlinburg sits right outside of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It hosts many hotels, attractions and dining options along with still maintaining that cozy almost bavarian village vibe.
Day 1: Survive the Flight or Drive, Pick Up Groceries and Get There!
The best advice I can give to parents flying or driving into this area with children is to pre-order your groceries in advance from the Sevierville, TN Walmart and pick them up on your way into Gatlinburg. If you are driving in from Knoxville airport, it is right on the way. We were so glad we did this and it was a breeze to pick up our groceries and head to our rental house when we arrived. Grocery stores are few and far between in Gatlinburg and the traffic in the Fall can be such a headache.
Day 2: Take a Ride Up to Anakeesta and Visit Gatlinburg Trail
Anakeesta is a mountain top attraction in Gatlinburg providing gorgeous views, a botanical garden, tree top bridges, shops and dining options, zip-lining and more. To get to the top, you can choose to brave the ski lift or take the ridge rambler up. I will warn you that the ski lift is pretty slow and stops frequently, leaving you dangling in the air with wiggly unsecured children. If in doubt, take the ridge rambler to the top! Once up top, you can explore all that Anakeesta has to offer and your entry ticket is valid all day. So go home and come back for dinner if you would like. We enjoyed the gardens, the views and the treetop skywalk. There is also a mountain coaster and a Treeventure Challenge Course for older kids.
After lunch and naps, we headed to Gatlinburg Trail for a family walk before dinner. Gatlinburg Trail is one of the easiest trails in the national park for those with kids in tow. The path runs along the river and is relatively flat. Bringing your stroller is no problem. It’s serene and easy to access with kids.
Day 3: Morning Drive to Cades Cove and Back. Dinner out in Downtown Gatlinburg & wander the Village Shops
Cades Cove is about an hour drive from Gatlinburg. As you head up into the mountains, you’ll have no cell service and no where to stop for lunch so gas up, pack food and snacks and plan to spend several hours in the car with the kids. Cades cove is an 11 mile scenic loop and it features many stops along the way. Our favorite stops along the loop included the John Oliver Cabin and the John P. Cable Grist Mill located near the Cades Cove Visitor’s Center. Also note that there are bathrooms at the Grist Mill stop which is also a plus for us parents. We saw wild deer and turkeys and got to see the inside of the functioning mill. It was all so cool to see and imagine how the original dwellers of this land lived.
After naps and recovering from the day, venture downtown to Gatlinburg. Have some dinner and wander the Village Shops. The Village Shops are bavarian themed and decorated for fall. There are sometimes musicians playing music and it’s so fun to just wander the shops and enjoy the sights. End the night by grabbing some sweets from Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen.
Day 4: Fishing off Downtown Gatlinburg Bridges Then Relax and Watch for Wildlife
My husband and son are quite into fishing lately. He planned in advance for the fishing in Gatlinburg and even brought both their reels as luggage on the plane ride. We learned that Gatlinburg stocks their rivers on Thursdays so that day is off limits for fishing. Go downtown any other morning and enjoy reeling in the trout off the bridges near the hotels and restaurants. The boys said they could see the fish swimming up to their bait it was so clear. Clearly, I was back at the rental house in my pjs with the toddler but I enjoyed the photos and they had a blast!
We relaxed at the cabin the remainder of the day and enjoyed sitting on the back porch watching the wildlife. During our week long trip, we saw 2 bears wandering around our cabin. It was so neat to safely watch them from our rental property.
Day 5: Early Morning at Cataract Falls followed by a Stop at the Donut Friar. The Island for Dinner
Venture to Cataract Falls for a quick and easy “hike” with the kids. Cataract Falls is an easy walk from the parking lot of the Sugarlands Visitors Center. The little trail to the falls is barely even a hike but it’s a cute little waterfall with very little effort for us parents with little kids in tow. If you have a baby carrier, don’t even both with your stroller. Once done, stop over at The Village Shops for a donut break at The Donut Friar. Their donuts are delicious! Don’t forget your cash as they don’t accept card!
In the afternoon, head to The Island in Pigeon Forge for the fountain lights show, carnival rides, and dinner. Get there early as the dining options fill up fast. We ate at Timberwood Grill and it was a very authentic Tennessee experience. I highly recommend the Mountain High Brisket Sandwich.
Day 6: Mountain Mist Farms for Fruit Picking then Drive Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (part 1)
I love finding outdoor authentic activities on our family vacations to expose our kids to new things. I came across Mountain Mist Farms while googling orchards while on our trip. Ever been fruit picking at a gorgeous orchard or winery? Well, if you’re lucky enough to be visiting in the right season you can pick blackberries, raspberries and grapes and apples (coming soon) at Mountain Mist Farms. We visited right as their picking season was ending but kids were able to pick blackberries and grapes right off the vine. The scenery from their vineyard was absolutely breathtaking and we picked up some wine and pumpkin butter from their store as we left.
If you have a toddler that needs a morning or afternoon nap, this is a great opportunity to head through the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is super easy to access right outside of Gatlinburg. There are several cabins, churches and cascades along the way. As parents with little kids that cannot hike far, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail was my favorite part of the entire trip. We had easy access to gorgeous cascades and wildlife without the difficult hikes. On our first drive, we stopped at the lookout and also the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place. We enjoyed exploring the barn and cabin and some really pretty cascades right next to it. The wild turkey wandering the property was also a huge plus for the kids.
Day 7: Pancake Breakfast Downtown and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (part 2)
On our final full day in Gatlinburg, we went out for breakfast at one our their famous pancake houses. After getting completely stuffed, we ventured back along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, to see more of the sites we had skipped the day before. On our second day, we stopped at The Ephraim Bales Place. We explored the property and nearby cascades. Once back to our car, we decided to venture down the Baskins Creek Trail a bit where we discussed the Bales Cemetery. It was interesting to read the dates and information on the family members buried in this secluded and historical cemetery.
Day 8: Tuckaleechee Caverns and Head Home
On our final day, we loaded up our entire lives it would seem and headed back to Knoxville through Townsend. We stopped at Tuckaleechee Caverns and spent about 2 hours exploring the caverns through a guided tour. The cavern tour meanders about 1.5 miles underground and features lots of steep steps. If you’re bringing toddlers, I highly recommend a baby carrier for the littlest otherwise I wouldn’t risk it. I would also recommend bringing snacks just in case. If you can stomach the claustrophobia, it is incredible to see this space hidden under the mountain and valley.
After a long walk exploring the caverns, you will definitely be exhausted and ready to head home from your trip. We had so much fun and enjoyed all the gorgeous sites and adventure that the Smokies has to offer! I hope our 7 day itinerary in Gatlinburg helps you in planning your next Fall family trip!