Traveling With Kids

Road Trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains with Kids

Road Trip Guide: Texas to the Great Smoky Mountains with Kids

We just got back from our second long road trip of the year where we drove from Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and back, hitting some super fun stops along the way. We had a great time and also learned a lot along the way. We’ve had a week to get settled back into reality and now I’m here to give you other road trip planners and adventure seekers our trip itinerary and recommendations on where to stop, play and stay along your road trip from Texas to the Great Smoky Mountains.

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A Little Background: We’re RVing It with a 20 Month Old

First off, if you’ve been following my family on Instagram this year then you know that we recently purchased a fifth wheel camper. So you’ll see campsite recommendations included in this post instead of hotels. You could easily find hotels in each of the places we stayed though.

Secondly, our little guy, Lucas, almost 2 years old, was along for this 28 hour plus road trip. That said, you’ll see several stops at some awesome parks to allow him ample time to stretch his legs. If you have kiddos along with you for your upcoming trip, you may want to take note.

Our Road Trip Itinerary: Stops, Plays and Stays

Ft. Worth to Hot Springs

Day 1: Ft. Worth, TX to Texarkana, TX to Hot Springs, AR

We left out early in the morning and stopped in Texarkana, TX at Spring Lake Park to eat lunch and stretch our legs.

Lucas in front of the fighter plane during our stop at Spring Lake Park in Texarkana on our on our Road Trip from Texas to the Great Smoky Mountains

This park had ample RV parking, playgrounds and a really pretty pond with ducks and geese. We also checked out the old fighter airplane they have which Lucas absolutely loved.

The first night of our trip we camped at Catherine’s Landing in Hot Springs, AR. It was absolutely gorgeous! This place was definitely the nicest RV park we’ve ever stayed in.

From the gorgeous tree covered mountain view to the river, boat ramp, pond, pool, playground, and splash pad, it really has it all. While it was too cool for the pool and splash pad, we had a blast riding our bikes around the property. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a peaceful RV-cation! We did try to venture into downtown Hot Springs but it was a zoo and we realized very quickly that we would rather be back at the RV resort.

Michael and Lucas in front of the river at Catherine's Landing Hot Springs, AR on our Road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains

Day 2: Hot Springs, AR to Memphis, TN to Nashville, TN

The next morning we left Hot Springs early and stopped in Memphis, TN at the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid originally intending to go up the elevator and eat lunch at their restaurant. It was a Sunday and it was really crowded and busy so we decided to leave and find lunch elsewhere. Honestly, looking back, we would have just stopped at a rest stop and eaten in the camper if we had known how busy and crowded it was going to be in Memphis.

Our second night, we pulled into the Grand Ole RV Resort in Nashville, TN. This place was super affordable at $37 a night but it’s definitely a bit cozy. They really pack the RV’s into their tiny spots so if you’re not into that, it might not be your place to stay. There weren’t any amenities for kids but they did have a nice camp store that served food and offered live music and the staff was great!

Excited that we finally made it to Nashville, we took the opportunity to find a place with some good food and live music close to music row. We dined at the The Row Kitchen and Pub while some super great artists played on the patio. This place had an amazing biscuits and jam appetizer that honestly could have been my whole meal. Our dinner was great and it was not too loud or trashy for Lucas. I saw some delicious desserts on the menu. Go with an empty stomach and you will not be disappointed!

Me and Lucas having dinner at The Row Kitchen and Pub with kids in Nashville, TN on our Road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains

Sightseeing in Nashville

Day 3: Sightseeing in Nashville, TN

On the third morning, we finally got to stay in one place! Hurray! We spent the morning at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and had lunch at Margaritaville on Broadway. The museum was not super thrilling for us. The interactive exhibits were closed due to Covid and I was quite frankly very disappointed in the lack of Garth Brooks exhibits. FYI huge Garth fan here! It was pretty difficult to contain Lucas and there wasn’t anything for him to do there so I wouldn’t recommend it for kids. At least not during Covid.

Post lunch, we got last minute tickets to the Grand Ole Opry Backstage Tour and it was one of the best decisions we made on the trip.

The tour opened with a pre-recorded brief history of the Opry that gave me goose bumps and it was narrated by Garth and Trisha! I was like finally someone gets it!

The dressing rooms at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN

We got to see into the star’s dressing rooms, see the sound stage and actually stand on the Opry stage. It was so worth it! Lucas had passed out on the drive there and so he ended up sleeping in his stroller through the whole tour (until we got photos) but even if he had been awake, he would have had a blast too. If you have littles, bring your stroller and you’ll have no problem!

Our family on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN

Cheekwood Gardens

Day 4: Morning at Cheekwood Gardens then Nashville, TN to Townsend, TN

The next morning, I really did not want to leave Nashville! I just enjoyed it so much! We had a three hour drive ahead of us and we knew we needed to wear little man out before the drive so we decided to check out Cheekwood Gardens. They have an amazing fall display right now with pumpkin houses, a truly amazing train exhibit for kids and Chihuly glass sculptures in the garden.

Lucas checking out the children's train exhibit in Cheekwood Gardens
Cheekwood Gardens fall colors

I’m a huge garden fan so I felt like the whole Cheekwood Gardens experience was kind of magical!

We all had a blast exploring the property and by the time we were done we were all worn out. If you go, go early and you won’t regret it!

Big Meadows Family Campground

That afternoon, we packed up and headed to Big Meadows Family Campground in Townsend, TN. I feel like this place is the definition of picturesque mountainside RV park.

Views from Big Meadows Family Campground in Townsend, TN on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains
Views from Big Meadows Family Campground in Townsend, TN on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains

Situated right around the corner from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and right next to a river, it’s the perfect camping location. Unfortunately, because I planned our trip last minute, they only had one night available to us but it worked out great regardless.

Views from Big Meadows Family Campground in Townsend, TN on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains

For kids, they have a pirate ship play fort, swing set and tire sand box and splash pad. Lucas really enjoyed playing and making some friends on the playground. During warm weather it looks like a lot of people tube the river here but luckily it was way to cold for that.


Cade’s Cove

Day 5: Morning at Cade’s Cove then Moving Camp Sites to Pigeon Forge, TN

On day 5, we woke up early on day 5 and headed out to Cade’s Cove knowing we had to be out of our campsite by noon. We had debated bringing our bikes because we were told it was super bikable but it was only 45 degrees outside so we decided against that. We got to Cade’s Cove around 8ish and it was just starting to get traffic. Immediately, we realized there was no way we could have biked it with all the cars on the road, Lucas’ bike trailer and the steep hills.

If you have littles, just plan to do a drive through Cade’s Cove and make stops along the way.

In Cade's Cove on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains
In Cade's Cove on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains

Still Cade’s Cove was absolutely gorgeous via vehicle! We ended up only doing the 9 mile loop but we were able to stop at two of the cabins and ended up seeing 3 bears, wild turkeys and deer along the way. 2 bears scampered behind the cabins we were looking at and another crossed the road while we were driving. At the end of the loop, we did end up getting out at the stables to take a look at the horses which Lucas loved.

A bear sighting In Cade's Cove on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains
In Cade's Cove on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains

Camp Riverslanding

That afternoon, we packed up and headed to Camp Riverslanding in Pigeon Forge, TN, our final campsite before heading home. We were astonished at all the touristy craziness as we entered Pigeon Forge. It was obviously a tourist trap but Camp Riverslanding was really tucked away from all of that and proved to be a perfect last place to camp. Our site backed right up to the river that had ducks and geese just floating right by us. It was really peaceful and nice.

Camp Riverslanding in Pigeon Forge, TN

That afternoon, Lucas and I spent quite a bit of time playing and throwing rocks in the river even though the water was really cold.

Lucas watching the ducks on the river at Camp Riverslanding

Laurel Falls

Day 6 Morning: Hike Laurel Falls

On our final day at the park, we headed to the Great Smoky Mountains to do some hiking. We started the morning at Laurel Falls trail. It’s around a mile hike up a mountain to a gorgeous waterfall. Based on my research, I didn’t completely understand how steep of a climb it was going to be. Everyone just said it was good for toddlers. Thankfully, we brought my Lille Baby 6 in 1 carrier which was a life saver to carry Lucas! The whole trail was paved and so he was able to walk some of the way. Eventually Lucas got worn out on the steep incline and needed to be carried.

All in all, Laurel Falls provided some really pretty views and the water fall was spectacular but be prepared for a steep climb and good workout and bring a carrier for the littles.

Clingmans Dome

Day 6 Afternoon: Clingmans Dome

After getting back to the truck, we decided to continue into the park up to Clingmans Dome. The park had started to get really busy and we had to sit in quite a bit of traffic. It was about an hour scenic drive to Clingmans Dome and then we hit major traffic at the top of the mountain.

At Clingmans Dome, parking was limited and we sat for a good 20 minutes waiting. Once we got parked, we had another steep climb up to the top. Again, I was not educated on the steepness. The path was wide and paved but there’s no way Lucas could have climbed it on his own. Pushing his stroller was really hard going up and coming down.

View from Clingmans Dome

The view from the top was super foggy as seen above. While it was pretty, if you have kids, I would just advise stopping at another of the many lookouts in the park that are closer.

Day 7: Head Home – Pigeon Forge to Jackson to Little Rock

On day 7, we left out super early and drove a total of 9 hours plus stops. About 5 hours in, we had to stop and let Lucas play for a bit. We luckily happened upon find North Park in Jackson, TN where we could easily park the camper.

Playing at North Park in Jackson, TN on our Road Trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains

Lucas enjoyed several hours of play on their massive super nice playground. After a walk through their trails, we drove to Memphis, where we stopped for dinner. Then another 2 hours, while Lucas slept, to Little Rock, AR. It was a really really long day and our longest drive of any one day we had made.



to Home

Day 8: Burns Park in Little Rock and Heading Home

The next morning we ventured over to Burns Park in Little Rock, AR for some energy burning before heading for home. The park has like 6 or 7 playgrounds and Lucas really enjoyed exploring most of them. We finally got back in the truck and made it home that afternoon. Very tired and kind of gross but having had a really good time and making a lot of memories!

Are you Planning a Road Trip?

If you’re planning a road trip to the Smokies, I hope this information and our experiences were helpful! I would love to hear how your trip goes or any questions you may have before you go! Just comment below and I’ll get back as soon as possible!

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