Tennessee and North Carolina: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Drive in/out: Gatlinburg Tennessee, Asheville, North Carolina
Recommended ages: 5 & up who love outdoors!
Ball Park Price: $350/person for up to 4 travellers (automobile costs not included)
Best Season: April – October
DAY ONE: Drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to enter the north side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Stop at Sugarland Visitor Center to pick up current maps, trail information, and junior ranger packet. Go to Laurel Falls, an easy trail to a waterfall 3 miles away from the Sugarland Visitor Center. Drive to Cades Cove Campground. Unpack car and prepare camp and dinner.
DAY TWO: Start with a guided horseback ride offered by Cades Cove stables. Get there when it opens as reservations for guided horseback riding is no longer accepted. In the afternoon, take the 11 mile loop one-way road circling Cades Cove to see the wildlife and variety of historic buildings offering the rich history of the people who built these structures.
DAY THREE: Set out for some hiking and exploring trails with waterfalls. Head to some of the best trails for kids including Grotto Falls. Use the detailed map to select walking, hiking and waterfall trails based on difficulty. Pack cooler in car for picnic lunch. Drive to Clingmans Dome, the highest elevation view of the park. Drive back to Cades Cove.
DAY FOUR: Stop at Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Museum to view exhibits that give a picture of the life of the farmers and people who lived in the Smoky Mountains before it became a national park. Head to Museum of Cherokee Indian in the town of Cherokee. Visit the museum in the morning and then go tubing in the afternoon “fun run” with Rafting With My Kids. (minimum age 7.) Drive to Asheville, North Carolina and check in at a Bed and Breakfast for a warm meal and bed.
DAY FIVE: Explore Asheville, North Carolina. Take a white water rafting trip just 20 miles outside of Asheville. Minimum age 8. Head home.
- Our family gets the best value vacation by camping in the National Parks. Smoky Mountains National Park is a sprawling,(521,085 acres!) breathtaking beautiful outdoor adventure for the family.
- The Cades Cove area is one of the most visited areas with over 2 million visitors annually. It is a popular destination because it offers the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. Sightings of black bear, coyote, white-tailed deer are frequently seen.
- Some of the terrain in Smoky is quite rugged and the park is best known for long and difficult hikes. But, for the best hiking trail for kids, we used My Smoky Mountain Vacations.
- We fell in love with this area. Besides the spectacular scenery, we loved the opportunity to get to know the history and people of the Tennessee and North Carolina. Camping, white water rafting, tubing, and hiking provided us with a great and affordable summer vacation.
- The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is a must. It was a hidden treasure for the kids bringing the history of the Cherokee Indian to life. An introductory film followed by life size interactive displays made this a great ½ day.
- Spending a morning with the kids on horseback getting a guided tour from Cades Cove Stables was just surreal.
- We loved all the hiking trails within Great Smoky Mountains and it feels like we just scratched the surface of the park. One of our most memorable hike was Grotto Falls.
Places to stay
- Cades Cove Campground for 3 nights with the kids most might consider roughing it. Did we mention, there’s no showers? However, Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t have any onsite lodging so this is the ideal place to camp. Every night, there are events and activities for kids.
- Wright Inn and Carriage House Bed and Breakfast. Near downtown Asheville, this historic victorian was beautiful bed and breakfast to enjoy after three days of camping. This was the perfect B&B to spend a day in Asheville.
- Bring your favorite camping recipes that are easy over a campfire with lots of Reynold Wrap! See here for best tips and recipes for campfire cooking.
- After camping outdoors for 3 days and being greeted by a full breakfast at Wright Inn was a memorable meal.
- Typically you can not get an internet signal in the Smoky Mountains so keep that in mind for notes and maps. Download the guides and maps beforehand and bring along!
- Bring bear spray and bear bells as a precaution. Bears are prevalent in the park.
- Because of the wildlife, food and restaurants are scarce in the park. When going out for the day, pack your cooler with waters, snacks, lunch etc for the day’s provisions to get the most of seeing the park.
- Make your reservations to Cades Cove or other campgrounds around 6 months in advance.
- Regardless of the month you visit, temperatures can easily vary 20 degrees from mountain base to top. Bring layers for the warm days and cool nights.
The front country campgrounds offered through the park are beautiful but minimal. You basically rely on campfire for cooking. Bring plenty of coolers and provisions. A great resource is the REI camping checklist and kitchen provisions.