Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a charming mountain town in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. Known for its stunning natural beauty, family-friendly attractions, and Southern hospitality, Gatlinburg has become a top vacation destination for families seeking adventure and relaxation alike.

Whether you’re looking to hike the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains, ride the thrilling roller coasters, or unwind in a cozy cabin in the woods, Gatlinburg has it all.

But with so many options available, planning a Gatlinburg family vacation can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide of must-do activities and attractions to help you make the most of your time in this beautiful mountain town.

1- Explore Downtown Gatlinburg

The charming streets of downtown offer a unique and enchanting atmosphere that will captivate the whole family. From the SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, to the Gatlinburg Space Needle, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, many exciting attractions exist.

The Village Shops, with 27 unique shops and restaurants, and the Donut Friar, which also serves up mouth-watering pastries, are just a few of the many shopping and dining options available.

Explore Gatlinburg
Explore Gatlinburg

Downtown Gatlinburg also hosts several annual events, including the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair, featuring over 180 artisans, and the Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales event, which offers live music and storytelling.

2- Take A Ride On Ripley’s Mountain Coaster

The Ripley’s Mountain Coaster is a gravity-driven ride that allows you to control your speed as you descend the mountain. You’ll start by ascending a hill on the back of the coaster, and then it’s up to you to control the speed as you race down the track. You can go as fast or slow as you want, making this Ripley’s Mountain Coaster ride suitable for all ages and comfort levels.

The track is 1,000 feet long and offers plenty of twists and turns. You’ll also have beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains as you wind down the mountain, making for an exciting and scenic adventure.

3- Hike To A Waterfall

If you’re planning a family vacation to Gatlinburg, hiking to a waterfall should be at the top of your list of must-do activities. The area has several stunning waterfalls, each offering a unique hiking experience and breathtaking views.

  • Laurel Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in the park, with a paved trail suitable for all ages and skill levels. The hike takes you through a beautiful forest of rhododendrons and hemlocks before rewarding you with the sight and sound of an 80-foot waterfall cascading over the rocks.
  • Grotto Falls is another famous waterfall hike that takes you through a beautiful forest filled with wildflowers and moss-covered boulders. The highlight of the hike is the opportunity to walk behind the 25-foot waterfall, a unique and memorable experience for kids and adults.
  • For those up for a longer hike, Abrams Falls offers a 5-mile round-trip trail through a beautiful forest and along the banks of Abrams Creek. The 20-foot waterfall also creates a deep pool that’s perfect for swimming on a hot summer day.

4- Attend A Dinner Show

Gatlinburg offers a variety of dinner shows that provide delicious food and live entertainment that the whole family can enjoy. From musical performances to comedy shows, there’s something for everyone. Some popular dinner shows in Gatlinburg include Dolly Parton’s Stampede, the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show, and the Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show. Attending a dinner show is also a great way to enjoy a meal and a fun and memorable experience that your family will cherish for years to come.

Attend a Dinner Show
Attend a Dinner Show

5- Visit Ober Gatlinburg

This ski resort offers year-round activities, including skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and an alpine slide. In the summer, take a scenic chairlift ride and enjoy the wildlife encounter. The resort also has restaurants, shops, and a wildlife habitat that allows visitors to observe black bears, river otters, and other animals in their natural habitats. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or just looking for a unique way to experience the mountains, Ober Gatlinburg will surely be a highlight of your trip.

6- Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Trail

This scenic drive offers breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains and a chance to explore the area’s natural beauty. Visitors can stop at historical buildings, waterfalls, and hiking trails. The 5.5-mile loop takes visitors through narrow roads, past rushing streams, and over bridges. This experience is perfect for families looking for a fun and educational way to spend time together while enjoying the outdoors. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the stunning scenery.

7- Go Zip Lining

Zip lining in Gatlinburg is a thrilling adventure that allows you to soar above the trees and take in stunning views of the Smoky Mountains. One of the most popular places to go zip lining is at Anakeesta, where you can choose from various zip line tours, including a canopy walk, a dueling zip line adventure, and a nighttime zip line experience. Another option is CLIMB Works Smoky Mountains offers a zip line tour with nine zip lines, three sky bridges, and a rappel. No matter which zip line tour you choose, you will have an unforgettable experience that will make your Gatlinburg family vacation even more memorable.

8- Ripley’s Aquarium Of The Smokies

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is a popular attraction that offers a unique and educational experience for all ages. Visitors can see sharks, penguins, and other sea creatures up close in the underwater tunnel, and there are several interactive exhibits where kids can touch and learn about different species. The aquarium also offers behind-the-scenes tours, sleepovers, and a glass-bottom boat ride for an even more immersive experience. Take advantage of the daily dive shows and feeding demonstrations, which are entertaining and informative.

Ripley's Aquarium Of The Smokies
Ripley’s Aquarium Of The Smokies

9- Go Whitewater Rafting

With its pristine rivers and breathtaking scenery, Gatlinburg is the perfect destination for this thrilling outdoor activity. A variety of outfitters in the area offer guided rafting trips, ranging from calm and scenic floats to heart-pumping, adrenaline-fueled rapids. Moreover, some popular options include the Pigeon River, Nantahala River, and Ocoee Rivers. Whether you’re a seasoned rafter or a first-timer, whitewater rafting in Gatlinburg is an unforgettable experience that the whole family will love.


Gatlinburg is a beautiful destination for families looking for a mix of outdoor adventure, entertainment, and relaxation. From hiking to waterfalls and exploring the Great Smoky Mountains to visiting Ober Gatlinburg and attending a dinner show, you can also find unique places and activities in Gatlinburg.

By following our list of must-do activities, you’ll be sure to have a memorable family vacation that will leave you with cherished memories for years to come. So start planning your Gatlinburg adventure today, and prepare for a fun-filled getaway that your family will never forget!

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