One of the best ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountains is with your family. Even the kiddos can have a great time with all the kid-friendly activities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To help you plan your family getaway, we’ve come up with a few of those activities—from Junior Ranger Day in the park to hay rides that are fun for the whole family. The Great Smoky Mountains are a perfect place for everyone in your crew to have a fun and memorable time!
Junior Ranger Day
Any child between the ages of 5 and 12 can become a Junior Ranger in just three easy steps. First, kids can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for $2.50 at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Center. (You can also get one at the Cades Cove or Elkmont campground.) Then, kids complete the activities in the booklet during their time in the park. Later, stop back by the Visitor Center to let the kids talk to a ranger and receive their Junior Ranger badges!
The exciting thing about becoming a Junior Ranger in the park is that kids can participate in ranger-led Junior Ranger programs offered in the spring, summer, and fall. Kids can also participate in Junior Ranger Day in the Great Smoky Mountains!
This past year, Junior Ranger Day took place in April. Children and their families were able to enjoy a variety of free, hands-on activities in the park, such as ranger-guided walks, historic toy making, and making dinner bells at a blacksmith shop. They were also able to touch various animals’ skins and skulls. For more information about Junior Ranger Day, including next year’s theme, ask one of the workers in the Visitor Center in the park.
Hiking in the park might not sound like a great idea if you’re bringing along small children. But there are plenty of trails that will work for children, and we’ll list a few of those here. These trails are easy to navigate, not too long, and fun for kids!
- Laurel Falls—This trail is 2.6 miles roundtrip, and one of its best features is that it’s paved. Although parts of the trail are uneven and you’ll come across short sections that are fairly steep, if you keep your kids close by and follow safety protocols, you should be fine with them on this trail. You can bring pets and ride bicycles on this hike as well.
- Noah “Bud” Ogle Trail—Close to the entrance of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, you’ll find the walk to the Ogle homestead. This trail is a loop that’s only 3/4 of a mile long. Young kids will enjoy the nature walk, and older kids can read about the history along the way. This short, flat trail is great for kids of all ages.
- Grotto Falls—This hike is three miles roundtrip and takes you to the beautiful Grotto Falls. This trail is not paved, but it doesn’t have any steep drop-offs like Laurel Falls. Something your kids will love about this hike is getting to actually go behind the waterfall when they get to the end!
Hay Rides and Horseback Riding
Finally, a great option for kids in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is taking them for a hay ride! This is especially helpful for parents who aren’t sure their kids are quite old enough for a hike in the mountains just yet. A hay ride will give you a chance to explore the mountains without having to worry if your child will get tired or wander off. The Cades Cove Riding Stables is just one company in the Smokies offering guided hayrides around the Cades Cove Loop Road.
And for older kids, you might try horseback riding in the Smokies. Several stables offer guided rides that will let you experience the mountains just like the settlers did—on the back of a beautiful mare!