25 Ways to Celebrate the Centennial as a Family


We’re almost there—the 100th birthday of the National Park Service is just around the corner! Begun on August 25, 1916, this amazing organization celebrates its Centennial in 2016, which means 100 years of protecting and preserving our nation’s most prized lands.

Among the parks protected by the NPS is our beloved Great Smoky Mountains. Bringing in the most visitors of any national park in the U.S., the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a favorite tourist destination for decades.

This year, we invite you to visit this amazing park and celebrate the heritage of the NPS with 25 more things to do in the park as a family. This is the final blog in our 4-part series, and even with all 100 ideas we’ve listed, we have yet to exhaust the amount of fun that’s waiting for you in the Smokies!

So gather up the family—whether that means your spouse, your kiddos, or your entire extended crew—and create your own list for celebrating the Centennial. Then get ready for a great time in the great outdoors this summer!

  1. Experience the lowest drivable pass-through in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by driving through Newfound Gap.
  2. Hike with the family along the Appalachian Trail, which crosses over Newfound Gap Road.
  3. Just south of Newfound Gap, you’ll find the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road. Take the family up this road so you can experience the highest peak in the Smokies.
  4. At the top of Clingmans Dome Road, park the car, and get out for a 0.5-mile hike to the observation tower. Take a family photo at the top of “Old Smoky”!
  5. Purchase an inexpensive self-guided tour booklet at the start of the Cataloochee Valley.
  6. Drive through the Cataloochee Valley so you can show the kids some of the most rugged mountains in the southeastern United States.
  7. While driving through the valley, you can teach the kids about one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  8. Take a family tour of several settlements still preserved in the park, including two churches, a school, several homes, and outbuildings. The Cataloochee Valley is the best place to view historic frame buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  9. Help your kids take an unforgettable selfie with herds of elk in the background. These elk were released in the valley in 2001 and can often be seen in open fields, especially in the early morning and evening.
  10. Teach your sons (or daughters) how to fish in the Cataloochee Creek, which is known for its populations of wild trout.
  11. So your kids might laugh at the name, but try Boogerman Trail anyway. This 7-mile hike is one of the more popular ones in Cataloochee, taking you through an old-growth forest.
  12. To check out more historic buildings, head to Oconaluftee. Be sure to stop at the visitor’s center first, where you’ll find park rangers, an inexpensive pamphlet about the park, and public restrooms.
  13. While you’re at the visitor’s center, don’t forget to ask a park ranger about how your kids can earn their Junior Ranger badge!
  14. Drive a half-mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to Mingus Mill. This historic grist mill, built in 1886, continues to use a water-powered turbine to power all the machinery in the building.
  15. Watch with your kids as a miller demonstrates the process of grinding corn into cornmeal.
  16. Purchase a bag of cornmeal to take back to your Pigeon Forge cabin. Make cornbread and chili in the cabin that night for a yummy homemade meal!
  17. Learn alongside your kids about historic gardening and agricultural practices at Oconaluftee.
  18. If “family” for you means fur babies, too, don’t miss our pet-friendly cabins in Pigeon Forge. Then take the whole family—including your kids’ furry best friend—for a hike on the Oconaluftee River Trail.
  19. Try another pet-friendly hike (one of only two in the park): the Gatlinburg Trail. (This trail is also stroller-friendly.)
  20. Plan for a family picnic at one of the park’s popular picnic sites. These include the Chimneys, Collins Creek, Deep Creek, and Greenbrier.
  21. Try a horse-drawn carriage ride or a wagon ride on a park trail.
  22. Try a ranger-led hayride in the national park. (These are offered on a first-come, first-served basis—so book early!)
  23. If you’re feeling adventurous, take your family for a hummer tour.
  24. See the Smokies at your own speed on Alpine Slide at Ober Gatlinburg.
  25. For a family adventure you will never forget—and for the best seat in the house when it comes to seeing the Smokies—take a scenic helicopter tour of the Great Smoky Mountains during your Pigeon Forge stay!