© Tennessee Department of Tourist Development
Family fun in Tennessee
Five kid-friendly things to do in the eastern part of the state
Park it here
The most visited National Park in the US is Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains (nps.gov/grsm; free) and that’s where we began our trip through the state. The park is vast, over 2000 square kilometres, so we started with a bus tour. The Cades Cove loop departs from the Sugarlands Visitor Center and included time for a three-kilometre stroll along the Fighting Creek Nature Trail through a small portion of the park’s magnificent forest. Afterwards, back at the visitor center, we learned that the park is home to over 120 species of trees, 66 types of mammals, over 1500 flowering plant species, 39 varieties of reptiles and over 200 species of birds. That first evening, on our way back to our big log cabin at Dollywood Cabins in Pigeon Cove near the north entrance of the park, we were lucky enough to spot a black bear from a safe vantage point by the road. It was the first of three sightings; a treat and a privilege. Over 1600 bears inhabit the area.
Well, hello Dolly
Dolly Parton, of country and western fame, was born in Pigeon Cove. She was the daughter of an illiterate miner and grew up in poverty. After her career took off, she came back home and built Dollywood (dollywood.com; adults from US$47, kids 4-11 from US$42), which has become a 119-hectare theme park that includes amusement rides and a water park. The Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction (dixiestampede.com; adults US$55, kids 4-11 US$28) is a nightly show that lays on horseback riding, clowns, games and a chance to eat a Southern-style meal with your hands. In addition to activities for the whole family, there are impressive musical shows staring top entertainers that are performed at four indoor and three outdoor stages. There are sometimes 40 live performances a day! The 307-room Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort opens in mid-August. There’s more to Ms. Parton than meets the eye. The Dollywood Foundation promotes literacy at home and around the world. The Imagination Library program has sent more than 75 million books to children and is the largest purchaser of kid’s books in the world.
Gatlinburg, the tiny giant
There was more music waiting for us just down the road in the small, mountain town of Gatlinburg (gatlinburg.com). Though the permanent population is just over 4000, the tourist town has more than 80 restaurants serving southern-style cooking and there’s also lots of choice when it comes to night life. The biggest entertainment venue is Doug and Jackie Miranda’s 1200-seat Grand Majestic Theater (thegrandmajestic.com), which runs five shows a day. We went to the Sounds of Soul one night and The Hit Parade another. I love old music and hearing many of the songs again lifted my spirits. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (ripleyaquariums.com/gatlinburg; adults US$25, kids US$14) was something unexpected: it has four-metre sharks, giant sea turtles, thousands of exotic sea creatures and an excellent penguin exhibit. And another surprise: you can take the 120-passenger aerial tramway 823 metres up Mount Harrison to the Ober Gatlinburg resort (obergatlinburg.com; adults US$12, kids US$9.50 roundtrip). In winter, you can cross-country or downhill ski on one of 10 ski runs. There’s even a year-round skating rink and river rides in the summer.
Party on in Sevierville
Our adventure continued a few miles north in Sevierville (visitsevierville.com), a kind of Las Vegas without gambling for families. We stayed at The Wilderness of the Smokies Hotel and Waterpark Resort (wildernessatthesmokies.com); from US$149 during in high season), which has rides, laser tag, a forest treetop walk, a climbing wall and even jet boats to ride. I played the Sevierville Golf Course while the others shopped — they have that, too. The Highlands Course winds through rolling hills and mountain ponds along the Little Pigeon River. Lovely.
Stop, eat Bar-b-que
Throughout the trip we delighted in Appalachian mountain cooking. Some highlights: the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg; Smokin’ Joe’s Bar-B-Que and Miss Lily’s Café in Towsend; and Carver’s Applehouse Restaurant in Cosby. If you have a hankering for some Southern hospitality, want to explore an outstanding US National Park and have a family that loves history, adventure, rides and world-class entertainment, consider a visit to Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and the towns and communities in the vicinity. It’s just what this doctor orders.
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