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Family Getaways in the Great Smoky Mountains

Pigeon Forge Attractions
Family Getaways in the Great Smoky Mountains
A family getaway in the Smokies is a trip not soon forgotten, combining days spent hiking and enjoying beautiful mountain vistas with a wealth of nearby cultural and just-plain-fun attractions.
Photo courtesy of Dollywood
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    Pigeon Forge Attractions
    Pigeon Forge Attractions
    As small as Pigeon Forge is, it's home to many attractions, museums, and shops that make this town a major family destination. A child's dream starts at WonderWorks, which offers hours of entertainment and discovery. Climb inside a space suit, find out what a 6.0 earthquake feels like, or lie on a bed of nails. Spend the afternoon at Dollywood, the country-music theme park named for famous singer Dolly Parton. Dolly's fans will get a kick out of hearing her tunes playing on the loudspeakers as they roam about the park, and kids will be thrilled by rides like the popular Wild Eagle coaster. Check out the Chasing Rainbows Museum, which shows relics from Dolly's childhood home and Dolly-proportioned mannequins in full regalia.
    Photo courtesy of Dollywood
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    Local History and Culture Made Fun
    Local History and Culture Made Fun
    You won't have to hide the educational properties of a trip around the eight-mile loop drive that takes in the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community. At different workshops along the drive, craftspeople demonstrate their crafts—basket weaving, pottery, glassblowing, candlemaking, quilting, and more—and some teach short hands-on classes. At the Oconaluftee Indian Village, a replica of a 1760 Cherokee village, reenactors and docents share the history and lifestyle of the local people through dances, music, crafts, and information about medicinal herbs and hunting. The story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, a bleak chapter of American history, is told in the outdoor theatrical performance Unto These Hills every night between early June and mid-August.
    Photo courtesy of visitinc.com
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    Cycle Cades Cove
    Cycle Cades Cove
    After a delicious lunch at the Wild Plum Tea Room in Gatlinburg, head to Cades Cove for an afternoon of outdoor family fun. Open from early May through late September, the 11-mile loop is one of the most popular scenic drives. It features gorgeous mountain views and vibrant grasslands. If you get there between 8 and 9 a.m. on a Saturday or Wednesday, when the loop is closed to vehicles, you can rent bikes from the visitor center and take to the road for a six- or eight-mile ride. Get a close-up view of white-tailed deer, turkeys, coyotes, and black bears. There will be rangers at certain points along your ride to keep you informed about bear sightings. If you're interested in more thrills, the mountain-bike trails at Climb Works provide some nice beginner and intermediate rides and chances to do some stump-jumping.
    Photo by Jim West/age fotostock
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    A Smokies Learning Experience
    A Smokies Learning Experience
    An exploration of Great Smoky Mountains National Park should begin at Sugarlands Visitor Center, just two miles south of Gatlinburg. Get acquainted with the spectacular display of flora and fauna that thrive within the park. Each display has fun facts and descriptions that test your knowledge of the wilderness. Do you really know what poison ivy looks like? Demystify the itchy plant and spot it out on the trails. For a good overview of the Smokies, step inside the theater for a 20-minute film of what to expect while hiking. Some of the park's easiest walking trails are right outside the visitor center. Ask a ranger about the schedule of guided hikes for an educational learning experience.
    Photo by Angela Simpson
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    Smoky Mountain Adventures
    Smoky Mountain Adventures
    In winter, visitors to the area try their downhill skills at Cataloochee Ski Area, the perfect place to learn to ski or practice the skills needed to reach the next level of mastery. Besides the hills designated for skiers and snowboarders, there's another slope dedicated to tubing, an outdoor activity that requires nothing of participants but enthusiasm and gravity. In Gatlinburg, Climb Works operates a zip-line course that takes 2.5 hours to complete—ensuring a summer afternoon that will challenge and thrill older kids. Beginners to the sport are welcome, and even seasoned zip liners will love the views of the surrounding national park. Another fun afternoon can be spent riding the scenic trails on horseback. Smokemont Riding Stable offers a variety of trail rides and horses that can handle any cowpoke over five years old.
    Photo courtesy CLIMB Works
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    Unique and Curious Museums
    Unique and Curious Museums
    Skip Ripley's in favor of some of the unique and curious museums scattered throughout the Smokies. One such place is the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge—identifiable by the huge ship sitting in the parking lot. Walk through interactive rooms while listening to passenger stories and viewing personal artifacts from first-class to third-class passengers. If you prefer quirkier temples of Americana, check out Gatlinburg's Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, which boasts a collection of 20,000 sets of shakers from around the world.
    Photo by Angela Simpson
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    A Quiet Getaway in the Woods
    A Quiet Getaway in the Woods
    If a quiet weekend in the mountains sounds like just the break your family could use, pack an overnight bag and head up one of the five trails leading to LeConte Lodge. It's the only overnight guest accommodation available in the national park and is the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States. Enjoy hearty meals in the dining lodge while overlooking the mountain vistas on a clear day. Take to the various hiking trails to explore the lush scenery, wildlife, and quiet solitude that surround you. Huddle in cozy wool blankets, playing card games or sharing stories by the light of a kerosene lamp while laughing the night away. Just be sure to make reservations far in advance—LeConte stays busy all summer long.
    Photo by Angela Simpson
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    The Mountain Town of Gatlinburg
    The Mountain Town of Gatlinburg
    Gatlinburg boasts a number of candy stores along the Route 441 strip that will be a treat for children and grown-ups alike. From the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen with its storefront taffy-making machine to a colorful assortment of old-fashioned candies at Aunt Mahalia's Candies, you won't leave this town without a sweet souvenir. But Gatlinburg has eye candy, too. Get a bird's-eye view of the mountain town from a round-trip ride on Ober Gatlinburg's Aerial Tramway or a 360-degree view from the Space Needle. Take a walk through The Village via a cobblestoned path and shop the local stores. Stop for a deliciously fresh doughnut at the Donut Friar, or make your way over to Ole Smoky Distillery for a sampling of Tennessee moonshine.
    Photo by Angela Simpson
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    Water Resort Adventures
    Water Resort Adventures
    If your kids love water parks, it may be worth your time to spend a couple of nights in Sevierville's Wilderness at the Smokies. Billed as Tennessee's largest water park, the attraction boasts indoor and outdoor features that allow it to stay open year-round. Features include a vertical-drop water tube, a wave pool, giant raft rides, surfing, and other wild water rides like the Storm Chaser. When you need to dry out, check out the park's laser tag arena, Tree Top Towers rope course, and the Mount Wild rock-climbing wall.
    Photo courtesy of Wilderness at the Smokies
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    Hiking to Waterfalls
    Hiking to Waterfalls
    There are at least 60 great trails that lead to big and small waterfalls along the 2,000 miles of streams in the Smokies. Practically every pull-off in the Smokies has some sort of water runoff that demands to be photographed. One popular trail is Grotto Falls, which is accessible by use of the Trillium Gap Trail on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. This three-mile round-trip trail leads to the back of a 25-foot cascade and offers a cool, misty breeze on a hot day. Look out for salamanders behind these falls—the Smokies are often referred to as the Salamander Capital of the World. If you're with little ones, pick up Waterfalls of the Smokies at one of the visitor centers for suggestions on easy hikes for kids.
    Photo by age fotostock