Family Getaways in the Great Smoky Mountains

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Family Getaways in the Great Smoky Mountains
Coming to the Smokies for a family getaway is the type of trip not soon forgotten. With beautiful mountain vistas and plenty of nearby entertainment, this national park is a vacation of a lifetime for the whole family.
Photo by Angela Simpson
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    Unique and Curious Museums
    Skip Ripley's in favor of some of the unique and curious museums scattered about the Smokies. One such place is the Titanic Museum—identifiable by the huge ship sitting in the parking lot on Park Way. You won't miss it driving through Pigeon Forge. 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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    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 lay 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 WonderWorks Pigeon Forge
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    A Smokies Learning Experience
    An introductory stop in the Smoky Mountains begins at Sugarlands Visitor Center, just two miles south of Gatlinburg. Come into the center's museum and 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 out exploring. Some of the park's easy 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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    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 Mount LeConte Lodge. It's the only overnight guest accommodation available in the Smokies 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.
    Photo by Angela Simpson
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    The Mountain Town of Gatlinburg
    Gatlinburg boasts a number of candy stores along the 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 cobblestone path and shop the local stores. Stop for a deliciously fresh doughnut at The Donut Friar or make your way over to Ole Smoky Mountain Distillery for a sampling of Tennessee moonshine.
    Photo by Angela Simpson
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    Cycle Cades Cove
    After a delicious breakfast at Pancake Pantry in downtown Gatlinburg, head to Cades Cove for some outdoor family fun time. 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 8:00 and 9:00 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.
    Photo by Jim West/age fotostock
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    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, Wilderness at the Smokies has 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 features 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. You'll never have to leave this family resort for the duration of your stay.
    Photo courtesy of Wilderness at the Smokies
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    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 Forks 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 courtesy of M&D Hills Photography