Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock/Martha MarksClingmans Domebeautiful viewSmokemontClingman's DomeMy beautiful wifeSmokey Mountain in Feb.road openSnow covered smokies

Families will love:

  • Budget-friendly family vacationing
  • Seasonal daily ranger programs
  • Lots of history

The most visited national park in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives nine million visitors a year. And there must be at least that many reasons why it's so popular. First of all, the critter count is sky-high. The park, an 800-square-mile wilderness area that's half in Tennessee and half in North Carolina, is the most biologically diverse ... more
The most visited national park in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives nine million visitors a year. And there must be at least that many reasons why it's so popular. First of all, the critter count is sky-high. The park, an 800-square-mile wilderness area that's half in Tennessee and half in North Carolina, is the most biologically diverse national park in the continental U.S. Scientists currently doing an inventory of everything alive in the park estimate that some 100,000 different species of plants and animals live here -- including the ever-popular black bear, white-tailed deer and even elk. If your kids are into amphibians, you can tell them that the Smokies is also the salamander capital of the world -- with more species of these squirmy little creatures than anywhere else on Earth, including a few unique to these mountains.

The Smokies is also hefty on history. Unlike most national parks that whisk away any sign of human habitation, this park has preserved dozens of old churches, log cabins, barns and various other buildings (including a few one-room schoolhouses) that once belonged to the rugged mountain folk who lived here from the late 1700s until the park was established 75 years ago. Although no sign inside the park remains of the Native Americans who were the first to call this region home, the Cherokees did give the Smokies their name. They called these mountains Shaconage, or "Land of the Blue Smoke" (referring to the blue haze from all the water vapor coming off the plant and animal life).

More good news for families: The Smokies is also fairly accessible (it's within a day's drive of about a third of the U.S. population) and affordable (the park itself is free, and the surrounding gateway towns are generally more affordable than most other popular vacation destinations in the country).

The two main park entrances are in Gatlinburg, Tenn. (near the Sugarlands Visitors Center) and Cherokee, N.C. (near the Oconaluftee Visitors Center), with the third most popular entry point in Townsend, Tenn. (the closest entrance to the third Visitors Center in Cades Cove). Each of the visitors centers offers numerous ranger programs during spring, summer and fall -- including a great Junior Rangers program, where kids ages 5 to 12 can earn a Junior Ranger's badge if they attend a certain number of programs, as well. (Details, and a special booklet outlining requirements, are available at any of the park's visitors centers.)

Written by Katy Koontz less

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN Planning & Tips

111 Top-Rated Family Hotels in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN


Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN Family Hotels

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN Family Reviews

Family Campout - and Up Close to Nature
by camillepfl
About 1 year ago, our family took a camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We set up a tent big enough to sleep 10 and had a great ... read more
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN Family Reviews

69 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN Family Attractions


Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN Family Attractions
Traveling Family with Baby

Your personal family vacation planning starts now

Get expert advice, handpicked recommendations, and tips for your family all year round!