by Katy Koontz
With two separate lodges and three waterparks for guests only, Wilderness at the Smokies is the largest indoor/outdoor waterpark resort in the southeastern U.S. Admission to all three waterparks is automatically included in the room rate, so kids can splash and slide to their heart’s content without racking up extra charges. Salamander Springs (for the preteen crowd) and Lake Wilderness outdoor parks are open seasonally, while the Wild WaterDome indoor park is open year-round. Guests are permitted to enjoy the wet stuff from the time the parks open on the day of arrival until they close on the day of departure, extending the fun (and the value) both before check in and after check out.
The five-acre Wild WaterDome is the zaniest of the three and includes (among other offerings) a wave pool, the only surf rider in the southeastern U.S., and two scream-inducing thrill rides. The Storm Chaser is the only thrill ride of its kind in the region; the climax is being dropped into a huge funnel where you’ll shoot so far up the sides that you’ll be convinced your four-person tube is about to tip over. Runaway Canyon is a five-story-high, 450-feet-long enclosed waterslide with twists and turns that include one complete 360-degree revolution.
Accommodations include two lodges, each with its own restaurant, snack bar(s), gift shop, fitness center, and arcade/game room. Stone Hill Lodge offers hotel rooms, while River Lodge has condos. By reserving any of several possible combinations of adjoining rooms that creatively use bunk beds, Murphy beds, and sleeper sofas, you can sleep as many as 15 guests in your accommodations. In addition to these two lodges, the resort property also encompasses two buildings with 189 timeshare condos operated by Wyndham Resorts. No matter what lodge Wilderness guests are staying in, they can use any of the resort’s facilities; a free shuttle bus ferries guests throughout the resort.
When the kids get waterlogged, you’ll find countless other family-oriented attractions of all types in the Smoky Mountain region, which includes not only Sevierville but also the neighboring towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most visited national park in the U.S., and one of the very few that doesn’t charge admission) is just over 15 miles away from the resort.
Our Editor Loves
- Three waterparks (one indoor and two outdoor) for guests only; admission included in room rate
- 18-hole miniature golf course
- Bunk beds available for kids
- Horse Back Riding
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The Stone Hill Lodge
The best place to stay if you're attending an event at the Sevierville Event Center (which is connected to the lodge) or if you visit in the summer and have younger kids (because it's connected to Salamander Springs, the outdoor waterpark designed for preteens). Note that if you're visiting during colder weather, you may want to stay at River Lodge instead because Salamander Springs will be closed and the resort's only indoor waterpark is connected to River Lodge.
Stone Hill offers 234 traditional-style hotel rooms, including four family suites. The double queen rooms have two queen beds to sleep a maximum of four, and some also have a sleeper sofa that increases the maximum to six. The king sofa rooms offer one king bed plus a sleeper sofa, sleeping a maximum of four. The king executive suites have a king bed in one room, as well as a large living room with two queen Murphy beds plus a full-sized sofa bed, sleeping a maximum of eight (with two full bathrooms).
All the Spring Hill rooms have flat screen TVs, DVD players, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, hair dryers, in-room safes, and an iron and ironing board. Some rooms also have balconies.
This is where most of the action is, including the Wild WaterDome indoor waterpark, the Lake Wilderness outdoor waterpark, the Cataloochee Creek miniature golf course, and the Polka Dot Pots ceramic studio. This lodge has 471 rooms, including studios and one- and two-room suites with a variety of floor plans. The studio rooms have two queen beds and a twin sofa bed, sleeping a maximum of five. The one-bedroom deluxe units have a queen bed, a queen/twin bunk bed, a queen Murphy bed, a queen sofa bed, and a twin sofa bed in a total of two rooms (with two bathrooms) that sleep a maximum of ten. The two-bedroom premier suites combine a studio plus a one-bedroom deluxe suite for a total of three rooms (with three bathrooms) that sleep a maximum of 15. The junior deluxe suites sleep up to nine guests in two rooms (with two bathrooms) offering two queen beds, one queen Murphy bed, a queen sofa bed, and a twin sofa bed. The deluxe family suites sleep up to 12 people in two rooms (with two bathrooms) that offer three queen beds, one queen Murphy bed, one queen sofa bed, and two twin sofa beds.
The multi-room suites all have electric fireplaces and full kitchens (equipped with dishes, silverware, and pots and pans) while the studios all have microwaves and mini refrigerators. All rooms in River Lodge have flat screen TVs, DVD players, coffee makers, hair dryers, in-room safes, and an iron and ironing board.
Both Stone Hill and River Lodge offer free WiFi, a restaurant, a retail shop, a video arcade, a fitness room, and one or two laundry rooms. Each lodge lobby also offers a DVD rental kiosk and an ATM.
The Wilderness property also has two Wyndham timeshare buildings that house 189 condo units, offering two-, three-, and four-bedroom accommodations with full kitchens, balconies, and whirlpool tubs. Some also have fireplaces. Each of the Wyndham's two buildings has a fitness center and a computer room.
Guests in any of the Wilderness lodging options can use any of the resort's facilities, no matter where they are staying. A free shuttle bus takes guests throughout the resort.
We had the bunk style room and the boys loved it. We will definitely stay again. This is a huge resort so call to make reservations if you are unable to make the walk from your room to the park. The only down side was the water in the indoor water park was freezing cold. Even the kids thought so.
Kim helped me check in, didn't laugh at any of my many questions. My kids loved this place, the value of the resort was amazing. My husband loved watching the kids swim and football on Sunday. It gets cold when the sun goes down be prepared but it's the least crowded then. All the staff are so friendly and nice to everyone. We will be back. The main bar at the front desk has the best bartender, he knows what he is doing, great prices and selection. They only bar I've encountered in 50 miles, great happy hour prices. Lots to do for all ages.
This five-acre waterpark (attached to River Lodge) is the biggest and wildest of Wilderness's three waterparks, and it's open year-round. It's actually the largest indoor waterpark in Eastern Tennessee, and it has tons of different activities for all ages. The central feature here is the Great Wave wave pool, where younger kids can play by the shore (which is quite tame) while the older ones brave the crazy waves either freestyle or atop single or double inner tubes. The Smokies Surfrider is the only surf rider in the southeastern U.S. It allows you to either lie down on a body board (kids must be 42 inches tall) or stand up on a flowboard (kids must be 52 inches). Trail Twisters are two side-by-side, twisty-turny enclosed waterslide tubes that kids often use to race each other. (Kids must be 48 inches to ride alone or 42 inches to ride with an adult).
The Storm Chaser thrill ride inspires the most screams, hands down. Two to four people share an inflated rubber raft that whips around a tube slide, plunges down a sudden steep drop, and then shoots into a huge funnel for its grand finale. (Kids must be at least 48 inches.) The waterslide for Runaway Canyon is a five-story-high, 450-feet enclosed tube where up to four people share a raft that negotiates a series of twists and turns -- including one that takes you around in a complete circle. (Kids must be 42 inches if they ride with an adult, or 48 inches to ride on their own.)
Washout Mountain, a two-story water play feature, offers various smaller slides, plenty of opportunities to squirt and be squirted from all angles, and a gigantic tipping bucket that dumps more than 700 gallons of water on those below at regular intervals. Kids under 48-inch tall rule the Flying Squirrel Play Pool, where the maximum depth is one foot. Most parents' personal favorite is the indoor/outdoor hot tub that holds up to 70 people (for those ages 6 and up only).
The facilities at the Wild WaterDome also include restrooms with changing areas and showers, small coin-operated lockers, Grizzly's Grill snack bar, and the Tropical Sno Snowcone Stand. Please note: Remember the sunscreen because the glass roof here is specially designed to allow UV rays to penetrate, allowing you to tan (or burn if you're not careful).
This 3.5-acre outdoor water park attached to River Lodge is next to the Wild WaterDome. In the center is a wave pool, surrounded by Cataloochee Creek Adventure River, a lazy river winding around the waterpark's perimeter, where you can let the current move you along (either as you swim or as you float on an inner tube).
The facilities at Lake Wilderness include small coin-operated lockers, Bluegill's Cove snack bar, and ten private cabanas that cost $75 per day to rent. The cabanas come with misting machines, flat-screen televisions, bigger and thicker luxury towels, and the services of a hostess who takes your order for drinks or food from the snack bar. The Cataloochee Creek Adventure Golf miniature golf course is also right next to this waterpark.
Lake Wilderness is open seasonally -- daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, as well as on warm weekends starting in April and extending through September. (Exact dates vary, depending on the weather.)
The smallest of the resort's three waterparks (and the only waterpark attached to Stone Hill Lodge), this outdoor park is designed for preteens. It includes the River Otter Body Slide and the Timber Rattler Tube Slide (kids must be 48 inches to ride either), the Catfish Corral Activity Pool (with a maximum depth of three feet), Lunker's Landing (a large multi-level water play area with a tipping bucket and various squirty surprises) and the Minnow Marsh Play Pool (for the youngest guests, with a maximum depth of one foot). The hot tub here (for those age 6 and up) seats 25.
The facilities at Salamander Springs include small coin-operated lockers and Coyote Cove snack bar. Like Lake Wilderness, Salamander Springs is open seasonally -- daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, as well as on warm weekends starting in April and extending through September. (Exact dates vary, depending on the weather.)
For all waterparks: An unlimited supply of clean towels are provided at each waterpark at no charge -- you don't have to bring the towels from your room. Swim diapers are required for all children who are not toilet-trained. If you run out, you can buy them at either of the retail shops in the lodges. The resort doesn't offer a special kids' program, so all children under the age of 12 must be supervised by an adult at all times (even though each waterpark does have certified, Ellis-trained lifeguards on duty).
To get more value for your money, remember that you will have access to all the resort's waterparks for the entire day on both your date of arrival and your date of departure -- access doesn't begin at check-in or end at check-out. (The exact hours for the waterparks vary throughout the season and with the resort's occupancy rate.)
Cataloochee Creek Adventure Golf
This new 18-hole miniature golf course adjacent to the Lake Wilderness waterpark in the River Lodge complex costs $5 for ages 6 and up and is free for ages 5 and under. Special family mini golf packages are available that include four rounds of miniature golf plus breakfast.
Polka Dot Pots
Kids can paint their own ceramics at this pottery studio in the River Lodge building. Projects typically range from $14 to $24, although both bigger and smaller items are also available. Piggy banks are most popular choice, but your kid can also pick a variety of dishes, mugs, decorative boxes, and more. If you finish by 4 pm, your project will be fired for you and ready to be picked up by 11 am the next day. (They'll ship it to you for an extra fee if you have to leave before pick-up time.) Polka Dot Pots opens daily at 9 a.m. and closes between 4 and 10 p.m., depending on the hotel's occupancy rate.
Each of the two lodges has its own arcade and game room (called Backcountry at Stone Hill and Bobcat's Den at River Lodge). They're generally open from 8 or 9 a.m. until at least 10 p.m. (and sometimes even later), depending on the hotel's occupancy level.
Wilderness at the Smokies has a total of five eateries, plus a deli where you can get food to go and room service.
The two restaurants are Hidden Trail (at Stone Hill Lodge) and the Thirsty Miner (at River Lodge). Both are generally open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While you can always order off the menu, breakfast and dinner also offer buffet service, as well. Hidden Trail specializes in barbeque (pulled port, ribs, and chicken smoked in-house with special rubs and sauces), along with Southern staples like fried green tomatoes and grits and red eye gravy.
The Thirsty Miner is known for its themed buffets, which feature a variety of cuisines including Italian, Mexican, old-fashioned southern and seafood. The menu items at this restaurant include pizzas, sandwiches, soups, salads, and American-style entrees. Kids will especially appreciate the soft-serve ice cream bar here, as well.
For each adult breakfast or dinner buffet you purchase at either restaurant, you'll also get one child's buffet meal free (for children age 11 and under). Note that during slow periods, the Hidden Trail may be closed (requiring Stone Hill guests to dine at River Lodge).
The resort's three snack bars include Coyote Cove Cafe (at the Salamander Springs outdoor waterpark), Grizzly's Grill (at the Wild WaterDome indoor waterpark) and Bluegill's Cove (at the Lake Wilderness outdoor waterpark). All three serve salads, wraps, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, and nachos. Grizzly's Grill and Coyote CafÃƒÆ'Ã‚Æ'Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© also serve sandwiches, pizza, chicken wings, fresh fruit cup, veggie sticks, and ice cream, while Bluegill's Cove also serves hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, smoked sausage, and sweet corn. Each serves a wide variety of drinks, including juice, milk, and water in addition to soda and iced tea. (Adults can get alcoholic drinks, as well.)
If you buy a fountain drink, keep your plastic cup because you can refill it for free all day. Note that the snack bars at the outdoor waterparks are closed when those waterparks are not open.
The Mountain Marketplace Deli
Just off of the lobby at River Lodge, the deli sells candy, ice cream, fudge, Starbucks coffee drinks, made-to-order sub sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches and various drinks to go. (Be aware that the bottled drinks here cost one dollar more than at the gift shop at Stone Hill or in any of the resort's vending machines.)
Hungry Bear room service basically offers four options: pan pizza, a barbeque rib meal (with two sides and rolls and butter), a 12-piece fried or baked chicken meal (with two sides and rolls and butter), or an Italian meal (your choice of lasagna, baked ziti, or spaghetti and meatballs) that comes with a garden salad and garlic bread. All room service meals come with a two-liter bottle of Pepsi.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
The Black Bear Boutique at Stone Hill and the Outpost Specialty Gift Shop at River Lodge are gift shops that carry a variety of clothing, toys, jewelry, and gifts. Each lodge lobby also has an ATM and a DVD rental kiosk.
Each of the two lodges has sits own fitness center, open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Guests may use either one, no matter where they are staying. They each have a few elliptical machines and treadmills, and the fitness center at Stone Hill also has a weight machine.
If you're up for some bargains, be sure to get your coupon book at check in for discounts at local attractions as well as for meals and activities at the resort. Consider signing up for the Wild Perks loyalty program, which awards points for whatever goods and services you charge to your room. You can exchange your points for credits to put toward resort incidentals, free cabana rentals, or even a free night's stay.
The Art of Smart Timing
The resort is busiest in the summer months when school is out and it's the least crowded from January through early March and again from mid-April through Memorial Day. Although you'll find bargain rates during these slow periods, the resort does run a variety of promotions year-round, so be sure to ask what's available. Note that the two outdoor waterparks are open seasonally, which means they are available during summer as well as mainly warm-weather weekends in late spring and early fall. If you want to be sure to sample all three parks, you'll want to visit during summer.
The Wilderness offers various special family events for all guests at different times of the year. Examples include a Halloween party, various Christmas events, outdoor concerts in the summer, Super Bowl events, a New Year's Eve bash, and a July Fourth outdoor party. Sometimes, the resort also offers free shuttle busses to and from special events in the surrounding area. For example, shuttles often take guests to Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball games on busy weekends.
Wilderness at the Smokies is 32 miles from the Knoxville airport. The Wilderness doesn't provide airport shuttles, but you can rent a car at the airport if you want one to explore the surrounding region. If you drive on your own, you'll most likely come in via I-40, taking exit 407 (east of Knoxville). From there, take TN 66 south about eight miles to the resort.
For Mom and Dad
Most activities at the resort itself and in the surrounding area are family-oriented, but you will find a few adult options. The best kid-less entertainment opportunities include golfing at Eagles Landing, a 36-hole championship golf course adjacent to the resort; shopping at the several different outlet malls in both Sevierville and neighboring Pigeon Forge (all south of the resort along the Parkway); or enjoying a massage or beauty treatment at The Spa at RiverStone, a day spa about 10 miles away in Pigeon Forge.