Gatlinburg is a gem nestled among the mountains, offering families a delightful mix of nature and fun. Known for its beautiful views, diverse activities, and friendly atmosphere, Gatlinburg stands out as a top family vacation spot.

Imagine waking up to the chirping of birds, a soft mountain breeze, and the promise of a day filled with adventure and bonding.

Here’s a closer look at why Gatlinburg should be on every family’s list of places to visit.

Family-Friendly Things to do in Gatlinburg: Free or Cheap Activities Series

1. Stay in a Cozy Gatlinburg Cabin:

When you first think of Gatlinburg, the image of snug cabins often comes to mind. These cabins, surrounded by trees and often offering panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains, provide a unique experience that hotels can’t match.

For families, staying in a Gatlinburg cabin is like being in a home away from home. Each cabin usually comes with comfortable bedrooms, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a cozy living area. Think about it – after a day of exploring Gatlinburg, you get to come back to a place where you can kick off your shoes, sit by the fireplace, and share stories of the day’s adventures.

But what makes these cabins even more special for families are the added amenities. Many have game rooms, perfect for some friendly competition among family members. Whether it’s a game of pool, foosball, or board games, it’s quality time waiting to happen. Some cabins also come with outdoor hot tubs. Imagine soaking in warm water under a sky full of stars, surrounded by the sounds of nature. Besides the comfort and fun, renting a cabin can also be cost-effective. When you have a kitchen, you can choose to cook some meals and save money.

Nonetheless, ensure to book Gatlinburg cabins in advance and enjoy the rustic charm of these wooden cabins.

2. Explore Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies:

Now, once you’re settled into your cabin and ready to explore, a must-visit spot is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. This place is a wonderland for kids and adults alike.

First, the exhibits are mesmerizing. One of the tourist favorites is the Shark Lagoon. Here, you can walk through a tunnel and watch as sharks, stingrays, and colorful fish swim above and around you. It feels as if you are right there under the sea with them! Then there’s the Penguin Playhouse, where playful penguins slide, swim, and shuffle around. Their antics are sure to bring smiles to everyone’s faces.

But Ripley’s Aquarium is not just about watching; it’s about experiencing. There are touch tanks where kids can gently touch a stingray or a horseshoe crab. Feeling the soft glide of a stingray’s fin is something they’ll remember for a long time.

Moreover, Ripley’s places a strong emphasis on learning. There are many interactive displays and facts scattered around. Kids and adults can learn about marine life, conservation, and the importance of protecting our oceans. It’s a great way to blend fun and education.

3. Delight in the Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park & Ski Area:

Gatlinburg isn’t just about relaxing and sightseeing; it’s also about having some good old-fashioned fun. And Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park & Ski Area is just the place for that.

Located high in the mountains, this park offers a mix of activities suitable for every age group. One of the best ways to start your Ober Gatlinburg adventure is by taking the Aerial Tramway. This ride gives you a bird’s eye view of the beautiful landscape below. As you glide smoothly above the trees, you’ll get to see the Smoky Mountains like never before.

Once you’re at the park, there’s no shortage of things to do. If you visit during the warmer months, the Alpine Slide is a must-try. It’s a slide, but not the kind you might think. You sit on a sled-like cart and zoom down a winding track set on a hill. You can control your speed, so whether you want a thrilling ride or a gentle descent, it’s up to you.

For families visiting in the winter, Ober Gatlinburg turns into a winter wonderland. There are spots for skiing and snowboarding. And if you’ve never tried these before, no worries. There are lessons available for beginners. Snow tubing is another fun activity. Imagine sliding down a snowy slope on a big inflatable tube, laughter ringing in the air.

And don’t forget the Wildlife Encounter. Here, you can see native animals like black bears, otters, and birds of prey. It’s a great way to teach kids about local wildlife and the importance of nature conservation.

4. Wander Around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

When in Gatlinburg, you can’t miss out on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s like stepping into a nature painting. Tall trees, singing birds, sparkling streams, and gentle deer might greet you as you explore.

This park is huge, but don’t let that intimidate you. There are plenty of trails suitable for families. One of the most popular is the Laurel Falls trail. It’s short, and at the end, you’re rewarded with a view of a beautiful waterfall. Cades Cove Loop is another good pick. It’s a bit longer, but you can drive. Along the way, there are spots to stop, enjoy the view, and maybe even spot some wildlife.

For young explorers, the park offers the Junior Ranger Program. It’s a chance for kids to learn more about the park, its plants, animals, and history. They get to do fun activities, and at the end, they earn a badge. It’s both educational and a way to make their visit more special.

Grab some free or cheap kids activities by location to do in your area. This ongoing series shares great resources of free or inexpensive activities for kids in specific areas around the world. Have a great free or cheap activity for kids suggestion? Submit your ideas too!


Gatlinburg is more than a destination – it’s a place where families can bond, laugh, and create memories that last a lifetime. From the warmth of a cabin to the thrills of an amusement park, from the wonders of an aquarium to the beauty of a national park, Gatlinburg has it all. It’s a blend of relaxation and adventure, of nature and fun.

If you’re looking for a place where every family member, young or old, can find something to enjoy, Gatlinburg is the answer. So, consider it for your next family getaway. After all, moments spent with loved ones in a place like this become memories cherished forever.

Family with two children on a trail hike. Text reads family-friendly things to do Gatlinburg, TN.