We spent a few days in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee a couple of weeks ago. I've been there many times, but never with a toddler! Before we went, I did a lot of research on what kind of activities and places would be good for toddlers. Both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have tons of activities for kids, but most were a little too old for kids Reed's age (23 months). Our trip was pretty successful, with only a few meltdowns (not all were Reed, ha!), so I thought I'd share some tips for any of you out there in blog land who may be planning a trip to the Smokies with a toddler of your own! These are in random order as they pop out of my brain, so I hope they are helpful!
- First thing: Where to stay. We chose to stay in Gatlinburg. Before Reed was born, we camped. We're not taking Reed camping until he's potty trained. Too much trouble! If we didn't camp, we always stayed in a cabin. The downside of staying in a cabin with a 23 month old? Stairs. Most cabins have stairs, and I didn't want to spend my vacation keeping Reed from falling down the stairs. We stayed in Mountain Village Inn Condos. It was about a block from downtown Gatlinburg. No loading up in the car seat and searching for a parking spot or looking for trolley schedules. (If you do stay outside Gatlinburg and want to visit, I do highly recommend riding the trolleys. Very cheap, plenty of parking at the trolley station, and Reed loved to ride them!). All we had to do was put him in the stroller and away we went.
- Speaking of Gatlinburg, Reed really enjoys strolling around the streets there. They are very stroller friendly. He's a people watcher. We ran into a group of young cloggers, and he could've watched them for hours. He was very happy with a chocolate dipped pretzel rod from one of the candy stores. (And we were happy he was occupied because we were eating a donut from the Donut Friar, yum!)
- One day, we went into the national park. I highly recommend stopping by Sugarlands Visitor Center, just outside Gatlinburg. It has a nice museum full of animals, which Reed loved of course, a movie theater, and a nice gift shop. When we go to the Smokies, I prefer to do my souvenir shopping either here or at the Cades Cove Visitor Center because all proceeds benefit the park. Just behind the visitor center is a trail to Cataract Falls. It is a flat, mostly smooth, 1/2 mile walk to a nice waterfall. Lance's cousin gave us a hiking backpack that a toddler could ride in a few years, so we decided to try it out! Reed loved it! If you don't have a backpack, you might could use a stroller on this trail. You would have to pick it up and carry it at a few places though. If it's a hot day when you go, would be a nice place to cool off in the water.
- Also in the national park...Cades Cove! One of our favorite places! We took Loop Road, and Reed enjoyed being able to get out of his car seat and "snack" while looking for animals (what? you mean you aren't supposed to snack the entire 11 miles around??). We also picnicked at the Cades Cove Visitor Center. I'll give picnicking tips later.
- Another day, we went over to Pigeon Forge. We ate at the Old Mill for supper. I would suggest getting there before 5:00, so you won't have to wait very long. Reed really likes the corn fritters and corn chowder served with every meal! After we ate, we went behind the Old Mill to Patriot Park and fed the ducks. You can get some food for a quarter out of a dispenser. Reed really enjoyed watching them. A new place in Pigeon Forge is called "The Island". They have recently built a giant ferris wheel called "The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel". It's like 200 ft. tall and has enclosed, air conditioned seats. We decided to try it out. Good views, but not sure I'm going to do it again. Tickets were a little expensive, and I was way out of my comfort zone. Reed didn't want to stay seated, and it was freaking me out, lol. Also here was a carousel, but Reed didn't want to ride it. They are adding a lot more things at The Island, so it looks to be a good place to hang out with the family in the future.
- Our condo was located just off Light #6 in Gatlinburg, which is also the road you turn on to go to the Gatlinburg Motor Nature Trail. It's similar to driving around Cades Cove. We went early one morning to beat the crowd and the heat. On the Motor Nature Trail you can hike to the only waterfall in the park that you can walk behind. It's called Grotto Falls. The parking for this fills up fast, so get there early! It's 1 1/2 miles to the falls. The trail is pretty rooty/rocky and steep in some areas, but very doable. Especially if you have a toddler backpack! We passed one guy that had one kid in front, and one kid in back! Reed fell asleep right when we made it to the falls! ha! He did wake up when we were leaving and really liked getting wet behind the falls. He cried when we left! It took us about 2 hours round trip.
- Between our condo and the Motor Nature Trail is a park called Mynatt Park. It has picnic tables, grills, a walking path, and a great stream for older kids to play in. After we hiked, we grilled some burgers and hot dogs here. Reed enjoyed "exploring".
Here are some of the things I did to make our trip a little easier:
- Always, always schedule nap time! Nobody is happy when there is no nap!
- Prepare as many food/snacks ahead of time as you can! Before we left, I fixed PB&J sandwiches, ham and cheese sliders ,cut up fruit, and made out the hamburger patties. I even made pancake muffins and a breakfast casserole. It was so much easier just to be able to pull something out of the cooler and eat it. No trying to make a sandwich while Reed fussed cause he was starving to death. No waking up in the morning to fix breakfast, just take it out of the fridge and heat it up! No raw meat hands while trying to make burgers for grilling!
- We have a giant cooler, but I opted to take two smaller ones. One we used just for drinks, so we wouldn't have to dig around for what we wanted. The other one we used for food. I bought a couple of plastic tubs at the Dollar Tree for use in the cooler. I stored bagged fruit in one and sandwiches/sandwich supplies in the other (cheese, lettuce, condiment packs). Using the tubs insured that none of our food would be floating around in water getting soggy.
- I also bought some tubs to use for our bathroom stuff. I used one for each of us. It was very easy just to pull it out of our suitcase and stick it on the bathroom cabinet. Also handy in case of spills.
- I used a small laundry basket (also found at Dollar Tree!) to contain Reed's toys. It sat nicely in the floorboard of the truck while we were traveling, and we kept it in the living room for easy access when we were at the condo.
I'm glad you made it to the end! Hope I could help make your trip a little easier!