17 Family-Friendly Things To Do In Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge


Summer is right around the corner and now is the time to start planning a trip to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge! These two cities are situated at the foot of the Smoky Mountains and are only seven miles away from each other. Between the two, you’ll find so much to see and do, you won’t be able to fit it all into a week’s itinerary!

Once you visit the Smoky Mountains, your kids will be dragging you back each and every summer like my daughter Madison does me.  It will be love at first sight when you arrive! If it’s your first time visiting the area, there are some incredible attractions you have to visit before you leave.

To make sure you don’t miss out on anything during your first experience in the Smoky Mountains, I’ve come up with the best things to do Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN for first-time visitors along with the best places to stay in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Where To Stay in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge

If you want to spend your summer in the Smoky Mountains, you’ll first need to figure out where you’re going to stay. There are tons of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals available in the area, so I’ve taken the guesswork out of where to stay and here are my top downtown Gatlinburg hotels and Pigeon Forge hotels:

Where to Stay in Pigeon Forge

Are you looking for hotels near Dollywood? You’ll want to stay in Pigeon Forge over Gatlinburg, which adds a few extra minutes to your drive. There are lots of great options in the area, including the Margaritaville Island Hotel. Margaritaville in Pigeon Forge is the perfect spot for anyone looking for a relaxing escape while still staying close to all of the action.

Aside from easy access to Dollywood, you’ll only find yourself 10 miles from Smoky Mountain National Park, so adventure won’t be too far away. Once you’re tired, you’ll appreciate all of the hotel’s amenities to help you relax. You can book a massage at the on-site St. Somewhere Spa, enjoy a swim in the rooftop pool, or ask the concierge to help you book tickets to an evening show.

Prefer a different aesthetic for your Smoky Mountain vacation? There are plenty of other options in the area that embrace the mountain lodge look and feel, as well as lots of private rentals and Airbnb’s that can afford you and your family a bit more privacy.

The Island in Pigeon Forge, an exciting entertainment district, offers a range of memorable family activities not to be missed!Best Hotels In Pigeon Forge

Margaritaville Hotel in Pigeon Forge

130 The Island Drive
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Where to Stay in Gatlinburg

Prefer to stay closer to the mountains? Book a room in nearby Gatlinburg? You’ll find the Margaritaville Resort there. This newly-opened property offers updated rooms, comfortable lounges, and a pool equipped with a waterslide – as well as an indoor option, in case the weather’s too cool to swim outside! With on-premise restaurants, bars and spas, and easy access to nearby attractions, you’ll find the Margaritaville Resort to be the perfect base camp for your Smoky Mountain vacation.

I must disclose I love, love, love the Margaritaville properties and are always my first choice when I take my daughter to the Smoky Mountains.

There are lots of other options in the area to consider, too. The Baymont by Wyndham Gatlinburg on the River offers rooms equipped with balconies that overlook the river, with the mountains in the distance. Another great option is the Glenstone Lodge. While it’s not as new as the Margaritaville Resort, it offers comfortable guestrooms, a two-tier swimming pool, and an indoor putting green.

Christmas in the Smoky Mountains | Jimmy's Hideway at Margaritaville Gatlinburg

Photo Credit: Margaritaville Gatlinburg Resort


Best Hotels In Gatlinburg

Margaritaville Resort and Spa in Gatlinburg

539 Parkway
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

View in the Smoky Mountain National ParkWhat To Do in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge

You’ll definitely want to plan your agenda in advance if you’re heading to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Between the attractions these cities offer and the recreational opportunities available in Smoky Mountain National Park, you’ll have a hard time deciding what to include and what to leave off your schedule.

Not sure what to do in the Smoky Mountains? There’s plenty of adventure and excitement to be found! Summer is typically the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains, but you’ll still find lots of ways to stay busy and have fun. If you are visiting during spring break you probably won’t be able to find a whitewater rafting tour company open, but you can definitely hike, fish, mountain bike, or find a ropes course to challenge yourself and test your fear of heights.

Outside of the Smoky Mountains, you’ll find plenty of exciting attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park, is a must-do. The park is home to over 40 rides, like the Tennessee Tornado, a triple spiral-looping roller coaster. If roller coasters are a little too exciting for you and your crew, don’t worry – there are rides, shows, and restaurants to please guests of all ages here!

Things to do in Gatlinburg

Additonal Smoky Mountains Attractions

For a different experience, check out Anakeesta. This outdoor adventure park is across the street from the Margaritaville Resort in Gatlinburg. From roller coasters to ziplines and towering treehouses to explore, guests of all ages will have lots of fun exploring this nature-inspired park.

And you won’t want to miss out on The Island in Pigeon Forge, either! This free outdoor walking complex is filled with lots of shopping and entertainment options, and if you’re staying at the Margaritaville Island Hotel, you’re already here! Ride the Ferris wheel, admire the Show Fountain, or check out one of the many attractions you can find here!

The Island in Pigeon Forge, an exciting entertainment district, offers a range of memorable family activities not to be missed!

Museums In Pigeon Forge

In case of inclement weather, you’ll want to have a few rainy day plans in your back pocket to keep you and your crew entertained. There are lots of things to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg including museums that can keep you all busy in case of the occasional spring or summer shower:

  • The Titanic Museum Attraction. If you love the story of the Titanic, you’ll want to visit this museum. You’ll find lots of interesting artifacts tied to the ship’s sinking, and you may even learn a thing or two from the museum’s staff.


    • The Alcatraz East Crime Museum. This museum in Pigeon Forge focuses on the history of American crime but isn’t entirely focused on Alcatraz, the famous San Francisco prison. This is a must-see for true crime lovers!


  • The Hollywood Star Cars Museum. Filled with cars made famous by museums and vehicles owned by celebrities, this is a great spot for car buffs and movie lovers to explore.

Alcatraz East

The Old Mill Square

The Old Mill Square is known for its dining and shopping. Make sure to bring your appetite when you visit The Old Mill! The Old Mill Restaurant serves family-style Southern meals for you to enjoy, and The Old Mill Pottery House Cafe & Grill serves everything from steak to fried chicken.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was named the top aquarium in the country!  The Gatlinburg aquarium is full of amazing experiences where the kiddo will get to waddle with penguins, splash with stingrays and sleep with the sharks! You’ll be able to see a sea turtle, 12-foot sharks, jellyfish and more!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an obvious must-see when you visit the area. There is no better place to explore the gorgeous mountain scenery! The park has hundreds of hiking trails, opportunities for fishing, you can have a picnic in the park, see wildlife and even go horseback riding!

 Ride Go Karts

One of the most popular things to do in Pigeon Forge is to ride go-karts. If you’re craving adventure and have the need for speed, you’ll love visiting one of the many go-kart tracks in the Smoky Mountains. Some of the top places to ride go-karts are The Track, SpeedZone Fun Park and Xtreme Racing Center. All of them have unique go-kart tracks that will make you feel like a professional race car driver!

Gatlinburg Space Needle

For some of the best views of the area, you’ll want to visit the Gatlinburg Space Needle. The Gatlinburg Space Needle is a 407-foot observation tower that offers panoramic views of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. Just ride the glass elevator to the top and enjoy the breathtaking scenery! Below the Space Needle is Arcadia, Gatlinburg’s largest family fun arcade. Play more than 100 games in the two-story amusement center after taking in the beautiful views!


As you can see, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are the perfect places to spend spring break and summer vacation. You can choose from a wide variety of hotels and vacation rentals to suit any budget, and you’ll find plenty of attractions, adventure parks, museums, and other activities to keep you and your companions busy. 

With the Smoky Mountains at your doorstep, you’ll have the chance to appreciate some of the most beautiful scenery in America.

Ready to plan your trip, grab my FREE  Vacation Planner to help you plan your trip in the time it takes to watch your favorite TV show!

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Did your favorite Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge attraction make the cut?  I would love to hear your thoughts so leave me a comment on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Things to do in Gatlinburg

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