Our family stayed at Gatlinburg Town Square Resort nestled quaintly in the Great Smoky Mountains during July 4th weekend. Since this trip we’ve been back to the area several times, including a trip to see Santa on The Polar Express as well as a quick family weekend getaway.
During this particular stay at Town Square, we were fortunate to get a condo with balcony that looked out over the street to where we could simply head outdoors and be right in the middle of everything with a prime view of fireworks from the comfort of our condo.
The resort is just a short walk from The Parkway (Gatlinburgs bustling downtown) where you’ll find many restaurants, shops, tourist attractions and activities.
That year as my youngest was just about to turn two, I knew that we needed activities that would appeal to him yet also keep three teens and a husband occupied and happy.
I was able to find a stroller-friendly hiking trail as well as other family-friendly activities to appeal to just about every interest. Here I’ve compiled a handy list of Gatlinburg area activities that will please the entire family.
Laurel Falls Trail – This is a paved 2.6 mile trail that leads to an 80 foot waterfall.
All of my online research showed this trail as being stroller-friendly and we saw several people on the trail with strollers and one with a wheelchair, so while the official National Park Service website says ‘no strollers’ I don’t think that it’s followed, (though for liability reasons, something to consider) many trail maps do call it a stroller-friendly trail.
We hiked the majority of the trail (we had to turn around as we neared the falls, unfortunately, because a Mama bear and her cub were on the trail and we and many others around us did not want to upset her in any way)
The trail is paved but does have roots and natural obstacles, but a stroller with good wheels will navigate them just fine. We had the Baby Trend Expedition Jogging Stroller.
I just wish we could have made it to the falls. Of course there was the obligatory Disney “Up” Movie quote uttered now and then on our hike “Now, we’re gonna walk to the falls, quickly and quietly, with no rap music of flash dancing.”
Roaring Fork Motorway – Staying anywhere near Traffic Light #8 on The Parkway in Gatlinburg is the perfect spot if you want to drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
This is a beautiful 6 mile loop that brings you through the Great Smoky Mountains with stop offs for parking to visit waterfalls, creeks, historic buildings and gorgeous views. To get to the trailhead simply turn toward the mountains at Traffic Light #8 and drive straight to it.
Ober Gatlinburg – Aside from skiing at Ober Gatlinburg, visiting during the warmer months is something that I highly recommend. It’s essentially an amusement park in the mountains and getting there can be done one of two ways; you can drive the curvy roads (which we did GASP!!) or take the Aerial Tramway.
You can take the skylift to the alpine slides, ice skate indoors, shop, visit the bear and other animals in the Wildlife Encounter, go on some rides, play mini golf, visit the arcade, have lunch and enjoy the views
Each activity has it’s own fee, so be sure to visit the website ahead of time to gauge interest and budget if you need to.
Food, Drinks and Snacks – Driving on the parkway, I was intrigued by a sign at an Italian restaurant that was boasting the best Bloody Mary’s and the Best food so of course I had to check it out! We stopped in at Best Italian (naturally) and ordered a few pizzas, the big kids had the calzones.
Let’s just talk a minute about the calzones; these are not your average stuffed dough treat.
These are larger than your head, a monster of a calzone and absolutely delicious!
One early morning, Zach and I headed out by ourselves to walk around and do some shopping; we wound up at Donut Friar and brought a dozen donuts back for everyone!
Moonshine was a recurring theme this week too, between the brittle and the Ole Smoky Mountain Moonshine. We visited the distillery and listened to a band was playing in the courtyard while we picked up few souvenirs including the Apple Pie Moonshine.
Moonshine is definitely not my cup of tea, so I’ve learned.
Our visit included trips to a few other restaurants like Five Guys Burgers and Fries, We also visited Crawdaddy’s Restaurant but cannot recommend it and will probably not return to give it another try.
We did however, get fantastic service at Blaine’s Grill and Bar. Our server Zach was attentive and courteous and the food was so good that we actually ate there twice; once at the restaurant and the other time we brought it back to the condo with us! Blaine’s is highly recommended! (this was in 2013)
Update 2017: We were back at Blaine’s Grill and Bar a week after the Gatlinburg Wildfires in 2016 and I have to say, the service and quality of the food were disappointing. We also now have one teen who follows a vegan diet and the options and even attitude when we inquired about accommodating her diet, were underwhelming. We’ll likely not return.
Because we have a larger family and dining out gets expensive, we tend to buy groceries and cook some meals at the condo.
Prior to the trip I researched grocery stores nearby and found a store called Food City that is located just outside of Downtown Gatlinburg. I signed up for their rewards card weeks before and took it with me to take advantage of the weekly specials and loaded up before we arrived at the condo.
I like to bring a crockpot and make meals in the condo on our family vacations using prepped freezer meals I’ve made before the trip.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – We try to do a few educational things on vacation so that we can incorporate homeschool field trip days into our school year; and I feel as though we’re actually getting something school related accomplished.
What I love about traveling and visiting museums and aquariums is that oftentimes our homeschool association membership cards will get us discounted rates, and the aquarium was no exception.
Had we paid regular price, our admission would have been $115.95 but with our homeschoolers discount, we were able to get in for $7/adult and student and $4.99 for preschool aged children.
We received 3 Guidebooks and activity books/pencils for free (normally the guidebooks are $2/each)
Our total admission was just 45.90 (for six people) Pretty awesome deal!
Sometimes aquariums can get boring in that, once you’ve seen a stingray, every other stingray is just that… but this aquarium has an extensive shark exhibit and an absolutely adorable penguin area.
The day we went there was also a meet and greet with Disney mermaid Ariel (my favorite)
Space Needle – Down the street from our resort is the Space Needle; an observation tower of 400 ft.
We paid $7.50/pp for the elevator ride up to the top of the tower where we were able to see a full 360 degree panoramic view of Gatlinburg; breathtaking!
July 4 Parade – We also were able to experience the annual “First Independence Day Parade in the Nation”
This parade happens every year at midnight on July 4th, so for us, with a toddler we planned our day accordingly. The plan was to tire Zach out during the early morning and afternoon so that he took a good nap at around 6 p.m.
It worked perfectly, he napped for about an hour, had dinner and at around 11:30 we headed to the Parkway to find a spot. We stopped for a snack and enjoyed the parade then headed home to rest.
I am convinced that Gatlinburg will be a regular vacation spot for our family over the years; we’re heading back again this Fall and can’t wait to do so many of the things we didn’t have time for on our first trip.