We had a great time visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer with a mix of two teens and a preschooler. We found plenty to keep everyone entertained and making memories! Allegiant Air had bargain priced fares into Asheville, North Carolina, where we rented a car. We rented a cabin in Maggie Valley which made it easy to pack sandwiches for hikes and cook dinner when we came in after dark. The area doesn’t offer much in the way of restaurants that are open late! And by late I mean 8:00 p.m.
Our best souvenir shopping was in Cherokee, North Carolina. We found a fry bread food truck that was absolutely delicious! We did not find much else in the food department worth writing home about.
Most of the gift shops are super touristy. There are a few with lovely and unique items. My four year old was content to ride the twenty-five cent mechanical horse outside the Saunooke Mill Gift Shop over and over again. That was the highlight of the trip for her. Right around that area there were some cute shops.
The real reason one comes to the Great Smoky Mountains is for the incredible views. Those did not disappoint. We found a number of trails that were trekkable for a precocious four year old. Just bring water and a snack! A little bribe goes a long way to keep little legs moving. Soco Falls was our favorite. It was very short and the view of the waterfalls was gorgeous. There are two ways to get to the bottom – one for thrill seekers and one for normal people. And there is no need to go all the way down in order to catch your breath at the beauty of the falls.
Inside the park we found Clingman’s Dome trail tiring for the little one, but it is paved and with lots of breaks there were lots of small children that made it to the top, including mine. It was a crowded trail, but the observation deck, with mountain views on all sides, is the ultimate photo spot.
Tom Branch Falls is an easy hike, and a few other falls and trails are right in that area. Part of that area is paved for tubers to bring their tubes to the top of the creek and tube down. We did not try it (Floridians are not overly fond of cold water) but it looked like fun. I did see adults having to scooch themselves along some shallow, rocky spots.
Near Sylva, North Carolina, we found a bit more demanding and rugged trail that our 4 year old was actually able to handle called Waterrock Knob Trail. It has several vistas along the way if you don’t want to climb all the way to the top. The view at the top is pretty sweet!
If you are not up for much hiking, a drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway provides pull off spots to get out and snap some Insta-worthy pics.
Lake Junaluska is a beautiful spot to take a preschooler. The whole family will enjoy the Rose Walk along the lake and the nature trail just another block up the hill.
We tried a bit of whitewater rafting. Believe it or not there are some fun spots that a four year old can handle. The Dillsboro River Company advertises mom approved white water rafting trips with class 1 and 2 rapids down the Tuckasegee River. I do approve. My guide was wonderful and we had a lot of fun, even stopping in the spot jump off of a big rock. Yes, you could fall out. My oldest did in fact. But it is quite shallow and you float for about 10 seconds in your life vest until your guide scoops you up. It was the highlight of our trip.
On one of the days we drove through Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. That was a mistake. That might be some people’s ideas idea of fun but it was not ours. Gatlinburg was a tourist trap full of traffic and gimmicks. We did find the Arts and Crafts District, shopping for some beautiful wood carved gifts, but aside from that we hightailed it back into the park.
We spent a day in Asheville on our way back. I gotta say, I found the city weird and self-important. It was like they were trying too hard to be cool. The local zoo, The Western North Carolina Nature Center, however, was adorable. It was small enough not to be exhausting and had lots of cool places for a little kid to stop and play. The animals were all local wildlife (at some tome or another) and we learned some interesting facts!
This is a vacation to enjoy the great outdoors during nice weather. We went in June. Part of the fun was watching the sun go down in the evening from the porch of our cabin and watching the rabbits and fireflies come out, sipping hot chocolate, and sharing our favorites memories.
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