Top 10 adventures for families in this mountain getaway
If you live outside the southern U.S., you’ve probably never heard of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. If you live in the South, you’ve probably visited here multiple times but have likely discovered something new with each return trip.
How best to describe Pigeon Forge? It’s like a mini, Appalachian-version of Las Vegas, where every attraction along “The Strip” is geared toward families. It’s an artificial spectacle that sits at the gateway to one of the South’s most-visited natural areas, the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s that dichotomy that makes Pigeon Forge such a kid-pleasing mountain escape, especially for adventurous teens and tweens.
KidTripster Tip: Pigeon Forge traffic is horrible in the summer. Opt for the Pigeon Forge Fun Trolley instead. Check signs and schedules so that you know exactly how late the trolley runs. And when you near your desired stop, make sure to alert your driver that you’d like to get off. Otherwise, the trolley will keep going if no one is standing at that stop.
1/Zorbing at Outdoor Gravity Park
203 Sugar Hollow Rd.
Originating in New Zealand, zorbing is only available in a few spots in the USA, including here at Outdoor Gravity Park. What is zorbing? Well, you climb inside an 11-foot-high inflatable ball filled with a foot of water by yourself or with up to two friends. Then you hurl yourself down a 1000-foot hill on one of three different runs. There’s no tumbling or going upside down in the ball, just slipping and sliding like riding a water slide. Watch here to see what I’m talking about. The park gives you a Go-Pro camera to record your ride; the video makes for a fun social media post! Video cost: $10 first video; $5 additional video. While the town trolley does not stop at the Outdoor Gravity Park, it’s worth finding a way out here. Yes, it’s pricey, but on a 30-day trip across the country, my boys ranked Outdoor Gravity Park as their most favorite activity. Bring a swimsuit and towel. Cost: Riders (5 and up) $19/roll or $57/3 rolls or $90/5 rolls; pick up a park brochure for a discount coupon.
KidTripster Tip: Go when the park opens. As the day goes on, the park gets busy, meaning more wait times between rides.
KidTripster Tip: During cooler months, it’s possible to do this ride dry, but I think that it’s a lot more fun riding wet.
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd.
Dollywood is a world-class amusement park nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. If you visit with teenagers, you’ll likely never see the entertaining shows that the park is known for; instead you’ll be racing between the park’s thrill rides. The park is home to the world’s fastest wooden coaster, Lightning Rod, and the world’s first winged coaster, Wild Eagle, plus six others. And given the intense summer heat, you better hit the Daredevil Falls log ride, too. For more on my recommendations for Dollywood, click here. Cost: Youth (under 4) Free; Youth (4-9) $56.95; Adult $70; discounts available on multi-day and multi-park passes.
KidTripster Tip: The summers in Pigeon Forge are hot and humid. While water misters spray throughout the park, you and your kids should be vigilant about keeping hydrated and lathered in sunscreen.
3/Dollywood's Splash Country Water Adventure Park
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd.
A companion park to Dollywood, Splash Country Water Adventure Park is a welcomed refugee during the hot Tennessee summers, but it also has plenty of death-defying drops and hairpin turns to get your heart pumping. Our family favorites: RiverRush, a 4-person water coaster, Fire Tower Falls, the park’s tallest and fastest slides, and Swiftwater Run with its corkscrew tunnel. Cost: current season rates not yet released; discounts available on multi-day and multi-park passes.
KidTripster Tip: As is the case with most amusement parks, arriving early is usually the best practice. During the summer, gates to Dollywood and Splash Country Water Adventure Park open at 10 a.m. The theme park is open until 9:30 p.m., the water park closes at 7 p.m.
4/The Coaster at Goats on the Roof
1341 Wears Valley Rd.
Here’s a different take on your classic roller coaster. At The Coaster at Goats on the Roof, you control the speed of your car on this mile-long track that runs through the woods. To amp up the excitement, ride at night when it’s harder to see where you’re going! You can reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour! Ride as an individual or in pairs. Cost: Youth (3-6) $5; Youth (7-12) $12; Adult $15.
5/The Comedy Barn Theater
My crew has a pretty high standard when it comes to comedy shows; no corny shtick will do. As we sat down for the family comedy show at The Comedy Barn - a theater that prides itself on clean, family-friendly humor - my teenaged boys were skeptical: “If we don’t like it, can we leave at intermission?” As the curtain fell on the first act, I heard, “we are staying, right?!” The Comedy Barn had achieved the unthinkable - getting my teenagers to heartily laugh out loud and beg for more. Seriously, it’s very funny. Cost: Youth (3-11) $10; Adult $35.
6/The Island at Pigeon Forge
131 The Island Dr.
Similar to Downtown Disney, The Island is 23-acre entertainment district filled with shopping, restaurants, and attractions including the Great Smoky Mountain Ferris Wheel. But options can be pricey, so you need to be selective. For little tykes to elementary school-aged kids, I’d recommend the 3-tiered Ropes Course. Cost: $5-15/person, depending on the course. But for tweens and teens, head to the Mirror Maze. I admit to getting an unhealthy amount of amusement watching my boys slam into mirrors as they tried to make their way through the maze! Wear the 3-D glasses for an extra challenge. Maze cost: Youth (4-6) $12; Other $15; pick up The Island brochure for a $2 discount.
But the best attraction is actually one of the cheapest; it’s the video game next to the mirror maze. Do you remember the scene in the movie Get Smart where Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell limberly navigate a room of lasers? It’s that! For a few tokens, you can compete against your family members to see who’s got the skills for espionage.
Wildly popular in Europe, escape room challenges have made their way to America. At The Island, your family can choose one of four adventures at The Escape Game. Here’s how it works: you and your teammates (up to seven people) are locked in a room where you’re forced to find clues, solve puzzles, and decipher codes in order to escape. (Yes, if you fail your mission, you will be released after one hour.) It’s great fun, especially for teenagers looking to outsmart their parents! Cost: Everyone (recommended for ages 12 & up) $32.
If you’re looking for an escape room geared more toward elementary school-aged kids and tweens, consider The Tomb: Escape Game (2528 Parkway). This multi-room challenge takes on an Egyptian theme with a facilitator guiding the group. If you want less help in solving the clues, make that clear to the guide during the game; however, know that certain segments need to be finished in a designated amount of time to move other groups through the rooms. Cost: Youth (5-12) $11; Adult $14; pick up a brochure for $1 discount.
8/Flyaway Indoor Skydiving
At Flyaway Indoor Skydiving, fly without the fear of jumping out of a plane! Participants suit up and then go through a 20-minute training session before entering the vertical wind tunnel with an instructor. Flyers take turns during a 15-minute session, each getting about 3 minutes of airtime. Small children must weigh at least 40 pounds and be mature enough to follow instructions. Cost: Participant $34; Family (up to 5 flyers) $155.
One of the best ways to experience the Great Smoky Mountains is on the river. The area’s rafting outfitters are located in Hartford, just a 45-minute drive from Pigeon Forge. You’ll want to dedicate at least a half day to this excursion; know that there are no trips on Sunday. With Smoky Mountain Outdoors (3299 Hartford Rd.), you can choose a guided trip based on desired length and thrill level. Teens will likely opt for the 6-1/2-mile Upper Pigeon River run with bigger waves and bigger drops than the 5-1/2-mile Lower Pigeon River trip. Lower River cost: $42/person; Upper River cost: $47/person; discounts often available. A similarly-priced Upper River trip is offered by Rafting in the Smokies (3595 Hartford Rd.).
10/Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Go see why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited one in the country. Bike the historic, 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road when it’s closed to vehicles on Wednesdays and Saturdays from sunrise to 10 a.m. during the summer. Hike to one of the dozens of waterfalls in the park or if you’re feeling ambitious, hike the strenuous, 4-mile (round-trip) trail to Chimney Tops in the center of the park for the best views. For more on the park, click here. Cost: Free. The park is one of the few national parks that doesn’t charge a fee!
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah and her family traveled to Pigeon Forge as part of a 30-day cross-country RV adventure.
This writer received some complimentary activities for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.