The Ultimate Guide to Gatlinburg Planning

Why Gatlinburg is a Great Family Vacation

This guide is meant to be a starting point for New Orleans families planning their next vacation. We are all about sharing family traveling tips whether your next adventure from New Orleans is to the beach, Disney or the mountains! As always, please do your own research and talk with other families. If you enjoy the outdoors but are looking for something closer and perhaps more budget-friendly, we also recommend Oak Mountain State Park. There is also a list of drivable destinations from New Orleans for every budget here. And if you end up staying right here in New Orleans, we have dozens of ideas for kid-friendly outings in New Orleans, too!

Driving to Gatlinburg From New Orleans

It’s easy to see why Gatlinburg is a favorite destination for New Orleans residents; you can be in the mountains and surrounded by family fun in a day’s drive. There are endless options for lodging, fun and nature alike. We’re here to help you plan the perfect trip for your New Orleans family!

If you want to stop on the way to Gatlinburg, a family-friendly and natural stopping point is Birmingham, Alabama. The next morning, you can wake up bright and early and make plans to enjoy some of the attractions in Northern Georgia before heading on to Tennessee. For example, New Orleans families report that their kids absolutely love both Ruby Falls and Rock City (where you can see seven states at once!) The incline railway in Chattanooga is a short drive from Rock City and another fun (and relatively quick) activity to enjoy with kids. After working up an appetite, enjoy a delicious lunch at Tupelo Honey in Chattanooga. Your kids will be worn out and well-fed as you make the final drive to the mountains!

driving to Gatlinburg from New OrleansFamily-friendly places to stay in Gatlinburg

  • Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort with lots of family fun waiting here with multiple pools, indoor water park, zipline, mini golf and just minutes away from other area attractions. Pro tip: there is a spa on site and multiple eateries on sight. Plus rooms that range from studios to 5 bedroom villas.
  • Hidden Mountain Resort Dreaming of a log cabin with all the amenities? This is the place! Their cabins range in size from one bedroom up to 14 bedrooms, perfect for groups of all sizes. Pro tip: there is access to pools and some cabins are even pet friendly
  • Margaritaville Resort is the place for you if you’re looking for that resort feel but still want to be right in the middle of all the fun. Pro tip: there’s an indoor pool and hot tub plus an expansive outdoor pool with waterslide. Perfect for anytime of year.
  • Jack Huff’s is the perfect budget friendly lodging that is convenient and even has a pool, splash area and waterslide. Pro tip: Jack Huff’s has its own stop on the Gatlinburg Trolley
  • Bearskin Lodge on the River has it all with a lazy river, outdoor fire pits, rooms available with balconies and fireplaces. Pro tip: Included with your stay is 24/7 coffee station and grab and go breakfast.
  • If a true cabin in the woods feel is what you’re after, there are dozens of options on TripAdvisor, VRBO, Rent Smoky Mountains  and AirBnB Pro tip: you can filter by dates and location as well as price so you can easily narrow down what works best for your trip

Explore Nature With Kids in Gatlinburg

  • Cade’s Cove is an 11 mile drivable loop and one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies. It offers a scenic drive with lots of opportunities to see wildlife such as deer, black bears, coyote, turkeys, raccoons and other animals. Pro tip: Wednesdays are free car days. Also be prepared during weekends and busy seasons for it to be a slow car ride. Have a full tank, drinks and snacks and enjoy the ride!
  • Great Smoky Mountain National Park is full of really great trails, picnic spots, waterfalls and visitor centers. Pro tip 1: Make the Sugarlands Visitor Center your first stop. You can chat with a park ranger about the best trails and spots for your group, there’s lots to check out in there and you can get the necessary information to get the kids in your group certified junior rangers. There is a trail directly behind this visitor center that is perfect for all ages and skill levels and leads to a very neat waterfall. Pro tip 2: Deciding where to go and which hikes are right can be overwhelming, before you go download the App Trails app. You can filter trails by location, difficulty, and search by keywords. You can also see pictures and read reviews of individual trails.

road trips with kids from New OrleansThings to Do With Kids in Gatlinburg

  • Wild Bear Falls Waterpark is the South’s largest indoor water park. It’s retractable roof means weather is never an issue and there is something for every age at this attraction. Pro tip: kids under 3 are free! Great deal for a family with toddlers.
  • Ober Gatlinburg is the place to be for skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, riding an alpine slide, ice bumper cars, rock wall climbing, chair swings and many more activities. Pro tip: there are age restrictions for various activities so be sure and plan your visit with your party in mind.
  • Impossibilities Show is fun for the whole family full of magic, mind reading, and other fun surprises. Pro tip: lots of audience participation in this show, so just be prepared.
  • Wonderworks lies a short drive from Gatlinburg and is an amusement park for the mind, with attractions combining education and entertainment. This indoor attraction is perfect for a rainy day. Pro tip: check Groupon for discounted tickets.
  • Anakeesta has it all. Views, fun, entertainment, dinner and drinks this is a not to be missed spot on your trip. There is ziplining, a mountain coaster, a chairlift, an observation tower with Gatlinburg’s highest point and more. Pro tip: If you are ziplining, then you are required to wear close-toed shoes and be able to pull back long hair.
  • Pigeon Forge Snow allows the family to enjoy real snow all year long. Snow tubing any time of the year and there’s a special area specifically for snow play for kids of all ages. Pro tip: Pack gloves if kids plan on playing in the snow play area.
  • Amazing Mirror Maze is a budget and weather friendly indoor good time. Home of the original and largest mirror maze in Gatlinburg, all black-light mini golf and Shoot Em’ Up Cinema. Pro tip: $15 per person will buy you a pass to all 3 attractions making this a fairly budget friendly day out.
  • Dollywood is one of the area’s most popular attractions. Everyone from crawlers to thrillseekers will find fun at Dollywood between the rides, shows, water park, places to eat, spa and hotels. Pro tip: the park is not open year-round so be sure and check out the park’s calendar for the most up to date information.

fun destinations within driving distance of New OrleansWhere to Eat With Kids in Gatlinburg

If you have driven to Gatlinburg from New Orleans, tell us your favorite Gatlinburg spots you think should make the list. Happy planning and travels!


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Tara grew up all over south Louisiana and currently lives in Metairie with her husband Josh, and their 3 kids Dax, Dane and Delta. Tara is a buyer for a local food-service distribution company and Community Director for New Orleans Mom. During the week she can be found replying to emails, carpooling kids all around, giving out hugs and kisses, and looking forward to bedtime. Weekends are for family adventures, naps and cheering for LSU and the Saints. She loves trying new foods, travel, and she and her family love all things New Orleans, but especially Mardi Gras.


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