We were booked for a leisurely float down a Tennessee river
flanked by the Smoky Mountains. That is, until the family behind us
encouraged us to sign up for a whitewater rafting trip instead. Two
hours and innumerable rapids later, our group of four city kids had
become whitewater fanatics.
From rafting in the mountains to touching stingrays at the
aquarium, Gatlinburg, Tenn., and the surrounded area offers
something for every member
of the family.
If you're ready for a true mountain experience, begin your trip
by staying at a home tucked away on the mountainside. We stayed
courtesy of Mountain Laurel Chalets, in a two-story,
four-bedroom home that looked out over the mountains. We loved
watching the antics of the bear cub that climbed the tree next to
our home's balcony and listening to the sounds of the forest around
A quick trip down the mountainside, Gatlinburg is filled with
museums, shops and mini-golf. It's a good place to retreat to when
the weather is bad. Don't miss Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies-a
stunning place to see an incredible variety of sea life
When you're ready to hike, visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center
just outside of Gatlinburg to start your trip. Located at the
entrance to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the rangers there
can help find trails to fit the age and ability of your family. We
started with a leisurely one hour, fairly flat stroll through the
mountainside and worked up to a long, much steeper hike several
days later. Be aware though, bears roam the area-the first one we
encountered was closer than we anticipated-and pay attention to
signs reporting recent bear activity.
The rafting trips are open to families with kids age 3 and up,
no experience required, and the guides did a great job of making
sure everyone in the boat was safe. Kids, ours and others, were
occasionally pitched from the boat, so families with younger
children may want to take a float trip down the more peaceful side
of the river. Trips sell out quickly, so call ahead for
Liz DeCarlo is the former senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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