These mountains are great — and Smoky

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 us.

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 upclose.

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 reservations.

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