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Plan a vacation your kids won't stop talking about. In East Tennessee, choose how your family will make memories. Will you visit an amusement park or see incredible views in state and national parks? Meet under the sea creatures or stargaze? Have a glamping adventure or stay in an upscale hotel? Keep reading for family vacation ideas in East Tennessee.
State Park or Amusement Park?
Take your family on a hike in beautiful Roan Mountain State Park with 12 miles of day-use hiking trails ranging from beginner to strenuous. There are also three miles of mountain bike trails. The Peg Leg Mine Trail is an easy trail that leads to the ruins of an 1800s iron ore mine. When you arrive to the mine site, you’ll see steps that lead down to the entrance where miners and carts came and went. A hiking favorite is the difficult Raven Rock Trail. The 1-mile trail is steep and leads to Heaton Ridge. You can enjoy Raven Rock Overlook about halfway up the trail, which also offers stunning Roan Valley views and the surrounding mountain ranges.
Tennessee’s beloved theme park, Dollywood can enhance your family trip in Tennessee as it offers thrilling family-friendly rides, events and more. Small children will love Wildwood Grove, filled with rides like Black Bear Trail where kids climb on the back of bears for a ride through beautiful backwoods, Treetop Tower where kids can ride aerial acorns and Great Tree Swing that welcomes parents and kids to fly through the skies. Teens will love thrilling coasters like Lightning Rod, Mystery Mine and Wild Eagle.
See The Sea at the Aquarium or See The Stars Stargazing?
In Chattanooga, you can go under the sea at Tennessee Aquarium to see fish and underwater wildlife from Tennessee and from around the world like giant catfish and gliding sharks. Above water, you can see various turtles, snakes, frogs, lemurs, penguins, butterflies and more. With two buildings to explore, you can spend hours coming face-to-face with unique animals. Learn about the rich biodiversity of the Southeast and how you can help preserve the natural habitats around you.
Celebrated as an International Dark Sky Place by the International Dark Sky Association, Obed Wild & Scenic River is the place to go for expansive starry night skies. Sign up for one of the astronomy programs offered at Obed throughout the year. Call the park visitor center for dates and more information.
Water Sports or Fishing Fun?
Have a lake day on what is considered Tennessee’s cleanest lake, Norris Lake. With 22 marinas, you can rent equipment for tubing, waterskiing, jet skiing, paddleboarding and kayaking. Catch sunny rays on a pontoon boat and leisurely float or jump on in for a swim. Norris Lake has 800 miles of shoreline, 34,000 acres, three state parks and two wildlife management areas making it a premier summertime vacation spot for families.
White Water Rafting
Have a white water adventure in Tennessee during your family vacation. East Tennessee is home to some incredible white water rafting. Ride waves with Rafting Tennessee in Hartford along the Pigeon River. There are a number of outfitters along the Ocoee River like Outland Expeditions. And, the Nolichucky River roars its way through a 900-foot deep, nine-mile long gorge in the rugged Bald and Unaka Mountains.
Take a family fishing trip to Watauga Lake, a 6,400-acre reservoir that is celebrated by Bassmaster as one of the best bass lakes in the nation. Here, you can cast for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, rainbow trout, channel catfish, bluegill, rock bass, white bass and many more. The most popular fish are trout, walleye and smallmouth bass. Get all your gear at one of the many marinas around the lake. There are also plenty of boat launch ramps if you’re bringing your own boat. Check out the many cabins and campsites close to the lake for the perfect family vacation.
Interactive Children's Exhibits or Dinosaur Dig?
Kids love Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga for its immersive exhibits on the world around them. Newborns to 4-year-olds can pretend and play in Little Yellow House, specifically designed for early childhood development. Children can climb into a tree house, play in a full equipped kitchen, explore an interactive garage and infants can play in the specialized Infant Garden. Older kids can make a huge splash in the Tennessee RiverPlay and learn how a river works including a lock and dam, a hydropower plant, a barge loading dock and more. The toddler water table includes a mountain, several water features, boats and a ramp. Explore The Tower for a birds eye view of Chattanooga, learn about science, art and more in the many interactive exhibits.
You could spend hours playing and learning at Hands On! Discovery Center and Gray Fossil Site. Learn about Newton’s Third Law of Motion with air cars and Newton’s First Law of Motion with air rockets. Make different colors at the Colorful Shadows station, immerse yourself in augmented reality with Quantum Space and build with a variety of large-scale construction pieces in the Rigamajig exhibit. For children ages infant to 3 years-old, Tot Spots is designed for small-scale discovery including costumes, manipulatives for fine motor skill development and nature exploration. Outside, get a glimpse of the daily work that happens on a paleontology dig site via the Paleo-Walk Viewing Deck. Learn about pollinating insects and plants, native trees and flowers in the Discovery Garden.
Four Course Feast or Fresh Baked Pies?
Come hungry for the Southern feast served at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. This unique dinner show features galloping horses and their riders filled with horse riding stunts, special effects and musical productions along with a four-course meal with dessert. You can even meet the famous horses by strolling the Horse Walk. Admission for adults is $62.99 and children (3-9 years old) is $32.99.
Have a slice or two of hand tossed pizza from Main Street Pizza Company in Johnson City and Kingsport. Sample seasonal pies and specialty pies like the Philly cheesesteak or Thai Pie – coconut-sriracha sauce, mozzarella, onion, roasted chicken, apple chutney, arugula, jalapeno and red pepper. Classics like the Italiano – topped with Italian sausage, jalapeno, black olive, bell pepper and red onion, buffalo chicken pizza, supreme and white pie are also on the menu. Subs on fresh baked hoagie bread, salads, chicken wings, pastas and desserts like the gluten-free chocolate torte and homemade ice cream will have you full and happy.
Science Museum or Scenic Views?
Learn about Oak Ridge, considered a secret city during World War II, and the first days of the Manhattan Project, the effort that helped end the war and brought on the Atomic Age. The American Museum of Science and Energy is one of four museums that call Oak Ridge home. The other three are the new K-25 History Center, the Children’s Museum and the Oak Ridge History Museum which are must-sees as well. Explore the science exhibits that make learning fun from nanotechnology, 3D printing, different forms of energy and more. You can even travel through 3D worlds like the ORNL’s Graphite Reactor.
Enjoy a stunning view of three states – Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia, by walking up the paved trail that leads to the Pinnacle Overlook at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Wildlife is abundant in the park and you may spot deer, beaver, fox, bear and more than 150 species of birds. There are over 80 miles of hiking trails in the park designed for all experience levels from easy strolls to multi-day backcountry adventures.
Family Resort or Glamping Adventure?
Designed for families large and small, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa is the ideal family-friendly resort for your next trip. Reconnect and have fun at the two onsite pools, firepits, nightly story time around the fireplace lobby and kids’ activities in the family game room. Enjoy southern classics at Song & Hearth: A Southern Eatery or stop by the DM Pantry for grab-and-go items. Guest rooms offer more than 350 square feet of space, a coffee maker with coffee/tee, cable TV and complimentary WiFi. Portable cribs are available upon request if you’re traveling with infants and some rooms even come with bunkbeds the kids will love.
Book rooms (some are connecting, so the kids could have their own room) at the beautiful boutique hotel Cumberland House, Tapestry Collection by Hilton in Knoxville, steps from World’s Fair Park and Market Square. Pet-friendly rooms are available as well. Enjoy free WiFi, a fitness center and the on-site restaurant Tussie Mussie which serves Appalachia-inspired dishes. The boutique carries local goods, including ice cream in case your kids want a nighttime treat.
Have the ultimate outdoor glamping experience at the Little Arrow Outdoor Resort in Townsend, tucked away in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. You can choose from glamping tents, cabins, tiny homes, Airstreams and RV and tent sites for however you’d like to experience the great outdoors. Amenities include golf cart rentals, food truck area, a community garden and fire pit, playground for the little ones, a dog park, camp store and sport courts including a pickle-ball court, basketball court and gaga ball pit. Head to the zero entry pool for when summer temperatures come which features grotto waterfalls, a splash pad, hot tub and plunge pool surrounded by cabanas, massage services and more.
Escape to the beautiful Hiwassee Acres in Calhoun, a tucked away luxury resort that offers rooms for small and large families, a petting zoo, hiking, swimming, kayaking and more. With more than 220 acres, the resort is right on the Hiwassee River making it easily accessible for family time out in nature. When you book, you can add the 1-hour photography session with a professional photographer – perfect to get beautiful family portraits while on vacation.
Make even more memories by exploring more things to do in East Tennessee.
Follow these backpacking trails to see mountain vistas, rock formations, wildlife and more.