We all lead incredibly busy lives. Busy lives come with busy schedules. Busy schedules mean it’s harder to spend time together as a family. Imagine a place where you and your family can get away and spend time together, without any interruptions. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great place to unplug and spend time together as a family.
Studies show kids and adults can reap great benefit from spending time outdoors. Spend some time together talking a walk as a family. Check out our list of great places you can take a family nature walk, and maybe play a little wildlife bingo while you’re at it!
Any Quiet Walkway
Quiet walkways are the unsung heroes of the Smokies when it comes to family nature walks. These beauties are easy to access and short enough for the smallest hikers in the park. Ranging in length from 0.3 miles to 1.8 miles, you’ll find a quiet walkway perfect for your family. A few worth noting:
– a 0.3 mile quiet walkway located a bit north of the Chimney Tops on highway 441. Close up views of creek and west prong of the Pigeon River are spotted here. Enjoy the scenery from the log bench on this trail.
Laurel Falls Quiet Walkway
– located less than a mile past the Laurel Falls trail head, this 0.3 mile loop is a quiet alternative. Well marked and flanked by tall grasses, this lovely loop crosses over a small creek and follows a gentle uphill. Follow the trail to a large stone cairn. Turn around here or follow the loop down and to the right to return in a circle.
Kanati Fork Quiet Walkway
– a short 0.25 mile walk starts from a large parking area on US 441. Walk down a set of stone steps and wander out across the small bridge to see Beech Flats. Enjoy the peaceful sounds of the flowing stream.
This lovely out-and-back walk is a bit longer than the quiet walkways. This 2-mile round trip hike takes place on an old roadbed, so the walking is mostly level, albeit uphill for the first mile. You’ll pass by a giant rock shortly on your left hand side that I’ve had kids tell me looks like a big shark tooth. About half a mile in, it will be evident you are on an old farmstead site – rock walls and building foundations can be seen on the hillside.
About 0.75 miles in you’ll get to cross a stream on a footbridge before coming upon a set of stairs leading up to the Owenby Cemetery. Finally, about 1.1 miles in you will follow the signs over to an old cantilever barn known as the John Messer Barn. You can walk around in the livestock pens and underneath the barn to play before heading back to the old springhouse and Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin. You will return to your car the way you came up the trail. This trail is especially popular in the springtime for wildflower sightings!
Spruce Flats Falls
This 2-mile round trip hike might be a little more challenging for kids, but can definitely be fun! You’ll follow the signs for the Lumber Ridge Trail leaving out of the parking lot for the Tremont Institute. Shortly thereafter, follow the signs for the falls trail. You’ll climb a steep hill and get pretty views of Thunderhead Mountain on the Appalachian Trail before coming to a unique set of foot log stairs. You’ll head downhill on a steep trail that can be rocky and root-filled before coming up to the falls. This is also a great place to cool off in the summertime. Return back to your car the way you came.
Walker Sister’s Cabin
A 3 mile hike starting at the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse in Metcalf Bottoms, follow the Little Brier Gap Trail approximately 1.4 miles from the gated access road. You’ll follow the gentle old road bed to the site of the Walker Sister home. These five women lived here in the park until 1964, when the final sister passed away. The five women lived here when the park service established the park in the 1930s, but at the time the women, all without husbands, were allowed to stay on their land as part of a lifetime lease. They lived a simple and primitive life in the cabin as it stands today. The only buildings left as part of the farm are the cabin, springhouse, and corn crib, but it will serve as a neat teaching opportunity to show kids how people lived in these mountains in the early 20th century.
While it makes a longer family nature walk, it’s a great opportunity to unplug and spend the day together in this beautiful and often quiet section of the park. Have a picnic together at the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area when you’re done!
A classic hike of the Smokies. Laurel Falls is a very popular family nature walk. Laurel Falls is a very busy trail, so it’s best to arrive early. While the trail is paved, the path is still a bit ragged. However, the ragged trail is well worth the walk. The 80 foot waterfall is easily one of the most spectacular in the park. Strollers are not recommended. This gentle walk is 2.3 miles round trip and marked every 0.1 miles. No more asking “Are we there yet?!”
Don’t want to drive to Laurel Falls? Take the Trolley! The tan line drops off here throughout the year.
While Deep Creek is on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is a great area to consider for a family nature walk. Numerous waterfalls call this area home. Park at the Deep Creek trailhead past the campground. Juney Whank Falls is a 90-foot waterfall only 0.3 miles from the parking lot. This falls offers a unique opportunity to walk right across the middle on a bridge.
Located a short 0.25 miles from the parking area up Deep Creek Trail is Tom Branch Falls. Log benches dot the area and the base of the falls makes for a popular swimming spot. Follow Deep Creek Trail up a gentle hill another ⅓ of a mile to see Indian Creek Falls. Take Indian Creek Trail on the right and follow the spur trail only 25 feet down to see this waterfall up close.
This great summertime destination is also popular with families for another reason – river tubing! A number of roadside vendors on the drive in rent inner tubes. Hike up as far as you like and hop in for a float down the creek!
At the end of day of exploring and taking a family nature walk, head back to your cozy Gatlinburg cabin. Many of our cabins have awesome game rooms or even home theater rooms. Spend even more time together as a family on your Tennessee vacation.