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Jonathan Stull | 07.09.2017

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place with a long legacy of inhabitation. Generations of Native Americans and several centuries of European inhabitation has created a storied and visible history here—and it is an ideal environment for children to learn about the past while enjoying the present.

The Smokies have some of the highest summits east of the Mississippi (Clingman’s Dome ranks third), but many of the trails in the park are slow, loping paths that meander along creek beds or through meadows with minimal elevation gain and kid-friendly distances—or the option to cut it short. Plus, with the region’s long history, there are museums and exhibits where you can explore the annals of time as if it were still living. And the wildlife, too: fireflies that alight in synchrony, raven and elk, otters once extirpated from this region, and squirrels that fly from treetop to treetop will all delight the kiddos.

But for moment, revel in the opportunity to get outside and let loose the little ones. They’ll thank you for it as soon as you’re done cleaning their hands of mud, provided they didn’t get into the car first.

  • Abrams Falls is an easy 2.5 miles to a short 20-foot cascade.
  • Cades Cove Loop offers 11 miles of meadows and historical homesteads with minimal elevation gain.
  • The Middle Prong Trail traverses 8 miles of old railroad bed, which allows for smooth hiking along a river with numerous cascades and pools. The mileage is less than ideal for kids, but there are shorter options.
  • Fern Branch Falls is a 3.8-mile waterfall hike with a historic site near Greenbrier.
  • Schoolhouse Gap Trail is a short journey that includes a side trail to White Oak Sinks, a wildflower hideaway.
  • Big Creek is a 4-mile hike with a waterfall and swimming hole.
  • Little River Trail, also 4 miles, features waterfalls and the historic town of Element with little elevation gain.
  • The Oconaluftee River Trail is one of the best trails in the park for families—short, flat, and with plenty of opportunities to explore wildflowers and rivers in the Smokies. The Mountain Farm Museum is also here and offers educational opportunities.
  • Deep Creek Loop offers waterfalls, wildflowers, and if your family is able, tubing along the creek.


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