Some of the most family-friendly destinations in the United States are found in the Appalachians. With incredible destinations such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park there are so many reasons to take an Appalachian road trip with kids.
Being from Western Canada, we didn’t know a whole lot about the Appalachian Mountains. Then one day, I read that the Great Smoky Mountains was the most visited national park in the US. I was intrigued… Then we quickly discovered the other national parks in the area, connected by a beautiful scenic drive. We knew we had to take our kids on an epic family road trip through the Appalachian Mountains during their summer vacation.
Below we share the details of our 2-week Appalachian road trip with kids itinerary. We developed a well-balanced family road trip with stops for the kids (Gatlinburg) and destinations for us (Shenandoah, the Smokies, etc.).
The possibilities for an amazing family road trip through the Appalachian Mountains are nearly endless. We hope our family road trip itinerary gives you some inspiration to use it as a launching pad for your Appalachian road trip with kids!
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Planning a Holiday in the Appalachian Mountains with Kids
When to do a Appalachian Mountains Road Trip with Kids
The Appalachian Mountains is a huge mountain range, extending from Canada all the way down to Alabama. With such a large area of land, across a variety of climates, it’s a bit hard to give generic advice on the best time to do an Appalachian Mountains road trip with kids.
High season for Appalachian road trips tends to be in spring and fall. People are drawn to the Appalachians in the spring for the mild temperatures and wildflowers, while the changing fall colors draws massive amounts of visitors.
Our Appalachian Mountains family road trip we describe below was in the heart of August. We enjoyed hot, sunny weather nearly the whole time, with the exception of a few rainy days here and there. We sometimes found it difficult to find affordable accommodation in the Appalachian Mountains in the summer during high season, so book your hotels and vacation home rentals as early as you can.
Once you narrow down where you’d like to go on your Appalachians family road trip, we recommend a little extra research to ensure the weather is suitable for your family vacation.
How Long to Travel in the Appalachians
Coming up with the best Appalachian Mountains road trip itinerary will depend entirely on how much time you have. We created our 16-day Appalachians family road trip itinerary considering driving distances and using those times strategically. We wanted to limit our driving time in the car or use it strategically to give our kids some down time.
With over 2-weeks for our family road trip through the Appalachian Mountains, we were able to fit in destinations which appealed to the adults plus find plenty of destinations and attractions for the kids.
If you’d like to extend your family vacation, see below for details on how we turned this itinerary into a four week Southern USA family road trip itinerary.
Where to Stay on your Appalachian Road Trip with Kids
One thing we’ve learned from our family road trips around the United States, is that there is a huge variety of family-friendly accommodations. We’re sure you will have no problem finding the perfect place to stay for your family.
When we traveled through the Appalachian Mountains, our kids were younger so our priority was to have kitchen facilities to prepare food our kids could eat. Because of this need, we found vacation rentals to be the best option for our family.
We also appreciate the other family-friendly amenities in vacation rentals such laundry facilities and separate bedrooms. When traveling with kids, don’t underestimate the value of having separate bedrooms. Not only can parents have some privacy at night, but well-rested kids are much better travelers.
On our Appalachian road trip with kids, we stayed almost exclusively in vacation rentals. The only exception was a 1-night stay, when it was just easier to sleep at a hotel, enjoy their free breakfast and get back on the road. When booking hotels for our family, we always start with Booking.com and their excellent “Top Picks for Families“.
Appalachian Road Trip Itinerary Summary
Here is our Appalachian Mountains road trip with kids itinerary with kids.
- Days 1-3: Shenandoah National Park
- Days 4-7: Blue Ridge Parkway
- Days 8-10: Asheville, NC
- Days 11-14: Gatlinburg, TN and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park
- Days 15-16: Nashville, TN
2 Week Appalachian Road Trip Itinerary
We loved our time in the Appalachian Mountains USA with kids and couldn’t be happier with spending just over 2 weeks on a family road trip. Our family road trip through this beautiful region gave us sufficient time to explore each area and find some of the best things to do in the Appalachian Mountains with kids.
Days 1-3: Shenandoah National Park
The day prior to beginning our family road trip in the Appalachians, we were finishing up our visit to Wilmington with kids. From there it was a 6 hour drive to our vacation rental house in Syria, VA. Wilmington was the end of our 2-week Southern East Coast road trip with kids.
Day 1 – Stony Man Hike
Our first hike of our 3 days in Shenandoah National Park with kids was the Stony Man Trail, which begins along the Appalachian Trail. The kid-friendly Stoney Man hiking trail begins through a dense forest, before leading to a stunning viewpoint where you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains for as far as the eye can see.
On our way back down Stony Man Trail we encountered a mother black bear and her small cub about 30 feet from the hiking path. We stayed and watched the magnificent black bears for a while as we had the safety of a large group and that the mother bear did not seem disturbed by our presence at all. A good reminder to bring bear spray in a holster on all your family hikes in Shenandoah National Park!
Day 1 – Dark Hollow Falls Trail
Our next kid-friendly hike in Shenandoah National Park was the Dark Hollow Falls Trail. This is a short, but very popular family hike which leads to a beautiful, tall waterfall.
Day 2 – Whiteoak Canyon Trail
We began our second day with a hike on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park. The beautiful Whiteoak Canyon hiking trail follows the Robinson River, passing several large waterfalls. Your kids will enjoy a dip in one of the many little swimming holes along the hiking trail.
Our kids were extremely interested in all the acorns, mushrooms, butterflies, daddy long legs, tiny lizards along the hiking trail. They also picked up every single caterpillar they found as well and wouldn’t start hiking again until they made it a nice little home made out of leaves and twigs on the side of the trail – haha! It’s sometimes frustrating waiting for the kids when we want to finish a hike, but it’s also gratifying to see kids learn to love nature so much.
Day 3 – Millers Head Trail
We were grateful that we dedicated 3 days to Shenandoah National Park on our family Appalachian road trip as it had so many enjoyable kid-friendly hikes, including the Millers Head Trail.
This easy Shenandoah hike begins in a meadow of wildflowers, before transitioning to a forest, where the kids found tons of millipedes, caterpillars, butterflies and even a little brown tree frog. The Millers Head Trail ends at a lookout with breathtaking views of the distant mountains and the valley below.
Day 3 – Limberlost Hike
The 1.3 mile Limberlost trail is one of the easiest hikes in Shenandoah National Park. The gravel pathway through a well-treed, flat section of the national park is also a good, short stroller-friendly hike in Shenandoah.
Day 3- Spotting Black Bears
On the drive home we saw four black bears – two adults and two cubs!! We got a great view from within our car on the side of the road. The bear cubs were climbing up and down trees, while momma bear led them through the forest. A second adult, presumably the male, just sat there and looked at all the humans staring at him.
Day 4 – Blackrock Summit Hike
Our last kid-friendly hike in Shenandoah National Park was through dense fog on the Blackrock Summit Trail. Hiking in the fog in the forest is one of my favorite things – it’s so spooky!
The Blackrock Summit hike is an easy Shenandoah National Park hike which follows a portion of the Appalachian Trail. At the Blackrock Summit, climb the big pile of rocks to get the best views of the valley and surrounding mountains. We feared we would lose our view due to the fog, but it miraculously lifted as we reached the summit!
Read more about these kid-friendly hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
Days 4-7: Blue Ridge Parkway
Sadly, we left Shenandoah National Park, we entered the George Washington National Forest via the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway feels a lot like driving the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park – the road follows along the top of the mountains, mostly through tall trees, with periodic breaks offering excellent views.
Day 4 – Fallingwater Cascades Hike
After an hour driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we stopped to hike Fallingwater Cascades, a well-treed, short hiking trail to a very nice cascading waterfall. Fallingwater Cascades trail is a kid-friendly hike with a small natural pool for kids to splash around in.
If your kids are like ours, they’ll mostly love looking at all the forest critters like caterpillars, millipedes, daddy long legs, butterflies, etc. By this time of our Appalachian road trip with kids, we had bought our daughter a bug viewing kit.
We checked into our Super 8 hotel in Bedford, Virginia afternoon. Again, with only a single night’s stay we didn’t feel the need to shell out for anything too fancy. Just a nice clean hotel works for us on a 1-night stay.
Day 5 – Gully Creek Trail
Located at mile 217.5 in the Cumberland Knob Recreation Area, the Gully Creek Trail was one of our favorite hikes on our entire Appalachian family road trip. The Gully Creek Trail is a short 2 mile hike, but it has difficult sections. If your kids are little, we’d recommend using a hiking carrier to get them through some of the tougher spots.
The Gully Creek Trail immediately descends through a dense forest to the bottom of a very lush gully, where it almost feels tropical! The trail then follows Gully Creek with lots of creek crossing to manage. If you are not wearing sports sandals, you may need to take off your hiking shoes several times.
The kids loved hopping on the stepping stones across Gully Creek and we enjoyed the beautiful waterfalls along the way.
We had been hiking with our kids pretty quite a bit over the past two weeks on our family road trip, so we treated ourselves to a quiet morning at our awesome cabin rental in Boone, NC.
Day 6 – Price Lake Hike
Our ‘easy day’ continued in the afternoon with a kid-friendly Blue Ridge Parkway hike around Price Lake. Most of the Price Lake hike is along the shoreline through a dense rhododendron forest. The Price Lake rhododendrons apparently bloom in early July – I imagine this Blue Ridge Parkway hike would be incredibly beautiful during this time.
Day 7 – Rough Ridge Hike
Rough Ridge Trail is a very popular Blue Ridge Parkway hike to an amazing Blue Ridge Mountains viewpoint. It’s only 0.3 miles to the Rough Ridge viewpoint, but it’s steep and the path has lots of rocks and tree roots.
The views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Rough Ridge hike were some of the best we found along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our vacation rental host said the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains would make us weep – we’d didn’t quite cry at Rough Ridge, but the views were amazing!
Day 7 – Mount Mitchell State Park
Our final stop on our Blue Ridge Parkway drive was the Mount Mitchell State Park. At 6,684 feet above sea level, Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the USA east of the Mississippi River. It’s amazing that you can drive all the way to the Mount Mitchell summit, but we recommend that active families park halfway up and hike to the top.
It’s hard to find a moderate hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway are very short and easy, or they are super long and hard. If you are looking for a fun, scenic and rewarding moderate hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway, try the Mount Mitchell hike.
After hiking Mount Mitchell, we left the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove to our amazing A-Frame cabin rental in Mills River, NC, just outside of Asheville.
Read more about these kid-friendly hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Days 8-10: Asheville, North Carolina
Day 8 – Chimney Rock State Park
Our Appalachian road trip with kids took us to Asheville, NC for the many amazing kid-friendly outdoor activities nearby. We started our family visit to Asheville with a full day visit to Chimney Rock State Park.
Chimney Rock has a little bit of everything for an outdoorsy family. There’s plenty of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties, amazing viewpoints, a towering waterfall and even an animal exhibit featuring the fauna of the park.
During our family visit to Chimney Rock State Park, we hiked the Four Seasons Trail, the Hickory Nut Falls Trail (with a 400’ waterfall that was featured in the Daniel Day Lewis film “The Last of the Mohicans”), and climbed 500 steps on the Outcroppings Trail to the Chimney Rock Lookout.
Chimney Rock is the state park’s signature granite outcropping. It’s a massive, vertical circular slab that rises dramatically into the sky. Chimney Rock formed with a reasonably flat top, so it made sense for someone to build stairs up there to use as an amazing viewpoint.
From the top of Chimney Rock, you will enjoy majestic views of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. Soaking in the beautiful North Carolina views with the kids made all the effort feel worthwhile.
If you visit Chimney Rock State Park with kids, don’t miss the Great Woodland Adventure hike, a super short 0.4 mile trail which has many fun and educational stops along the way.
Day 9 – Triple Falls Trail
On Day 21, our family road trip took us to Dupont State Forest, just south of Asheville, to hike the very popular Triple Falls Trail.
A beautiful kid-friendly hike, the Triple Falls Trail winds through a mixed forest to several impressive waterfalls. The first waterfall is Triple Falls, which is a 120′ tall, beautiful, three-tiered waterfall.
Further up the trail is High Falls, which is also 120′ tall but is a single fall. Both waterfalls offer viewing areas viewing areas above and below the waterfall.
Day 10 – Looking Glass Falls
Our third day in Asheville with kids began with a stop at Looking Glass Falls in the Pisgah National Forest. It’s a short walk down a flight of stairs to these beautiful 60′ waterfalls.
Beyond the viewing platform are some shallow pools at the base of the Looking Glass Falls where you can get into the water. Lots of kids and adults alike were playing in the fresh water. Our kids had a great time exploring, throwing rocks, sticks and leaves and just being silly kids. A great stop!
Day 10 – Graveyard Fields Hiking
From the Looking Glass Falls, we jumped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the popular family friendly Graveyard Fields hiking area near milepost 418. This popular hiking area boasts several modest waterfalls and a nice hike through a river valley. There are several trails in the area which give a variety of options for lengths and difficulty.
The Graveyard Fields hike had a few waterfalls and was a nice enough in its own right, but what made this hike special was the ripe wild blueberries and blackberries! In late August every year, the bushes around Graveyard Fields explode with massive amounts of ripe wild blueberries and blackberries.
We were there just a little too early, but we still found plenty of wild berries to fill our tummies! Hiking Graveyard Fields was our favorite thing to do in Asheville with kids!
Day 11 – Asheville, NC
Our Appalachian Mountains road trip with kids had brought us to Asheville, NC but so far we hadn’t actually seen the town, so we spent our final morning finding kid-friendly activities.
We started with some awesome donuts at Vortex Donuts before walking to Pack Square Park in trendy downtown Asheville. We brought the kids here for “Splashville”, an interactive water fountain where kids are free to run and splash and play. Splashville is a large circle with many jets of water which spray water into the air in a seemingly random fashion.
The unpredictable nature of the water spray kept our kids running from stream to stream, giggling and laughing all the way. If you can, bring water shoes as there are clear glass tiles over the water jets (presumably to light it up at night?) which are very slippery. Our little guy nearly brained himself twice in the first minute!
Read more on these kid-friendly hikes near Asheville, NC.
Days 11-14: Gatlinburg, TN and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Day 11 – Gatlinburg Cabin
Our kids have worked hard on our Appalachian road trip, so when we arrived at our charming cabin rental just outside Gatlinburg, TN we all hopped into the hot tub and just relaxed, taking in the amazing nature all around us. Ahhhh….
Early in the evening two black bears walked in front of our cabin, then to the side, then to the back. At one point we were looking out a side door, the black bear was 6 feet below us, with the only deck railing between us. The black bear stood on his hind legs and was looking into our cabin. His face was no more than a few feet from us! Frightening!
Even more scary is the fact the bears seemed so used to and unafraid of humans. They acted like bears which are used to being fed by humans. Sadly, this never ends well for the bears… Please help keep these magnificent creatures alive by keeping them wild and not feeding them human food.
Day 12 – Clingmans Dome
I woke up excited on Day 12! The part of our Appalachian family USA road trip I was looking forward to most was taking our kids to the Great Smoky Mountains! The weather forecast looked great, so we hopped in our car and drove to Clingmans Dome.
It didn’t take long until the rain started. We saw a momma bear and one cub as we pulled onto the Clingmans Dome road, so that was worth the drive in-of-itself. The rain actually stopped as we pulled into the Clingmans Dome parking lot. We optimistically started walking up the easy paved trail to the summit.
Despite being up in the clouds and having absolutely no views, we had a great time on the short walk to the Clingmans Dome viewing platform. As luck would have it, there were lots of ripe raspberries along the trail, so our daughter had a ball running along picking all she could eat.
It started POURING rain on us at the top of Clingmans Dome – no views for us today. Oh well, the only way to guarantee failure is to not try. Nature got the best of us today, but I’m happy we tried.
Day 12 – Gatlinburg Trail
After drying off in our Gatlinburg cabin rental, we decided to give nature another try and drove back to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to go for a short walk on the Gatlinburg Trail. This interesting kid-friendly Great Smoky Mountains hike runs through a dense forest alongside a very charming little river.
The Gatlinburg Trail also goes through a section of recently burned forest, but you’d hardly know it with all the robust regeneration of the forest plants.
It’s often hard to find a flat, medium length, kid-friendly hike in a mountain setting, so we were happy to discover this Great Smoky Mountain hike.
Day 13 – Porters Creek Trail
The forecast was for light rain all day, so rather than seek out some views of the Great Smoky Mountains, we elected to do a family-friendly hike in the forest. The Porters Creek Trail follows Porters Creek through a gorgeous thick forest. The kids loved crossing Porters Creek on the little trail bridges.
For American history buffs, the first few miles of the Porters Creek Trail is home to some remnants of 19th century settlers. There’s old stairs, stone fences, and a cemetery to explore.
Day 14 – Anakeesta
We began day 14 of our road trip with kids through the Appalachians with a visit to Anakeesta, a family theme park in the heart of Gatlinburg, TN.
Your visit to Anakeesta starts off with a chairlift ride to the top of Anakeesta Mountain. It’s a great family experience from the moment you get off the chairlift. We began our visit with the Tree Canopy Walk; a beautiful walk over 16 connected sky bridges through the forest at heights of 40-60′.
After a picnic lunch, the kids quickly made new friends at the Treehouse Village Playground. A mini version of the Anakeesta canopy walk, with many platforms connected by small, sturdy bridges. They were having so much fun, we let them play a long time.
Day 14 – Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Next up was a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which despite its distance from the ocean, has been named one of the best aquariums in the USA. What I liked best about Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was that it was chock-a-block full of crowd pleasers. The Ripley’s Aquarium has sharks, stingrays, hundreds of clown fish (“Little Nemo”), penguins, octopuses, sea horses, and so much more.
From the moment you enter the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies you can see how child friendly it is. There are fish tanks the kids can climb inside of, two giant playgrounds, an area where they can touch jelly fish and horseshoe crabs, many hands on exhibits for the kids to tinker with and much, much more.
Read more on the many things to do in Gatlinburg with kids.
Days 15-16: Nashville, TN
Day 15 – Nashville Glamping
Our final leg of driving on our Appalachian road trip with kids took us from Gatlinburg to Nashville. To break up the drive, we stopped for a quick walk through the Ijams Nature Center, just east of downtown Knoxville, TN. They have a nice walking trail split between a forest walk and an elevated boardwalk over the Tennessee River.
Taylor Swift was performing a hometown show at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on this night, driving the price of Nashville hotels through the roof. We ended up glamping at a farm just outside Nashville. Our host was amazing with the kids, giving them feed for the chickens and some carrots for the horses. She even let our daughter go into the chicken coop to retrieve the eggs!
Day 16 – Country Music Hall of Fame
We’re not country music fans, but hey… when in Rome… We were pleasantly surprised with the Country Music Hall of Fame! Our daughter loved all the beautiful dresses on display, while our son loved the cool cars (Elvis’ Cadillac, a white one with longhorns and guns all over and Smokey & the Bandit).
Day 16 – One last BBQ Feast
Staff at the Country Music Hall of Fame recommended Martin’s Bar-B-Que as the best BBQ place in Nashville. It was great!
Martin’s Bar-B-Que is one of those joints where you order up front and they bring your food to the table. I had one last ribs feast, while Celine finally had a pulled pork sandwich. We each had a slice of pecan pie for dessert. It was a fine way to say goodbye to our Appalachian road trip with some good cookin’!
Day 16 – Nashville Parthenon
Yup – you read that right… the Nashville Parthenon! Nashville built a full-size replica of the Parthenon in the late 1800’s for their centennial celebration.
Inside the Nashville Parthenon is a 42 foot tall full-size replica of Athena, just as it is in the real Parthenon in Athens. Both of us have seen the real Parthenon in Athens, so this was just a fun stop for the kids prior to returning our rental car to the airport.
Southern USA Road Trip – 4 Week Itinerary Overview
Our 16-day family vacation to the Appalachian Mountains was actually part of a larger 4-week family road trip through the Southern USA. We started in Nashville, then drove to Orlando to begin a Southern East Coast road trip, and finished up with this 2-Week Appalachian Mountains Road Trip. In case you are looking for a longer family road trip with your kids, here is our full 28 day Southern USA Road Trip itinerary.
- Day 1 – Nashville arrival
- Days 2-5 – Orlando, FL – Walt Disney World
- Days 6-7 – Savannah, GA
- Days 8-9 – Charleston, SC
- Days 10-11 – Wilmington, NC
- Days 12-15: Shenandoah National Park
- Days 16-19: Blue Ridge Parkway
- Days 20-22: Asheville, NC
- Days 23-26: Gatlinburg, TN
- Days 27-28: Nashville, TN
Looking for more family road trip ideas? Try a family road trip to Utah!
What to Pack for an Appalachian Road Trip with Kids
We are minimalists when it comes to packing for family road trips, but here’s our must-haves for a road trip to the Appalachian Mountains USA with kids:
- For your travel days, you simply can’t beat giving your kids an iPad or tablet for entertainment. We try to balance this with some of our favorite road trip podcasts for kids!
Downloading Netflix TV shows and movies is always good to keep the kids entertained, but if you are looking for something a little more cerebral, we are huge fans of giving our kids the Epic! reading app on travel days. Find out why we love the Epic reading app for travel, or at a minimum, we recommend you sign up for a free account with Epic to access a reduced library of online kids books for your Appalachian road trip.
- The days in the Appalachian Mountains can get quite hot, so we recommend staying well protected from the sun. Sun hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and plenty of water are a must for a summertime road trip with kids.
- Our family Appalachian Mountains road trip was in August, so it was mostly hot during the day, but we did have some cool mornings and rainy days. It was easiest to bring packable rain jackets that didn’t take a lot of space, especially since we only used them on occasion.
- We knew we’d be spending most of our time in the national parks, so we had proper hiking boots for us and for the kids. We’ve summarized our favorite hiking gear for kids in this post.
- The other must-haves for us were hiking day packs for carrying everything we needed for the day, complete with hydration packs for the adults and kids.
- We also packed two toddler carriers with us. These were so useful if we wanted to do an extra-long hike or if one of our kids needed a small break from hiking.
- If you are traveling with a potty training toddler (like we were), those emergency pee breaks might have you worried. One of these toddler travel potties can easily be stowed in the car!
We hope you found some inspiration for an Appalachian road trip with kids! Have a great time!!
Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.
When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).