Family Adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains

Family Adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains

Fontana Lake near Bryson City is a favorite for kayaking, boating, fishing and water sports

What could be more fun than hiking, picnicking and splashing around in cold mountain streams with the family? Grab this three-day trip, pack up the kids and head for the hills.

3-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Go gem mining in Franklin then discover the history of the Cherokee people.

Day 2: Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and go whitewater rafting.

Day 3: Try fly fishing or flatwater paddling, visit an ancient forest, and enjoy art and music.

Day 1: Franklin & Cherokee

Spend the morning in Franklin mining for rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Bring a plastic bag to carry your treasures home or have your stones set by one of the local gemologists. The area is rich in minerals, and you can learn more about them and precious stones at the Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum located in a circa 1850 jailhouse.

Afterward, enjoy a relaxing lunch at Gazebo Creekside Café, or pick up sandwiches and all the fixings from Fat Buddies Ribs & BBQ and stop along U.S. Highway 441 for a picnic lunch on your way to Cherokee.

Located at the base of the Smoky Mountains just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee offers the rich heritage of the Cherokee people in museums and in a living history venue. Learn about Cherokee history at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and at Oconaluftee Indian Village, then shop for authentic Cherokee arts and crafts at the Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual, Inc.

Sample an Indian taco for dinner at Paul’s Family Restaurant and cap your day with a performance of Unto These Hills, an outdoor drama which traces the Cherokee nation from its beginning to the present.

Day 2: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad & whitewater rafting

After a breakfast of coffee and fresh-baked pastries at Mountain Perks in Bryson City, head across the tracks to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depot and catch a morning train ride through the Nantahala Gorge. The train will drop you off at the Nantahala Outdoor Center where you’ll enjoy a deli-style lunch that’s included in the activities price and served on the banks of the Nantahala River.

After lunch, climb aboard a river raft with your guide and shoot down eight miles of family-friendly whitewater rapids ending in a big splash at Nantahala Falls. Be sure to bring a towel, a change of clothes and your sense of adventure.

At the end of the day, you’ll take a shuttle back to Bryson City where you can browse the shops and enjoy a leisurely dinner at the Fryemont Inn.

Day 3: Fontana Lake, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest & Stecoah

Start the day with mountain fly fishing or enjoy a peaceful paddle in a kayak on Fontana Lake.

Enjoy breakfast or lunch at River’s End Restaurant, then take a hike in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest to see ancient trees towering above a carpet of wildflowers and ferns. The forest is named for American poet, Alfred Joyce Kilmer, most famous for his poem Trees.

Afterward, head to the town of Stecoah and see the works of local artisans and enjoy a live performance of mountain music at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center. Watch the sunset over Fontana Dam, the tallest dam in the East, and enjoy dinner at the Mountainview Restaurant or the Wildwood Grill in Fontana Village.

Enjoy all this trip idea has to offer by mixing and matching to your particular interest. Be sure to check days and hours of operation for each venue.


There’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.

Places in This Trip Idea

Select a pin to see details about a location.

Request your Travel Guide

Download or order FREE guides and maps

Discover Project Project 543

Explore unique spots across North Carolina