The Smoky Mountains area of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer a feast of wonders for homeschooling parents who want to pack a semester’s worth of learning into so much fun that kids will value their education forever. Even better is that many of the attractions also offer homeschool rates.
From the natural wonders of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the museums and attractions of the towns, a trip to Gatlinburg packs in more opportunity for adventure and learning than anyone can take in just in the one trip. That’s why so many people make it a favorite for the kids (and parents) to return to often.
Ripley’s Aquarium is one of the nation’s finest aquariums. Conveniently located in downtown Gatlinburg, the aquarium offers an ongoing homeschooling program through the year. Even without this, the educational fun available here for any age is abundant.
Arts & crafts are always engaging for children, and the Gatlinburg area is chock full of it. With the largest independent artisan community in the nation, Gatlinburg hosts several large shows through the year, including one especially for hands-on involvement. And the artist studios, shops and galleries are always available, along the scenic Arts & Crafts Trail in Gatlinburg that holds more than a hundred such establishments.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
America’s most popular national park is open year-round with free admission. Several visitor centers provide amenities, exhibits, maps and a wealth of information, Rangers are on hand to help. Kids can join the Junior Ranger program to learn about different kinds of birds, trees and animals. Learning some of the basics of geology and orienteering are also possible here. There’s also a fun Smokies Bingo sheet that can keep small children engaged during longer hikes.
The park is very accessible, with abundant trails and scenic drives. Children are as awed by nature as adults are, and the park has plenty of it. See our guides to Easy Walks and other Outdoor Adventures to get into nature. Visit some of the Nature Trails. In season, take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to stay ad a family in the car and still count off the diverse ecological niches you pass through. Take a scenic auto tour through Cades Cove to learn about the history and culture of the area. Visit the Cable Mill Historic Area to see demonstrations of old-fashioned skills. Plan your time to catch the Wilderness Wildlife Week, and sign up for some of the classes and guided tours.
Hook up with locals and other visitors in the area for homeschooling group activities and discounts. Check out our local county assets with Sevier County Homeschoolers, which offers field trips, homeschool 101 events, used curriculum sales, graduation ceremonies, family night out events, and more.
More Natural Wonders
A trip to Tuckaleechee Caverns may be something quite unique for the kids, while you’re in the area. And close by are some wonderful animal encounter opportunities: see our guides to the Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo, Parrot Mountain, and this Deer Farm & Petting Zoo to get the fur snuggles for the young ones.
One distinctive museum in the area is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which is in the town of Cherokee, just across the border in North Carolina (under an hour and a very scenic drive to get there). Closer to home, over to the west in Townsend, close to Cades Cove and filled with the lore of the early settlers and before, is Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, a visit well worth making.
One final museum to note is up in Sevierville at the 50,000 square foot Tennessee Museum of Aviation, keeping a vital piece of aviation history alive with memorabilia, uniforms, models and exhibits. Vintage Warbirds are on display in the massive hangar, and visitors can sometimes watch flight demonstrations. This museum offers self-guided tours for homeschooling families at reduced ticket prices.
A visit to Old Mill Square in Pigeon Forge is also a chance to visit the historic Old Mill and learn about the milling process. The restaurants, shops and galleries are a bonus to leaven the educational meal with an appreciation of local arts and crafts.
Dollywood offers Homeschool Days in August-September, and some educational opportunities all the time, including the Calico Falls Schoolhouse, a one-room school from the 1890s. And the Chasing Rainbows Museum tells the Dolly Parton story through memorabilia.
WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge is a boisterous museum with education very heavily wrapped in fun, but offering a lot of basic science to absorb, with over 100 interactive exhibits focusing on science. It offers its own Homeschool Days in January & February.
And while we’re lightening up the education a little, consider the many mountain coasters and ziplines in the area for some hands-on experience of gravity and physics while you zoom downhill. Discuss the engineering and design aspects – and have fun (the best part of being homeschooled). And by the way, the two flying theaters in the towns offer remarkable travelog experiences that may also be a treat for the family.
Remember to check the availability and schedule of educational programs, workshops, and events at each attraction you consider. Many places offer homeschool discounts, so it’s always worth asking when you plan your visit.