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Family Fun for the End of Summer

family hiking in the smoky mountains

Make the most of the last days of summer! From hiking and biking to ziplining and rafting, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the beautiful mountain weather during the final weeks of the warmest season.

Below you’ll find some of the top ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out our complete listing of family attractions in the Smokies.

Rafting at the Nantahala Outdoor Center

Whitewater adventure awaits! Take a rafting trip with the crew at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) where you’ll wind through a beautiful gorge on the Nantahala River. This rafting adventure offers some fun class II and III rapids you’ll ride along the way, making it the perfect river trip for families with kids over 7 (and over 60 pounds). The NOC offers other outdoor adventures including guided trips on other rivers throughout the region, ziplines, tubing and kayayaking.


Guy ziplining in the Smoky Mountains
Ziplining with the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Want a bird’s eye view of the Smoky Mountains? Ziplining will take you up in the tree tops where you’ll then fly through the forest canopy. This thrilling experience provides breathtaking views of the mountains and is a safe and daring adventure the whole family can enjoy. Highlands Aerial Park offers special courses courses for kids ages 4-10 that include zip lines, suspension bridges, balance beams and other safe challenges. Wildwater Rafting also offers zipline tours for kids ages 8 and up as long as they’re at least 60 pounds. They boast the longest zipline course in Nantahala.

River Tubing

Grab your your swimsuit, sunscreen, and a dry bag, and then head out for a relaxing day on the river on a tubing excursion. Get paddling on some of the area’s best spots for a float including Tuckasegee River. Check out Deep Creek Tubing & Campground in Bryson City for a fun day on the water followed by sleeping under the stars. You can also float down the gently flowing Oconaluftee River in Cherokee with Smoky Mountain Tube & Raft.

Gem Mines

family gem mining in the smokiesSearch for treasure while enjoying a unique experience in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Come gem mining in North Carolina, and you’ll have some good clean fun in the dirt. Your kids will love searching for treasure and getting to take home a unique piece of the Great Smoky Mountains. With outdoor and indoor flumes, Gold City Gem Mine is a great spot to treasure hunt no matter what the weather is outside. With a covered outdoor gem hlume along the Little Tennessee River, Primitive Outback Kayaking and Gem Mine is a place to discover many different gemstones and fossils including topaz, rubies, amethyst, and emeralds.

Waterfall Hikes

While there are hundreds of waterfall hikes to choose from in the Great Smoky Mountains, there are a few that are easier and shorter for those with small kids. If your kids are older and can handle a bigger hike, then check out this page for more ideas!

  • Mingo Falls: a 200-foot scenic waterfall, and only a five-minute walk from the Mingo Falls Campground on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
  • Tom Branch Falls: only a quarter of a mile from Deep Creek Campground.
  • Big Laurel Falls: an easy half-mile trail brings you to this 30-foot cascading waterfall that tumbles into a small, placid pool.