A Family Affair: Vacationing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Park-led programs in the Smokies
By Deborah R. Huso
  |  Gorp.com
Mingus Mill, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Learn about the park’s historic buildings, such as Mingus Mill, in a ranger-led program. (iStockphoto)

Park Ranger Programs
Park ranger programs are held regularly throughout the park and include guided walking tours of historic areas such as the Mountain Farm Museum along the Oconaluftee River and hands-on demonstrations at park visitor centers about the wild creatures that call the Smokies home. Ranger programs also include guided nature and native-plant walks and early morning hay rides around Cades Cove.

The Cades Cove Visitor Center, in particular, offers some fun programs in peak season, including musical entertainment and basket-making demonstrations. Night hikes are available as well, some of them to the top of Clingmans Dome. Campground amphitheaters regularly host ranger talks and musical entertainment.

The park also offers ranger-led programs geared specifically to kids, many of them hands-on learning experiences. Among the offerings are a blacksmithing workshop at the Mountain Farm Museum where kids can make their own dinner bell, and a wading program where kids get their feet wet in park streams while looking for salamanders and water insects.

For a complete list of ranger programs available in the park, pick up a copy of the Smokies Guide at any park visitor center. Programs are seasonal, starting in the spring and continuing through summer and fall.

Junior Ranger Program
All three of the park visitor centers have Junior Ranger booklets for sale, with various offerings dependent on your child’s grade level. The books offer lessons on flora and fauna identification and on understanding park history. Kids who complete their Junior Ranger booklets are formally inducted as Junior Rangers by a park staff member and get a Junior Ranger badge free of charge.

Smoky Mountain Field School
The Smoky Mountain Field School offers a more in-depth way to explore the richness of the Smokies’ flora and fauna, landscape, and beauty. Partnering with the University of Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers one- and two-day programs from spring through fall on a variety of subjects, including the edible and traditional plants of the Smokies, wildflower identification, and backpacking. The programs require advance reservations and are primarily for adult learners, though several family programs are offered that are appropriate for children aged six to 12.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is a residential environmental-learning center located along Little River Road in the park. If you want to have a deeply enriching experience in the Smokies, this is the way to do it. Tremont is a nonprofit organization that works with the National Park Service to provide workshops, youth and family camps, and programs that use the national park as an outdoor classroom. The institute offers environmental-learning opportunities to everyone from elementary-age children to adults and also provides training for teachers. Courses here include multiple-night guided backpacking adventures, photography workshops, and environmental interpretation.


Published: 16 Mar 2012 | Last Updated: 5 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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