Wilderness at the Smokies

It would be a shame to visit the Great Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee without ever venturing outside to admire the scenery, but that’s almost what happened to us when my family booked a stay at the Wilderness at the Smokies resort. With so much to see and do—not to mention a fun, family-friendly atmosphere that rivals the hotels at Disney World or Universal Studios—you might have a hard time luring your kids outside for a hike or a nature walk. Don’t worry about them turning into couch potatoes, though, because the resort’s activities will keep the kids on the move all day long.

We visited in the winter, when a stretch of cold, rainy days made an indoor vacation the perfect choice. The resort has two separate hotels, located across the street from each other, and guests can go back and forth by car or via a free shuttle system. For convenience sake, I highly recommend booking a room in the River Lodge. That way you can stay, play, and eat for several days without ever stepping foot outside if the weather is bad. And with guest rooms this comfy, that might be your first inclination. They’re decorated like modern versions of a rustic mountain cabin, and our Bunk Suite came fully stocked with two flat-screen TVs, a microwave, and a refrigerator.

Because the River Lodge is connected to the resort’s indoor water park, all you have to do is walk a short carpeted hallway from one to the other. The Wild WaterDome is huge, with towering ceilings and a high-tech roof that lets in plenty of natural sunlight. It’s divided into multiple areas, with attractions for people of all ages. My daughter liked the wave pool and the surfing simulator best. My wife and I fell in love with the enormous hot tub, big enough for dozens of people. And we all took a few rides on the fast and frantic water slides. The resort also has an outdoor water park, which was closed for the season while we were there.

Not all the resort’s attractions require bathing suits and towels. The Adventure Forest Family Adventure Center, adjacent to Wild Waterdome, is a sprawling indoor playground with a ropes course, laser tag, mini-golf, a rock climbing wall, and tons of video games. The All-Stay pass, which gives kids access to most of the attractions for the whole length of your trip, is a downright steal at only $19.99 for kids 11 and under.

While the dining options inside the River Lodge are limited, they’ll keep most families satisfied over a weekend visit. The Thirsty Miner is the property’s main venue, and guests can opt for the buffet or order off the menu. The southern-style buffet is a simple meat-and-potatoes affair, while the menu items show more imagination. There are also two snack bars downstairs near the attractions, and the one next to the Wild Waterdome serves pizza that’s not only cheap but also delicious. A cafĂ© in the lobby is good for coffee, snacks, or a light breakfast. And if you’re craving something different, you’ll find several good restaurants just a short drive down the street.

I’ll admit it, the scenic views from our hotel window were quite enticing. But if you’re like us, you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away—even for an hour or two—from a resort with so much to offer.
Bunk Suite in the River Lodge

Wave Pool in the Wild WaterDome

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