6 of the Best Outdoor Activities to Do in Bryson City with Kids: A 3 Day Guide to the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
For my Spring Break this year, I wanted to get out into nature.
For starters, nature is very healing. I love hiking. And I'm trying to get to all of the National Parks.
We were traveling with our 3-year old son, so I knew that we needed to find some kid-friendly activities to do with him outside.
Starting from a young age, I made sure my son had lots of opportunities for outdoor play because it's so good for his cognitive development.
I also wanted to instill a love for hiking, nature, and national parks in him.
Living in Raleigh for 10 years and still never going to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I knew that we had to go there.
In my research, I found Bryson City - home of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR). Bingo.
Bryson City was perfect. My son loves trains. The National Park was close by. And there were plenty of kid-friendly activities.
After spending 3 days, 4 nights there I came up with 6 of the best outdoor activities to do with kids in Bryson City.
1. Nantahala Brewing
I bet you are wondering how a brewing company is one of the best kid-friendly activities in Bryson City but hear me out.
We arrived to our AirBNB on Sunday afternoon. After unpacking, we were in walking distance to this brewery located near downtown and right by the train tracks.
We were pleasantly surprised to find out how kid-friendly this brewery was.
We got a table outside, and our son was free to roam the gigantic green field at his own leisure.
There was a fence that prevented him from wandering off. We had an eye on him the whole time. And there were kid bikes and tricycles with which he could play.
What's even better that on any given night, you will be sure to find other kids running around and playing.
The food was delicious. The beer was refreshing. The atmosphere was perfect. The view was picturesque. And kids could play outside endlessly.
So that's why this is one of the best outdoor activities for kids in Bryson City.
2. Deep Creek Waterfall Loop
Only about a 7 minute drive from Bryson City, the Deep Creek playground is located right inside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
On a hot, summer day you can swim, tube, and fish in this area.
But since we went in the early Spring, it was too cold for all of that, but we did enjoy the Waterfall Loop.
The Waterfall Loop is about 2.2 miles and was just on the cusp on how long a 3-year old can hike.
But what is nice is that there are 3 waterfall destinations that we used as incentive for our son to keep going.
The first waterfall we hiked to was Juney Whank Falls, and it was the steepest hike to get to, which I'm glad we did first. But, in my opinion, the prettiest.
The second one was Tom Branch Falls which was relatively flat to hike to. There was a steep-ish decline at one point in the hike. Our son enjoyed hiking crab style during this point.
The last falls was Indian Creek Falls. And at this point, we decided to turn around instead of completing the entire loop (.3 miles shorter).
Here are some ways that we get our son to hike:
3. Downtown Bryson City
Downtown Bryson City is relatively small, but it's a quaint and good outdoor activity for kids to do.
Just walking around and exploring the multiple shops and restaurants is enough for a kid to explore. *There are a lot of ice cream and dessert places*
Kids can wander onto the multiple trains and cabooses located throughout downtown. They can walk around Island Park or Riverfront Park which are both right by the Tuckasegee River - close enough for kids to play in the dirt, mud, and river.
That's why I think downtown Bryson City is one of the best outdoor activities for kids.
4. Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad (GSMR) was the whole reason we came to Bryson City. My son LOVES trains!
So technically, you are inside of a train and not outside, but there are many aspects of the train that are outside.
We boarded the train at 10 AM and left promptly at 10:30 PM from Bryson City. We opted for the prepackaged lunches which we picked up ahead of time.
Our trip was the Nantahala Gorge Excursion. Some details about it:
We did the Coach Class and could open the windows pretty wide, which made us feel like we were outside with the air and breeze whipping in our faces.
We had views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park - mountains, lakes, gorges, rivers, and rocks.
Our layover at the Nantahala Gorge was neat. We were right by the river and the rapids (Henry called them bunnies. Rapids=rabbits=bunnies in a toddler's mind).
You can go white-water rafting and kayaking there. There was also a tree house adventure for kids and adults ages 3 and up. A lot of those things are closed until warmer weather.
During the hour wait, Henry loved throwing rocks into the river while we sipped beers from the nearby restaurant.
Overall, we left the train excursion with lots of memories and a souvenir picture (more like $35 lol).
Also, getting back to Bryson City, we visited the train museum which had model train displays - so cool! Henry wanted to buy all the trains, but wow, they costs like $200+ a piece!
I definitely recommend this adventure for kids.
5. Clingmans Dome
The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome is a .5 incline to the top.
We drove an hour from Bryson City to the parking lot. Thank goodness for the Visitor's Store where we bought like $100 of warm clothes because we didn't realize the temperature would drop so much.
Call me crazy, but we opted against the odds to push Henry up in the stroller. I had seen mixed reviews of people saying it was doable vs. not doable.
I did it. It was hard. But I did it. I think it was manageable because I knew it was only .5 miles.
We got to the top and the fog blocked most of the views, but it was still cool and a feat I'm glad I accomplished.
Henry walked the way down which was good because it was so steep and a little slippery.
We walked on part of the Appalachian Trail and did another short hike.
This is such a good outdoor activity because of its access to multiple trails and challenge to the top.
6. The Road to Nowhere
The Road to Nowhere is literally that. Read about its history here.
Located about 15 minutes from Bryson City in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we drove until we reached the tunnel - that's where the road ends. You can park in the nearby parking lot.
We brought Henry's bike, and he had fun riding his bike through the tunnel until the road ended. You don't have to worry about any cars.
There are trails and hikes you can do in the area too.
Plus overlooks of Fontana Lake.
I recommend bringing training bikes or tricyles if you have toddlers or preschoolers. It's a perfect place to practice riding.
Overall, Bryson City is a great place to bring kids to do outdoor activities and explore nature. I'm really glad we went.