The Great Smoky Mountains are an Appalachian subrange stretching between Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. The region is most especially known for its beautiful natural scenery, exciting thrill rides, family-friendly attractions, and delicious Southern cuisine.
These popular Smoky Mountain attractions and the nearby handicap-accessible hotels are designed with everyone in mind, including those with disabilities. Whether you or your loved one has a vision or hearing impairment, a physical disability, or a mental or cognitive disorder, the Smokies will have plenty of fun opportunities for all to enjoy!
Enjoy the Smoky Mountain Scenery
The vast landscapes of smoky blue peaks, emerald forests, and sparkling rivers are the main reason people are drawn to this region from all over the world. A taste of the outdoors doesn’t have to be off-limits to those with physical disabilities, either. Plus, it can be a welcome retreat for those with mental illnesses.
Awe-inspiring scenes of natural beauty are a dime a dozen, especially when exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park consists of thousands of miles of walking trails, fishing spots, and camping areas, which may be suitable for some but perhaps not for those with physical disabilities. However, there are a few alternatives that even most hikers would prefer!
Block off about two to four hours of an afternoon to fully immerse yourself in the natural wonder along the Cades Cove Loop. This 11-mile loop is open to pedestrians, cyclists, bikers, and cars. Along the route, you’ll see former Cherokee hunting grounds dotted with 19th-century settlement structures, serene old-growth forests, and wildlife like white-tailed deer, turkeys and black bears. Remember to pick up a self-guided tour booklet at the entrance.
Another excellent way to experience the natural splendor of the Smokies is to catch a ride up to the skies! The staff at Scenic Helicopter Tours are passionate about providing those who cannot hike a means of seeing the beautiful mountains from a thrilling perspective.
Their unique tours soar over scenic landmarks like Douglas Lake, the French Broad River, downtown Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Bluff Mountain, Wears Valley, etc. Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime chance to ride in a helicopter and witness spectacular views!
Discover A World Under the Sea
Though it may be uninhabitable for humans, beneath the ocean’s great blue waves is the perfect living space for hundreds of thousands of bizarre creatures. At Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, you’ll get a chance to meet and learn fascinating facts about the marine-specialized animals of our planet – from adorable penguins to fearsome sharks, alien-like jellies to highly intelligent octopi!
Ripley’s Aquarium takes accessibility seriously, offering wheelchairs and noise-canceling headphones free of charge at Guest Services. Not only this, but it is proud to be an Autism Certified Center under the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
Ripley’s Aquarium provides a safe and pleasant learning experience for individuals with autism and sensory needs through their frequent sensory-friendly evenings. During these events, the aquarium lowers the lighting, plays calming music, and sets aside quiet areas for those who need to take a break.
Catch Thrills & Hit Top Speeds
Dollywood can be considered the number one attraction in the Smokies. This Dolly Parton-themed amusement park features over 40 rides ranging from thrilling roller coasters to gentle roundabouts. Additionally, Dollywood is a venue for seasonal festivals and events, and you can always find plenty of shopping, dining, and live entertainment as well.
For those with disabilities, Dollywood’s Ride Accessibility Center should be your first stop. There you will be able to enter the park through the accessible entrance and find out all the information you need to make your visit safe and enjoyable according to your unique needs. Once you obtain your Ride Accessibility Pass, you’ll be allowed to use all the accessible ride entrances.
All shops, restaurants, theaters, and games throughout the park are also accessible. Plus, wheelchairs and ECVs are always available for you to borrow. For the hearing impaired, Dollywood provides assistive listening devices and shop scripts, and there are ASL interpreters available with a 14-day notice. Find out more about Dollywood’s accessibility offerings on their website, or call ahead to make special accommodations.
Taste the Finest Flavors of the South
Activities that require too much movement or rely on sight and sound may not be the best options for loved ones with disabilities. However, indulging in a feast of Southern food and drink is accessible to everyone who loves to eat – plus, it’s a quintessential Smoky Mountain experience!
Dine-in at Mama’s Chicken Kitchen for some of the best country-fried chicken you’ve ever tasted, or grab a bucket to-go if you prefer eating in a quiet space. Either way, get ready to devour your choice of fried chicken breast, leg, or thigh, or share a platter of saucy wings. Don’t forget to pair that with classic Southern-style sides like mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, chicken and dumplings, green beans, and baked beans.
It’s not a proper Appalachian meal without a stiff drink of whiskey or moonshine! While Tennessee is known for its whiskey, the Great Smoky Mountains region is particularly known for its moonshine. Those over age 21 will find only the most authentic distillations at Sugarlands Distilling Company.
Visit their Gatlinburg location for a free stillhouse tour, then stay for a while to participate in a tasting of their award-winning and seasonal liquors. Don’t forget to bring home a mason jar of Maple Bacon Moonshine, Mark & Digger’s Rye Apple Moonshine, Butterscotch Gold Moonshine, or any of the other 20+ flavors of moonshines, whiskies, and sippin’ creams.
Many destinations worldwide still have a long way to catch up with accessibility standards. As a result, travel logistics can be complicated for those with disabilities. However, the Great Smoky Mountains make smooth sailing out of your travel plans, thanks to the wide variety of handicap-friendly activities and hotels ready to accommodate you and your loved ones!