I’m sure many of you have places in mind you’d like to go, but if you’re like me, you’re constantly googling, “Beaches within driving distance of Knoxville, TN” and “Closest kid-friendly beaches.” Florida and the Carolinas are obvious excellent vacation spots, but we like to get creative and branch out in other directions sometimes.
First, we’ll start with the more local areas that will take you an hour or less:
Dolly’s Dreammore Resort – Pigeon Forge, TN
If you’ve never stayed at Dollywood’s Dreammore Resort, you’re truly missing out, and that goes for both locals and visitors to the area. Nope, it’s not a budget hotel. However, this resort is worth every penny and includes several special touches that make your stay worthwhile. For more specifics on the resort, take a look at this article. As for other real-life advice on Dollywood and all it has to offer, check out the Dollywood Insider’s blog.
BUDGET TIP: If you’re visiting Dreammore Resort, you’re probably visiting Dollywood as well. Resort guests get FREE transportation to and from the parks! Additionally, if you’re a Super Gold Pass holder, you receive 20% off your stay at the resorts! Those are my favorite resort perks, but things are always changing. Make sure to check the resort website and ask about any updates and changes to the resort and its amenities.
BUDGET TIP #2: Looking for Dolly’s Magical Campground? It doesn’t exist. However, our family stayed at The Ridge Outdoor Resort campground last fall and it was amazing. It’s clean, spacious, offers cabins and pull through camper sites, and has a playground and pool. Plus it’s just down the road from the heart of Pigeon Forge and only eight minutes from Dollywood. Psssst: If you bring a camper to Dollywood, parking is only $3 more than the regular rate and you’ll park in the “B” parking lot, which is super close to the entrance!
Wilderness at the Smokies – Pigeon Forge, TN
If you have children, you have to stay here at least once! We went when our daughter had just turned one and we were so impressed with the children’s play area for toddlers. They have an indoor water park as well, so you can splash year-round!
BUDGET TIP: This hotel is pricey, but the waterpark tickets are included in your stay. This is definitely something to consider when planning your vacation since water park tickets can be expensive!
Gatlinburg is a little town in the Smokies bursting with activities for youngsters! Our favorite thing to do is visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies!
BUDGET TIP: Many attractions will offer teacher and military discounts and there are coupon books throughout the city where you can find deals.
Cades Cove – Townsend, TN
This little hideaway is perfect for the adventurer family! You can walk across a swinging bridge, go tubing down the river, go horseback riding, and hike some of the most beautiful trails in East TN.
BUDGET TIP: Camping is always the way to go when it comes to saving money, especially at Cades Cove Campground.
Let’s venture a little further…
Chattanooga, TN (1.5 hours)
Chattanooga is a great city south of us full of family fun and adventures! Check out Natalie’s review and tips about places to stay and visit. You can also follow our Chattanooga Moms Sister Site for even more tips and tricks!
Asheville, NC (2 hours)
Asheville is the home of the famous Biltmore Estate and is known for its gorgeous fall scenery. Asheville has a variety of U-Pick Farms and an exciting Nature Center to keep your family busy. Check out these posts on tips on going to Biltmore with kids and also our Family-Friendly Guide to Asheville. Less than an hour away, you’ll find the town of Hendersonville, NC; Hendersonville is the filming location of The Hunger Games (the older kids will love this fun fact!) and has some beautiful hiking trails to explore.
Abingdon, VA (2 hours)
“Abingdon was just named one of the 2016 10 best Southern small towns. There is a thriving arts community, rich history, gourmet food and the gorgeous Virginia Highlands,” says KM contributor
Cincinnati, OH (4 hours)
Between the zoo, aquarium, and museum, Cincinnati is bursting with things to do! Our contributor, Beth gives details about her road trip here.
Birmingham, AL (4 hours)
Beth also ventured to Birmingham, Alabama and wrote about the incredible museums and delicious places to eat. You can find her adventures here.
And even further…
Edisto Beach State Park, SC (6.5 hours)
Edisto Beach State Park is an absolute gem. You’ll find it tucked away on Edisto Island in South Carolina and it’s one of the cleanest, most family friendly campgrounds we’ve ever visited. Of course, we like to go camping on the coast, so CALLING ALL CAMPERS: This place needs to be on your destination list. The sand is soft, the beach is private, and this place is just perfect for families all around. This summer when we visited, my kids rode bikes all around the campground and made friends everywhere. There was an ice cream truck that drove through the campground every evening (even offering gluten free choices — wow!). And from our campsite to the beach was maybe 50 yards — such an easy walk to the shoreline! While you’re there, check out all the small ma & pa shops nearby to grab lunch, souvenirs, and shaved ice. Our favorite nearby restaurant was The Waterfront Restaurant. It was delicious!
Hilton Head, SC (6.5 hours)
Hilton Head Island is known for its beauty, family friendly fun, and adventure! You can find a full list of family friendly activities here. Check out Pirates of Hilton Head for an unforgettable adventure aboard a pirate ship and get some local cuisine while you’re there. Seafood is always my family’s favorite part of a coastal vacation!
Charleston, SC (6.5 hours)
Charleston is a beautiful city known for its horse-drawn carriages and rich history. We love the Charleston area because it’s always so quiet and clean with a perfect blend of Southern charm and fun beaches. Our favorite place to stay is on the Isle of Palms, but there are a ton of other beaches to choose from just 20-30 minutes outside the city. Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, and Seabrook Island are all gorgeous beaches with plenty of family activities.
BUDGET TIP: Stay at The Palms Oceanfront Hotel; it’s right on the beach and offers a variety of shops and eateries nearby (including a Ben & Jerry’s!). It has been renovated recently and has complimentary breakfast!
Myrtle Beach, SC (7 hours)
Myrtle Beach is a popular tourist hot-spot. There’s always something to do here! During peak season, Myrtle Beach can get crowded, so our family got creative and decided to look into camping on the beach and we’re so glad we did! Of course, you’ll have to check out Broadway at the Beach while you’re in town and don’t forget to stay for the fireworks!
BUDGET TIP: Forego the hotel and camp at Myrtle Beach State Park. We camped at the overflow campground and stayed in our tent about 100 yards from the shoreline at around $30/night. It was a wonderfully unique experience!
Tybee Island, GA (7 hours)
Tybee Island is one of my family’s favorite vacation spots! Take the family on a deep sea charter and make sure to visit the Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum! Check out these specials for discounts on lodging and family-friendly activities.
BUDGET TIP: Pack up your tent and go camping on the isolated and uninhabited Little Tybee Island. It’s only accessible by kayak or private charter (a charter might be more feasible with younger children). There’s no cost for accommodations, and who doesn’t love a private beach? It’s next on our family adventure list!
Jekyll Island, GA (8 hours)
Jekyll Island is located just off the Georgia coast near the St. Simons Islands. Check out Jekyll Island’s Summer Waves Water Park and visit this page to see a variety of delicious dining experiences. Heading to St. Simon’s Island instead? Visit the Lighthouse Museum and look into the BillyBee Charters, the fishing experience specifically geared towards kids!
Amelia Island, FL (8.5 hours)
Amelia Island is pleasant, quiet, and quaint. Between the bicycles and ice cream shops, horse-drawn carriages, this place is family-friendly all around. Come to the island during Restaurant Week and indulge in some delicious cuisine from some of the best restaurants on Amelia Island!
BUDGET TIP: Want to go to Florida without the long drive? Allegiant Air offers cheap airfare from Knoxville! They only offer flights to select places, but some of Florida’s best vacation spots are on the list.