I didn’t grow up in Tennessee, so my first visit to the Museum of Appalachia wasn’t on a nostalgic field trip, rather as an adult before ever becoming a mom. I always enjoyed those visits, filling my belly full of delicious comfort foods (and my mind full of Southern Appalachian heritage). My husband and I started attending their Barn Dance fundraiser annually, and we both agreed this place was special. However, the true magic of the Museum of Appalachia revealed itself to me only after becoming a mom when I brought my daughter along for the first time. Through her sweet, toddler curiosity, I was able to rediscover what makes this place so magical. As soon as my daughter was old enough to ‘toddle’ around, I started taking the first Tennessee-born child in our family to the Museum of Appalachia so she could start making memories of this place early in life! You can never start teaching heritage too early.
As their website explains, “The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum — a pioneer mountain farm-village that lends voice to the people of Southern Appalachia through the artifacts and stories they left behind. Founded in 1969 by John Rice Irwin, the Museum is now a non-profit organization, and a Smithsonian Affiliate museum.” Our trips always offer my toddler a big breath of fresh Tennessee air, a dose of heritage and history, a belly full of their famous homemade mac and cheese, a little local shopping, perhaps a nibble by a friendly goat or even a dance with a peacock…and a HARD sleep all the way home.
Have a toddler in your house? Don’t shy away from this easy staycation destination with your littles! The reasons to visit are endless, but these are my top five for planning a Fall Day at the Museum of Appalachia with your toddler.
1. Toddler-Approved Location
Just 20-miles north of downtown Knoxville, the Museum of Appalachia is located in Norris, TN (approximately a 35-minute drive). A very do-able drive for most toddlers depending on which area of town you’re coming from (and what stage of potty training you’re currently undertaking). We typically leave the house mid-morning, so we can eat our snack in the car during our drive. The museum is open 7 days a week with seasonal hours. Directions to the museum available here.
During your visit, there are plenty of places to rest for snacks, feedings and potty breaks throughout the museum. The restrooms inside their main Entrance Building and their Appalachian Hall of Fame exhibit are typically the two stops I plan to make with my potty-training toddler.
The Museum of Appalachia is a non-profit location, so while there is an admission to visit, it supports a fantastic cause. With over 10,000 visitors annually, the museum helps to preserve and share the story of our Appalachia heritage with visitors world-wide. Admission and hours of operation available here.
2. Animal Encounters
Goats and chickens and peacocks, oh my! If your toddler is anything like mine, there is no better way to spend a day than up-close and personal with animal friends. While they are not pets, but rather farm animals, your toddler can enjoy feeding and interacting with the animals during their visit. The Museum of Appalachia is home to a variety of Tennessee native wildlife, including horse, donkeys, goats, sheep, fowl and peacocks (that are sure to shock you both with their beauty and loud squawking calls during your visit). You can purchase animal-specific feed in the Entrance Building for $1.
3. Interactive Exhibits
The museum is home to three main exhibits: The Display Barn, The Village, and the Appalachian Hall of Fame. You can learn more about what each has to offer, and the unique barns and artifacts contained in each here. Our daughter loves climbing up the stairs of the old pioneer barns (and entering them when allowed) to ‘play house’ and rock the old, wooden baby cribs found inside. I love watching her run in the wide open field between the Display Barn and sheep pens, chasing peacocks while giggling with delight. There are a total of 38 exhibits/sites to see along the museum’s self-guided tour, so maps are recommended and available free-of-cost with admission at the Entrance Building. When visiting with our toddler, we typically stick to the Appalachian Hall of Fame and outdoor attractions as much as possible to take advantage of the fresh air and her attention span.
4. Mama-Approved Restaurant and Gift Shop
Just inside the Entrance Building, you’ll find the Museum of Appalachia’s plentiful gift shop full of handcrafted treasures from talented artisans across the region. This is a place where stocking-stuffer dreams are made. Additionally, inside next to the gift shop is the Museum Restaurant (with food so good it makes this comfort-food loving mama’s eyes and mouth water in pure delight). Southern-style home cooking is their specialty, with daily lunch specials and seasonal menus. From casseroles to baked goods, your toddler won’t go home hungry during your visit. My daughter’s favorites are their mac and cheese and sweet potato casserole. We build lunch into our visit. It’s a great way to draw them away from the animals for a minute. Entice them with food and close out your day with full bellies before the drive home.
Mamas beware: there are some seriously-fun wooden toys and nostalgic children’s books inside the gift shop for purchase that might extend your visit a few hours if your child catches a glance during lunch. So, why not play it safe and enjoy lunch out on their covered porch overlooking the museum grounds! (Toddlers love dining ‘al fresco’ anyways).
5. Family-Focused Events
While the Museum of Appalachia offers a host of not only family-friendly, but family-focused events (including their Sheep Shearing Day in the spring — a must-see), two of our favorite seasonal events for toddlers right around the corner!
Fall Heritage Day: November 3 and 4 | 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
From spelling bees and storytime, blacksmiths, beekeeping, and basket making; the Museum of Appalachia’s Fall Heritage Day offers the entire family an opportunity to experience Appalachian pioneer life first-hand. Tickets.
A Candlelight Christmas: Demember 9 and 10 | 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Experience Christmas in Appalachia like never before. The barns inside their pioneer village are all aglow and adorned with festive decor, serving as a backdrop for this holiday trip down nostalgia lane. Demonstrations, storytelling, wagon rides and music are sure to put you in the Christmas spirit. Discount tickets are available for $35, now through December 1. Tickets can be found here.
Additionally, be sure to follow the museum on Facebook for updates on booking photos with Santa at the museum, and other event updates.