Make Memories a Priority! Vacation Ideas For a Large Group in Tennessee

All products and services featured on this site are independently selected by our authors and editors. If you buy something through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

minute/s remaining

White Water Rafting at Rafting in the Smokies

Last week, we took a vacation as a group with my wife's family. Eighteen of us stayed in Sevierville, TN which is near Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We went rafting, saw the Aquarium, played at the water park, mined for gems, and made lots of memories! You may be wondering how we can afford to take everyone on trips, especially when we have five kids, or maybe you are just looking for things to do with a large group or family near Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge Tennessee. In either case, keep reading!


After checking out quite a few options for our group outings, we decided to take a rafting trip, go hiking, and visit Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. There were a lot of options for rafting, but Rafting in The Smokies seemed to be our best option for a large group. They were very affordable and had many options including hard core white water rafting on the upper Pigeon River for adults and older children, a more family friendly lower Pigeon River float trip with some white water, a zip line course, and a large playground. We settled on the lower Pigeon River float trip which turned out to be perfect for our group.

Ripley's Aquarium is a must see and has affordable group rates which fit well with our budget. For lodging, one of our crew had a large package through Wyndham, so we ended up with fantastic rooms at the Wyndham in Sevierville, TN. This was convenient to everything in the Smokies and had an indoor water park which we knew the kids would love.


Nine hours on the road with 5 kids can be…interesting. Parents, if you struggle with keeping the peace in the car or with kids constantly asking for money, here's a trick that works for us. Make an envelope for each kid full of $1 bills at the beginning of the trip. This is their spending money, they get to manage it for the trip. You will need to help a little with the younger ones so they don't blow it on candy the first day, but they learn very quickly. Let them know that you will take $1 away each time they misbehave, then follow through. This strategy is very effective for car rides, keeps the kids from asking for money constantly, and helps with the budget all at the same time. We allow our kids to earn more by doing chores too, we actually had kids arguing over who was going to mow and wash windows before our trip this time!

Cash for motivation
You're going to spend money on your kids anyway, use it as motivation and get more for your money!


We stayed at the Wyndham in Sevierville, TN. A fun water park, comfy room, and a home base gave us everything we needed to get started, and a place to crash after a long car ride.

Playing in the water
Kids splashing Uncle Paul in the wave pool

We ate all but a few meals in the hotel. Each family had a little kitchen so traded making meals each night which really allowed us to stretch the budget for a large group, plus gave us more flexibility than we would have had at a restaurant. Besides being cheaper, it is also much easier if you have food on hand when you have a large family rather than going out to eat all the time.


Our rafting trip turned out to be the highlight of our trip. The Rafting in The Smokies group really went above and beyond our expectations. We split up into families for the trip with about 6-7 of us in each boat. This worked really well and we each got to spend a couple hours having fun alternating between paddling through rapids, floating along lazily on the river, swimming, and even having some splash wars between boats.

Family at Rafting in The Smokies on Pigeon River in Tennessee
My family and our awesome guide Alan in the Angry Seabass

The guide we were assigned, Alan, had been a guide for years, seemed to love what he was doing, and really went above and beyond the call of duty. If you visit, be sure to ask about river surfing, the kids had a blast doing that! Morgan christened our boat the Angry Seabass, apparently the first time it had been named!

After we regrouped later, it turns out that every one of us had an experienced guide which really made the trip fun. I somehow managed to lose the pictures we had purchased, and a couple phone calls later to another friendly rep I had my pictures in my email inbox. I was very impressed with the quality of this group, hopefully, we'll be back soon!!!


We went hiking at Grotto Falls. Kids had a blast climbing on the rocks near the falls. This was a nice easy 3-mile hike, everyone made it in and out without incident. Other than some lizards, we didn't see much wildlife, but another hiker said they saw a mule deer a few feet off the path, and a couple said they saw some bear on the drive up, so there is wildlife in the area. Guessing our large group scared them off.

Grotto Falls Hike - Waterfall in Tennessee Photo

Best of all, this was free, like most of the trails in the area. The worst part about this one was parking. We had to go past the entrance to the falls down the mountain for some distance before finding a spot to park on the narrow road and then walk back up, but it didn't seem all that crowded once we were on the trail.


Our final day, we went to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. This attraction was obviously very popular. A bit crowded, but still a lot of fun.

All of us at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
All 18 of us – some more excited than others to be in the picture.

Along with everything that you expect to see in a large aquarium, we got to see the sharks being fed and a unique Mermaid show that I can't say I've seen anywhere else.

Mermaid show at the aquarium

There were some pretty spectacular species on display like luminescent jellyfish and sawtooth sharks. Our kids were in heaven crawling everywhere, there are tons of places for them to climb through among the tanks and even a nice playground, so they really had a blast.

Our 5 kids at the Penguin Playhouse

Overall, it was a great week away with family, one that we will remember for many years. Don't feel like you have to spend a ton of money to have fun with your family and make memories, but make it a priority! That hiking trip, for example, cost nothing more than the gas to get there. We've replaced lots of presents for Christmas and birthdays with experiences, and are convinced that this is one of the best decisions we ever made. Put making memories on the calendar. Put making memories in the budget. You will never get these years back! For more on how we afford to take a large family on vacations, keep reading.


We've made a conscious decision over the last few years to do more things to make memories with our family. Think back to what you remember from your childhood. Was it the everyday mundane things that you remember? Or was it the big unusual things that happened once or twice a year?

I vividly remember family trips that we took occasionally when I was a kid. We weren't well off so there were no trips across the ocean. Nevertheless, the memories I have of the trips we took when I was a kid have lasted decades, and I expect that they will last a lifetime. I have struggled financially a lot in the past and finally figured out that there are two key components to being able to afford the things I want in life like vacations.


The only way to get your money under control is to assign it a job, otherwise known as budgeting. Are you putting your dreams and priorities in your budget? Do you even have a plan for your money? If you don't yet have a plan, be sure to check out Adam Hagerman's Budgeting for Budget Haters Course and YNAB. Having funds set aside to do these sorts of things is critical if you don't want to come back home to high-interest credit card bills for the next year, those tend to ruin the fun. It's so much nicer to come home and not have to worry about paying those off, so plan it out! One thing we've done with our budget is to reduce the number of presents we give in exchange for experiences, for example, we take a family trip around Christmas time instead of giving piles of gifts.

Goose looking quizzically at the camera - not that bill
No Mr. Goose, I wasn't talking about that kind of bill.

Months before we set foot in the car, I gathered ideas from everyone, then started checking on prices. Planning in advance can make a huge impact on the total cost of the trip. We were able to get significant group discounts and make choices in advance by checking around. Remember to look at discounts through your work as well, for example, several of these places gave me tickets in exchange for including them in this article. Advance planning is really the only way to go with a large group. Don't feel like you have to pack every day either, some of our best moments on vacation have come from just lounging around at the hotel. Plan ahead, and the money you already have will go much farther.


Having enough money to take a vacation with a large family, of course, isn't all about budgeting. You're not going to become rich or be able to do a ton of things with a large family if your income only covers putting a roof over your head and a couple PBJ sandwiches on the table each day. If you need to increase your income, check out our article 150+ Ways to Make Extra Money This Year.

I hope these ideas have been helpful for you. Remember to make making memories a priority for your family, and share with anyone you feel might need some ideas on how to do this!

About the Author 

Don Smith

Former bank director who enjoys helping people master their finances. Father of five, founder of The Personal Growth Channel, and business owner.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

It’s sad sometimes to hear people complaining about their job all the time. Monday rolls around, and they are grumbling about going to work. Friday rolls around, and it’s a party. It doesn’t have to be that way. I actually enjoy my job most days, as do many others. Sure there are days where I’d

If You Hate Your Job, Change