Win by taking the family reunion to the Smoky Mountains

Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers a panoramic view of the park and beyond. (Wesley K.H. Teo)

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers a panoramic view of the park and beyond. (Wesley K.H. Teo)

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is home to the Great Smoky Mountains, the perfect place to escape from the grind and recharge your batteries. With over 800 miles of backcountry trails, breathtaking scenery and activities for all ages and interests, it's also an ideal location to host a family reunion.

Nothing is more frustrating than a boring family reunion -- months and months of planning, only to spend time in awkward conversation with relatives you don't remember, in a place you wouldn't otherwise go. Hosting a destination family reunion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can eliminate the boredom and give you plenty of activities to choose from.

Getting there

Gatlinburg is about a four-hour drive from Atlanta. Head north on I-75 until it turns into I-85 and keep going north until you get to Gatlinburg.

If you have relatives flying in from other locations, many airlines including Frontier, Southwest and Delta, offer direct flights to Gatlinburg, which is the best bet to minimize travel time.

Tip 1: Choose your accommodations wisely

This is the most important tip in group travel, and especially destination family reunions. Should your family get separate hotel rooms or rent a shared cabin or vacation rental?

Consider the following things before you decide. How well does your family get along? How many people will be attending? How long will your family reunion last?

If you have an exceptionally large family, or if your family is prone to bickering, individual hotel rooms might be the best bet. Budget hotels start at around $59 per night in Gatlinburg, depending on the season.

If your family gets along, there are some major upsides to renting a cabin together. First and foremost, you can save money on accommodations and by cooking at home some days. Additionally, it will give you more quality time together. Some cabin rental companies in the Smoky Mountains offer cabins with five bedrooms or more, which makes this a feasible option even for larger families.

Tip 2: Choose budget-friendly activities

When you're traveling with a large group, it's important to be mindful of everyone's budget. Fortunately, the Smoky Mountains region is chock full of free or affordable activities for even the most discerning family members.

Take a hike. When you're in a national park known for its breathtaking mountain views and hiking trails, it would be remiss not to plan a group hike during your family reunion. Better yet, it's completely free and hiking is good for your health.

Wears Valley is one option for a breathtaking hike (or drive). It's just outside the national park and surrounded by mountain views, farmland and old churches. Just don't forget your camera.

Visit the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. It's America's most visited distillery and it's conveniently located in Gatlinburg. You can only visit if you're 21 years old or older, so you'll want to leave the kids at home with one of the underage adults. Better yet, the tour is free and includes samples. Full bottles of moonshine are also up for grabs at the distillery starting at $30.

Use Groupon and deal sites to find deals. Odds are you've got at least one adventurer in your family. Checking Groupon and local Smoky Mountains deal sites before your trip will yield you the best deals on zip lining, whitewater rafter and ghost tours to fulfill that sense of adventure.

Tip 3: Decide on food in advance

If you're sharing a cabin rental for your family reunion, undoubtedly you'll cook at home at least a few days to save money and share the experience of cooking with your family. But, there's nothing better than eating good food that someone else cooked for you.

The Log Cabin Pancake House is one of the highest rated restaurants in Gatlinburg, and as you might have guessed, they make a killer pancake. They have locations in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and they serve breakfast and buffet lunches year round.

Old Dads is another casual restaurant in Gatlinburg that caters to budget-friendly food lovers. It doubles as a general store, so you can get lunch and buy souvenirs all in one swoop. Old Dads serves breakfast, pastries, ice cream, burgers, wings, deli sandwiches and even has groceries.

If your family is looking to indulge in something a bit more upscale during vacation, the Alamo Steakhouse is a good option. The atmosphere is still casual, but their service and food is anything but usual. They've been awarded the Yelp Certificate of Excellence several years in a row and steak is their specialty.

Say cheese

The real key to a winning family reunion is to make the most of it and keep an open mind. Traveling with a group isn't without its challenges, but the memories you make are priceless. Just don't forget to snap a few group photos before you head back home.