Looking for a Smoky Mountain vacation that won't break the bank?
Then you're in the right place! Everyone loves seeing sights and attractions without an entrance fee. Not only are free or cheap activities easy on your budget, but they can sometimes be more fun than an attraction with a ticket price!
So, other than just strolling through the lovely streets of downtown, what are some fun, free things to do in Gatlinburg, TN?
We've made a list of the top, budget-friendly activities and attractions in the Smoky Mountains! Check out our ultimate guide to the 15 best things to do in Gatlinburg for free!
1. Find Incredible Mountain Views
Gatlinburg is home to some truly impressive scenery that's completely free to enjoy. To see some excellent mountain views, we recommend visiting overlooks on the Gatlinburg Bypass that look towards the towering face of Mt. LeConte. Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is another excellent place to see mountains for miles and miles.
Don't forget to bring a camera to these stunning overlooks. Additionally, seeing a sunrise or sunset in the Smokies is another incredible experience that won't hurt your vacation budget.
2. Play with the Giant Marble in Front of Ripley's Odditorium
Right in the heart of Gatlinburg, TN you can see a sight that defies explanation.
It's known as a "Kugel Ball" – a perfectly round marble rock suspended by a thin film of water from a fountain. As a result, passersby can easily spin, tilt, and rotate a rock that weighs nearly a ton.
This is definitely one of the best, free kids activities in Gatlinburg. While this sight is just outside of a Ripley's attraction, it doesn't cost a cent to enjoy.
For a sneak preview, here's a fountain that's quite similar to the one outside of Ripley's Odditorium in Downtown Gatlinburg.
3. Enjoy The Fountains at The Parkway Pedestrian Plaza
This brand new spot in Gatlinburg is just the right place to kick back and enjoy a beautiful day. The kids will have a blast playing in the new fountains and there are also handcrafted outdoor musical instruments that can be played to create soothing tones.
You'll find this all by the Parkway Pedestrian Plaza at traffic light #3 in Downtown Gatlinburg. As an added perk, this spot offers brochures, free WiFi, and restroom facilities.
4. Picnic At Mynatt Park
Looking for a great picnic spot in Gatlinburg? Mynatt Park is a beautiful park on the banks of LeConte Creek just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Not only is this park a great place to enjoy an affordable picnic, but also there are picnic tables, grills, basketball goals, tennis courts, and restrooms.
Additionally, this peaceful place away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Gatlinburg is a great place to see wildlife.
5. Watch Candy Being Made at the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
On your stroll through Gatlinburg, you may also come across the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen.
For decades, visitors to Gatlinburg have taken the hypnotic sight of the taffy pulling machine. Large windows at the kitchen make it easy for passersby to see exactly how they make their famous saltwater taffy.
The Candy Kitchen is one of the oldest businesses in Gatlinburg and it uses candy making machinery from the 1950s.
Better yet, it's absolutely free to watch this delicious candy is made, but we can't promise you that you won't want to purchase some fudge or taffy after a trip to this candy kitchen!
6. Experience Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales
During evenings in summer and December, the city of Gatlinburg sponsors a fun street performance called Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales.
From June 10th to July 30th, costumed performers play authentic mountain music and tell tall tales. This merry band of entertainers impersonates characters from the 1800s.
This unique street performance is completely free and it's an excellent way to experience Smoky Mountain culture. If you'd like to see this performance, simply go for a stroll on the main parkway in Gatlinburg, it's not hard to find these costumed characters having a great time in Downtown Gatlinburg, TN!
7. Visit The Covered Bridge at Emerts Cove
If you're looking for a scenic spot that's off the beaten path, it's hard to beat the covered bridge at Emerts Cove near Gatlinburg.
Located only about 7 miles from downtown, this bridge that crosses the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River, is incredibly picturesque. You can find the covered bridge on Hills Creek Road just off of Gatlinburg's East Parkway.
Not only is this lovely spot a popular spot for wedding ceremonies, but also the entire Pittman Center area where the bridge is located is a beautiful place to drive around and explore.
8. See the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community
A short drive from Emerts Cove, you can easily reach the Arts & Crafts Community in the Glades.
This area is famous for its 8-mile crafts loop that's known as the largest independent community of Crafstpeople in the United States. Consisting of 100 shops, studios, and galleries, the Glades area is just the place to explore the rich tradition of handicrafts in the Smoky Mountains.
These artists and craftspeople use techniques passed down through generations to make:
- Handmade pottery
- Appalachian Style Brooms
- Landscape Paintings
- Leather Goods
- Wood Carvings
- Traditional Soap
- Hand-Woven Quilts
One of the most famous group of artists works out of the Cliff Dwellers Gallery that dates back to 1933. A trip to the Glades also gives visitors the chance to talk with these artisans who've spent decades perfecting their craft.
Of course, browsing the shops of the Glades is free to enjoy, but we can't promise that you won't find a great gift or a lovely piece of home décor during your trip!
9. Tour the Galleries of Arrowmont
You don't have to leave Gatlinburg to see some beautiful pieces of art and incredible handicrafts. Afterall, the galleries and shops of Arrowmont are located just across the street from Gatlinburg's aquarium.
With its roots in Gatlinburg for over 100 years, Arrowmont is designated as a national art education center complete with classes and workshops.
There's no entrance fee to tour Arrowmont's five galleries that show the work of artists in residence, so you can add some local culture to your Smoky Mountain vacation for absolutely free.
10. Go On Free Distillery & Winery Tours
Another free thing to do in Gatlinburg is to go on a distillery or winery tour. These informative tours demonstrate how wines and spirits are made, but they also tell the rich heritage of making moonshine and muscadine wine in the Smokies.
The most popular wineries and distilleries in Gatlinburg are:
- Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler
- The Ole Smoky Whiskey Distillery
- Sugarlands Distilling Company
- Doc Collier Moonshine
- Sugarland Cellars
These tours are free for all ages, and if you're at the legal drinking age, you can also enjoy some samples of moonshine, whiskey, or wine for only $5. Plus, these samples basically are free, since a distillery will give you a $5 coupon for paying for a tasting. Some of the most interesting spirits to sample in the Smokies are apple pie moonshine, chocolate flavored whiskey, and moonshine infused cherries.
Of course, the entertaining bartenders are very appreciative of a small tip, but you may also find some delicious moonshine that might just make the perfect souvenir from your trip!
11. Visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center Museum
Located only a couple miles from Gatlinburg, you'll find the Museum at Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
This sizeable museum features a free 20 minute film on the history of the national park. After the movie, you can tour exhibits at Sugarlands Visitor Center that include mounted specimens, plant life, and the colorful history of people in the Great Smoky Mountains.
From spring to fall, rangers speak at free demonstrations about a variety of topics in the park. This visitor center is the perfect place to plan your outdoor adventure in the Smokies. Simply speak with the helpful rangers at the station to find the perfect trail or landmark for your visit to the mountains.
12. Go Hiking in the National Park
Even though the national park is one of the best attractions in Gatlinburg, this famous destination doesn't even have an entrance fee.
Even if you aren't an experienced hiker, there are several easy hikes close to Gatlinburg that feature beautiful natural scenery and historic cabins.
The Gatlinburg Trail begins in Downtown Gatlinburg and features a particularly beautiful stretch of the Little Pigeon River. In the warm summer months, nothing beats dipping your feet in the cool mountain water or skipping rocks by the river's edge.
The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is a scenic loop road in the national park that begins and ends in Gatlinburg. On the way, you can explore historic sights like the Bud Noah Ogle cabin and see gorgeous waterfalls like Grotto Falls.
13. Experience The Greenbrier
Many sights in the national park like the Chimneyshike and Laurel Falls can become quite crowded, but Greenbrier is a great spot off the beaten path.
This picnic area along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River is home to lots of historic cabins and some beautiful waterfalls like Ramsey Cascades.
Additionally, this area is well-known for having some of the best wildflowers in the national park.
14. Drive The Cades Cove Loop
Nestled in a peaceful valley only a short drive from Gatlinburg, Cades Cove is one of the best preserved communities in the Smokies. To experience this scenic area, simply drive the 11-mile loop road that goes through the valley.
On your way, you'll get to see old churches, homes, and barns from another era. Though no one lives in Cades Cove anymore, it's likely that you'll meet some of the locals. After all, this region of the park is probably the best place to see wildlife like deer, turkey, bear, and bobcats in the Smokies.
15. See the Oldest Cabin in Gatlinburg
Everyone knows that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has done a fantastic job of preserving old cabins from Tennessee's earliest days, but did you know there's a cabin right in the heart of Downtown Gatlinburg?
Located near the Gatlinburg Visitors Center in Downtown, you'll find the Ogle Cabin that dates back to 1807. This historic cabin has recently been moved from its old location near the Arrowmont School and Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.
There's no entry fee for this historic cabin, so it's the perfect way to incorporate some history into your Gatlinburg vacation on a budget!
Sometimes, a local tour guide in period dress is on hand to answer any questions about what life was like in Gatlinburg during the frontier days.
One of the best ways to save on your Smoky Mountain vacation is to book affordable lodging for your stay.
Luckily, Cabins USA Gatlinburg offers all of our cabin rentals with a 15% discount! Simply check a cabin's availability to see how much you can save on your nightly rate!
Book An Affordable Cabin Today!
Written by Hayden Brown
The best time to visit Gatlinburg is during the fall – specifically in September and October. During these months, beautiful fall foliage takes the stage, and temperatures are mild(highs between 65 and 80) which attracts travelers from all over.
All in all, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are both incredible spots to visit. If you're looking to experience the true tourist experience of the Smoky Mountains, you'll want to visit Gatlinburg. If you're looking for an equally thrilling experience, but a little away from the crowds, Pigeon Forge is your answer.
You may be wondering how far is Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge, and the answer is about 15 minutes, depending on traffic. If traffic is heavy during popular months, it could take you longer to get to either city. The distance is about 7.5 miles from one city to the other, depending on where you start at in either city.
Tennessee's only ski resort resides in Gatlinburg: Ober Gatlinburg, which kicked off back in 1962 and is particularly famed for its aerial tramway. The pinnacle of the city, the Gatlinburg Space Needle, was built in 1969 and continues to offer one heck of a panoramic view of the town and its Smoky Mountain backdrop.
Upslope, heat-driven airflow into the Great Smokies often generates summer rain and thunderstorms. Indeed, July's the wettest month in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountain region in general. Fall, by contrast, is typically the driest time of year in Gatlinburg.
The month with the most rain in Gatlinburg is December, with an average rainfall of 4.1 inches. The month with the least rain in Gatlinburg is October, with an average rainfall of 2.7 inches.
So, when it comes down to it, Pigeon Forge is generally the cheaper option when comparing lodging, activities, and restaurants.
Number of attractions
There are more establishments designed to take your tourism dollars in Pigeon Forge than Gatlinburg. There are more restaurants, more mini golf, more dinner theaters and more museums. Plus there's Dollywood and Splash Country.
Notably, Gatlinburg is safer than Pigeon Forge. Most incidents are either a burglary, robbery, theft or auto theft. I was relatively surprised to learn that the crime rates are a little higher, but I suppose it is a tourist town. The rates drop a little as you venture into more rural areas.
If you're going to Gatlinburg, plan for at least three days. You can do it in two, but you'll feel a little rushed. Anything past three days and you're going to want to reach out to Pigeon Forge and explore what's happening over there.
Downtown Gatlinburg is compact and walkable – just be aware that its sidewalks can get uncomfortably crowded. The main thoroughfare is Parkway/US 441, which rolls south through Gatlinburg right into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- fresh rainbow trout.
- stone ground cornmeal and grits.
- local wildflower and sourwood honey.
- homemade candies like taffy and fudge.
- homemade maple syrup.
- locally grown preserves and jellies.
- homemade biscuits and sawmill gravy.
- apple butter and apple dumplins.
- Laurel Falls. The most popular waterfall trail is Laurel Falls. ...
- Alum Cave. Alum Cave Trail is a moderate hike in the Smoky Mountains because of all of the natural features you see along the way. ...
- Grotto Falls. ...
- Abrams Falls. ...
- Gatlinburg Trail.
The two peak seasons in Gatlinburg are summer (June, July and August) and the month of October, when the fall foliage is at its zenith. July is the busiest month of the summer season, while weekends in October draw the largest crowds in the fall.
Though Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains are truly a year-round destination, the off-season in Gatlinburg is during January, February, and March. However, these months still see lots of visitors, this "off-season" is simply less busy than other times of the year.
According to when most visitors come to the Smoky Mountains, the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains national park is during the months of June, July, and October. The months with the lowest visitation tend to be in the winter and spring.
The best time to visit Tennessee is during the spring months of April and May and the Fall months of October November. But if you're heading to the mountainous areas near Gatlinburg, then Tennessee is a great place to visit around the year.