Gatlinburg Downtown

Free Things To Do In Gatlinburg TN: Best Cheap Fun 2023

Discover the Beauty of the Smokies on a Budget

Gatlinburg: This charming Tennessee town offers many attractions and activities. We’ll explore the best free things to do in Gatlinburg TN, so you can enjoy a Smoky Mountain trip without breaking the bank. Grab your kids and buckle up because this trip will be unforgettable!

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

No visit to Gatlinburg would be complete without exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As one of the most visited national parks in the United States, this natural wonder offers scenic drives, picturesque hiking trails, and historic buildings. Best of all, there’s no entrance fee!

Hiking and Wildlife Watching

The park is home to the beautiful Cades Cove and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, perfect places for a scenic drive or leisurely walk. With lush mountain streams, abundant wildlife like black bears and white-tailed deer, and various birds, you’ll have a great time immersing yourself in nature.

Historic Buildings and Scenic Overlooks

The park also boasts many historic buildings like the Ogle Cabin and Appalachian Trail hikers’ shelters. And don’t forget to take a short drive to Newfound Gap Road, the highest point in the park, where you can enjoy breathtaking scenic overlooks.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

No visit to Gatlinburg would be complete without exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As one of the most visited national parks in the United States, this natural wonder offers scenic drives, picturesque hiking trails, and historic buildings. Best of all, there’s no entrance fee!

Hiking and Wildlife Watching

The park features over 800 hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks. Whether you’re a novice hiker or an experienced adventurer, there’s a trail to suit your abilities. Here are some popular hiking destinations within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

  1. Rainbow Falls: This 5.4-mile round-trip hike takes you through a lush forest to the beautiful 80-foot Rainbow Falls. The mist from the falls often creates rainbows, making for a stunning sight. The trail is considered moderate to strenuous, so make sure you’re prepared for the challenge.
  2. Laurel Falls: A family-friendly option, the Laurel Falls Trail is a 2.6-mile round-trip hike that leads to an 80-foot cascading waterfall. This paved trail suits all ages and offers a relatively easy hike with rewarding views.
  3. Chimney Tops: This 3.3-mile round-trip hike is known for its breathtaking panoramic views from the summit. Although it’s a shorter hike, it’s considered strenuous due to the steep elevation gain. The final stretch requires some scrambling, but the view from the top is well worth the effort.
  4. Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte: A popular 11-mile round-trip hike that takes you through Alum Cave before reaching the summit of Mount LeConte. This trail features diverse terrain, including caves, a natural arch, and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
  5. Andrews Bald: Accessible via the Forney Ridge Trail, this 3.5-mile round-trip hike takes you to the highest grassy bald in the park. The moderate trail offers stunning views of the mountains and wildflowers during the spring and summer months.

As you explore the park, watch for the abundant wildlife that calls the area home. You’ll have a great time immersing yourself in nature with black bears, white-tailed deer, elk, and various birds. Remember to maintain a safe distance from wildlife and never feed the animals.

Before hiking, always check the National Park Service website for trail conditions, closures, and safety information.

Historic Buildings and Scenic Overlooks

The park also boasts many historic buildings, such as the Ogle Cabin, the John Oliver Cabin, and the Appalachian Trail hikers’ shelters. These structures offer a glimpse into the lives of the people who once called the Smokies home.

Don’t forget to drive to Newfound Gap Road, the highest point in the park, where you can enjoy breathtaking scenic overlooks. Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park, offers a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains from its observation tower. The Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook is a popular spot for breathtaking town views.

Newfound Gap Road

Free Things To Do In Gatlinburg Tn

Newfound Gap Road is a scenic drive that winds through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering stunning views of the mountains and valleys. This 33-mile route takes you from Gatlinburg, TN, to Cherokee, NC, and offers numerous pull-offs and overlooks where you can pause to admire the scenery. Notably, Newfound Gap Road passes through the park’s highest point, Newfound Gap, which sits at 5,046 feet. When visiting the area, this drive is a must-do, providing an unforgettable experience of the park’s diverse landscapes.

Outdoor Activities and Education

In addition to hiking and sightseeing, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers numerous outdoor activities, such as fishing, horseback riding, and picnicking. The park also hosts ranger-led programs, guided hikes, and educational events yearly. These programs are designed to help visitors learn more about the park’s history, flora, and fauna.

Whether you’re interested in hiking, wildlife watching, or simply soaking in the stunning views, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must-visit destination when traveling to Gatlinburg, TN. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and prepare for an unforgettable adventure in this awe-inspiring natural paradise.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove

One of our favorite places to take visiting friends and family, Cades Cove is a picturesque valley steeped in history and natural beauty in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 11-mile loop road around the cove offers access to historic buildings, such as churches, log cabins, and a working grist mill. Cades Cove is also an excellent place for wildlife watching, as the open meadows attract deer, black bears, and other animals. With numerous hiking trails and scenic spots, this idyllic valley is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and history buffs.

Gatlinburg Trail

The Gatlinburg Trail is one of the few trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allows both bicycles and pets, making it a perfect choice for a family outing. This relatively flat, 3.8-mile round-trip trail starts near the Sugarlands Visitor Center and meanders along the beautiful West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Along the way, you’ll encounter remnants of old homesteads and cross a picturesque footbridge. The trail’s gentle terrain and scenic surroundings make it an ideal option for a leisurely walk or bike ride with the whole family.

Sugarlands Visitor Center

A trip to Gatlinburg, TN, wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Located at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this visitor center serves as a gateway to all the park offers. It is an excellent resource for information on the park’s attractions and provides a range of free activities for the whole family.

Interactive Exhibits and Wildlife Displays

The Sugarlands Visitor Center features interactive exhibits that showcase the flora, fauna, and history of the Great Smoky Mountains. You’ll find detailed displays of the park’s wildlife, including black bears, white-tailed deer, and numerous bird species. These exhibits are a fantastic way to learn about the park and its inhabitants before starting your adventure.

Free Park Maps and Information

The knowledgeable staff at the visitor center can provide you with free park maps and other helpful resources, ensuring you make the most of your time in the park. They can also answer questions and offer suggestions for the best trails, scenic drives, and other must-see attractions.

Downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge

Gatlinburg Downtown

The bustling downtown area of Gatlinburg and neighboring Pigeon Forge offer a treasure trove of free activities for people of all ages. Stroll along the streets, enjoy live music, or sit back and people-watch. See our guide of the best things to do in Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community

For a more creative experience, visit the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community. This vibrant community of artisans offers free demonstrations and the chance to purchase unique, handcrafted souvenirs.

Sugarland Cellars and the Gatlinburg Wine Trail

Indulge in a wine-tasting adventure at Sugarland Cellars, where you can sample their homemade wines for free. For a more extensive experience, embark on the Gatlinburg Wine Trail, including the Little Bear Winery and Rocky Top Wine Trail, with no fees for tastings.

Parks and Picnics

Gatlinburg has several parks that offer a great way to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. Mynatt Park, Mills Park, and Patriot Park feature picnic areas, playgrounds, and tennis courts. Pack a lunch and enjoy a day out with the whole family.

Gatlinburg Trolley

One of the best ways to explore the area is by hopping on the Gatlinburg Trolley. With several routes throughout the city, the trolley is convenient and offers a fun and unique way to see the sights. While there is a small fee for most routes, the trolley offers a free route during the summer months, making it the perfect addition to your list of free things to do in Gatlinburg, TN.

Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a visit to the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, where you can watch candy-makers create mouthwatering treats and even score free samples! This is a must-visit spot for any candy lover, from taffy to fudge.

Outdoor Activities Galore

Gatlinburg is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a wealth of free outdoor activities for the whole family. Whether you prefer hiking, horseback riding, or simply taking in the beauty of the surrounding mountains, there’s something for everyone.

Scenic Drives and Walking Trails

Take a leisurely drive along the Gatlinburg Bypass, which offers stunning views of the town and surrounding mountains. Or, if you’re up for a stroll, head to the Gatlinburg Trail, a lovely walking path parallel to the Little Pigeon River.

Roaring Fork Cemetery and Rainbow Falls

For a touch of history and natural beauty, visit the Roaring Fork Cemetery, where you’ll find historic gravesites and a peaceful atmosphere. Afterward, hike to the nearby Rainbow Falls, a gorgeous waterfall well worth the trek.

Live Music and Entertainment

Gatlinburg is known for its lively entertainment scene, with many venues offering free live music. Check out Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales, a seasonal event featuring costumed performers and musicians throughout the downtown area.

More Budget-Friendly Fun

If you’re looking for even more free or cheap things to do in Gatlinburg, TN, consider these options:

  • Tour Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts
  • Visit the observation tower at Ober Gatlinburg (a small fee is required)
  • Explore Old Mill Square and its quaint shops
  • Take a dip in your hotel’s outdoor pool or hot tub (if available)
  • Challenge yourself with arcade games at one of Gatlinburg’s many arcades (small fees required)

New Great Smoky Mountains Parking Pass Required in 2023

w Great Smoky Mountains Parking Pass Required in 2023 Starting March 1, 2023, when you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll be required to buy a parking pass if you’re going to park for more than 15 minutes.

This change has been implemented to generate revenue for the park, as it is one of the only national parks that doesn’t charge entrance fees. Three parking pass options are available: Annual Tag: Priced at $40, the annual tag can be purchased on the Great Smoky Mountains Association page or at any of the park’s visitor centers.

If you bought a pass before March 1, 2023, they’d be good until March 2024. Weekly Pass: Available from February, the weekly pass will cost $15. Daily Pass: Also available from February, the daily pass will be priced at $5.

If you have a handicap hanging tag or a handicapped license plate, you are exempt from the parking pass rule. This exemption aligns with state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina.

No parking pass or tag will be required for those just passing through the Smokies without parking for more than 15 minutes. In addition, the park will participate in the five National Park Service (NPS) fee-free days throughout the year, when all NPS sites that charge entrance fees will offer free admission to everyone.


Q: Is there an entrance fee for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

A: No, there is no entrance fee to access the park.

Q: Are there any free trolley routes in Gatlinburg?

A: A free trolley route is available during the summer months.

Q: Can I see black bears in Gatlinburg?

A: While sightings are not guaranteed, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to a large population of black bears, so there’s a chance you might spot one during your visit.

Q: Are there any free wine tastings in Gatlinburg?

A: Yes, Sugarland Cellars and other wineries on the Gatlinburg Wine Trail offer free tastings.

Q: What are some free activities to do with kids in Gatlinburg?

A: Visit the parks, enjoy the scenic walking trails, or catch some live music during Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales.

Top Places to Stay in Gatlinburg: From Resorts to Cozy Cabins

After a day of exploring, nothing is better than retreating to a cozy cabin nestled in the mountains. Gatlinburg offers a variety of cabin rentals, ranging from rustic log cabins to luxurious mountain retreats. Many cabins feature fire pits, hot tubs, and stunning mountain views—perfect for a relaxing winter getaway.

Gatlinburg offers a variety of accommodations to suit every traveler’s taste and budget. Here are some of the top-rated places to stay in Gatlinburg, including luxurious resorts and charming vacation rentals:

Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg

Top Hotel
Margaritaville Gatlinburg

Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg


Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg is a 4-star resort located on the main parkway (Hwy 441) in Gatlinburg. We have stayed at this resort several times, and while it’s not the cheapest resort in Gatlinburg, it’s by far our favorite.

This tropical-inspired retreat offers well-appointed rooms and suites, an indoor and outdoor pool, a fitness center, and an on-site spa.

The resort’s convenient location across the street from Anakeesta makes it a perfect base for exploring the best of Gatlinburg.

Margaritaville Gatlinburg: A Tropical Escape in the Heart of the Smokies

After an action-packed day at Anakeesta, unwind and relax at Margaritaville Gatlinburg, a tropical oasis just a short walk from the mountaintop theme park. Inspired by the laid-back lifestyle of singer Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville Gatlinburg offers a unique dining and entertainment experience that transports you to a tropical paradise.

Dining at Margaritaville Gatlinburg

The Margaritaville Restaurant offers a delectable menu featuring a variety of island-inspired dishes, such as the signature Cheeseburger in Paradise, Volcano Nachos, and Coconut Shrimp. Kids will love the diverse options on the Little Parakeet’s menu, ensuring that even the pickiest eaters find something they enjoy.

Try one of Margaritaville’s famous frozen concoctions or specialty cocktails, like the classic Margarita or the refreshing Rum Runner. Non-alcoholic options are also available, making Margaritaville a great destination for the entire family.

Map of the best deals on top hotels and VRBOs in Gatlinburg:


With its stunning natural beauty, lively entertainment scene, and countless free activities, Gatlinburg, TN, truly has something for everyone. You and your family can create unforgettable memories without breaking the bank by taking advantage of the area’s many free and budget-friendly attractions. So, pack your bags and start planning your next adventure to Gatlinburg today!

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