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Gatlinburg Tennessee is known as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. This picturesque mountain town is a gem of a vacation destination, offering visitors the best in outdoor activities and fun family attractions. Surrounded on three sides by the natural beauty of the National Park, Gatlinburg prides itself in its mountain heritage which is on full display. Even better, there are plenty of free things to do in Gatlinburg.
Take advantage of these absolutely free things to do in Gatlinburg, so a trip to the Smoky Mountains can be fun and budget-friendly.
1. Clingman’s Dome
At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The outdoor attraction is a short drive from Gatlinburg through the national park, and although there is a steep ½ mile hike to the top lookout, views can also be enjoyed from the base of the parking lot area. However, to fully experience the area, the hike is recommended.
Before you take on this steep climb, be sure to have proper hiking shoes. You’ll appreciate the support when you start to feel your quads burn!
2. Gatlinburg Festivals
The City of Gatlinburg presents a variety of festivals throughout the year, including Gatlinburg Winter Magic, Gatlinburg Springfest and Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales, among many other exciting festivals that are completely free.
3. Great Smoky Mountain Arts & Crafts Community
Established in 1937, this historic 8-mile loop is home to the largest group of independent artisans in North America. Visitors will find artisans creating unique and treasured pieces, including pottery, glass, leather, paintings, candles and many other varied crafts. A visit to this Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts community is absolutely free, and only costs something if you decide to buy.
4. Shopping in the Smokies
Downtown Gatlinburg is home to over 400 shops and 5 malls. The area is reminiscent of old-style villages and the shops are stocked with unique treasures you can only find in the Smoky Mountains. Strolling through downtown Gatlinburg is fun and free. Of course, it might be hard to pass up some of the great deals and unique finds.
5. Cades Cove
Cades Cove is a scenic 11-mile one-way loop located in a lush valley that is surrounded by mountains. It features abundant wildlife, historic buildings that date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and hiking, biking, and horseback riding facilities are available.
6. Newfound Gap Road
Newfound Gap Road is the only mountain route that completely traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 33-mile drive from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina takes visitors through the heart of the mountains and is one of the area’s top-rated “auto-touring” routes.
While auto-touring, be sure to bring a camera to capture all of those amazing scenic sights.
7. Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Located just outside of Gatlinburg, Roaring Fork Motor Trail is another great auto-touring opportunity. It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well- preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings. When you’re ready to get out of the car, recommended hikes include Rainbow Falls. With so much to offer, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is easily one of the best free things to do in Gatlinburg.
One of the absolute best free things to do in Gatlinburg is go hiking. There are more than 800 miles of hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, many of which lead to fantastic scenic views, historic homesteads, natural creations and splendid waterfalls that are simply breathtaking. With over 50 marked trails, visitors find something new to explore each time they visit. A few to choose from include Abrams Fall Trail, Laurel Falls Trail, Rainbow Falls, Chimney Tops Trail and Cove Mountain Trail.
Discover even more hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Top Trails’ guide to the must-do hikes.
9. Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill
This historic area is located about 30 miles outside of Gatlinburg and features a collection of farm buildings assembled from locations throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors can explore a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago.
10. 2nd Day Free at Dollywood
If you’re in the area and visit Dollywood, located in neighboring Pigeon Forge, take advantage of the 2nd Day Free program. Guests that arrive after 3pm on the first day, get their next day FREE! ( This offer is not valid on multi-day tickets. During Smoky Mountain Christmas festival, the arrival time for free entry is after 6pm.)
11. Wildlife Watching
Whitetail deer, turkeys and of course the famous black bear are frequently spotted in the Smokies. You’ll want to bring a camera, and even a pair of binoculars, to see all the wildlife on hand at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We recommend the Bushnell brand, which offers a variety of binoculars at affordable prices.
12. Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
Simple yet stunning, a visit to the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook doesn’t cost a thing but is something you’re sure to remember. From this spot, you can see the mountains and downtown Gatlinburg. It’s especially beautiful in the fall, but the lushness of summer doesn’t disappoint.
13. Moonshine Sippin’
Up and down the Parkway in Downtown Gatlinburg you can stop by distilleries for free moonshine samples. Flavors range from traditional white lightning to apple pie and sweet tea to more exotic blends like pineapple. Visit Ole Smoky Moonshine, Doc Colliers and others to see just how good moonshine can be!
14. Sugarlands Visitor Center
A free 20-minute orientation motion picture provides an in-depth look at the Smokies and the enormous diversity of plant and animal life in the Park. Natural history exhibits include mounted specimens of park animals in recreations of their habitats. In addition, reproductions of journals kept by the first park naturalists are also on display. Ranger talks and slide shows are presented daily, spring through fall. Be sure to visit nearby Laurel Falls, a beautiful waterfall located off Little River Road.
These are some of the best free things to do in Gatlinburg. Have any favorites that I missed? Be sure to tell me about them in the comments.
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Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.