22 Absolutely Free Things to Do in Gatlinburg

February 8, 2022

Visiting a cozy ski town surrounded by natural splendor doesn’t have to break the bank! Save some dough on your trip to Gatlinburg when you take advantage of all the free things to do.

Known as the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a picturesque mountain town. It's a gem of a vacation destination, offering visitors the best in outdoor activities and fun family attractions. In addition, there are a plethora of free things to do in Gatlinburg!

If you're looking to travel on a tight budget, a place packed with scenic nature views at every turn is a great choice. Gatlinburg fits the bill with its gorgeous overlooks and hiking trails. In addition, the great outdoors offers free scenery that beats man-made attractions any day! 

Clingman's Dome

One of the best views around has to be Clingman's Dome. It allows visitors to take in the Smoky Mountains from 6,643 feet in the air! This is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the state of Tennessee.  

The dome allows you to see over 100 miles on a clear day, but air pollution frequently limits viewing distance to 20 miles. So expect a 10 to 20-degree temperature drop at the top and dress accordingly! The chilly weather and steep, half-mile hike to the observation tower results in a big payoff with a breathtaking view of the Smokies.

Pro Tip: Pets, bicycles, and wheelchairs are not permitted on the trail to the observation tower since it is so steep. 

sunrise over The Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the summer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

Gatlinburg Festivals

Wandering through the hustle and bustle of a festival is a classic activity everyone loves. The exchange of greetings and goods, wrapped in an atmosphere of excited people about something (and often, the sweet smells of nearby food), creates an irreplicable feeling. 

Related Post: Current Festivals and Events in Gatlinburg

The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community

The Great Smoky Art & Crafts Community is a dream for art lovers, small businesses, handmade products, or all three. It's a group of independent artists -- the largest in the United States -- all stationed around an eight-mile loop steeped in history that goes back to 1937.

Maneuver between shops, studios, and galleries by way of the trolley. The pottery, paintings, candles, and countless other crafts are sure to leave you feeling inspired. The best part is that it's all free unless you decide to take something home!

Window Shopping in the Smokies

Gatlinburg is home to nine malls and hundreds of shops. Many shopping areas are reminiscent of old-style villages, and the shops are stocked with unique treasures you can only find in the Smoky Mountains.

While window shopping is free, it's not always easy when there are so many great finds in Gatlinburg. So participate in this activity at your own risk. To help keep those dollars in your pocket, make it a game to see who can find the most unusual item!

Related Post: 16 Things to Do in Gatlinburg for Adults You Don't Want to Miss

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is an 11-mile, one-way loop around a lush valley surrounded by mountains. It features abundant wildlife and historic buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, prepare for lots of scenic views.

Depending on traffic, it is recommended that visitors set aside two to four hours to make the loop. To take your sightseeing to the next level, get out and walk some of the trails! Don't forget to add a couple of hours when making your schedule if you decide to do this. 

Photo Alert: You'll likely catch sight of some spectacular wildlife here. Keep your distance to snap some photos and add some nature photography to the 'gram!

distant view along a fence with John Oliver Cabin in background Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

Newfound Gap Road

If you prefer to enjoy the great outdoors sans dirt, leaves, and other outdoor messes, the Newfound Gap Road is the best way for you to experience the magic of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This mountain route will take you through the entire national park from the comfort of your car -- and it's the only road that allows you to do so.

After beginning in Gatlinburg, this 33-mile drive ends in Cherokee, North Carolina, after about an hour of driving.

Related Post: Gatlinburg Hidden Gems: 7 Secret Spots You Don't Want to Miss

Pro Tip: The length of this drive depends on traffic. If you're making the trek in June, July, August, or October, prepare to take your time and get stuck in traffic on occasion. This may slow you down a little, but leisurely sightseeing is the best kind!

Roaring Fork Motor Trail

Don't go chasing waterfalls; just take a drive to Roaring Fork Motor Trail. Named after a mountain stream, this area boasts gorgeous waterfalls and enchanting forest scenery. So get out of the car and stretch your legs in the misty, goosebump-raising beauty of Rainbow Falls or Grotto Falls. 

Before you enter the trail, don't miss out on stopping at the Noah "Bud" Ogle cabin. This mountain farmstead is a history buff's delight.

A close up of a waterfall surrounded by lush greenery along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Rhonda Atwood-petty via Facebook

Hiking

Hiking is one of the best free things to do in Gatlinburg. A true paradise with over 800 miles of trails through the Great Smoky Mountains means the only problem will be choosing which one to take. Lace-up those hiking boots!

Related Post: 7 Easy Hikes in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Here are a few Gatlinburg trails to choose from based on level of difficulty:

View of a purple and orange sunset from Myrtle Point on Mount Le Conte in the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Great Smoky Mountains National Park via Facebook

Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill

This historic area is located about 30 miles outside of Gatlinburg and features a collection of farm buildings from all over the Great Smoky Mountains that were moved to this one spot. The collection includes a chestnut log farmhouse, apple house, and working blacksmith shop. Take this opportunity to time travel to the late 19th century!

Pro Tip: After you get your fill of history, explore the nearby Oconaluftee River Trail or Mingus Creek Trail.

Close up of the Mingus Mill, an old wooden building, surrounded by green trees in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USALittle Pigeon River

Gatlinburg's riverwalk along the Little Pigeon River is a peaceful respite in the middle of a tourist-laden city. Use this area dotted with benches and gazebos to rest your mind and body while taking in the lull of the current and the aura of the cool river mist, free of charge.

Wildlife Watching

Grab your binoculars! Scouting out wildlife in the Smokies is an exciting and cashless pastime. Keep your eyes peeled for some of our favorite Smoky Mountain inhabitants, such as:

  • Deer
  • Turkeys
  • Black bears
  • Bobcats
  • Elk

Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook

Choose between four parking areas on the Gatlinburg Bypass and get ready to witness one of the most stunning scenes you've ever laid eyes on at the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook. Take in a breathtaking view of downtown Gatlinburg surrounded by a mountainscape that will make you wish you could fly above the trees.

Related Post: 11 Most Romantic Restaurants in Gatlinburg

Photo Alert: Don't leave one of the most photo-worthy spots in Gatlinburg without striking a pose! Bonus points if you catch it in all its autumn glory. A swirl of gold, maroon, and orange will add a colorful punch to your social media feed.

View of Gatlinburg in the fall with trees of many colors and the mountains in the back ground at twilight at the Gatlinburg Scenic overlook in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA

photo credit: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies via Facebook

Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts

Art lovers, we're circling back to you. The Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts was originally founded under the name Pi Beta Phi Settlement School and was Gatlinburg's first opportunity for formal education. However, the popularity of craft workshops hosted at the school eventually led to a name change, and it became the school it is today.

A total of four art galleries at the school are open to the public Monday through Friday. Browse the exhibits and soak in the free inspiration!

Sugarlands Visitor Center

The Sugarlands Visitor Center is a great place to get oriented at the beginning of your Gatlinburg vacation. Watch a free 20-minute movie about the national park and its wildlife, wander through history exhibits, and listen to ranger talks presented at select times of the year. 

Afterward, there are three easy hiking trails to stroll:

  • Cataract Falls
  • Fighting Creek Nature Trail
  • Gatlinburg Trail

The Gatlinburg Trolley

It wouldn't be a trip to Gatlinburg without a ride on the Gatlinburg Trolley! The trolley system features over 20 trolleys and runs 365 days a year. Not only is it a free way to tour the city, but it's also a great way to beat the infamous Gatlinburg traffic.

close up of the Parkway Free Trolley in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAWith this list of free things to do, even the most budget-conscious among us can have an exciting trip to Gatlinburg! So fill your itinerary with these activities and get ready to make Smoky Mountain memories that money can't buy.

What Free Things to Do in Gatlinburg will you Add to Your Itinerary? 

Let us know in the comments below!


michaela smiling holding magazine with body of water in background

Written By Michaela

Michaela is a journalist who views every story she writes as an adventure, leading her to explore new places and meet new people. She is based in the Midwest ...

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