Free and Cheap Things to do in Gatlinburg TN

Free and Cheap Things to do in Gatlinburg TN Featured Image

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Gatlinburg is a town of about 4,000 on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. Because of the mountainous terrain that surrounds it, Gatlinburg is home to the only ski resort in Tennessee and one of the southernmost ski resorts in the United States. Gatlinburg receives plenty of visitors in the off-season, however, because of its year-round man-made and natural attractions that can be enjoyed on a budget by people of all ages.

Free and Cheap Things to do in Gatlinburg TN Cover Image

You have to drive through Kodak, Sevierville, and Pigeon Forge before even reaching the gateway into the great place that is Gatlinburg, known to the locals as “The Spur.” The peaceful scenic drive on this tree-lined highway is a contradiction to the town itself.

Located at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg will give your family more to do than just hiking and exploring nature’s wonder! My favorite activities and the best places you can see are listed below. There are so many free and cheap things to do in Gatlinburg TN that you don’t want to miss.

When to Go to Gatlinburg TN

The best time to travel to Gatlinburg is during the off-season, which is any time the ski resort is closed. Gatlinburg gets plenty of visitors year-round, but prices should be lowest during the summer, especially for lodging.

Affordable Cabins and Lodging

Free and Cheap Things to do in Gatlinburg TN Cabins

Lodging in Gatlinburg tends to be on the expensive side, but comfortable accommodations can be found for as little as $69 per night during the summer at local establishments, such as the Rocky Waters Motor Inn. If you are the outdoors type and enjoy those scenic views, bring a tent and camp for anywhere from $18 to $27 per night as an entrance fee at such places as Camping in the Smokies just outside of town.

You also can bring picnic food, camp in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for as little as $14, and rent a picnic pavilion inside the park for even less.

Urban Attractions And The Best Cheap Things You Can See

Many attractions in downtown Gatlinburg can be enjoyed without spending a lot of money. For example, if you are bringing children along, the Gatlinburg Haunted Ghost Tour lasts 90 minutes and can be booked for as little as $11 per child and $20 per adult (apparently Gatlinburg is home to many haunted buildings).

Shopping is also fun. Many of the shops are deliberately picturesque, designed to attract tourists, making simple window shopping an enjoyable option. Smoky Mountain candy, especially the delicious local specialty taffy, is a reasonably priced option for souvenirs.

River Rafting Is A Great Way To Spend The Day

Whitewater rafting as well as more leisurely floats are available on the Pigeon River for as little as $30 per person. Most of these trips are suitable for children as young as 8, and some are suitable for children as young as 4.

The Guinness Book Of World Records Museum Is One Of The Best Things To See

The Guinness Book of World Records Museum offers tons of useless knowledge that you can wow your friends back home with. They just recently expanded and have an all-new section including Noah and the Ark, a cave full of natural wonders, and a circus with unusual people, all packed into a small building. There are over a hundred exhibits just waiting to astound, astonish, and enlighten even the smartest! It involves a lot of reading, though, so I wouldn’t bring little Tommy here and hope to leave in an hour.


Davy Crockett’s Mini-Golf And Other Fun Things

Davy Crockett’s Mini golf is a great family activity. Set back in the “old days” when Davy Crockett roamed the Tennessee hills, it is full of great frontier-style golfing obstacles. It is open year-round, weather permitting. Your family will laugh as Dad tries in vain to become king of this wild frontier.

The Hard Rock Cafe must be visited even if it is just to get the hurricane glass or t-shirt. I have my glass proudly displayed in my curio cabinet. Now, if I could just make it to the rest of the Hard Rock Cafes, I would be all set.

Star Car Museum For Cheap Family Things To Do

The Star Car Museum is Dad’s dream activity. There are so many cars. Classics from Charlie’s Angels and The Munsters to the newer cars from The Italian Job and The Fast and the Furious, this museum will make any car fan pant and whine. Don’t miss the pictures of the drool rolling down Dad’s chin; these can be used for blackmail later.

Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company Is The Perfect Place For Lunch

Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company just opened up and if haven’t eaten at one, take this opportunity to do so. Your wait staff responds to the signs you control on your table that tell Forrest to run or stop. The main part of the menu is shrimp but they do offer chicken and some other good selections as well. Located at stoplight eight in Gatlinburg, you cannot miss this.

Free and Cheap Things to do in Gatlinburg TN Bubba Gump

Ripley’s Haunted Adventure For Your Next Trip

Ripley’s Haunted Adventure is the place for scarring and thrilling. It involves a great little story about the Grimsby and Streaper Casket Company. I think I permanently wrinkled the shirt of the guy in front of me the first time I went because of the realistic, chilling frights inside. This is not recommended for children under eight and I can see why! I almost peed my pants.

The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community

The Arts and Crafts Community is an excellent daytime activity and one of the best free things. Nestled in the mountains, there are plenty of shops from the largest group of independent artisans to visit that offer handmade crafts and genuinely warm individuals just looking for a bit of conversation. The drive is peaceful, and the time spent is memorable. Take home some pottery or wood crafts, even an oil painting, and impress your friends back home.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum Is A Great Thing To See Filled With Unique Things

Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum is full of interesting, albeit useless information. With 500 “astonishing and unusual” artifacts and strange happenings of the true and bizarre, you will find adventure at every twist and turn. There are some mind-boggling, hands-on interactives everyone will get involved in. What’s inside might make your eyes pop out of your head and then you could be pictured there, too!

Ripley’s Aquarium Of The Smokies Is A Great Spot To See Marine Life

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has a 1.4 million-gallon world-class aquarium and a spectacular underwater tunnel. There are huge, deadly twelve-foot sharks, turtles, fish, and even some great exhibits and hands-on experiences your whole family will love. With hourly dive shows and classroom presentations, you can increase your ocean knowledge. You can even make reservations to sleep with the sharks! There’s a great gift shop and a restaurant. Hmm… I wonder if they serve seafood?

Free and Cheap Things to do in Gatlinburg TN hiking

Hiking In The Smokies Is Great The Summer Months For The Entire Family

One way to enjoy the Gatlinburg area without spending a lot of money is to focus on natural rather than man-made attractions during fair weather (most of the time except during the winter). Gatlinburg is situated right near the main entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and admission to the park is free.

The 3.8-mile round-trip Gatlinburg Trail runs between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Gatlinburg and is an easy hike. For hardier souls, the four-mile, moderately difficult Laurel Falls Trail begins not far from the Sugarlands Visitor Center and will take you to a beautiful waterfall. The Rainbow Falls Trail takes about six hours to complete and runs to Mt. LeConte after gaining about 4,000 feet in elevation at the highest peak.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park of North America

The number one Gatlinburg attraction is, of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nothing can beat the majestic natural beauty of the mountains covered in the mist which gave them their name. Within the park is Cades Cove. It was once the home of the Appalachian people. The people were forced to move upon the opening of the National Park but their settlement has been preserved. While touring Cades Cove, one doesn’t want to miss the white-tailed deer and black bears that frequent the area.

Just don’t feed the animals on your wildlife encounter trip. If they become used to being fed, they won’t hunt anymore. Wild animals are wild and dangerous. Always follow the instructions available to any visitor of this area involving the local furry residents.

From Clingman’s Dome, you can see other states and get the best view of the Smoky Mountains. The hike to the highest point is worth it all. While in the park hike a bit of the Appalachian Trail. There is also Mt. Leconte and various other hikes available for any hiker, from inexperienced to expert. One can drive through the National Park and arrive at Cherokee, N.C. which is another grand adventure.

Field of Flowers North Farm
Click on the picture to check it out

Final Thoughts about Free and Cheap Things to do in Gatlinburg TN

Don’t miss all that Gatlinburg has to offer when you go! There are more activities such as the Mysterious Mansion, Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre, Ober Gatlinburg (a year-round amusement park with skiing in the winter, water rides in the summer, and ice skating all year long), the SkyLift, the Space Needle, plenty of shopping, and some great restaurants.

Parking (there is no free parking most of the time) can be an issue, so take the Gatlinburg trolley, it will relieve some stress. This mountain town is very close to my heart. I hope the same for you, as well.


Q: What are some free activities to enjoy in Gatlinburg? A: Gatlinburg offers several free activities, including exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, strolling along the scenic Gatlinburg Trail, and visiting the free-to-enter Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Q: Are there affordable hiking options for nature enthusiasts? A: Yes, hiking is a popular and budget-friendly activity in Gatlinburg. You can explore trails like Laurel Falls Trail and Cades Cove Loop Road for free or at a minimal cost.

Q: Can you recommend budget-friendly attractions for families? A: Families can enjoy attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, which offer various package deals and discounts for children.

Q: What are some low-cost dining options in Gatlinburg? A: For budget-friendly dining, check out local diners, pizza places, and barbecue joints like Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que and Best Italian Cafe & Pizzeria.

Q: Are there any free events or festivals in Gatlinburg during the year? A: Gatlinburg hosts various free events and festivals, such as the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair and the Gatlinburg Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights. Check the local event calendar for details.

Q: Where can I find affordable accommodations in Gatlinburg? A: Look for budget-friendly lodging options like motels, cabins, and campgrounds in and around Gatlinburg. Booking in advance can also help you secure lower rates.


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