I would love to see the Great Smoky Mountains in person, but everything in Gatlinburg is way too expensive!
If you’ve ever found yourself thinking the same, let us shed a light on savings with our best FREE things in Gatlinburg! We get it: vacation costs add up. Between finding a place to stay, travel costs, going out to eat, souvenirs, and attractions, cash can run short on a mountain getaway. Thankfully, we have budget-friendly cabins that won’t break the bank, and Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and Pigeon Forge have family-friendly activities, attractions, shops, and even restaurants to fit almost any budget.
While every vacation is about having fun, eating some great food, spending time with family and friends, and maybe treating yourself a bit, not every vacation is the splurge-on-everything type. Budget vacations are popular for a reason – and the Smokies is a great spot for one! You work hard for your money all year, and you want it to stretch the furthest when you’re on vacation. We totally get that. So along with our budget-friendly cabins that start at under $100/night for YOUR OWN PRIVATE CABIN, we also have some great ideas for FREE or cheap things to do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Smoky Mountains.
From witnessing master craftsmen at work firsthand in the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community and exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to satisfying your wine cravings and attending local events along the Parkway, there are plenty of low-cost and free things to do in the area. No matter what you decide, enjoy keeping money in your pocket for delicious meals and vacay souvenirs! Above all, remember the best things in life really are free — including Smoky Mountain memories.
30 Ways to Play in the Smokies When You’re Short on Cash
- Watch the show fountains dance from a rocking chair at The Island.
- Take a scenic drive on the 11-mile Cades Cove loop road.
- Play foosball, pool, air hockey, shuffleboard, arcade games, and darts in your own cabin.
- Stroll for the afternoon at The Island in Pigeon Forge.
- Have a movie night in your own theater at the cabin. Pop your own popcorn, have your favorite drinks, and save a ton of cash.
- Take the FREE Gatlinburg Trolley during summer.
- Get the kids in FREE at a dinner show downtown. (check online for age restrictions)
- Throw a ball, find a nice picnic area, or play frisbee at Patriot Park in Pigeon Forge.
- Dollywood isn’t free, but if you buy your ticket after 3 p.m. for the day, you’ll get the next day free! And with extended summer hours, that’s tons of time to play in the park.
- Grab a free sample of fudge or taffy at the candy kitchen at The Old Mill and take a $3 tour of the still-working grist mill.
- Plan your trip for Wilderness Wildlife Week, where free classes, guided hikes, seminars, and kids’ activities cover everything from the flora and fauna of the area to how to live green.
- Shake it up at the Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum. Admission is just $3 for adults, kids 12 and under are free, and the price of admission goes towards any purchase in the gift shop!
- Play at the Pigeon Forge Community Center, where they have $3 classes at the aquatics center, $3 admission to the outdoor pool, $1 bowling on Thursday nights, and $6 day passes for access to basketball courts, a wellness center, and more!
- Tap your toes to the sounds of live bluegrass in the Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler in downtown Gatlinburg. Bonus: snag a few free moonshine samples at the distiller here!
- Get a FREE history lesson at Sugarlands Visitor Center, with a 20-minute orientation video about the area. The center also has natural history exhibits and ranger-led talks in spring, summer, and fall.
- Spend a summer day splashing at your cabin’s community pool.
- Take a self-guided tour of the historic buildings found all throughout the area, from homesteads and mills to churches and schools.
- Check out the beautiful trees – and give to a good cause – during the annual Festival of Trees in Gatlinburg.
- Meet the talented artisans and learn more about Gatlinburg arts along the 8-mile loop of the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community.
- Ride the trolley in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge instead of dealing with traffic; fares range from $0.50 to $2, so getting around will be easy and budget-friendly.
- Make your favorite meals in the cabin. Our full kitchens make it easy, and you can have fun cooking together and saving some cash.
- Save on designer duds at The Tanger Outlets in Sevierville.
- Take advantage of our Cabins for YOU discount program. You’ll save at some of the top attractions in the area just by staying with us and find plenty of fun things to do!
- Browse at one of the arts and crafts shows put on by the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. (Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas)
- While it’s not on the lowest end of ticket prices, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has so much to do that it can take up an entire afternoon. It houses 10,000+ sea creatures, boasts dive shows, underwater tunnels, and interactive kids’ exhibits, and really has something for kids and adults of all ages. It’s definitely a “bang for your buck” attraction, as you won’t have to plan much else for the day.
- Bring your own fishing gear and spend the day in the cool waters of the Smokies.
- Buy a multi-attraction ticket, which will offer discounts when you buy tickets to several different shows/attractions at once (like at the Hollywood Wax Museum).
- Watch a game at Rocky Top Sports World. They host everything from basketball and volleyball to soccer and baseball tournaments throughout the year.
- Try some tasty local treats at the Gatlinburg Farmers Market and get some fresh produce to take back to the cabin.
- Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are more than 800 miles of trails to explore.
Traverse the Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail
When visiting a new place, it’s always nice to see the local arts and crafts, and in a historic place like Gatlinburg, the craftsmanship is truly a wonder to behold. While many towns offer such artworks at pricey museums, Gatlinburg hosts the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, which presents visitors not only with incredible masterpieces but also a chance to watch the masters at work — without paying a penny. In fact, as the largest group of independent artisans in all North America, this community has been deemed precious to the state, and so the 8-mile loop road that surrounds the community was dubbed a Tennessee Heritage Arts and Crafts Trail.
What might you find along the trail?
- Hand-thrown pottery
- Oil paintings
- Wooden figurines
- Custom blades
- Handcrafted jewelry
- Flower arrangements
- Metal sculptures
- Rock candles
- Homemade sweets
- Leather goods
- Artistic birdhouses
- Pet products
- Hand-woven baskets
- Glass-blown decor
Prefer to see a preview of these lovely creations in one stop? Plan your vacation around the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community holiday shows — held 3 times each year! Check out Thanksgiving-themed items and Christmas goodies in November and December or precious Easter gifts around the end of March/April. Oh, and admission is absolutely free, so grab your artsy pals and head for the Smokies for a creative good time at the Gatlinburg Convention Center.
Take a Scenic Drive
Once you’ve seen all the manmade art the area has to offer, take a scenic drive through the Smokies to see Mother Nature’s showpieces. From fascinating flora and fantastic fauna to majestic mountains and lush landscapes, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park won’t disappoint. In fact, it’s the most visited national park in the United States, which is proof alone of its popularity. So be sure to stop by or drive through — no entrance fees imposed!
Where is the best place to go for a drive within the national park? Glad you asked! A favorite among locals and travelers alike is Cades Cove, a valley area with white-tailed deer grazing in the meadows, black bears ushering their cubs through the forest, owls hooting in the evening, historic homesteads and churches waiting to be explored, nature trails seeking brave trekkers, and incredible mountain views charming visitors with every glance.
Before heading onto the cove’s paved, 11-mile loop road, fill your tank to the brim as there are no gas stations within the national park. If you would prefer to walk or bike ride around the loop, do so in the early morning to avoid car traffic. Pro tip: until 10:00 a.m. every Wednesday and Saturday from early May – late September, the roads are closed to vehicles, giving you the chance to explore in peace. Lastly, make the experience extra special with a picnic lunch at the pavilion (restrooms are available as well).
Other popular drives include Newfound Gap Road, a cruise alongside the Little Pigeon River, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, or a peaceful cruise to Townsend. Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook is another favorite, located roadside along the Gatlinburg Bypass, off Ski Mountain Road.
Hike the Day Away
Like the sound of a hike through the national park? Great idea! How about a free museum tour to go with it? Even better! Check out the Sugarlands Visitor Center to learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a free 21-minute film and discover interesting facts about local wildlife in the provided nature and park exhibits.
With various nearby hiking trails, such as Cataract Falls (an easy walk that ends with a 25-foot waterfall!), Fighting Creek Nature Trail (a 1.2-mile loop along the creek, past historic cabins, and back to the visitor center), and the Gatlinburg Trail (a 3.8-mile, paved, pet-friendly, roundtrip trek by foot or bicycle), this free visitor center is the perfect place to start your outdoor adventure! Plus, there’s free parking — you won’t have to pay a dime!
Looking for the best panoramic views? Venture to Clingmans Dome — the highest point in Smokies — providing unique sights and even better memories. Trust us; pictures just don’t do it justice. See the wonder of the Tennessee mountains and valleys with your own eyes atop the observation tower at 6,643 feet. The way up is paved, so don’t fret about uneven ground. And be sure to wear layers as the temperatures can vary greatly from the bottom once you reach the top.
Remember to bring snacks and fresh water as well to keep up your stamina. Last but not least, keep your camera ready — you never know what kind of animals may show up! Important note: while the tower is open year-round, the road to Clingmans Dome is closed from December 1 – March 31 for safety reasons. You can also check off your bucket list with some hikes along the Appalachian Trail parts that run through the area!
Bonus Hiking + FREE Must-See Spots
- Grotto Falls
- Mountain Farm Museum + Mingus Mill in Cherokee, North Carolina
- Laurel Falls
- Ogle Cabin
- Arrowmont School of Arts
Want More FREE Activities?
Take on the Rocky Top Wine Trail, which dabbles a bit into Pigeon Forge and Sevierville — the travel is worth the wallet-friendly wine tasting (FREE at some, $5 at others) and wine cellar tours (at 3 locations* from noon – 5:00 p.m.). You’ll even get complimentary gifts with your collected stamps across the 5 featured wineries and 1 local distillery; collect 3 for a prize and all 6 for another!
- *Hillside Winery | Sevierville | Free Tour Available
- Apple Barn Winery | Sevierville
- *Mountain Valley Winery | Pigeon Forge | Free Tour Available
- Mill Bridge Winery | Pigeon Forge
- *Sugarlands Cellars | Gatlinburg | Free Tour Available
- Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery | Gatlinburg
Don’t forget about local events! Many Gatlinburg events are FREE to the public, so make sure to plan your Smoky Mountain trip with these in mind. From parades and festivals to fireworks and fairs, good times are just around the corner — free of charge!
FREE EVENTS IN THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
Gatlinburg Farmers Market
May – October
FREE – $
Set up at 849 Glades Road in Gatlinburg, TN, the Gatlinburg Farmers Market brings together local farmers with homegrown goodies like veggies, fruits, and jams, and jellies made from their spoils. Pick up nuts, honey, and plenty of delicious baked goods to enjoy back at the cabin (or take home as gifts). During summer, the farmers market hosts Kids’ Days, where they have scavenger hunts and fun activities.
Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales
As you stroll the streets of downtown Gatlinburg, you can’t miss the musicians and costumed storytellers giving you a true taste of the Smokies. The summer street festival is FREE and super-convenience, since it’s located along the streets (from 6 – 11 p.m.) where you’ll likely already be shopping, eating, and exploring!
FREE Parkway Trolley
If driving along the Parkway isn’t your cup of tea, hop aboard the Gatlinburg Trolley! It’s a great way to check out the sights without the stress of driving in traffic. Running from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the open-air shuttles (specially marked) offer 40 convenient stops along the Parkway. And even when it’s not during the free season, the trolleys are incredibly budget friendly, with fares starting at just $0.50.
First Independence Day Parade in the Nation
Bring your water and your snacks and find the perfect spot along the Parkway to watch this parade sizzle by! It starts at 12:01 am on July 4 – thus cementing its first 4th of July parade in the nation status. The parade runs from Baskins Creek Bypass on East Parkway to the Parkway at traffic light #3 to traffic light #10 on Ski Mountain Road.