Free Things To Do in Gatlinburg

Are you planning a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and want to know which free things to do in Gatlinburg? Don’t worry! Gatlinburg offers plenty of free things to do that won’t break the bank. Whether you’re traveling solo, with friends, or with family, there’s something for everyone.

By reading this blog post, you’ll learn the best 18 free things to do in Gatlinburg that will save you money and make your trip unforgettable. From exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to visiting local museums and galleries, there’s something for everyone. So, keep reading to know how to make the most of your trip without spending a dime.

History and Origin of Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a charming mountain resort city nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, with a rich history that dates back to its first settlers in the early 19th century. Its origin traces back to William Ogle, who, attracted by the abundant game and fertile land, decided to establish a homestead in the area in the early 1800s. He named his settlement White Oak Flats, due to the vast forests of white oak in the vicinity. Unfortunately, Ogle died before he could permanently move his family, but his relatives fulfilled his dream by settling in the area in the 1800s.

The town’s name was later changed to Gatlinburg after Radford Gatlin, a controversial figure who opened the area’s second general store. Gatlin’s establishment of a post office within his store played a significant role in renaming the town in his honor. Over the decades, Gatlinburg evolved from a small mountain community into a popular tourist destination, especially after the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, which significantly boosted its economy and tourist appeal.

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18 Free Things To Do in Gatlinburg

18 Free Things To Do in Gatlinburg

Discover the charm of Gatlinburg without spending a dime with our guide to 18 free things to do in Gatlinburg in this enchanting mountain town. From scenic trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to engaging cultural experiences, there’s a wealth of activities that promise adventure and relaxation for everyone.

1. People Watching on the Gatlinburg Parkway

There’s something truly special about a stroll down the bustling Gatlinburg Parkway. It’s like entering a lively world where each corner brings a new surprise. Here, you’ll find a colorful tapestry of visitors from all walks of life, each adding unique flavor to the vibrant Gatlinburg scene.

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture without spending a dime is to indulge in some people-watching. Find a cozy spot near one of the many delightful cafes or benches that line the parkway. 

As you sit back and relax, you’ll witness a parade of different characters: families excitedly discussing their Smoky Mountain adventures, couples holding hands, artists capturing the scenery, and locals going about their day.

2. Take a Walk Along the Little Pigeon River

The Little Pigeon River, a gem in the heart of Gatlinburg, offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Walking along its banks, you’re greeted by the gentle sounds of flowing water and leaves rustling in the mountain breeze. It’s a perfect spot for families, photographers, or anyone looking to reconnect with nature.

As you meander along the river, watch for local wildlife. It’s common to spot birds chirping in the trees or even a deer grazing nearby. The river is also rich in Smoky Mountain history, once serving as a vital resource for the early settlers in the area. Take a moment to appreciate the natural beauty and consider the generations that have enjoyed this river before you.

This free peaceful stroll offers a chance to experience the tranquility of the Smokies right in the heart of Gatlinburg.

3. Visit Cades Cove

Cades Cove, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a window into the past. Mountains surround this broad, verdant valley and are one of the park’s most visited destinations. It’s an ideal place to explore by car, bicycle, or on foot.

The loop road that winds through Cades Cove takes you past historic homesteads, churches, and log cabins, each telling a story of the 19th-century settlers. The area is also renowned for its diverse wildlife. Keep your cameras ready – you might see white-tailed deer, black bears, or wild turkeys!

Driving through Cades Cove is an experience, but if you’re up for it, park your car and hike on one of the many trails. It’s a perfect way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty and tranquility of the Smokies.

4. Visit Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome stands proudly as the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. The journey to the summit is an adventure in itself. A steep, half-mile walk will take you to the observation tower, where the vistas are unparalleled.

On a clear day, you can see over 100 miles into the distance, with the blue haze characteristic of the Smokies adding to the stunning panorama. The path to Clingmans Dome is fully paved, making it accessible to many visitors, although it’s steep in places.

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5. Stroll Through the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community

Located off the beaten path, the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community is a hidden treasure for those who appreciate the beauty of handmade crafts. This historic 8-mile loop houses hundreds of artists and craftsmen, showcasing everything from pottery to paintings, metalwork to woodcarvings.

As you wander through this charming area, you’ll have the opportunity to meet local artisans, watch them at work, and find a unique souvenir. Each studio and shop has its own story, tied closely to the rich cultural heritage of the Smoky Mountains. This stroll is not just about viewing art; it’s about experiencing the heart and soul of Gatlinburg’s artistic community.

6. Tour Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts

Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts is a center of artistic excellence and creativity. A tour of this campus is a journey through contemporary arts and crafts. You’ll see various galleries featuring work by local, national, and international artists.

The school, steeped in history, started as a settlement school over 100 years ago and has grown into a leading center for arts education. Walking through its grounds, you’ll feel the creative energy that permeates the place. Arrowmont’s commitment to preserving and advancing the arts is palpable in every studio and exhibit.

7. Go Roaring Fork

Roaring Fork is a natural wonderland, just a stone’s throw from downtown Gatlinburg. This motor nature trail offers a glimpse into the lush forest, cascading streams, and well-preserved historic buildings. Each turn reveals a new marvel of nature or history as you drive through this one-way loop road.

The area is named for its fast-flowing mountain stream, which you can hear and see as you explore. Stop at some of the trail’s highlights, like the historic cabins and grist mills. For those who wish to stretch their legs, there are several trails leading off the main road, perfect for experiencing the tranquility of the Smoky Mountains up close.

8. Ober Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg offers a mix of fun and scenic beauty, and you can enjoy some of its offerings without spending a penny. The aerial tramway ride to the resort provides stunning views of Gatlinburg and the surrounding mountains. 

While some attractions at Ober Gatlinburg have an admission fee, wandering around the area, soaking in the mountain atmosphere, and enjoying the views are free.

In winter, Ober Gatlinburg transforms into a snowy wonderland, offering a glimpse of skiers and snowboarders. In the warmer months, the greenery of the mountains takes center stage, making it a perfect spot for photographers and nature lovers.

9. Ride the Gatlinburg Trolley on the Parkway

Exploring Gatlinburg doesn’t get easier or more enjoyable than hopping on the Gatlinburg Trolley. This charming mode of transportation is an efficient way to navigate the town and a delightful experience. While some routes have a small fee, the Parkway trolley route is accessible, allowing you to see the best of Gatlinburg without spending a dime.

The trolleys pass through the main streets, giving you a comprehensive view of downtown, including shops, restaurants, and attractions. They run frequently, so you can hop on and off as you please, creating your town tour. It’s not just a ride; it’s an adventure that captures the essence of Gatlinburg’s friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

10. Visit a Gatlinburg Moonshine Distillery

Gatlinburg is synonymous with moonshine, a key part of the area’s heritage. Visiting a local moonshine distillery, such as the famous Ole Smoky Moonshine, is a journey into the heart of Southern tradition. Many distilleries offer free tours, where you can learn about the history of moonshine and its significance in the Smokies.

While the sampling might come with a small fee, the experience of watching moonshine being made and hearing stories from the distillers is invaluable. Each distillery has its unique character and flavors, making this a must-do for anyone interested in the local culture and history.

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11. Ghost and Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg

For those who enjoy a blend of history and mystery, the Ghost and Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg are a thrilling experience. While the guided tours might cost, you can create your ghost tour by visiting some of the publicly known haunted spots in town.

Walk through the eerie back alleys, visit historic buildings with ghostly reputations, and listen to the local legends and tales of the supernatural. It’s a fun and spine-tingling way to explore Gatlinburg’s darker side and uniquely learn about its past.

12. Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a hidden gem, offering a peaceful drive through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Smokies. This one-way loop takes you through a lush forest, past rushing streams, and by historic homesteads and grist mills. It’s an excellent opportunity for wildlife spotting and enjoying the tranquility of nature.

Several trailheads offer short hikes to picturesque spots like waterfalls and overlooks. The drive is incredibly stunning in the fall when the foliage turns into a kaleidoscope of colors, but it’s equally enchanting throughout the year.

13. Tour the Rocky Top Wine Trail

The Rocky Top Wine Trail is an exquisite journey through the flavors of the Smoky Mountains. Spanning five wineries, this trail offers free wine tasting and a glimpse into the art of winemaking. While the tastings are complimentary, the experience is rich, allowing you to savor the unique tastes of local wines.

As you travel from one winery to the next, you’ll enjoy the wines and the scenic beauty of the area. Each winery has its own charm and specialties, from traditional mountain wines to innovative blends. Even if you’re not a wine connoisseur, the friendly atmosphere and beautiful settings make this a delightful outing.

14. Gatlinburg Trolley

The Gatlinburg Trolley is more than just transportation; it’s a part of the city’s charm and a practical way to explore. With numerous routes covering significant attractions, the trolley is perfect for visitors wanting to experience Gatlinburg without the hassle of driving and parking.

Trolley service is affordable, with some accessible routes, like the Parkway route. Riding the trolley gives you a unique perspective of the town and its surroundings, passing by historic sites, shops, and natural wonders. It’s a fun, convenient, and eco-friendly way to see Gatlinburg.

15. Go Hiking

Gatlinburg is a gateway to some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From easy walks to challenging treks, there’s a trail for every level of hiker. The trails offer breathtaking views, serene forest walks, and the chance to spot wildlife.

Some popular trails include the Gatlinburg Trail, a relatively flat and easy hike, and the Alum Cave Trail, known for its stunning views and unique geological features. Hiking is a free activity and an excellent way to connect with nature and experience the beauty of the Smokies up close.

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16. Go on a Photo Scavenger Hunt

A photo scavenger hunt in Gatlinburg is a delightful way to explore the town and create lasting memories. This activity is free and a fun challenge for all ages. You can list landmarks, natural features, or quirky objects to find and photograph around town.

The hunt could include finding the most unique storefront in the Arts & Crafts Community, capturing the essence of the Smoky Mountains in a landscape photo, or even taking a selfie with a street performer from the Smoky Mountains Tunes and Tales. This activity encourages exploration and creativity, and at the end of the day, you’ll have a collection of photos that tell the story of your Gatlinburg adventure.

17. Go Window Shopping

Window shopping in downtown Gatlinburg is an experience. The town has unique shops offering everything from handmade crafts to novelty items. Strolling through the streets, you can admire the creativity and craftsmanship of local artisans without spending a penny.

The shop windows often display intriguing items that reflect the culture and history of the area. Take a leisurely walk down the Parkway, enjoy the vibrant atmosphere, and find inspiration for a future purchase. It’s a pleasant way to enjoy Gatlinburg’s local culture and bustling energy.

18. Have a Picnic

Having a picnic is a simple and delightful way to enjoy Gatlinburg’s natural beauty. The area offers numerous scenic spots perfect for a family picnic, from riverside settings along the Little Pigeon River to panoramic views in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Pack a lunch, grab a blanket, and find a peaceful spot to relax and enjoy the fresh mountain air. Popular picnic spots include the Chimneys Picnic Area and Greenbrier, offering beautiful surroundings and a chance to connect with nature. It’s a great way to unwind and savor the tranquility of the Smokies.

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Is Gatlinburg Worth to Visit?

Gatlinburg, nestled at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers a unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and family-friendly attractions, making it a worthwhile destination for many travelers. The town is renowned for its scenic mountain views, abundant hiking trails, and the diversity of wildlife, offering nature enthusiasts a perfect playground.

Beyond the great outdoors, Gatlinburg boasts a vibrant arts and crafts community, a variety of shopping options, and attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the SkyBridge—the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or a mix of both, Gatlinburg provides a memorable experience that caters to a wide range of interests, making it a compelling visit for those looking to explore the beauty and culture of East Tennessee.

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Is it Safe to do Free Things to Do in Gatlinburg?

Gatlinburg nestled in the heart of Tennessee’s scenic Smoky Mountains, offers a plethora of free activities that are not only safe but also enriching and enjoyable for visitors of all ages. Walking the picturesque Gatlinburg Trail, exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and enjoying the vibrant arts and crafts community are just a few examples of safe, cost-free experiences.

The city takes pride in its well-maintained public spaces and is committed to ensuring the safety and security of its guests. Like any tourist destination, it’s wise for visitors to stay aware of their surroundings and follow basic safety guidelines, but overall, Gatlinburg’s free activities provide a secure way to enjoy the natural beauty and cultural richness of the area.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Free Things To Do in Gatlinburg

Here you can find a few commonly asked questions about 18 Free Things To Do in Gatlinburg.

What are some popular outdoor activities in Gatlinburg that don’t cost anything?

Gatlinburg offers a variety of budget-friendly outdoor activities. Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of Gatlinburg’s most popular free things. You can explore the park’s over 800 miles of trails and experience nature’s beauty without spending a dime. Other popular outdoor activities include fishing, picnicking, and birdwatching.

Can families find entertainment in Gatlinburg without spending money?

Yes! There are plenty of free activities for families to enjoy in Gatlinburg. Families can visit the city’s parks, such as Herbert Holt Park, which offers a children’s fishing stream, playground area, and picnic tables. Families can also explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or visit the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community, which features over 100 artisans’ studios.

Are there any evening activities available in Gatlinburg that are free of charge?

Yes! Gatlinburg offers several free evening activities for visitors. You can walk along the Gatlinburg Parkway and enjoy the street performers and musicians. You can also attend the Gatlinburg Farmers Market on Saturdays during the summer months.

How does one utilize the Gatlinburg Trolley without incurring a fare?

The Gatlinburg Trolley offers a convenient way to get around the city without spending money. To utilize the trolley without incurring a fare, you can park at one of the city’s many free parking lots and hop on the trolley at any stop. The trolley runs along two routes, one through the city and the other to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Gatlinburg, Tennessee, offers a wide range of free activities perfect for budget-conscious travelers. From hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to exploring the city’s many parks and museums, there’s something for everyone.

Some of the top free things to do in Gatlinburg include visiting the Gatlinburg Parkway, strolling along River Road, and discovering the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. You can also drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or explore the historic Cades Cove.