Free Things To Do In Gatlinburg TN: fun on a budget

Gatlinburg has plenty of fun things to do, but the costs add up when doing activities like Anakeesta.

Let’s check out some free or cheap things to do in Gatlinburg to add to your Smoky Mountain trip.

Free Things To Do in Gatlinburg

1. Gatlinburg Trolley

gatlinburg trolley
Gatlinburg Trolley. Photo by Ashley @

One of the best ways to get around the area is by hopping on the Gatlinburg Trolley.

With routes that cover the city, the trolley is convenient and free! All the trolleys stop at the central transportation center located at Ripley’s Aquarium.

Here’s the route map. You can also download an Apple app and Android app that tracks the trolley.

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2. Gatlinburg Trail

The Gatlinburg Trail is one of the few trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that allows bicycles and pets.

This relatively flat, 3.8-mile round-trip trail starts outside Gatlinburg and ends at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, following the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.

The trail’s gentle terrain and scenic surroundings make it a good option for a leisurely walk or bike ride with the whole family.

Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best things you can do! And it doesn’t cost anything, except for the parking pass that’s now required when parking your car for more than 15 minutes.

3. Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales

Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales is a nightly summer event in Gatlinburg that’s been going on for years. It features storytelling and live music. Follow their Facebook page (and ours!) to see more.

4. Roaring Fork Motor Trail

roaring fork motor trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Photo by Ashley @

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a scenic 5.5-mile one-way loop near Gatlinburg. There are great views of forests, waterfalls, and creeks.

roaring fork bridge over a creek
Bridge at Roaring Fork. Photo by Ashley @

With more forests than open fields, it’s great to pair with Cade’s Cove (below).

Like Cades Cove, it’s mostly a one-lane road, so you usually move pretty slowly through the drive.

There are a couple of scenic overlooks at the top of the mountain.

view of mountains from an overlook on roaring fork motor nature trail
Overlook at Roaring Fork. Photo by Ashley @

Stop by the historic Ogle Cabin just outside the entrance to Roaring Fork.

Ogle Cabin is just outside Gatlinburg. Photo by Ashley @

You can get to the cabin before joining the one-way road around Roaring Fork.

5. Exploring Downtown

downtown gatlinburg
Downtown Gatlinburg. Photo by Ashley @

Gatlinburg is a great town to just walk around and explore. You can walk the entire town in a day.

While there are plenty of shops to buy from, many also give out free samples of chocolate, candy, and even wine and moonshine.

6. Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community

The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community is a road tour filled with arts and galleries with free admission. Though you can also purchase unique, handcrafted souvenirs.

7. Sugarlands Visitor Center

Sugarlands Visitor Center is located at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just after leaving Gatlinburg and heading south.

There are wildlife exhibits, and it’s a great resource for information on the park’s attractions.

Several trails leave from here, including a short walk to historic buildings like the John Ownby cabin.

8. Hiking

The national park features over 800 hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks. And there’s plenty right outside Gatlinburg.

  1. Rainbow Falls: This 5.4-mile round-trip hike takes you through a lush forest to the beautiful 80-foot Rainbow Falls. The trail is moderate to strenuous and is accessed at the start of Roaring Fork Motor Trail.
  2. Laurel Falls: A family-friendly option, the Laurel Falls Trail is a 2.6-mile round-trip hike that leads to an 80-foot cascading waterfall. This paved (though broken pavement) trail suits all ages and offers a relatively easy hike. The parking here can be hard to find.

Before hiking, always check the National Park Service website for trail conditions, closures, and safety information.

9. Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome

Newfound Gap Road with views of the mountain
Newfound Gap Road. Photo by Ashley @

Newfound Gap Road is a scenic drive that starts just outside Gatlinburg, offering stunning views.

curve on the Newfound Gap Road
Newfound Gap Road. Photo by Ashley @

Take this road to Clingmans Dome, one of our favorite places to see.

Before you get there, there’s some great lookouts to stop at.

Newfound Gap
Newfound Gap. Photo by Ashley @

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at over 6600 ft.

Clingmans Dome with clouds overhead
Clingmans Dome. Photo by Ashley @

In the view above, it was a cloudy day so visibility was limited. It’s still worth a trip if it’s cloudy, often you’ll be above some of the clouds in the valleys below.

Clingmans Dome view of clouds below
Clingmans Dome. Photo by Ashley @

It’s a short half-mile walk from the Clingmans Dome parking lot to the lookout tower. The walk is paved but fairly steep.

It’s also 10-15 degrees cooler than it is in Gatlinburg for a break from the heat.

We found snow there in late April 2024:

Clingmans Dome trail
Snow on the path to Clingmans Dome. Photo by Ashley @

Even though it’s not an extremely high elevation, If you’re used to sea-level elevation, the steep uphill walk at 6600 ft might have you stopping to take some breaks .

When visiting the area, this drive is a must-do. Remember, it’s one of the first roads to close during snow because of the high elevation. Check the National Park Service road conditions website.

10. Cades Cove

Cades Cove
Cades Cove. Photo by Ashley @

This is a bit of a drive from Gatlinburg, but worth it. One of our favorite places to visit friends and family, Cades Cove is a picturesque valley with an 11-mile loop road around the cove.

There are historic buildings, such as churches and log cabins.

cades cove
Cades Cove. Photo by Ashley @

Cades Cove is also an excellent place for wildlife watching, as the open meadows attract deer, black bears, and other animals.

deer at cades cove
Deer at Cades Cove. Photo by Ashley @

We’ve seen wildlife every time we’ve been here!


There’s plenty to see without spending money in and around Gatlinburg.

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