Nestled in the Tennessee mountains, Gatlinburg is surrounded by some of the nation’s finest indoor and outdoor recreation – and the best part? Much of it won’t cost you a thing.

To help you craft a budget-friendly itinerary, we’ve compiled a list of Gatlinburg’s best free things to do. Some are within city limits, while others are a short drive away. If you stay with Prestige Vacation Rentals, you won’t need to go far for the fun.

1. Tour the town on the Gatlinburg Trolley

Photo Credit: Svetlana Bykova

The picturesque Gatlinburg Trolley runs through town 365 days a year, ferrying visitors and locals around the city. Several different routes are available, each with its own noteworthy stops.

That means you can cover most, if not all, of Gatlinburg aboard the trolley. You’ll see many different attractions along the way, and since there are no fees, you can hop on and off as you please (just make sure you pay attention to that timetable).

2. Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of America’s favorite green spaces, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a short drive away from Gatlinburg, and unlike most national parks, it’s free to enter. There is, however, a low-cost parking permit for around $5 a day that you’ll have to reserve ahead of time, a way for the Park Service to control crowding in the country’s most popular national park.

Explore famous hiking trails and destinations like Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome, or stop off at one of the many trailheads to check out panoramic views and mountaintop waterfalls for excellent photo ops. Or just pull off into a picnic area and take in the peaceful surroundings. There are countless ways to explore the park, and if you want to avoid that parking fee, you can enter on a bicycle or on foot.

3. Take a walk on the Parkway

Photo Credit: Stephen B. Goodwin

Gatlinburg’s main thoroughfare, the Parkway, is packed with bustling shops and restaurants. But if you’re trying to avoid shelling out extra money, you can just walk down the street and window shop.

As you meander through downtown, you’ll pass several fascinating stops and get to soak up some gorgeous mountain scenery. Of course, if you decide you need a bite to eat or you just have a particular souvenir, don’t hesitate to stop in.

4. Get outdoors at Gatlinburg parks

If you’d rather stay in town than go out to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can still get a good dose of the great outdoors right in town. Gatlinburg has three public city parks, where you can bring a picnic lunch, your four-legged friend for a game of fetch, or just a blanket to enjoy that fancy charcuterie board you packed.

Make sure to check out these three parks during your visit:

  • Mynatt Park
  • Mills Park
  • Herbert Holt Park

5. Try your hand at disc golf

Photo Credit: Diego Trabucco

While at Mills Park, stop by the disc golf course to play a no-cost round or two. In June of 2021, the course was redesigned and upgraded from 9 holes to 18 holes, including several wooded holes for a little extra challenge. While you play, you can admire the mountain views in the distance.

6. Visit local craftsmen on the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Loop

The Appalachian mountains are home to a wide range of handicraft traditions, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. Consisting of an 8-mile-long loop, this is a great spot to peruse unique souvenirs and watch artisans hard at work on their crafts.

The Arts & Crafts Community boasts everything from broom stores to needlework shops and homemade candy vendors. But if you’re craving even more art time during your visit, consider taking a tour of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (also free) for another peek at the local scene.

7. Attend one of Gatlinburg’s many free festivals

Photo Credit: Joseph Creamer

If you want to spend a day or a night on the town for free, you’re in luck — Gatlinburg’s yearly calendar is packed with several different events that will suit all kinds of visitors. Whether you want to listen to folk music or ring in the harvest season, there’s a festival, event, or celebration that you can check out.

Here are a few of our favorite annual events in Gatlinburg:

8. Take a stroll on the River Walk

Gatlinburg’s River Walk follows the banks of the Little Pigeon River, which winds right through town. Though many visitors choose to experience the Little Pigeon on a whitewater rafting trip, you can check it out for free by taking a stroll.

Beautiful in all four seasons, the River Walk always offers something new for visitors to see, especially if they remember to slow down and look around them to appreciate their stunning surroundings fully.

9. Tour a moonshine distillery

Photo Credit: Joseph Hendrickson

Moonshine traditions in the Gatlinburg area stretch back more than a century. Today, tourists can learn more about this unusual local beverage by visiting a ‘shine distillery.

Tastings and drinks will, of course, cost you a little money. But those who just want to learn more about moonshine history and culture can embark on a free, self-guided tour of one of these Gatlinburg distilleries:

10. Take a scenic drive

Besides buying gas, it won’t cost you to go for a scenic drive past some of the region’s most spectacular sights (and we daresay that’s worth the gas money). Within the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can cruise the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, a short, but sweet route that covers several landmarks in just a few miles.

Closer to town, you can head to scenic spots like the Gatlinburg Overlook. If you’re into laidback cruising, take some time to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most iconic scenic drives in the whole country.

Enjoy Gatlinburg for Free

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means — you can find plenty of other things to do that we might have missed here. So, get ready to visit Gatlinburg and explore the many free and low-cost activities the city offers.

Book your stay with Prestige Vacation Rentals today!