10 Free Things To Do in Gatlinburg You Don’t Want to Skip

Gatlinburg Tennessee

Gatlinburg TN has been a long-time favorite vacation destination for families looking to spend a few days unwinding from their everyday life. Not only is this city known for it’s delicious restaurants and quaint shops, but there are a ton of fun family-friendly things to do in Gatlinburg. The best part about these activities is that a lot of them are free. To learn about our favorite free things to do in Gatlinburg read below.

(See Related: What would you do with an extra weekend in Gatlinburg?)

1. People Watch on the Gatlinburg Parkway

With millions of visitors each year, it is hard to find a reason why you and your family shouldn’t go people watching on the Gatlinburg Parkway. Not to mention, downtown Gatlinburg is a great city to park your car and just walk around and explore.

The Village in Downtown GatlinburgThere are several benches and resting spots if you want to take a break, or you can duck into The Village and sit by the water fountain on a pleasant sunny day.

2. Take a walk along the Little Pigeon River

We have already told you how walking on the sidewalk along the Gatlinburg Parkway is one of our favorite free things to do in Gatlinburg. However, for guests looking to enjoy a more scenic view as they stroll around the city, we suggest walking along the city’s riverwalk path that take you by the Little Pigeon River.

Not only is this a great way to catch a glimpse of some of the natural beauty of the area, but it also a great way to cool down on a warm day. There are also benches and gazebos along the path if you want to sit down and take in the sights for a moment or two.

3. Visit a Gatlinburg Moonshine Distillery

Ole Smoky Mountain MoonshineMoonshining has been a long standing tradition in the Smoky Mountains, and today guests to the area can witness this tradition by visiting one of the many new exciting Gatlinburg moonshine distilleries. The best part is that tours are free! There is a small charge for moonshine sampling, but you can explore the distillery at no charge!

For a Inside Look into Doc Collier Moonshine in Gatlinburg, check out our Insiders View video below!

4. Drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Do you want to explore the area, but you don’t feel like waking? You and your family can enjoy a relaxing drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail from the comfort of your own vehicle.

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 6-mile, one-way, loop road. Along the trail, guests will pass several historic home sites including the Noah ‘Bud’ Ogle cabin, the Roaring Fork Cemetery, and the remains of one of the early settler’s villages that was home to nearly two dozen families over 150 years ago.

fall leaves in the Smoky MountainsThere are stops along the way where guests can pull over and snap a picture or two, or just enjoy the scenery for a little while.

If you do decide you want to walk around for a little bit, there are also several Smoky Mountain hiking trail heads that are located near the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. These trails include:

  • Baskins Creek Falls
    • 3 miles round trip
    • Easy difficulty rating
    • Features waterfalls
  • Brushy Mountain (Trillium Gap)
    • 6.8 miles round trip
    • Easy-moderate difficulty rating
    • Features wildflowers and scenic views
  • Bullhead Trail
    • 5.9 miles round trip
    • Easy-moderate difficulty rating
    • Features interesting geology
  • Grotto Falls
    • 2.6 miles round trip
    • Easy difficulty rating
    • Features waterfalls
  • Rainbow Falls
    • 5.4 miles round trip
    • Easy-Moderate difficulty rating
    • Features waterfalls
  • Trillium Gap
    • 13.9 miles round trip
    • Hard difficulty rating
    • Features panoramic views

For driving directions to the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, feel free to use the map below!

5. Visit Cades Cove

Cades Cove FallCades Cove hosts over 2 million visitors a year. That accounts for nearly a quarter of the total traffic that visits The Great Smoky Mountains National Park every year.

The major draw for guests to this area of the national park is the abundance of breathtaking scenic views that surround you when you are in Cades Cove. Words can barely do the natural beauty of this area justice.

Not to mention, Cades Cove is also home to a lot of wildlife, and guests here can also tour several historic home sites that remain from the early settlers to the Cove. Also, similar to the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, guests to Cades Cove can explore the area from the comfort of their car by driving around the 8-mile loop road.

With all of the pretty scenery and things to do, it is no wonder why visiting Cades Cove is one of our favorite free things to do in Gatlinburg.

Want to learn more about Cades Cove? Read our blog about the 8 shocking secrets about Cades Cove.

6. Stroll Through the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community

For over 70 years, there is a small section of downtown Gatlinburg that has been home to a wide variety of talented artisans and craftsmen. Known as the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts community, this section of town is where guests can find tons of hand-made goods to bring back home after their Smoky Mountain vacation.

The talents found in the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts community include glass workers, sculptors, painters, broom makers, leatherworkers and more!

To learn more about the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community, check out their website: http://www.gatlinburgcrafts.com/history.html

7. Tour Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts

Arrowmont School of Arts & CraftsSpeaking of art, the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts is another exciting free thing to do in Gatlinburg that will help you and your family discover much of the artistic talent that calls the Smoky Mountains home.

The Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts was originally founded in 1912. Back then it was called the Phi Beta Phi Settlement School, and it provided the first form of formal education to all the early settlers of the Gatlinburg community.

It wasn’t until 1926 that the school began to sell crafts and art made by members of the community, and in 1945 the school offered its first art class. In 1967, the school officially changed its name to the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts.

Over the years, the school has gained international recognition for its continued dedication and education in the art community.

Today, guests can tour one of the many galleries located on the school’s 14-acre campus. They can also pick up their new favorite craft of art piece from the school’s gift shop. Hours for the school and galleries are Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. For weekend and holiday hours, the school asks that guests give them a call at (865) 436-5860.

To find out more about the history of the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, visit the school’s website: http://www.arrowmont.org/

8. Listen to Music at Gatlinburg Tunes & Tales (Seasonal) 

Band performing during Smoky Mountain tunes and TalesSmoky Mountain Tunes & Tales is easily one of the most entertaining activities included on the list of free things to do in Gatlinburg. Here, you and your family can sit back and enjoy as a variety of local musicians, storytellers, and artisans demonstrate their skills.

In addition to the music, the performers that are part of the Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales will also entertain the crowd with their costumes that pay tribute to times gone by, including as early as the 1800s.

The Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales event in downtown Gatlinburg runs daily from mid-June through the end of July. Performances begin at 6 p.m.

If you are unable to visit for the summer Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales, be sure to plan a trip to come back to the area in a couple of months for the winter Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales.

The winter Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales takes place on the weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

9. Ride the Gatlinburg Trolley on the Parkway (Seasonal)

Gatlinburg trolley in front of Gatlinburg aquariumOut of all the fun free things to do in Gatlinburg, taking a ride on the Gatlinburg Trolley is probably the most convenient. From mid-June through mid-August, the Gatlinburg Trolley is offering free rides along the downtown Parkway from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

If you happen to plan your visit after the free Gatlinburg Trolley rides end, you can still tour around the city for the low cost of $2 for unlimited rides on five of the trolley’s routes. You can find out more about the Gatlinburg Trolley routes, fares and schedules on its website: http://www.gatlinburgtrolley.org/

10. Have a Picnic

Going for a picnic is a great way to take in the scenery of the Smoky Mountain area. There’s many places for picnics in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so it’s easy to pack up a picnic basket and head out to enjoy the Smokies. Some of the picnic areas are seasonal, so be sure to click here for specific details. There are also a few picnic areas in Gatlinburg, including Mynatt Park and Mills Park.

Want to learn more about all of the fun free things to do in Gatlinburg? Be sure to check out the What To Do tab on our website. There you will find a full list of all the exciting things to do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville.

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  • Rostislav Klesla

    Trolley is not free.

    • Jason Fishman

      Hi Rostislav! During the summer (mid-June through mid-August) the Gatlinburg trolleys are free on the Parkway. We have updated the blog to make this clearer. Thank you so much for your comment!

      • Damon Lewis

        This still isn’t true. We were down twice in July, and then again in Oct. We paid the same thing every time. Not to mention the trolley is horrible.

  • Deborah Ross

    My family and I also paid to ride the trolly in the first week of July.