Gatlinburg is a popular destination for those interested in escaping to the natural beauty of the Smokies or who enjoy the unique vibes of the city. While vacations can get expensive, with careful planning, you can visit Gatlinburg on a budget. Coupled with affordable hotels near Gatlinburg and these free or budget-friendly activities below, you can enjoy your time in Gatlinburg without breaking the bank.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The park stretches across two states, covering over 500,000 acres. GSMNP boasts hiking trails that wind through lush forests, streams and waterfalls, including a short section of the Appalachian Trail. Drive Newfound Gap Road, which takes you across 33-miles, and take in amazing views from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina.
2. Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest peak in GSMNP at 6,643 feet in elevation. The trail is paved, and the summit offers an aerial view of the surrounding mountains. While the trail is only half a mile, it can be challenging, so take your time and take advantage of the benches if you need a break. The trail head to the Appalachian Trail is also nearby.
3. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
At only 5.5 miles long, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a good option for those who are short on time but still want to see the best of GSMNP. The one-way loop takes you past forests, streams, and waterfalls—all from the comforts of the car. If you’re up for a hike, you can hike to one of the park’s most popular waterfalls, Rainbow Falls.
4. Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway
One of the largest tramways in the U.S., the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway takes visitors from downtown Gatlinburg up 11,088 feet for an aerial view of the entire landscape which encompasses the Smokies and Gatlinburg. Add a ride on the chair lift and go higher for even better views. Activities at the top include shopping, restaurants, an amusement park, and a small zoo.
5. Gatlinburg Space Needle
The Gatlinburg space needle stands at 407 feet and offers a 360-degree view of the Smokies. Two glass elevators take you to the top where you can use viewfinders to gaze into the distance, and exhibits provide more information about the surroundings. Below is a 25,000-square-foot arcade and small theater, and you can grab a bite at the restaurant. Tickets to the space needle grants you access for another complimentary visit.
6. Arts and Crafts Community
The Arts and Crafts Community is situated just south of downtown Gatlinburg. It’s an 8-mile loop that offers a look into artwork created by over 100 artists from the local community. Stop to chat with the many diverse artists and learn more about their artistry.
7. Ghost Tours
Not necessarily “budget-friendly,” but ghost tours offer something fun and unique to add to your itinerary should it meet your budget needs. Tour some of the most haunted sites in Gatlinburg and discover the mysteries behind the spirits that still haunt the town long after their deaths, while learning about the history of the area.
8. Ole Smoky Distillery
One of the oldest moonshine distilleries in production today, Ole Smoky Distillery opens its doors every day for free tours to those interested in learning more about their distilling process. There are two distilleries in Gatlinburg, The Barn and The Holler, which is the most visited distillery in America. Visitors ages 21 and over are welcomed taste available moonshine flavors.
9. Gatlin’s Fun Center
Children will enjoy mini golf, laser tag, escape games, ropes course glow-in-the-dark golf, bumper cars, laser maze, and other activities. In addition, kids can hunt for gems and bring a little souvenir home. There is no admission fee, but tickets can be purchased for each activity, or you can purchase a Fun Pass, which is good up to 10 days.
Visit one of the over 400 shops in downtown Gatlinburg and bring home gifts unique to the Smoky Mountains. There are plenty of shops to browse and places to eat in between shopping. (34)
Equipped with this list of free or budget-friendly things to do, along with reasonably priced restaurants and cheap hotels in Gatlinburg, you can enjoy the best of Gatlinburg. (28)