10 Seriously Free Things To Do in the Smoky Mountains – Yes, Really!

a biker rides through cades cove while others pet horses along the side of the road

Cades Cove Loop is free if you drive through without parking (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

A visit to the Smokies doesn’t have to be expensive – here’s a roundup of the best free things to do in the Smoky Mountains

Vacationing on a budget can be tough. And even if you’re planning on hitting most of the major attractions, it’s nice to build in a day that is free from financial obligations and strict schedules. But there are plenty of free things to do in Gatlinburg TN and the surrounding area of the Smoky Mountains that are family-friendly and won’t break the bank. Here are some of my top suggestions: 

PS: We’ve also made a printable version of this list here for quick reference.

The best free things to do in the Smoky Mountains include taking a scenic drive, visiting a city park, visiting the Old Mill Square, sampling moonshine and wine, walking The Island in Pigeon Forge, exploring the Arts & Crafts Community, riding the area trolley, visiting the Mountain Mall and exploring The Village Shops.

Thousand drips waterfall
The “Place of a Thousand Drips” waterfall can be found along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (photo by Brad/stock.adobe.com)

1. Take a scenic drive

The national park does not have an entrance fee. However, the National Park Service now charges visitors $5 to park for more than 15 minutes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Weekly and annual passes are also available. Still, there are plenty of drivable trails, like Cades Cove, that you can still visit without having to pay for parking at all.

In fact, there are plenty of sights to see in the Smokies without ever having to leave your car, which means the only money you’ll be spending is on gas. For example, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way loop road that covers 5.5 miles. It’s open in the spring, summer and fall. When entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, you can stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guided nature trail, which is a walking tour of a mountain farmstead and the surrounding forest. But keep in mind that if you park for more than 15 minutes, you will need a parking tag.

Also, at 5,046 feet, we have Newfound Gap Road – the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenic drive starts at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and ends at the Mountain Farm Museum in North Carolina.

mills park disc golf course sign
Mills Park has a disc golf course and a playground area (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

2. Visit a city park

The national park isn’t the only game in town. The city of Gatlinburg offers a handful of great parks for guests to enjoy. Herbert Holt Park offers a children’s fishing stream, picnic tables, a playground area and more. It’s also home to Gatlinburg’s Trout Rearing Facility, which is the state’s only municipal trout farm. Mynatt Park features tennis courts, pickleball, a children’s fishing stream, playground areas and walking trails.

Finally, Mills Park offers a disc golf course, a track, a basketball court and a playground area. Depending on which recreational activity you’re looking to enjoy, all of the parks provide an opportunity for kids to release some of their vacation energy.

old mill in pigeon forge
This historic mill has been operating since the 1800s (photo by Laura Akens/TheSmokies.com)

3. Visit the Old Mill Square

The mill at Old Mill Square has been in operation since the 1800s, and today it is one of the oldest continually operating gristmills in the country. Around the mill, you will find restaurants, shopping and a distillery. The area is free to explore. However, you might be tempted to pull out your wallet to try some of the delicious restaurants nearby. Parking, if you can find a spot, is free. The Old Mill Square is located at Old Mill St, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863.

The Holler at Ole Smoky Gatlinburg Musicians
Ole Smoky also occasionally has free music (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

4. Sample wine and moonshine

If you enjoy wine or moonshine, many places in the area offer free samples. Although, tipping is generally recommended. The Apple Barn Winery, Gatlinburg Wine Cellar and Mountain Valley Vineyards are just a few of the options for free wine samples. While it can be trickier to find moonshine tastings in downtown Gatlinburg that are completely free, many distilleries offer moonshine sample sets for as little as $5-$7, like Ole Smoky Moonshine and Sugarlands. Distilleries throughout Pigeon Forge mostly feature free parking. If partaking in downtown Gatlinburg you will likely have to pay to park in one of the nearby lots.

island show fountain in pigeon forge
The Island is completely free to visit and also has free parking (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Visit The Island in Pigeon Forge

There’s a lot to do on The Island, and admission and parking are completely free. While looking around, enjoying the Island Show Fountain and sitting back in a nice rocking chair has no cost, it may be tempting to spend some money while you’re there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. As a bonus, it’s also pet-friendly, but individual shops rules will vary. The Island at Pigeon Forge is located at 131 The Island Dr, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863. Parking is free and there is a complimentary trolley that goes between the lot and the shops.

glades center in the arts and crafts community of gatlinburg
The Arts and Crafts Community is one of Gatlinburg’s iconic features (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

6. Explore the Arts and Crafts Community

The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community consists of more than 100 shops spread over the 8-mile Loop Road. Reportedly, they make up the largest group of independent artisans in North America. Whether you’re looking for homemade snacks, pottery, quilts or candles, it’s a fun and unique area to explore in Gatlinburg. Parking is free. The Arts and Crafts Community is located at 668 Glades Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

The Gatlinburg trolley
The trolley offers a free way to get around Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Take a ride on the Gatlinburg Trolley

The Gatlinburg Trolley runs 365 days a year for a free way to explore and get around Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas. To ride, simply board the trolley at any stop in the city and ride to your destination. For a map of trolley routes, visit the city website.

the top of the gatlinburg space needle
Take in the sights by walking the strip in downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

8. Walk the Gatlinburg strip

Gatlinburg offers several unique, local shops and attractions to explore and fill your day. Of course, the attractions and eateries will require some money, and so will downtown parking, but it’s free to look and do some people-watching.

mountain mall gatlinburg
The Mountain Mall has several locally owned shops (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

9. Visit the Mountain Mall

The Mountain Mall is conveniently located downtown across Ripley’s Aquarium. It features locally owned shops that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Again, you may be temped to spend some money, but it’s just a fun place to explore. It feels like a mini mountain mall lost in time. The Mountain Mall is located at 611 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. Unless you’re staying in downtown Gatlinburg, you’ll likely have to pay for parking in a nearby lot.

Bonediggity Barkery & Gifts
The Village offers unique shops such as Bonediggity Barkery & Gifts, which sells gifts, toys and apparel for your favorite furry friend (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

10. Visit The Village in Gatlinburg

Speaking of shopping, another area you don’t want to miss is The Village. The Village is indistinctly European with touches of Swiss, German, Celtic, English and French. It’s the perfect place to do your shopping and dining. Also, it’s a great getaway from the more neon elements of tourism in the area. Pro-Tip: Don’t skip on the Pancake Pantry – it’s an area icon! The Village is located at 634 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

Do you agree with our list? What are your favorite free things to do in the area while on vacation? Let us know in the comments!


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