How To Visit Gatlinburg on a Budget: 11 Tips

downtown gatlinburg with pedestrian crossing sign

There are many ways to spend a day in Gatlinburg without breaking the bank (photo by Morgan Overholt/

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Gatlinburg is an idyllic mountain village designed to vacuum tourists’ money directly from their pockets while distracting them with scenic views, pancakes and bear-themed tchotchkes.

With all this money vacuuming going on, it can be hard to know where to start for your vacation budget.

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How much does a trip to Gatlinburg cost?

The final number of how much you could spend on a trip to Gatlinburg is completely dependent on your activities.

There are probably a million factors: Where you stay, how much you eat out, how many attractions you see and do, the list goes on.

But not everything in Gatlinburg costs an arm and a leg, there’s still plenty to do for a family on a budget.

Here are some of the best ways to enjoy a mountain getaway without breaking the bank.

The Gatlinburg trolley
The Gatlinburg Trolley is one of the most cost-effective ways to get around Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/

11. Ride the trolley

Traffic in Gatlinburg can be a nightmare sometimes. Getting around town and back and forth to Pigeon Forge can eat up your gas budget pretty quickly.

The trolley system can get you around town and serve as a scenic tour.

And the best part is that visitors and residents can ride the trolley without fares or fees, 365 days a year.

To view the current trolley routes, visit the city website.

10. Go camping

I know it’s a wild concept, but people used to go to the mountains to enjoy the wilderness.

There are some great campgrounds around Gatlinburg, but Camp LeConte Luxury Outdoor Resort is a great one.

While there are options for campers or RVs, there are also primitive campsites available where you can pitch a tent and experience a little more of the mountain life.

LeConte also offers pre-set-up campers, tents and luxury treehouses but those experiences, while not expensive, wouldn’t be considered budget options.

The nice part about staying in a campground? It becomes part of the experience.

Cooking out at night, spending the day at the pool or exploring your temporary community, a family vacation camping will be a lot more memorable than a couple of nights at the Hampton Inn.

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg is one of the most affordable attractions in town (photo by Morgan Overholt/

9. Check out the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

How many salt and pepper shaker museums are in the United States?

Not very many, if there are any at all. But Gatlinburg’s Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is one of only a handful of salt and pepper shaker galleries in the country, and it features a collection of over 20,000 shaker sets and 1,500 pepper mills from around the world.

Admission is only $3, which can be used toward a purchase in the gift shop.

The museum is definitely an interesting stop on your Gatlinburg vacation.

Read Also: Is the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg Worth It?

Outhouse mini golf obstacle at Hillbilly Golf Gatlinburg
Hillbilly Golf is an iconic mini-golf destination in Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/

8. Try a game of mini golf

When vacationing on a budget, you’ve got to factor time into your activity value equation.

Sure, go karts and laser tag can be fun. But they’re over quickly and you’ve spent your budget and have a lot of time left to sit and watch traffic.

Mini golf, however, can take some time.

Plus, many of the courses offer reduced rates if you play more than 18 holes.

You can have a lot of fun swinging your club like Chi-Chi Rodriquez after every putt and get some real value for your money.

Ripley's interactive elements on the inside of the aquarium
Ripley’s Aquarium has several interactive areas for the younger members of the family (photo by Alaina O’Neal/

7. Bundle your tickets

If you decide to try some mini golf, consider bundling your tickets and try some Ripley’s attractions in the area.

Did you know that Gatlinburg has more Ripley’s attractions than anywhere else in the world? And when you bundle your tickets, you can save up to $45 and visit Ripley’s Aquarium plus three other attractions.

Currently, that’s $79.99 per adult or $47.99 per child for four attractions, which can really stretch your vacation dollar. For attractions other than the aquarium, you can choose from:

  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium
  • Ripley’s Moving Theater
  • Ripley’s Mirror Maze
  • Ripley’s Haunted Adventure
  • Ripley’s Super Fun Zone (Laser tag or indoor mini golf)
  • Ripley’s Mountain Coaster (One ride)
  • Ripley’s Super Fun Park (One hour unlimited rides)
  • Old Mac Mini Golf
  • Davy Crocket Mini Golf

If you are interested in other attractions in the area, be sure to also check out our coupons page.

6. People watch

This isn’t something I’d advise for families because kids haven’t developed the necessary filters to covertly people-watch.

Plus, they’ll get bored and run into traffic.

But for the more seasoned among us, get a drink, maybe some popcorn, find a spot on a bench on the strip and watch the waves of humanity roll by.

I’m in my 40s. I’ve spent the better part of my life at various functions, amusing the hell out of myself with sarcastic comments, observations and general churlishness that I would never dare utter aloud.

Go watch some people.

But, a word of warning, keep your poker face on at all times. If you’ve got a particularly expressive mug, someone might catch on, and you don’t want that kind of trouble.

Elkmont Winery in Gatlinburg
The Elkmont Winery is a good spot for wine tasting in Gatlinburg (photo by Marie Graichen/

5. Sample moonshine and wine

Moonshine is a staple of East Tennessee culture, and the best part is, it’s quite affordable to partake in some sampling.

Moonshine tasting is about $5 in Gatlinburg, which will go toward a purchase in most places.

There are a few wineries that will offer free samples, but I still recommend tipping your servers.

Of course, the hard part will be leaving without buying your own weight in ‘shine or wine.

glades center in the arts and crafts community
The Arts and Crafts Community has locally-made food, jewelry, pottery and more (photo by Bill Burris/

4. Explore the Arts and Crafts Community

The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community boasts more than 100 shops with regionally made items spread over the 8-mile loop.

This is where you can buy anything from art like paintings and sculptures to candy, pottery, rugs, tapestries, leatherworks, jewelry and more.

Plus, there’s plenty of free parking and it’s not too far from downtown Gatlinburg.

cabin in cades cove
Explore some historic cabins in Cades Cove (photo by Morgan Overholt/

3. Plan a day in Cades Cove

Cades Cove is another popular “loop” in the region.

In fact, it’s one of the most popular destinations in the national park. It’s a great way to visit the park, and you don’t really even have to get out of your car.

So why is it so popular? It’s where you can see wildlife like black bears, turkeys and deer. It has beautiful mountain views, trails, picnic areas and historic churches and cabins.

Read Also: Cades Cove Loop: 7 Tips Including How Long It Takes, Best Time To Go

bamboo forest
The Cherokee National Forest is in western North Carolina (photo by Wildnerdpix/

2. Plan a day in North Carolina

The North Carolina side of the mountains is commonly underrated. It’s arguably less crowded than its Tennessee counterpart, but just as scenic.

In North Carolina, you can visit The Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum, visit the Oconaluftee Islands Park or maybe see some elk.

group hikes along road to clingmans dome
A family hikes to Clingmans Dome (photo by Dr. Candi Overholt/

1. Go hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Look, I shouldn’t have to tell you this one. One of the great natural wonders of the world is right there at your fingertips, get out and enjoy.

Hike. Fish. Explore.

Not sure where to start? Visit one of the area’s visitor centers for inspiration.

Our family used to ride through the park and pick a random roadside mountain peak. We’d park and see who could climb to the top fastest. Splash in the streams.

All of the stuff back in town is fun but the whole reason Gatlinburg exists as a destination is in the forests of that park.

We’ve written about dozens of places you can go and things you can do.

Find a picnic area; get some hot dogs and some charcoal and watermelon for dessert. You wouldn’t do any better or make any more memories if you were in the fanciest restaurant in town.

If you want to see the iconic spots, visit a place like Clingmans Dome, which is the highest point in the Smokies.

While the national park has no entrance fee, remember that you will need a valid parking tag. Still, it’s an affordable outing compared to 99.9% of the other attractions in the area.

Read Also: A Simple Guide to Smoky Mountain Parking Passes, Park it Forward

What are your tips for a budget-friendly Gatlinburg vacation? Let us know in the comments!

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for LLC – the parent company of and

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