6 Clever Things To Do in Gatlinburg When You’re on a Budget

kids in splash pad area

Exploring downtown Gatlinburg does not always have to break the bank (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Local offers ideas on the best things to do for (almost) free in the Smoky Mountains

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.

The amount of money you spend on a trip to Gatlinburg will depend on many factors. Where you stay and eat and how many attractions you visit play a big role. However, there are many activities that do not cost much money, like hiking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or visiting the area’s famous Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. Guests also love exploring the local and thriving crafts community or visiting old homesteads around Cades Cove.

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.

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

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.

Find a picnic area and 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.

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/TheSmokies.com)

2. 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.

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

3. Walk around downtown and sample spirits

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/TheSmokies.com)

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/TheSmokies.com)

5. 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.

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

6. Drive to 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.

Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains? Be sure to check out our coupons page for area promos.

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