Hi. My name is John and I have a parking problem.
Well, it’s not so much a parking problem as it is a competition problem. I like to win.
I like to win silly little competitive games that I’ve made up in my head, games in which no one else knows they are competing.
My favorite game? Parking.
I like to pull into a full lot – say Wal-Mart on Black Friday. I want the best spot in the lot and I’m willing to waste a ridiculous amount of time to get it.
When I do get the prime spot, I declare to my family – or just to myself – that I am a parking god and all other parkers must bow before me.
I stride confidently into the store, chest thrown forward, shoulders back, just a hint of a strut. Nothing too gauche – I am a magnanimous god, after all.
If I don’t get a good spot, I pretend that I don’t care at all about parking and quickly change the subject.
I say all that to tell you this, competitive parking in Gatlinburg is a fool’s errand.
If you can find a halfway decent parking spot in Gatlinburg, you take it with a smile. Park your car, pay the price and run laughing at all the fools willing to sit in congestion for the whiff of a chance of a better spot.
“Pay?” you might ask. “My good man, where I come from we only pay to park in people’s yards at college football games.” In Gatlinburg, you pay and you like it.
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Is there free parking in Gatlinburg?
If you’re feelin’ lucky, you might find a free parking spot in Gatlinburg along River Road (more info below).
But just remember – you’ve probably got better odds of hitting it big in Vegas or seeing Blake Shelton working the fry-o-later at Ole Red’s.
Here are your main parking options in Gatlinburg:
1. Park at your hotel
To be clear, only park at the hotel if you are staying at the hotel.
When you’re staying in Gatlinburg, this is the best option. Book a hotel that includes parking in the cost. If you do this, only look at your car again when you’re ready to leave the city limits.
2. Park at a restaurant
Again, this is only an option if you plan on eating and leaving.
Restaurant parking spaces are valuable commodities, and they aren’t about to hold one while you’re down the block playing laser tag.
The Peddler, Cherokee Grill, The Park Grill, The Greenbrier and Crockett’s Breakfast Camp are a few restaurants that offer limited, free parking while you are dining there.
3. Pay to park in a garage or parking lot
This is the most realistic option.
There are several pay lots in town. If you’re comfortable doing a lot of walking, I always target the lot near Hillbilly Golf to avoid hitting the main drag traffic.
I’d rather park in the river than sit in that traffic.
If you’re planning on parking and walking the whole strip, I prefer to park at the lower end of the strip, which is built on a long incline.
It’s better to walk up the hill while you’re fresh and before having eaten a meal. Then, you just roll yourself back down to the car.
The City of Gatlinburg has two municipal parking garages, the Parkway/McMahan Parking Garage and the Aquarium Parking Garage. They are both $10 per visit at the time of this writing.
The city’s parking lots and garages in Gatlinburg include:
- McMahan Parking Garage: 366 spaces
- Ripley’s Aquarium Garage: 364 spaces
- Free Park and Ride Lot at Highway 441 Welcome Center: 145 spaces (vehicles, buses and RVs)
- Park and Ride Lot on Highway 321 at City Hall Complex: 95 spaces (parking temporarily reduced at this location)
- Highway 441 Parking Lot: 34 spaces
There are also several private paid parking lots and garages downtown. Parking rates for the Highway 441 Lot are $1 per hour.
Most parking will cost about $10 per day, but it can be as high as $20 per day during the busy season.
Rates and availability are subject to change.
4. Park and ride with the trolley
If all else fails, opt for a park and ride and take the trolley. This is often one of the most affordable options because it is free!
The trolleys run 365 days a year. Hours vary by season.
All of the trolleys stop at the Mass Transit Center at Ripely’s Aquarium.
Also, according to the city’s website, all vehicles within the transit fleet are ADA equipped.
Visitors can use the Park N Ride Lot at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center, located at 1011 Banner Road in Gatlinburg. The route departs approximately every 45 minutes.
It’s located off of the Spur before you enter town.
You can view more information and see a map of the trolley routes here.
5. Park for free at River Road
In my younger days, I’d always try to park at River Road. I even got a spot a few times – usually off-season. And then, if I didn’t, I’d park in one of the pay lots on the upper end.
There’s a risk in this, though.
The spaces in the pay lots towards the top aren’t as plentiful and in the busy season. You may find yourself having to work your way back down through traffic and settle for one of the parking garages you passed up earlier.
River Road parking spaces are located next to the river along River Road, which runs from Ripley’s Aquarium to the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Remember, Gatlinburg wasn’t built for driving. It’s a nightmare.
My recommendation, get out of the car as early and often as possible and enjoy the city the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
Where do you usually park in Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments below.