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 a lot.
I like to win stupid 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 and like Ahab pursuing his white whale, I want the best spot in the lot and I’m willing to waste a hell of a lot 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. It’s for suckers.
You find a halfway decent 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.
Is there free parking in Gatlinburg?
“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.
However, if you’re feelin’ lucky, you might find a free spot 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 parking options in Gatlinburg:
1. Park at your hotel
When you’re staying in Gatlinburg, this is the best option: Get 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
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.
3. Pay to park in a garage, parking lot or at a ‘Park N Ride’
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 one down by Hillbilly Golf to avoid hitting the main drag traffic. I’d rather park in the river than sit in that traffic.
Also, 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.
If all else fails, opt for a park and ride and take the trolley. The lot is free but the trolley isn’t. However, it’s still cheaper using a parking garage at just $2.50 per person.
Parking usually costs up to $20 per spot. Prices vary by season.
Parking lots include:
- McMahan Parking Garage: 366 spaces
- Ripley’s Aquarium Garage: 364 spaces
- Park and Ride Lot at Highway 441 Welcome Center: 145 spaces
- Park and Ride lot on Highway 321 at City Hall Complex: 95 spaces
- Highway 441 Parking Lot: 34 spaces
A portion of the official city of Gatlinburg map can be viewed below, you can also download the map in its entirety here.
4. Park for free at River Road (slim chance, but worth a try)
In my younger days, I’d always take a stab 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.
In conclusion, Gatlinburg wasn’t built for driving. It’s a freaking 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.