5 Smoky Mountain Towns You Can Actually Afford To Live In, Tourist Free

river with trees and newport sign in newport, tennessee

Newport can be a good community to live in that is close to the Smoky Mountains (photo by Dan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Local lists best places to live that are near the mountains and away from tourists

I’ve spent the better part of the last 30 years living in communities up and down East Tennessee. Therefore, I’m familiar with more than my share of mountain towns. I’ve run the roads from Copperhill to Jonesborough. I know the difference between Turtletown and Ducktown, between Limestone, Ballplay, Mohawk and Mosheim. Do you want a relatively affordable spot in the mountains near Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge? This is the list for you.

The mountains of East Tennessee can be a wonderful and beautiful place to live. But that beauty can come at a price. In general, the cost of living in Tennessee is fairly affordable compared to other parts of the country, but as you get nearer to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the cost of living – especially housing – jumps up.

5 affordable places to live in the Smoky Mountains

The key is finding the right combination of mountain living. One that offers the scenic beauty you want but is outside the tourism bubble of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. For example, you might think Wears Valley would be a worthy inclusion on the list, but housing is an issue. There is so much competition for condos and Airbnbs that the median house value in Wears Valley has more than tripled in 25 years. Currently, the median home value in Wears Valley is $60,000 above the state average. While the cost-of-living index, according to City-Data.com is less than the U.S. average, it’s more than some other mountain community options.

the townsend wye
The Townsend Wye is located in Blount County (photo by Scenic Media/stock.adobe.com)

1. Wildwood, Tennessee

Friends, welcome to the place where I grew up. Wildwood is a small community on the eastern edge of Blount County. It is located not far from the Sevier County line and Seymour, but everyone who lives in Wildwood takes their business into nearby Maryville, a thriving community that has grown massively in the years since I lived there and is now one of the preferred bedroom communities for Knoxville.

Folks, if you want to balance rural living with access to things to do, it’s going to be hard to beat Wildwood. Now, would I call Wildwood a mountain community? I would not. But, it’s hilly and the mountains are nearby. You’re about 20 minutes from Townsend, 30 minutes from Wears Valley and 40 minutes to Pigeon Forge. It’s also about 40 minutes to Knoxville, depending on your destination.

According to bestplaces.net, the cost of living in Wildwood is 7.6% below the national average, better than Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. If you want to be a little closer to the mountains, consider nearby Walland. Has about the same stats as Wildwood but moves you closer to the Smokies and Townsend.

The Courthouse Newport TN
The Courthouse in Newport, Tennessee (photo by Dan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Newport, Tennessee

Trust me when I say this, the inclusion of Newport on the list is going to draw some attention from native Tennesseans, including at least one of the owners of this blog, a Cocke County native. But friends, let me tell you, Newport is a fairly desirable location. It has easy access to a pair of interstates and is near some of the coolest spots in the mountains including both Max Patch and Hot Springs, North Carolina. 

The cost of living, per 24/7 Wall Street is $31,586 a year, which is $3,000 less than the Tennessee national average and $7,000 less than the national average. The website bestplaces.net indicates that Newport’s cost of living is 24.5% below the national average.

Then why, you might ask, would anyone be shocked? Well, friends, Newport has something of a reputation. Back when we moved here in 1989, we were told quite explicitly never to stop in Cocke County. The place has a long history of a certain viewpoint of what you’d call traditional law enforcement and, well, laws in general. Let’s call it a more malleable attitude. Newport was a mountain community that embraced its own ways – which included a lot of stealing tourists’ cars for chop shops, cockfighting and moonshine operations. Was local law enforcement cracking down on these endeavors? No, not so much as participating in them.

However, in the mid-2000s there was a concentrated effort to clean things up with the help of the federal government and at least the chop shops and cockfighting rings were shut down … mostly. With this in mind, the property crime rate is high, so maybe invest in a good security system for your car. But I really wouldn’t hesitate too much on that count. I know lots of people who live in Newport who haven’t been bothered. I think the numbers are skewed.

So, to me, Newport is kind of an interesting little town with pretty mountain views and a couple of good restaurants. But what Newport has going best for it is easy access to much of the rest of the region. It’s a good place from which to launch a lot of East Tennessee mountain adventures. 

Margarette Falls Greene County TN
Margarette Falls Trail is located at 1362 Mission Road in Greeneville, Tennessee (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

3. Greeneville, Tennessee 

If the crime levels in Newport scare you off, consider the somewhat more affluent Greeneville, slightly to the North. Greeneville is home to Tusculum University and has a cool downtown. There’s shopping and restaurants, though not as much as in nearby communities like Jonesborough and Morristown. Life in Greeneville is bolstered by the support of local very rich Scott Niswonger who has invested heavily in the region. The Niswonger Performing Arts Center brings a level of entertainment not typically seen in a town this size. You can also find plenty of trails, outdoor activities and even beautiful waterfalls in the Greene County area.

The biggest bonus, however, is the cost of living is 24.5% lower than the national average. The median home price is 88.1% below the national average. There are towns I like better than Greeneville, but it does have a lot going for it for the price.

Cherohala Lakeview Overlook
A view from Lake View Overlook along the Cherohala Skyway (photo by Jim Vallee/stock.adobe.com)

4. Tellico Plains, Tennessee

Let me say that Tellico is not within what we’d consider the Smoky Mountains. It is, however, in a beautiful area to the Southwest of the Nantahala National Forest. Tellico is a smaller community than Newport. You’re probably going to have to take the 20-minute drive over to Madisonville for larger shopping trips. But there are cool little restaurants, and Tellico Beach is a great hangout. There’s also almost immediate access to the Cherohala Skyway, and you can be surrounded by majestic beauty in just a few minutes’ drive. While it’s only 70 miles from Pigeon Forge, the drive takes about two hours as there’s just not a straight route.

Tellico’s cost of living is 20% lower than the national average and 11% lower than the Tennessee average.

Copperhill, Tennessee - Landscape view of a hydro electric dam lake
Landscape view of a hydroelectric dam lake in Copperhill, TN (photo by ampueroleonardo/iStockPhoto)

5. The Copper Basin

If you want that mountain feeling but aren’t too attached to the Smokies, you could always consider Copperhill. Located on the intersection of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia, Copperhill has an enjoyable, funky downtown quality. It is located about 30 miles as the crow flies from Chattanooga, one of the most underappreciated towns in the South. However, that drive takes about an hour and a half because you have to go up through Cleveland to get there. 

What does Copper Basin have going for it? The cost of living is 21.3% below the national average. The median home price is 109% lower than the national average and there is virtually no property crime. The downside, as I noted with the trip to Chattanooga, is that it’s not conveniently located. You can, however, get to Atlanta in about an hour and 45 minutes.

So, East Tennessee is full of communities in the mountains or mountain adjacent that offer affordable living options as compared to both the national average and Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The trick is to get out and explore the communities that are right for you.

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