Top 10 things you can do in the Smokies for FREE!

John Oliver's Cabin in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA
John Oliver's Cabin in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA

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Vacationing on a budget can be tough. When I travel, I like to “pack” in a day that is free from both scheduling and financial obligations. Luckily, there are plenty of fun, free things to do in the Smokies.

For the outdoorsy type:

1. Take a Hike!

From natural falls to chimney tops and coves, there are several trails to explore around the Smoky Mountains. The trails in this area can scratch the itch of a real hiking enthusiast or a novice like me, who prefers more of a low risk, high reward situation. There are many trails within The Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the only free – and most visited – national park in the United States. Note that black bears are indigenous to this area, so be sure to know what to do if you see one.

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Location: 1420 Little River Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 (Visitor’s Center)

Hours: Varies by season

Gatlinburg Overlook, Gatlinburg, TN

Photo by Alaina O’Neal/

2. Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook

If you want the view without the hike, take the bypass on your way into Gatlinburg for an iconic view of the Smoky Mountains. This view is considered a “must” for newcomers to the area, and one of my personal favorites. From the outlook, you will see the entire town of Gatlinburg with a beautiful mountain backdrop. It’s a great opportunity to have a fun photoshoot and get lots of insta-love.

Hours: Open 24 hours

3. Douglas Lake

Douglas Lake is located along the hills of the Smoky Mountains and just a few miles from Pigeon Forge. This lake stretches across more than 550 miles of shoreline with many marinas and boat ramps. It’s a popular fishing lake and just so happens to be where I caught my very first bluegill. If you’re in the sans-boat club, there are many public beaches to swim in and have a picnic.

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Hours: Varies by season

4. Clingman’s Dome

This observation tower is the highest point of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sitting 6,643 feet high. On a clear day, you can see for more than 100 miles. There is a hike to get to the dome, and while it is paved, be aware that it is quite steep.  

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Location: 7 miles off US-441, about 19.6 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center

Hours: Varies by season

Buckboard-Cades Cove, Tennessee

5.  Cade’s Cove

Cade’s Cove is an 11-mile drivable loop and a huge tourist attraction in the Smokies. Surrounded by mountains, it offers gorgeous views and an opportunity to see the local wildlife. Along the trail you will find churches, a working mill, log houses and restored eighteenth century structures rich in East Tennessee history.

See Also: An Insider’s Guide to Cades Cove in 7 Easy Tips

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Location: Cades Cove Loop Road, Townsend, TN 37882

Hours: Varies by season

For the indoorsy type:

While many of these next options may be free, there will also be some temptation to spend money. (Can’t say I didn’t warn you.)

1.  Little River Railroad Museum

Located in Townsend, this little railroad museum is rich in history. It was built in 1982 to preserve the heritage of the people and companies of the Little River Lumber Company and the Little River Railroad. While the museum is free, donations are accepted to support this non-profit.  

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Location: 7747 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882

Hours: Mon-Sat: 10-5; Sun: 1-5

2.  Visit the Old Mill Square

The mill has been in operation since the 1800s, and today it is one of the oldest continually operating gristmills in the country. Around the mill you will find restaurants, shopping and a distillery. You may explore the area for free, and a guided tour is only $3.

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Location: 175 Old Mill Avenue Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Hours: Varies by season

3.  Outlet Shopping

Pigeon Forge has a great selection shopping in Tanger Outlets. I must warn you that temptation to splurge will be present, because this outlet center features more than 3,000 brand name outlet stores which will keep you busy shopping all day long.  

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Location: 1645 Parkway Ste 960, Sevierville, TN 37862

Hours: Mon- Sat 9-9; Sun: 9-7

The Gatlinburg Wine Cellar

Photo by Alaina O’Neal/

4.  Wine Tastings

If you enjoy wine, there are many places in the area that offer free samples. Apple Barn Winery, Gatlinburg Wine Cellar and Mountain Valley Vineyards are just a few of the options for free wine samples. While it can be trickier to find free moonshine tastings, many distilleries offer moonshine sample sets for as little as $5. (After all, it may be a sin to leave the Smokies without sampling a little moonshine.) Free tastings are typically limited to about four samples, and remember that tipping is always appreciated. Be sure to check hours for tour availability.

Hours: Varies by location

Ferris Wheel at the Island in Pigeon Forge

5.  The Island in Pigeon Forge

There’s a lot to do on The Island — and admission and parking are free! While looking has no cost, this is another one that I must warn you will be tempting to spend some money. There are many restaurants and snack shops to sample (including my personal favorite, Ole Smoky), and while you’re not eating or drinking, there’s plenty of unique shopping opportunities as well. It’s also pet friendly!

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Location: 131 The Island Dr, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Hours: Mon- Sat: 10-12; Sun: 10-11

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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