Top 10 attractions, things to do in the Smoky Mountains for free

Water wheel and old mill in the woods

In Cades Cove, you will find historic structures like this water wheel and old mill. Cades Cove is free to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains (stock photo)

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Vacationing on a budget can be tough. And even if you’re planning on hitting most of the major attractions, it’s nice to build in a day that is free from financial obligations and strict schedules.

Luckily, there are lots of free things to do in the Smoky Mountains that are family-friendly and won’t break the bank. Here’s our top suggestions: 

The Gatlinburg overlook
The Gatlinburg overlook is located off the bypass between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

10. Visit the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook

If you want some great views of the Smoky Mountains without the hike, take the bypass on your way into Gatlinburg for an iconic view of the Smoky Mountains.

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 to fill your social media accounts.

This excursion won’t take up too much of your day, but it’s a great way to start your trip.

9. Visit 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 marinas and boat ramps.

It’s a popular lake to go fishing, swimming, boating or go on a picnic.

Fun fact: Douglas Lake is also the area where Bald Eagles are released from the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary at Dollywood (when they are of age and releasable).

8.  Visit the Old Mill Square

The mill at the Old Mill Square 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. The area is free to explore, but you can also purchase a guided tour is only $3.

Read Also: The Old Mill Shops of Pigeon Forge, everything you need to know 

Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains
The observation deck of Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains (stock photo)

7. See 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.  

As with everything in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome is free.

Clingmans Dome is open year-round, but Clingmans Dome Road closes in the winter and under certain weather conditions.

Read Also: The controversy of Clingmans Dome, the observation tower that weathered the media storm

6.  Do the Cade’s Cove Loop

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.

It’s a popular place to explore, ride bikes and enjoy picnics.

Along the trail you will find churches, a working mill, log houses and restored eighteenth century structures rich in East Tennessee history.

Read Also: How to visit Cades Cove, 7 things to know before you go

5.  Visit the 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.

This museum is open seasonally. But during the off season, the grounds and outdoor exhibits are still available.

To learn more or check the current hours, visit their website.

The Apple Barn
The Apple Barn in Sevierville is free to explore and sample wine (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

4.  Taste wine and moonshine

If you enjoy wine or moonshine, 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. 

Free tastings are typically limited to about four samples, and remember that tipping is always appreciated. Be sure to check hours for tour availability.

If you want to upgrade your tasting experience, you can also opt for a full moonshine and wine tour.

For your money, you’ll get insider tips from a guide, a free gift from local wineries and of course, complimentary tastings. The tours last 4-5 hours.

3.  Visit The Island in Pigeon Forge

There’s a lot to do on The Island, and admission and parking are free!

While looking around and enjoying the water show while sitting back in a nice rocking chair has no cost, it may be tempting to spend some money while you’re here.

As a bonus, it’s also pet friendly. (Individual shops will vary).

2.  Go outlet shopping in Sevierville or Gatlinburg

Tanger Outlets is one of the best places to shop in Sevierville. You could easily spend an entire day at Tanger window shopping and finding deals. 

If you venture up toward Gatlinburg, there are lots of unique, local shops to explore and fill your day.

1. Take a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The hands-down best way to enjoy a Smoky Mountain vacation for free is through outdoor activities.

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.

Whether you’re finding a fairy house or a troll bridge, make sure you practice the principles of Leave No Trace when you visit the Smokies.

Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments!

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 info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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