GATLINBURG, TN – Gatlinburg is a small town with just more than 4,200 permanent residents. The scenic location entices hundreds of thousands of guests each year. The downtown area provides visitors with plenty of shopping, dining, entertainment, and fun attractions.
What you may not know, is that Gatlinburg is a great place to explore and have a good time for free. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great time in Gatlinburg.
Here is My Smoky Mountain Guide’s list of “7 Absolutely Free Things to Do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee”.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail | Photo: ©Ann Bowman
1. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is one of the most beautiful mountain drives you will ever enjoy. This one-way paved trail is just five minutes from downtown Gatlinburg, although it isn’t hard to imagine that you are miles away.
You will go back in time as you drive through this historic area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along the way, you may stop and explore the Noah “Bud” Ogle place, Jim Bales Place, and others, or hike to one of the waterfalls.
Rainbow Falls Trail and Trillium Gap Trail are both accessible from Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
2. Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community
Gatlinburg is home to the largest group of independent arts and crafts artisans in North America. Peppered along an 8-mile loop called the Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail, this community of craftsmen/women will amaze you as they work.
Spend a day visiting the diverse shops and watch as the artisans create the handmade items sold in their stores. The various types of crafts include basket weaving, leather crafts, ceramics, candles, quilts, jewelry, paintings, photography, and much more.
Once you have worked up an appetite from all the perusing, stop at one or two of the cafes along the route and enjoy a meal or some homemade candy.
3. Family Lunch at Greenbrier Picnic Area
The Greenbrier Picnic Area is located inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not far from downtown Gatlinburg.
Pack a picnic basket and bring along some charcoal. Feel free to fire up one of the twelve grills next to the picnic tables and enjoy lunch in the wilderness. The area is gorgeous and the Little Pigeon River is close by; so are restrooms.
Spend the day hiking one of the nearby trails or just relax next to the river. Picnics are a great way to get away from the Gatlinburg crowds and see nature.
4. Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales (Summer)
Each summer, Gatlinburg plays host to an evening street festival of music, dance, storytelling, and entertainment called Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales.
Costumed performers fill the streets and turn the downtown area into one big stage. Watch cloggers do their thing and listen to strolling musicians play the old mountain music.
Walk the downtown streets and enjoy live performances all summer long from 6:00pm to 11:00pm.
5. Hike Gatlinburg Trail
Gatlinburg is close to hundreds of hiking trails; however, Gatlinburg Trail is the closest one to the city with easy access. Gatlinburg Trail is a beautiful walk along the banks of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
A small walking bridge takes you over the river and past the remains of an old cabin; the brick chimney is still standing. For the more adventurous, don’t end your hike until you walk a little further to Cataract Falls.
This is only one of two trails in the GSMNP that allow you to bring your dog. You can hike the entire trail, out and back, in about two hours.
6. Riverwalk at Little Pigeon River
You may walk the sidewalks of Gatlinburg or you can walk the Riverwalk along the Little Pigeon River. This walkway is a refreshing alternative to the sidewalks and gets you a little close to nature.
Sit on a bench by the river or hide from the sun in one of the gazebos on the path.
7. Tour a Moonshine Distillery
Since the state of Tennessee made moonshine legal back in 2010, a number of distilleries have opened across the state. Gatlinburg is home to more than its fair share of distilleries.
Ole Smoky Moonshine is the state’s first legal distillery and they have a location in downtown Gatlinburg. See a working still and watch the process of making moonshine.
Sugarlands Distilling Company offers free tours, free live music, and a free Smoky Mountain film exhibit. Sugarlands is the #1 Thing to Do in Gatlinburg on TripAdvisor.