Gatlinburg Travel Guide

USA  #3 in Best Winter Family Vacations
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Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Free Things To Do in Gatlinburg

Looking for free things to do? Here's our ranking of the best free activities in Gatlinburg. Popular attractions include Great Smoky Mountains National Parkand Great Smoky Mountains Arts & Crafts Loop.
  • #1
    Things to do in Gatlinburg
    View all Photos
    #1 in Gatlinburg
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    One of only a few national parks that do not charge an admission fee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also the most visited, welcoming more than 10 million travelers annually. The 522,427-acre park is shared by Tennessee and North Carolina with the border running through the center. In addition to hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, the park offers historical exhibits, including original Appalachian cabins, and scenic drives to popular spots like Cades Cove and the waterfalls on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. If you love seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, Cades Cove is a great place to spot deer and black bears. Start at the Sugarland Visitor Center to get an overview of the area's history and pick up trail maps, or head to what is known as "the locals entrance" at Greenbrier a little more than 2 miles east of Gatlinburg. Trailheads to Ramsay Cascades, Porter's Creek and Injun Creek start here, and it's often much less crowded than other areas of the park.

    Recent visitors raved about the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, describing it as "a must-see" with awesome views. The one-way, narrow road can be crowded in peak seasons (summer and the month of October), so reviewers advised going early in the morning, especially to hike the many trailheads that originate along the way. Many visitors recommend hiking to Grotto Falls (stop No. 5 on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail) and most were also excited to see bears and other wildlife along the route. Recent visitors also said the Cades Cove Loop is a great place for viewing wildlife, but they advise packing a lunch and drinks and to be prepared to spend a half-day or more exploring the historic cabins and sites along the way. As with the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, traffic can be heavy during peak times.

  • #3
    Great Smoky Mountains Arts & Crafts Loop
    View all Photos
    #3 in Gatlinburg
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're interested in art and authentic Appalachian crafts, you'll want to spend a day exploring the 8-mile Arts & Crafts loop in and around Gatlinburg. Watch mountain craftsmen and women make brooms, baskets and pottery or peruse the paintings, hand-blown glass and photography at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, which features five galleries with work from local, national and international artists.

    Most recent visitors said this was a great way to find special souvenirs unique to the area. Several shoppers recommended picking up the complimentary map in advance to help you decide which of the more than 100 shops and galleries to visit, and some mentioned perks like free parking and out-of-state shipping services offered by many of the stores. Although the trolley does have a route on this loop, reviewers suggested driving to avoid long waits for the trolley pick-up. Winter visitors also noted that from January through April, many stores don't offer regular hours.

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