By Leif Palmer
Posted on February 17, 2021
Yes, Gatlinburg is a tourism town, and that means it can be quite a challenge to visit and not spend any money at all. After all, hotels, restaurants, attractions are all part of the vacation experience, and they all require an exchange of currency (or plastic). But it's not impossible to find free fun in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. It's there if you just know where to look and when to look. Read on to learn about a number of things you can do on your visit to the Smokies that require no money at all to enjoy.
This six-mile motor loop starts in downtown Gatlinburg and takes you on a circular route into Great Smoky Mountains National Park and right back into the city. The scenery is beautiful year 'round, and you can stop at any number of points of interest along the way. These include historic structures like the Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin as well as trailheads to hiking destinations like Grotto Falls.
Here's another auto loop, this one on the north side of Gatlinburg, that has a lot packed into its eight mile route, formed by Buckhorn Road, Glades Road and U.S. Hwy. 321. The community is home to more than a hundred crafters and artists, who practice their trades in a wide variety of media and art forms. Look for pottery, jewelry, woodwork, leatherwork, candles, soaps, brooms, paintings, photography and many more. Of course, the merchandise isn't free, but the browsing is.
Take the Gatlinburg Bypass, from either the national park or the Spur, to this spot where motorists can pull over and look out over downtown Gatlinburg from a bird's-eye perspective. It's a remarkable sight by day, but if you make the journey at night, you'll be rewarded with a stunning view of the city's lights.
This is a local kind of thing to do, but if you're traveling with children who are holding onto excessive energy, this might be the place to go. The park has a playground and a fishing area where kids can fish for free, without a license. Also look for walking trails, picnic grills and more. Think of it as a place to get away and take a mini break from the stimulation of the family vacation.
We wish we could tell you that there's plenty of free parking in downtown Gatlinburg, but most of it is located on private businesses. However, we have seven convenient parking lot locations on or near the Parkway, and our rates are very reasonable for a full day of service. Check back here in a couple of weeks for even more free Gatlinburg activities.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in Gatlinburg. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.