So you have a day (or better yet, a few days) to spend in Gatlinburg, and you need a few free or low-cost items to add to your list. Where to start? While there are plenty of great ways to spend your money in Gatlinburg, you don’t have to break the bank to soak up the best of the Smoky Mountains. Get ready for a big-scale adventure with a tiny out-of-pocket expense as you plan your itinerary around some of these experiences.
1. Go Tubing or Whitewater Rafting with Smoky Mountain River Rat
The first item on our list isn’t free, but it’s an incredible value for an experience you will never forget. The secret here is to book a day pass, whether you’re into tubing or whitewater rafting. Adult day passes go for about $20, and that includes all-day tubing from two different outposts. If you’re in the area or staying for multiple days, a season pass might be the best bet; it’s just $70 per adult for the entire season. Rates are even lower for kids.
2. Go Hiking
Hiking trails are abundant in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and no entry fee is charged to hit the trails. You will want to stop at the visitor center to pick up a trail map or use an app like All Trails to select the trail that’s right for you and track your progress. Whether you’re an avid hiker looking for a challenge or an adventurous but indoorsy person who wants a short trail with a satisfying view, you’ll find something here.
3. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains Arts & Crafts Community
The Smoky Mountains are rooted in craftsmanship and determination; pioneers in the area used their hands and skills to forge a life in often forbidding terrain, and they’ve passed that heritage on. Today’s craftsmen and artisans in the area specialize in a huge variety of media.
You can spend an entire day (or more) traversing the 8-mile Arts & Crafts Community Loop. This route features the work of artisans from around the Smoky Mountains. You’ll find chefs serving up their culinary masterpieces (this part isn’t free), studios showcasing local artists’ work, potters, quilters, furniture makers, ceramicists, and more. Many stops along the arts & crafts “trail” also offer DIY experience options that you can add on to put your own creative flair to work.
4. Stop by the Ole Smoky Distillery
Take a guided tour of The Holler, the Ole Smoky Distillery located in Gatlinburg. You’ll learn about the fascinating history of America’s most-visited moonshine distillery. This tour is only for visitors aged 13 and up (and tasting for those of legal drinking age, of course). The tour does include a tasting for the 21+ visitors. Want to skip the tour? Just stop by to look around. The distillery offers moonshine tastings for $5.
5. Go on a Photo Op Scavenger Hunt
Gatlinburg is chock-full of photo ops. Go on a scavenger hunt for the best ones you can find with your family, and you’ll end up seeing nooks and crannies of the town you might never have encountered otherwise. You’re also practically guaranteed to come out of it with some very well-documented memories. Want a guided scavenger hunt for your team? Look up Gatlinburg Scavenger Hunt apps and you’ll find several that give your team clues and riddles to get you started.
6. Visit Gatlinburg SkyPark
Price: $36 for ages 12-64, less for seniors and juniors
The best way to take in the mountains is from way up high. That’s where Gatlinburg SkyPark comes in. Go on a ride in an incredible chairlift ascending 1,800 feet from the center of Gatlinburg to the start of the SkyBridge, North America’s longest pedestrian cable bridge. The sights along the way are breathtaking, and the SkyBridge itself is an experience you won’t soon forget. Kids under 5 ride free.
7. Enjoy a Tasting at Little Bear Winery
Little Bear Winery is a beautiful place to visit, and it would be worth your time even if they didn’t offer free wine tasting to those of legal drinking age. But they do! Stop by for a free sample of one of the vintages Little Bear has to offer. Little Bear is pet-friendly, family-friendly, and offers outdoor seating and ciders in addition to a variety of local wines.
8. Go Ice Skating or Alpine Sliding at Ober Gatlinburg
Get your camera ready to take some incredible photos while riding the Ober Gatlinburg Tram, then hop over to the Alpine Slide, the Wildlife Habitat, the ice skating rink, or the Tennessee Flyer, an outdoor roller coaster you control yourself. It’s just $30 to ride the tram, or $50 each for a wristband that allows access to all activities. This may not be free, but it’s a great value to keep your entire group adventuring all day.
When looking for inexpensive activities in the Smokies, you could also go for a scenic drive, find the most breathtaking roadside overlooks, or go for a bookstore or coffee shop crawl to find your favorite spot in the area. No matter what you choose, you’ll find places to slow down, breathe the mountain air, and make memories that will last a lifetime.