Gatlinburg Tennessee is known as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. This picturesque mountain town is a gem of a vacation destination, offering visitors the best in outdoor activities and fun family attractions. Surrounded on three sides by the natural beauty of the National Park, Gatlinburg prides itself in its mountain heritage, and the arts, crafts, and retail shops of the area reflect that heritage to a large extent. There are a variety of FREE things to do in Gatlinburg too, so a trip to the Smoky Mountains can be fun and budget-friendly.

1) Clingman’s Dome: At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The outdoor attraction is a short drive from Gatlinburg through the national park, and although there is a steep ½ mile hike to the top lookout, views can also be enjoyed from the base of the parking lot area. However, to fully experience the area, the hike is recommended.

2) Gatlinburg Festivals: The City of Gatlinburg presents a variety of festivals throughout the year, including Gatlinburg Winter Magic, Gatlinburg Springfest and Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales, among many other exciting festivals that are completely free.

3) Great Smoky Mountain Arts and Crafts Community: This historic 8-mile loop is home to the largest group of independent artisans in North America. Established in 1937, this area has been designated a Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail. Visitors will find artisans creating unique and treasured pieces, including pottery, glass, leather, paintings, candles and many other varied crafts. A visit to this Gatlinburg community is absolutely free, and only costs something if you decide to buy.

4) Shopping in the Smokies: Downtown Gatlinburg is home to over 400 shops and 5 malls. The area is reminiscent of old-style villages and the shops are stocked with unique treasures you can only find in the Smoky Mountains. Strolling through downtown Gatlinburg is fun and free. Of course, it might be hard to pass up some of the great deals and unique finds.

5) Cades Cove: Cades Cove is a scenic 11-mile one-way loop located in a lush valley that is surrounded by mountains. It features abundant wildlife, historic buildings that date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and hiking, biking and horseback riding facilities are available.6) Newfound Gap Road: Newfound Gap Road is the only mountain route that completely traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 33-mile drive from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina takes visitors through the heart of the mountains and is one of the area’s top rated “auto-touring” routes.

7) Gatlinburg Space Needle: This attraction towers over downtown Gatlinburg at 407 feet and provides spectacular views of the mountain area. There is a small admission fee of $8.50 for adults and $4 for children.

8) Roaring Fork Motor Trail: This trail is located just outside of Gatlinburg and is another great “auto-touring opportunity. It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well- preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings. It is a favorite of Smoky Mountain visitors.

9) Hiking: There are more than 800 miles of hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, many of which lead to fantastic scenic views, historic homesteads, natural creations and splendid waterfalls that are simply breathtaking. With over 50 marked trails, visitors find something new to explore each time they visit. A few to choose from include Abrams Fall Trail, Laurel Falls Trail, Rainbow Falls, Chimney Tops Trail and Cove Mountain Trail.

10) Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill: This historic area is located about 30 miles outside of Gatlinburg and features a unique collection of farm buildings assembled from locations throughout the park. Visitors can explore a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago.

11) 2nd Day Free at Dollywood: If you’re in the area and visit Dollywood, located in neighboring Pigeon Forge, take advantage of the 2nd Day Free program. Guests that arrive after 3pm on the first day, get their next day FREE!  ( This offer is not valid on multi-day tickets.  During Smoky Mountain Christmas festival, the arrival time for free entry is after 6pm.)

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Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Gatlinburg to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know. Before you pack your bags, get the latest scoop on Gatlinburg vacations from Ashley.