25 Free Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains
A budget friendly vacation can also be packed full of fun and great places to see. Here at The Appy Lodge in Gatlinburg we know how important it is to make the most of your time and money. We wanted to help you out by putting together some great ways to spend your vacation and save you some cash! We hope you enjoy this list of 25 free things to do in the Smoky Mountains!
1. Stop By the Gatlinburg Welcome Center
On your way into town, stop in at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center on the Gatlinburg Spur. It’s just down the road from our hotel and it’s packed full of info, locally made items, books, gifts and more. You’ll also find helpful staff and some coupons that may be helpful during your trip!
2. Participate in Annual Celebrations
From holidays to festivals there’s always something fun going on here in the Smokies and most events are free to attend. Annual parades, 4th of July fireworks, New Years Eve, Tunes and Tales, Winterfest, Springfest and more.
3. Explore the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community
Gatlinburg is home to the largest independent organization of artisans in the country and they’re all less than 10 minutes away from our hotel. The Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community is filled with incredible artists, glimpses into the Smokies and the area’s culture as well as some great spots to grab lunch and explore. Hop on the trolley or take a short drive and get to know some of the locals as they give free demonstrations of their craft.
4. Take a Hike
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is always free to explore and you’ll find countless opportunities for taking a hike of all different levels of difficulty. Take a hike to a waterfall, to a stunning view, a historical location, or take a simple walk in the woods. It’s all filled with beauty and tranquility.
5. Have a Picnic in the Park
Visit a local grocery store and grab everything that you need for a picnic or grab a to go picnic from one of the local restaurants and head into the park for a picnic. The Chimneys Picnic Area, Metcalf Bottoms, Cades Cove and Greenbrier are just a few locations with restrooms and picnic tables. However, you’ll find plenty of locations throughout the park, including just quiet spots by the river. Just keep in mind that you are in bear country so it’s important to be BearWise and Leave No Trace when you pack up to return to the hotel.
6. Ride the Trolley
From mid-June until mid-August visitors in Gatlinburg can ride the specially painted open-air shuttles daily for free from 10a.m. to 10p.m. daily. Guests at our hotel can also pick up a $2 all-day pass for the trolley that is good for all trolley routes.
7. Enjoy Tunes in Ole Smoky’s Holler
Head into the Holler for some good tunes as you explore the shops, restaurants and favorite local spots around downtown Gatlinburg.
8. Is Hiking Not Your Thing? Explore the Rocky Top Wine Trail
Many folks come to the Smoky Mountains for the mountains and hiking, many don’t and plenty roll into town looking for a nice balance of it all. If you’re wanting to experience a trail without having to lace up hiking boots, check out the Rocky Top Wine Trail. The hardest part will be trying to decide which of the wineries and wines you like best!
9. Go on a Photo Spot Scavenger Hunt
The Smoky Mountains are filled with photo op spots! From stunning views to taking a selfie with Dolly or a pit stop photo at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you’ll find plenty of places to snap a photo that will bring back memories for years to come. Make a list of locations and get it checked off before you leave town.
10. Take a Sippin’ Stroll
A sippin’ stroll through downtown Gatlinburg isn’t totally free, but most stops will only cost you $5. The fee is due to a request from the City of Gatlinburg to help keep the town family-friendly, not the distillery. So, good news is if you stop in at Sugarlands Distilling Company for a $5 round of sips, they’ll hook you up with a $5 voucher towards a purchase from their trading post. For $6 you can snag one of their amazing cocktails from their Cocktail Kitchen.
11. Visit Bush’s Baked Beans
When they’re open, Bush’s Visitor Center is a fantastic free opportunity and you’ll get to see the beautiful Dandridge area!
12. Discover the Area’s Historic Bridges
Add the Harrisburg and Emerts Cove covered bridges to your photo list! A stop at both is a great chance for a beautiful family photo and to learn a little about local history.
13. Catch the Sunrise or Sunset
The possibilities are endless for witnessing an epic sunrise or Sunset here in the Smokies! Do a little digging, find the spot you want and then kick back and enjoy the show!
14. Visit Cherokee
If you’re taking a drive along Newfound Gap Road give yourself some time to stop in at the Mountain Farm Museum next to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and to wander Cherokee, NC for a bit.
15. Take an Early Morning Walk Downtown
Wake up early, grab coffee and donut at the Donut Friar and get a glimpse into the quiet side of downtown Gatlinburg.
16. Take a Step Back in Time
Explore the history of the Smokies. Visit the historical structures, the cemeteries, Arrowmont, and more to connect with the roots of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.
17. Visit the Smokies Highest Point
Clingmans Dome, go early to avoid the crowd and take in the views from the highest spot in the Smoky Mountains and along the Appalachian Trail
18. Take a Scenic Drive
A drive along Newfound Gap Road, Foothills Parkway, Cades Cove, Roaring Fork Motor Trail and others are always filled with beauty and a sense of escaping the monotony of life.
19. Experience Cades Cove
If you’ve never been to Cades Cove, it needs to be on the list because everyone needs to go at least once. We will warn you that it only takes one time to get hooked on the most beautiful valley in east Tennessee.
20. Roam the Roaring Fork Motor Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is just outside of downtown Gatlinburg. It’s packed full of historical structures, hiking trails, cascades, waterfalls, and much more!
21. Visit a National Park Visitor Center
A trip to the Sugarlands Visitor Center on the Gatlinburg side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or a trip to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side is well worth your time. You’ll find tons of helpful info, a great shop filled with goodies and free museums that are perfect for learning more about the Smoky Mountains.
22. Check out the Mingus Mill and John P. Cable Mill
If you’re taking a trip over to Oconaluftee or into Cades Cove, stop in at the Mingus Mill and John P. Cable Mill.
23. Take a Bike Ride
Have a bike? Bring it along! Take a ride along the Cades Cove Loop and soak up your time in the mountains! From June 17th until September 30th you can enjoy the 11-mile ride vehicle free every Wednesday.
24. Tube or Kayak the River
Love connecting with the water? Take a swim, a relaxing float down the river or ride the rapids.
25. Enjoy Our Hotel’s Amenities
Speaking of swimming, take a dip in our outdoor pool that’s complete with a slide and splash pad for the little ones. Some downtime here at the hotel is free during your trip. Sit around the fire pits with friends and family at night, enjoy the indoor pool and hot tub on any day of the year and make the most of your stay with us. We offer free parking at all times and you’ll receive a free parking pass for downtown Gatlinburg upon request. Connect to our free wifi to save on your data and share your experience with loved ones back home.
If you’re ready to start planning your budget friendly vacation to the Smoky Mountains, take a minute to check out Our Guest Rooms and Our Amenities!
We hope to see you soon!
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