The Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the top visited locations in America, attracting millions each year. Gatlinburg Tennessee serves as the gateway to these majestic mountains; here you can explore free things to do like hiking, exploring, moonshine tasting, and water parks - it all awaits!
Since we recently explored Tennessee Smoky Mountains for the first time and had such an amazing time there, we are already planning another visit this summer. There is so much to see and explore that I want to bring along my entire family too. Today I will share all of the free things to do there as well as all of its popular spots.
Where to Stay
Wilderness at the Smokies hosted us; they were the perfect place to stay for our Spring Break. Its location close to Pigeon Forge is great, and there is so much to do at the resort! If you didn’t want to leave, you could have a great vacation just enjoying the amenities at the resort.
Wilderness at the Smokies brings an innovative new fun concept to your Smoky Mountain vacation! Their waterparks are included with your stay. Such as Lake Wilderness and Salamander Springs outdoor waterparks and Tennessee's Largest Indoor Waterpark: Wild WaterDome! I highly recommend its indoor park for year-round adventures. I loved its see-through roof that allowed the sun to still come through. While keeping cooler air at bay, our kids especially loved its indoor wave pool, waterslides, Flowrider, and Play n' Spray structure! Also noteworthy is that their Wild WaterDome will soon feature a lazy river, a water coaster ride, and a rooftop pool. Something I couldn't enjoy when staying elsewhere!
Arcade Games at Wilderness at the Smokies
Ropes course at Wilderness at the Smokies
In addition to the waterparks, the kids also loved the resort’s Adventure Forest, it offers family adventure center features, including a 3-story ropes course, rock climbing wall, laser tag arena, blacklight minigolf course, mini bowling alley, and mega arcade - and as soon as Fall rolls around this area will host Tennessee's inaugural cloud coaster ride!
Our suite was an ideal option, featuring two beds in one room with an attached bathroom and connecting family room featuring a pull-down Murphy bed, fireplace, and full kitchen. Making this suite an excellent choice for our family of 4. Upon returning from swimming and adventuring throughout the day, my children loved being able to eat dinner in their PJs by the fireside!
Top Free Attractions in Tennessee Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove. We had an enjoyable drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park; one of the most visited national parks and an excellent way to experience nature! Our family found it the perfect way to explore the mountains. An 11-mile loop road offers breathtaking scenery and allows us to stop every mile at parking areas with walking trails leading directly to historic buildings. From 1800s family homes and churches to Cades Cove Historical Grist Mill and more - we had the chance to discover and learn about the rich mountain's history. One of our favorite stops provided ample open spaces where deer were roaming freely - perfect for running around and taking advantage of all that fresh mountain air and scenery! And best of all: there was no entrance fee required!
Watch Animal Life
The Smoky Mountains offer plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities - from elk and white-tailed deer to turkeys, and even black bears!
Walk Downtown Gatlinburg
Experience Gatlinburg's charming downtown with stores, candy shops, distilleries, and wine shops all around!
Tour a Moonshine Distillery (and free Samples!)
The Great Smoky Mountains are world renowned for moonshine production and downtown Gatlinburg has many distilleries that specialize in moonshine production - many will offer tours with tastings included for free!
Sugarlands Shine was such a delightful tasting, featuring amazing bartenders who made the experience memorable - though not particularly kid-friendly; thanks to Kurt for taking our children to a candy shop! When we returned, Ole Smoky Moonshine came up, as I have worked with them before and enjoyed their product a great deal - we will try it next time for sure.
Hard Cider and Wine Tastings
Hard Cider and Wine Tastings We had such an enjoyable time at Tennessee Cider Co! The VIP tasting for $5 was incredible and even afterward we bought our bottle for enjoyment back at our hotel room. Additionally, tasting three varieties at no cost is offered.
The Village in Gatlinburg
This adorable area in downtown Gatlinburg feels like you've entered a European town, with charming shops and stores selling goods that remind me of home. When we visited around Easter time they even decorated this charming space with life-size Easter baskets and Easter egg decorations!
Watch Candy Being Made
There are numerous stores where visitors can watch candy being handmade by hand, including Aunt Mahila's Candies, Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, Kilwins and the candy shop located within The Village.
Take a Walk Down River Road by the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River
Want to take a break for a busy Main Street? Just a short walk from downtown there is a street that parallels a cute little river called Little Pigeon River.
Ober Gatlinburg Mountain
Did you know there is skiing in Tennessee? I did not until our recent trip. Just a short drive from downtown is Ober Gatlinburg Mountain which is perfect for outdoor adventures all year long. This was our first stop. We took the high-speed tram to the top of the mountain which was pretty expensive ($60 for the 4 of us). Just to find out there was a parking lot that could have saved us money, but it was a pretty view on the way up. At the top, they had ice skating, bumper cars, ice slides, and an alpine slide. As well as an animal exhibit and a place to get snacks and ice cream.
Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
Driving around downtown Gatlinburg on the Gatlinburg Bypass will lead you past several scenic overlooks with amazing views of this city! Even better at night!
Drive Newfound Gap Road
This drive will take you from downtown Gatlinburg into the National Park all the way across it to Cherokee, North Carolina; offering breathtaking scenery along its 30-mile course and plenty of stops along its route! Enjoy all that this journey offers with its captivating landscape and breathtaking scenery!
Pigeon Forge offers so much for visitors to explore that you will want to pay it a visit too.
Head to Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge has so much to see you will want to explore it too.
The Old Mill Square
The Old Mill is one of the oldest continually operating gristmills in the country and one of the most photographed mills in America. They invited us to eat there and you MUST too!!! The food is so delicious and such a great value. We had enough leftovers to have lunch the next day for all four of us. They also have a great gift shop.
Images Gatlinburg Tennessee
Check out all of our highlights here.
Here are some things we plan to do on our next trip.
Play in the Fountains at The Parkway Pedestrian Plaza
This is a great summer activity to allow the kids to cool off in the fountains.
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail offers an enchanting drive along a 6-mile one-way loop, passing many historic homes, Roaring Fork Cemetery, and remains of early settler villages. On our next trip, we intend to discover some great hiking trails.
The Covered Bridge at Emert's Cove
This is an exciting place to discover! Situated over Little Pigeon River just east of Gatlinburg Parkway, this lovely bridge makes an excellent photo op and offers incredible scenic beauty.
Ride the Gatlinburg Trolley
The trolley is free up and down the parkway from June to August. Visiting in another season it is only $2.
Take a Hike
There are miles of trails, including the Appalachian Trail. No need to hike it all the way, just do part of it or two! We heard great things about Alum Cave Trail which offers moderate difficulty hiking over four and one half miles roundtrip, including 1125 feet in elevation gain.
The Gatlinburg Trail
Traveling with your dogs or want to ride your bike? The Gatlinburg Trail is one of two paths that allow pets and bikes. They are prohibited on most trails. The trail is 1.9 miles one-way from the Sugarlands Visitor Center and goes to the city of Gatlinburg, TN. It is flat and goes through the forest alongside the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. The trail has beautiful views of the river. You can cross it on a pedestrian footbridge. You can see both the foundations and chimneys of several old homesites along the trail.
Patriot Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and it is next to the Old Mill. The park is dedicated to veterans from Sevier County that served during any war. There is a great walking path, which takes you along the Little Pigeon River. When you are walking look for the flags you should find a flag for all 50 states as well as from branches of the armed forces. Patriot Missile, from the Gulf War, is in the middle of the park.
Visit the Smoky Mountains, Visitor Centers
There are multiple of these around the park and often have picnic areas by them. They are all free thanks to the national park service the admission fee is zero.
- The Cades Cover Visitor Center has a small museum that is open-air around the center to walk.
- The Sugarlands visitor center has a museum of animals found in the park plus a video about the park
- Oconaluftee visitor center has a Mountain farm museum. Just behind the Oconaluftee Visitors Center and along the Oconaluftee River, you will see a late 19th-century mountain farm with authentic log structures. They were moved from their original locations throughout the National Park. The John E. Davis farmhouse originally stood in the Indian Creek/Thomas Divide area north of Bryson City.
You will also find a barn, apple house, spring house, and a working blacksmith shop. This is a fun way to see how families may have lived 100 years ago. You can understand how they would have the farm also gardened and the agricultural practices, including livestock. There is a 30-minute self-guided walking tour audio guide. The proceeds of this tour cover keeping bees, vegetable gardening, and aspects of social life in the mountains.
You might spot some elk in the fields at the visitor center. Mid-late afternoons are the best times. The easy, 1.5-mile (one-way) Oconaluftee River Trail begins at the mountain farm. It is stroller-accessible, bike and pet-friendly, and follows the river to Cherokee, N.C.
Climb Clingman Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains at an elevation of over 6,600 feet. The hike up to the dome is half a mile but the equivalent of climbs over 13 sets of stairs. There is a 45-foot-high observation tower.
Junior Ranger Program
The kids want to join the ranger programs.
Gatlinburg Welcome Center
The Gatlinburg Welcome Center is a great resource for planning your trip to the Smoky Mountains that will be fun for the whole family.
Great Smoky Mountain Wheel and Island Show Fountain
The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is a 200’ tall Ferris wheel. You can ride in it for a fee of $13 for a 10-minute ride. Or you can just enjoy the beautiful 24,000-square-foot LED light show in the Entertainment complex of The Island in Pigeon Forge.
Rocky Top Wine Trail
The Rocky Top Wine Trail is Tennessee's most visited wine trail. It includes 5 different wineries including:
- Hillside Winery
- Apple Barn Winery
- Apple Barn Cider House
- Mountain Valley Winery
- Mill Bridge Winery
Ogle Cabin is the oldest cabin in Gatlinburg. It is located near the Gatlinburg Visitors Center in the downtown area and was built in 1807.
Live Music at Gatlinburg Tunes & Tales
There is a seasonal music festival in the summer, Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales, and again in the fall after Thanksgiving.
Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community
The Arts and Crafts Community is the largest independent organization of artisans in the United States. You will find lots of different types of crafts when you visit from dulcimers to stuffed bears to ceramics. You will also have the opportunity to meet the artists and learn about the history of their craft. There is plenty of free parking.
Questions followers asked us during our trip:
How far is Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge Tennessee
The distance from Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg is about 8 miles. It can take about 20 minutes to get there or longer if the traffic is bad. Sometimes it took us longer since roads were under construction.
Gatlinburg TN to Sevierville TN
We stayed in Sevierville which is about 15 miles which is about a 30-minute car ride.
Distance Gatlinburg to Nashville
Over 220 miles and takes about 4 hours. We flew into Atlanta and drove from there since the flights were less expensive.
What time is it in Gatlinburg Tennessee
Tennessee is EST.