Top 10 Free Things to do in Gatlinburg for Families

Nestled in the stunning Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the perfect family vacation spot. 

What makes Gatlinburg an even more enticing travel destination is that it has an incredible array of no-cost adventures.

In this guide, I’ll reveal my top 10 family friendly free things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Boy standing near a railing at Anakeesta with a view of the Smoky Mountains in the background.

1. Hike Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Did you know that there is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountain National Park?

That said, if you drive in and plan to park, you will need to pay a daily fee of $5 or $15 for the week.

Or, if you are simply driving through and only stopping for less than 15 minutes, you can enjoy Great Smoky Mountain National Park for free. 

I do recommend purchasing the $5 parking pass so you can do some scenic hiking in the park.

One of our favorite hikes in Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the Laurel Falls Trail. 

It is 2.5 miles round trip, and a perfect hike for families and those newer to hiking. 

At the end of the trail you will be rewarded with the stunning 80 foot Laurel Falls.

2. Stroll Through Downtown Gatlinburg

Experience the heartbeat of Gatlinburg by strolling through its charming downtown. 

The entire family will love browsing all of the quaint shops, candy stores, eateries, and quirky museums and attractions. 

DISCOVER MORE: Everything You Need to Know for Visiting Downtown Gatlinburg

As you are walking, your family may want to pick out some downtown attractions to visit during your Gatlinburg vacation including Anakeesta, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and the Gatlinburg Space Needle.

VISIT ANAKEESTA: Ultimate Guide to Anakeesta

Also, make sure to walk through The Village which is a unique shopping destination in itself. 

You will feel like you have been transported to a charming German town.

3. Visit the Island in Pigeon Forge

The Island in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is the ultimate family friendly destination to visit on your Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountain vacation.

It is a mix of shopping, dining, rides, and attractions all in one destination!

You can check out all of the fun shops, enjoy live music, and watch The Island Show Fountain every half hour for free. 

Parking at the Island is also free!

The Island also has many entertaining attractions for a cost as well!

Our boys enjoyed doing the ropes course and riding the amusement rides. We also had fun in the Mirror Maze.

I highly recommend checking out The Island.

4. Take a picture with ALL of the bear statues you can find

On our visit to Gatlinburg, one of our boys wanted to take a picture with a bear statue that we saw.

After taking the first picture, we kept noticing more and more bear statues so we made it a goal to find as many as we could and photograph each one. 

It ended up being a fun challenge that the kids got super excited about.

5. Visit the Old Mill Square

Located in Pigeon Forge, the Old Mill Square is another fantastic dining and shopping destination as well as simply a great place to explore and take pictures.

During certain times of the year, visitors can take guided tours of the Old Mill, pottery studio, and Old Forge Distillery.

If the tours are not in season, you can still see free pottery demonstrations, enjoy free tastings at the distillery, and watch candy being made.

Parking at Old Mill Square is also free.

6. Ride the Gatlinburg Trolley

The Gatlinburg Trolley is a fantastic way to get around Gatlinburg. 

It is a convenient and FREE way to navigate to multiple destinations in Gatlinburg.

You can use it as simply a scenic tour of Gatlinburg or as a way to get to downtown without having to deal with the hassle of finding parking.

Visitors can use the Park-n-Ride Lot at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center to park, board the trolley, and then ride downtown. 

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is the center hub of the trolley system where visitors can change trolley routes. 

Expert Tip

Pigeon Forge also has a trolley system that is different from the Gatlinburg Trolley. The Pigeon Forge trolley does charge a fee. There is also a route on the Pigeon Forge trolley that goes to the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. Make sure to always check the trolley schedules ahead of time before making your plan for the day.

7. Patriot Park

Patriot Park is right near Old Mill Square and is the main hub for the Pigeon Forge trolleys. 

Visitors to Patriot Park can enjoy a serene walk on the .5 mile trail along the Little Pigeon River.

Additionally, you can enjoy seeing flags from all 50 states and the branches of the armed forces. 

Expert Tip

You can even walk from Patriot Park to the Island in Pigeon Forge. The distance on the Riverwalk Greenway trail to the Island is approximately a mile and a half one way.

8. Have a Picnic with your Family

The Great Smoky Mountains offer so many perfect scenic spots to enjoy a picnic with your family. 

One of my favorite parts of a family vacation is finding moments to escape the hustle and bustle and just enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

A picnic is a great way to have a budget friendly meal while embracing the beauty of Gatlinburg.

Some perfect areas for a picnic include the green space at Patriot Park, Cades Cove picnic area, a cute spot along the Little Pigeon River, and even on the deck of your vacation rental with incredible views of Smokies.

9. Take a Drive Through Cades Cove

Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. 

It is a fantastic place for wildlife viewing as wildlife is frequently seen in this area. 

Additionally, you will see cabins, barns, churches, a working gristmill, and more. 

The road is an 11 mile one way loop with panoramic views of rolling meadows as well as the stunning mountains.

You will want to allow close to a half of a day to drive through Cades Cove especially if you plan to do some of the trails.

Expert Tip

The Cades Cove Visitor Center is located about halfway through the loop which has restrooms and a bookstore. This is a good opportunity for a restroom break!

Must Know Information

If you are simply driving through Cades Cove and planning to stop for less than 15 minutes, you do not need a parking pass. That said, I highly recommend purchasing a daily one for $5 as you may want to be able to explore Cades Cove a bit more on foot. You do not want to feel limited in what you can do because you did not purchase a parking pass.

10. Capture Some Fun Photo Memories Throughout Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg offers so many picturesque spots for capturing fun-filled moments with your family. 

Pose with the iconic Gatlinburg Space Needle in the background or at the stunning Cades Cove.

If you are planning to visit Anakeesta, a photo with Willow is a must-do. 

Or as mentioned before, see how many bear statues you can take a selfie with.

This area has so many scenic, fun, and memorable spots to capture amazing photos with your family. 

Gatlinburg is one of my top destinations for a family vacation

It is a perfect place to visit anytime of the year as each season offers unique experiences for visitors. 

EXPLORE MORE: Gatlinburg Family Vacation Guide to Smoky Mountain Memories

My hope is that these 10 free and (almost) free things to do in Gatlinburg will offer your family a wide array of adventures and memories that will make your Smoky Mountain vacation the best one yet. 

Download my free travel itinerary planner to help you plan your Gatlinburg getaway.

May you LOVE your adventure. KW

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