Family vacations can be fun, exciting and memorable. They can also be expensive when the entire family wants to explore different attractions and theme parks. We at Stony Brook Cabins know how challenging staying within budget can be, so we want to help with this list of the top 5 free things to do in Gatlinburg TN with kids of all ages.
(See Related: Free Gatlinburg Event Provides Entertainment All Summer Long)
1. Stop in at Sugarlands Visitor Center
The Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains is more than a place to stop for maps. There are special ranger led programs available seasonally, as well as natural history exhibits inside. Visitors are welcome to watch a free 20 minute film about the park, and the rangers are always available for questions.
The Sugarlands Visitor Center is open every day of the year except Christmas day at 8:00am and closes at 7:30pm until the end of August. Located on US-441, the visitor center is only 2 miles south of Gatlinburg.
2. Hike to Clingmans Dome
At 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains, with a view on clear days that can span up to 100 miles. Even on foggy days, visitors have a chance to enjoy viewing distances of up to 20 miles.
The climb to the top is only half a mile, but the elevation can be challenging. Visitors should also know that temperatures at the top can be up to 20 degrees lower than the surrounding area, so dressing in layers will keep you comfortable during the entire trip.
To reach Clingmans Dome, take the Gatlinburg Parkway toward the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Continue past the visitor center 13 miles, then turn right on Clingmans Dome Road, which will dead-end directly into the parking area.
3. Take an Auto Tour
If you’d like to take free tours of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park without ever leaving the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle, an auto tour is the perfect choice.
Cades Cove is a popular auto tour because of its location and stunning beauty. The Cades Cove Loop Road is an 11-mile loop through some of the most picturesque valleys in the Smokies. In this area, visitors can see a variety of wildlife along with historic cabins and churches, and, at the end, a picnic area serves as a place to stretch and enjoy a meal.
Another place to see a variety of wildlife is the Cataloochee Valley. This is one of the only areas in the park to spot elk, so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon taking family photos
The most popular auto tours in the Great Smoky Mountains are:
4. Join in the River Raft Regatta
Each 4th of July in Gatlinburg, the River Raft Regatta is open to anyone and everyone in the area who has something that can float down the river. This free event allows anything floatable to be entered in two categories, trash and treasure. The trash category is open to anything not hand-made, and the treasure category is open to anything and everything made by hand.
Registration begins at 10:00am at the Christ in the Smokies Bridge on River Road, with the race beginning at 12:00pm. Awards will go to the top three in each category, and the oldest and youngest participants will also receive a trophy.
5. Explore Downtown Gatlinburg
With 500 shops and attractions, downtown has countless free things to do in Gatlinburg TN with kids. Just along the parkway you’ll find specialty shops, old-style villages and unique treasures unlike anywhere else in the Smokies. Although passing up those great deals might be hard, strolling through downtown is absolutely free.
We recommend parking at one end of downtown near Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies or Nantahala Outdoor Center so you can explore up and down both sides of the Parkway.
Not everything you do on vacation can be free, but a vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains is much more affordable than other locations, and the Smokies are within a day’s drive to most of the country. For budget vacations, Stony Brook Lodging helps families save by offering money-saving Gatlinburg cabin discounts.
Call one of our reservationists at (866) 742-0078 to book your next Smoky Mountain vacation today.