Free and Cheap Activities to do in Gatlinburg

Located at the base of the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is a popular destination for visitors from across the U.S. This small city attracts over 10 million visitors every year because of its location and an endless list of activities for all age groups.  It’s the perfect mix of nature, family fun, and all things alcohol. Best of all, all the best things in life, as well as Gatlinburg, are free! Keep reading for my top 5 free and cheap activities to do in the city.

1). Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Free (donations accepted)

Scenic view of Blue Mountains behind the thick green forest, with gray clouds floating above.

Thanks to a treaty between North Carolina and Tennessee, everyone can visit the park for free.  Though donations are accepted to help with the upkeep of the park and facilities, there are donation boxes on some roads and at the visitors centers so feel free to contribute what you can.

There are multiple hiking trails and camping spots throughout the park, to get more information, stop at Sugarlands Visitor Center or the Smoky Mountain Visitor center. They have park maps available for $1 and rangers available to answer any questions, there are also fun activities for kids.

Popular spots within the park include Cades Cove, Clingman’s Dome, and Arch Rock.

2). Roaring Forks road

Free

This scenic drive is just off of Gatlinburg’s main strip, along the road you’ll come across historic cabins, a few hiking trails, and 2 of the best viewpoints of the Smoky Mountains.  One of the first stops along the loop is Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin. We didn’t feel the need to stop at every cabin along the way, but it is worthwhile to make a stop here.

Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin

The trails that you will have access to along the road are Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls.  Rainbow Falls trail is 5.4 miles and takes at least 3 hours to hike to the waterfall roundtrip, from the parking lot there is also Bullhead Trail or Baskins Creek Trail. Alternatively, Grotto Falls, which is just a little farther down the road is a 2.6 mile trail and takes around 2 hours to hike to the waterfall and back.

Both trails will take you to Mount Le Conte, but Grotto Falls Trail provides an easier route. You might even get the chance to see the trail llamas at the beginning or end of their journey.

3). Rocky Mountain Wine Trail

Free (tips welcome)

There are 5 lovely wineries in Pigeon Forge that make up the Rocky Mountain Wine Trail. Here you can enjoy free tastings and get a free wine glass after 3 visits, and a gift after 5.  All you need to do is pick up a 1-page passport at your first stop and collect a stamp at each winery.

The Apple Barn Winery and Cider Mill

If you only have time to stop by a few, make sure to visit Apple Barn where they offer wine and cider tastings (yes, you get two stamps), and Old Mill Winery where you can later enjoy a bottle on their deck or walk over to historic mill and shops.

Bonus stop: Mountain Mist Farms winery is not a part of any wine trail, but is worth a visit. It’s a short detour off of HWY 321 on the way to Gatlinburg. They don’t offer official tastings, but you can sample any wine they have in stock or take part in berry picking depending on the season.

4). Moonshine Tastings at Ole Smoky Moonshine

Cost: $5 pp (includes $5 coupon to spend in store)

With each tasting, you have the chance to sample 7 different moonshines of various proofs. Fair warning that the samples are very strong, so keep that in mind if you’ve been drinking prior.

If you’re not interested in a tasting, you can still have a drink at the bar and you might even be able to catch some live music.

5). Village Shops

This is one of many little shopping areas along the strip, but in my opinion it’s the prettiest and nicest place to relax. You will find old world style buildings, pretty fountains and flowers, and fun little shops like The Tea and Spice Exchange and Celtic Heritage.

Visitors can stop by Donut Friar or Village Café and Creamery for a sweet treat to enjoy in the courtyard. With all it’s treasures, people of all ages can enjoy this little slice of magic in the middle of the bustling street.

Where to eat

Whole Earth Café

Free onsite parking

If you want delicious food at an affordable price, look no further.  They have good coffee and filling options that will sustain you before or after a day in the mountains. You can even pick up snacks, drinks, and other options inside their store. The menu is vegan and vegetarian friendly, and is one of the only places nearby that will cater to a plant-based diet.

Located on the East side of the Gatlinburg strip next to the trolley stop, this café is easy for anyone to get to.

Transportation and Parking

Hotels located along the Gatlinburg strip offer free parking and are within walking distance of the area. If not staying in the immediate area, there is a trolley that goes between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg as well as paid parking lots along the strip.

Most establishments in Pigeon Forge, including wineries, have free onsite parking.

The Zero-Waste Movement: Fixing it’s Flaws

No one is perfect when it comes to leading an eco-friendlier lifestyle, but we’re all here doing our best and constantly learning and growing through our journeys.  The zero-waste lifestyle has been gaining traction over the years, and although the intentions are good, there are many flaws that should be acknowledged.

What is the key to staying true to the zero-waste lifestyle?

Stop thinking of it as a trend.

Instead of connecting a zero-waste lifestyle to matching storage containers, silicone replacements, and whatever else looks stylish on your social media account, start taking the words ‘zero waste’ as literal as possible.  While it is important to cut out single-use plastics and find products we can reuse, let’s consider the best way to go about this. 

Before making any purchases, stop and take a moment to consider a few things. Is it something you really need? Do you have something at home that can serve the same purpose? Though it’s often not talked about, zero waste items still take up resources and produce emissions when it comes to manufacturing and shipping.

Taking on a new outlook on consumerism is easier than you’d think, and will save money and preserve our resources in the long run. As I and many others have stated before, the most sustainable thing you can do is to use what you already have.

Acknowledging the privilege

Another side of going Zero-Waste is recognizing that it isn’t affordable or accessible to everyone, especially when 40 million Americans still live below the poverty line. While I try to make it to my local zero waste shop when I can, I simply can’t afford to always buy refills or ecofriendly brands. Going green can be expensive, but does it have to be?

In order to make the Zero-Waste movement more inclusive, we have to re-evaluate ways to make it affordable and show others how they can make changes too. We can even start to recognize how those from low income households already have practices in place, and think of ways to learn from that.

Finding Growth

Recognizing the need for improvement is the first step in becoming more conscientious as individuals and a collective. When we address these flaws, it’s my hope that the Zero-Waste movement really will become one that’s more inclusive and better for the environment.

Safety Tips for Every Solo Traveler

One of the most rewarding ways to see this world is as a solo traveler.  Though being an adventurous, mindful, and ethical traveler means looking out for and protecting yourself in the process.  It’s unlikely that something terrible would happen, but there’s always a possibility and preventative measures can help us prepare for the worst. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. These important tips will help keep you safe on your next adventure abroad.

1). Don’t overshare

It’s inevitable to encounter people on your flight, in restaurants, or in the street who will ask about your travel plans.  While these people might have good intentions, it’s best to lie and share as little information as possible.  These lies should include that you’re meeting friends, you used to live in the area, and the location of your accommodation.

Never let strangers know that you’re traveling alone or are unfamiliar with your destination, not even your taxi driver or rideshare.

2). Limit your alcohol

It’s okay to have one drink if you’re out having a meal or want to visit a brewery but limit your consumption. If you’re a lightweight, consider avoiding alcohol altogether. Being intoxicated when you’re alone in a foreign city can lead to potentially dangerous social situations.

Always use common sense and never leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from strangers.

3). Blend in

Don’t draw attention to yourself for the wrong reasons. Never make it obvious you’re lost or pull out a map in the middle of a street, this automatically lets others know you’re a tourist.  Walk with confidence where ever you are, and if you do find yourself lost, stop in a café or shop to look for directions on your phone or ask an employee.

4). Choose your accommodation wisely

Before booking a hotel or hostel, research the safest areas in the city. Make sure the accommodation is central and on a busy street. Places with dimly lit entryways in alleys or side streets are a big no-no. Checking online reviews is a useful way to ensure your lodging has adequate security. If staying in a hostel and sharing a room with others, only book ones that have personal lockers for your important belongings.

5). Hold on tightly to your belongings

Keep purses, backpacks, and wallets to the front of you with a firm grasp at all times, especially when on the metro or bus. Avoid taking cash or wallets out in busy areas, this opens you up to pickpockets, just wait until you’re somewhere safe. It’s also a good idea to avoid carrying a large amount of money and carry what cash you do have in an inconspicuous place like your bra or a hidden pocket.

When someone approaches you about events, donations, or even to offer assistance or simple conversation, walk away. Scammers are very creative and good at what they do, they know how to create situations where you might need help and come off as friendly. They can fool even the best of us, so it’s important to be vigilant and always question other’s intentions.

6). Don’t stay out after dark

If it can be helped, arrive at your destination early to avoid finding your accommodation at night. For the rest of your trip, continue to avoid walking around alone at night and never partake in a city’s nightlife by yourself. It helps to meet other travelers at your hostel or on tours to go out with you, meeting others (SAFELY) is part of the beauty of being a solo traveler.

7). Make copies of your passport

If your passport is lost or stolen, having a copy to give to the embassy will ensure the replacement process goes smoothly. While it’s important to avoid losing your passport altogether by leaving it locked up at your hotel and in a safe place when in transit, you’ll need to have a backup. Make multiple copies and keep one on your body and the others with your luggage in case of an emergency.

8). Call your loved ones

Our friends and family often worry when we’re away, don’t make them fret more than they have to. A simple text every morning and night will let your parents know that you’re okay. Sharing your itinerary, real time location, and accommodation info with them is also an extra security measure. In the unfortunate event that anything should happen to you or your family members can’t get in touch, they will have the right information to give to authorities.