Free Things to Do in the Gatlinburg Area
Stroll River Road by the Little Pigeon River
If you need an “away from it all” moment, take a leisurely stroll along the Riverwalk that runs along the Little Pigeon River one block off the downtown Parkway. Feed the ducks, watch as fishermen cast their flies in hopes of landing a mountain trout, or relax along the riverbank as you listen to the swift river flow before you. Admire beautiful arrays of flowers and dip your feet in the brisk mountain river. Find the perfect photo spot, say “cheese,” and help assure that your moments in Gatlinburg are never forgotten!
Enjoy a Picnic - (View Site for Gatlinburg Parks)
Picnicking in the Gatlinburg area is a great way to spend a day enjoying nature with the family or to have a romantic outing for two. There are two special places in Gatlinburg that we highly recommend, Mynatt Park and Mills Park. Both offer many recreational opportunities along with other diversions for all to enjoy.
Mynatt Park – The most popular and scenic park in Gatlinburg. Facilities include many picnic tables with bar-b-que grills, picnic tables, a covered pavilion, children's fishing stream, playground, a basketball court, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and baseball field. At Traffic Light #8 take Historic Nature Trail Road (was Airport Road) approx. 7/10 mi to Mynatt Park. Be sure to keep right at the "Y" in the road, where the left fork leads to the Park Vista Hotel.
Mills Park – From JMH office turn right (East) on Hwy 321 and travel approx. 3/10 miles to Mills Park Road. Turn left and follow to the park on the left just past the jogging track. Facilities include a covered pavilion with bar-b-que pit, picnic tables, playground, softball field, horseshoe pits, jogging trail, football field, basketball court, skate park and 400-meter track.
Herbert Holt Park – located on the right, just as you enter Gatlinburg coming from Pigeon Forge. Facilities include covered pavilion, grills, children's trout fishing area, handicapped fishing area, horseshoe pits, walking trails and a playground.
There are many other fantastic areas to enjoy a picnic in the Gatlinburg area which include Greenbrier and Cades Cove. We highly suggest that you visit the Sugarlands Welcome Center, just inside the Park at the south end of Gatlinburg for information and advice. Be sure to know the rules and safety precautions.
Douglas Dam Overlook - In the spring and through the fall of the year, a picnic lunch at the Douglas Dam Overlook picnic area is a wonderful way to experience the mountains with a waterfront view! And, if the weather is warm, you can take a swim. This picnic area has a panoramic view of Douglas Lake with the Smoky Mountains as the backdrop, a public boat ramp, swimming area, and the fishing can be excellent in spring.
Tubing Down a River
There are many rivers and streams on which you can spend a lazy day tubing along enjoying the scenery with friends. Two of the most scenic are Little River along Little River Road and the Little Pigeon River in Greenbrier. It is best to go to the Sugarlands Welcome Center to get information on where you can go tubing. If you do not have your own tubes, many of the gas stations in Gatlinburg rent them. Just be careful to observe all safety precautions.
Motor Nature Trail - View PDF
Need to rest your feet? Jump in your car and explore a collection of historical sites on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail including the preservation of a homestead owned by the Noah “Bud” Ogle family who lived here after the Civil War. See log cabins, Roaring Fork Cemetery, and the remains of a village that supported some two dozen families more than 150 years ago. Located just off of Historic Nature Trail Road / (was) Airport Road - Traffic Light #8, the motor nature trail is accessible to automobiles via the eight-mile one-way paved road. Many stops along the way allow you to get out, take a deep breath of mountain air, step back in time as you visit the primitive settler's cabins, water mill, see water falls, take photographs, and enjoy the aura of the mountains. Auto Touring View
Drive to Greenbrier - View PDF
Just 2.3 miles outside of Gatlinburg is a hidden jewel known as Greenbrier and “The Local's Entrance to the Park”. A plethora of daytime fun and free outdoor activities can be enjoyed at this area of the National Park, located just east of Gatlinburg. Tube, swim, picnic, hike, sunbathe, fish, bird watch, bicycle, or just sit back on a rock along the river enjoying the fantastic scenery. Ramsay Cascades, Porter’s Creek, and Injun Creek Trail Heads are also located here for those who desire to explore. Just be sure to take proper precautions. All details and rules are available at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Take a wild flower hike along Injun Creek trail which starts just behind the Greenbrier ranger station. This is a little known trail that meanders along Injun Creek through the old ruins of the Greenbrier settlement. Many foundations of the old homes still exist and every year the flowers planted by the early settlers bloom. There is also the wreckage of an old sawmill steam engine that crashed into the creek in the early 1900s.
Bicycle Greenbrier Cove - A great bike ride that is only 2.3 miles east of the JMH office. The ride includes about 5 miles along a pristine, crystal clear river with many scenic stops. The JMH staff rates this area as a "must see" freebie.
Sugarlands Visitor Center and Nature Trail - Plan Your Visit
Located at Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s main northern entrance two miles south of Gatlinburg along Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441), Sugarlands is a visitor center you should not miss. A free 20-minute orientation motion picture provides an in-depth look at the Smokies and the enormous diversity of plant and animal life in the Park. Natural history exhibits include mounted specimens of park animals in recreations of their habitats and reproductions of journals kept by the first park naturalists. Ranger talks and slide shows are presented daily from spring through fall. If you only have time for one experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visit Sugarlands Visitor Center!
Sugarlands Nature Trail - This one mile trail is located behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trail is mostly level and offers excellent scenery of the Little Pigeon River as if flows from the National Park into Gatlinburg. This trail is open to dog walking on leash. All details and rules are available at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Cades Cove - View PDF
Historical cabins, farmhouses and churches are maintained in Cades Cove, a western valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a great place to view wildlife without even having to get out of your car, especially in the early morning hours. Be sure to bring your camera in hopes of spotting wildlife such as deer, bear, turkey, owl and fox. First settled by Europeans in 1819, today the National Park Service maintains a historical and cultural preserve of log cabins, churches and other structures. The 11-mile one-way road passes by 19 numbered tour stops as identified in the pamphlet available at the entrance. If you prefer, you can also experience the loop on horseback or bicycle! For the fisherman, Abram’s Creek offers excellent native trout fishing and excellent natural scenery. All details and rules are available at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
Although biking in the National Park is allowed on all roads that are open to vehicle traffic, the steepness of much of the terrain isn't very conducive to biking. There is one site in the park, however, that has been a long-time favorite with pedal pushers.
Biking Cades Cove Loop Road, bicyclists can take advantage of fairly flat terrain and some of the most gorgeous picture-book views in the area. The loop is closed to auto traffic on Wednesday and Saturday until 10 a.m. from the second week of May through the next to last Saturday in September.
Viewing Elk in the Park
The best times to view elk are usually early morning and late evening. Elk may also be active on cloudy summer days and before or after storms. Enjoy elk at a distance, using binoculars or a spotting scope for close-up views. Approaching wildlife too closely causes them to expend crucial energy unnecessarily and can result in real harm. If you approach an animal so closely that it stops feeding, changes direction of travel, or otherwise alters its behavior, you are too close!
Most of the elk are located in the Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the park. The easiest way to reach Cataloochee is take Hwy-321 to Interstate highway I-40 to North Carolina exit #20. After 0.2 mile, turn right onto Cove Creek Road and follow signs 11 miles into Cataloochee valley. Allow at least 45 minutes to reach the valley once you exit I-40.
Gatlinburg River Raft Regatta - View More
Gatlinburg’s popular River Raft Regatta takes place at noon on July 4th, on the Little Pigeon River in downtown Gatlinburg and it is FREE. This unmanned river raft race is open to anything floatable except balls and plastic eggs. In the past, families have entered boats made out of matchsticks, floating rocks, as well as little rubber ducks. Registration takes place between 10 a.m. and noon, with the race beginning promptly at noon. Support for the River Raft Regatta is provided by the Gatlinburg Recreation Department. Toll-Free: 800/568-4748
See Gatlinburg from a bird’s eye view from the two overlooks, one on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and the other on the Gatlinburg Bypass (closed when snow is present), which can be entered at the north or south ends of Gatlinburg. These are the perfect souvenir photo spots and one of the most popular places to watch the sun rise or set. So grab your cameras and head up to one of the Gatlinburg Overlooks and enjoy the view!
Visit to Arrowmont - View More
Indulge in a little culture as you browse the galleries of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Founded in 1945, the school has developed into a leader in arts and crafts education, with an annual enrollment of more than 2,000 students from the United States and abroad. Stop by and tour select collections of the art galleries, wood turning gallery, the resource center, and the book and supply store.
Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community/The Glades - View More
Take a trolley or your car and visit the eight-mile loop of the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. See craftsmanship at its best, as artisans using simple tools and skillful hands whittle, carve, cast, sew, weave and transform raw elements into works of art and function. Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community is recognized internationally as the largest group of independent artisans in North America with nearly 100 shops, studios, galleries, cafes and lodging. Check it out – with such an array to choose from, you’re sure to find something to fit your fancy!
Gatlinburg’s Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales - View More
Enjoy entertaining mini-performances by costumed performers portraying time periods from the 1800s to today. The history of the Smoky Mountains comes to life every evening as they sing, dance and tell stories while engaging the audience. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself clogging, singing, or clapping along with the mountain music! Or simply sit and listen as a storyteller spins tales from long ago. Join in!
Walk on the Parkway
Put on your walking shoes, get out of the car, and join in the great family tradition of the downtown Parkway stroll also known as the center of excitement to those who visit frequently. Explore every nook and cranny where you’ll find more than 200 unique shops, dozens of restaurants, and attractions for all ages. As you stroll, be on the look-out for homemade mountain taffy pulling, mouthwatering caramel apples being dipped or delectable fudge being prepared. Play miniature golf, experience the world’s largest underwater aquarium tunnel, ride America’s largest aerial tram, visit the unique museums, and take a turn on live-action rides! Fill your mountain appetite with scrumptious food from local restaurants featuring mountain style cooking to fine cuisine, fast food restaurants, or restaurant chains, all within the two-mile Parkway. The walk is FREE. What you spend is up to you.
"Free Things To Do" means that there is no charge for admission, however, as with fishing, there may be is a license required or you may want to purchase food for a picnic. The information provided in this section of our web site is believed to be factual, however, it has been provided by others and therefore Jackson Mountain Homes, Inc. does not control and cannot guarantee the relevance, timeliness, or accuracy of the materials provided by other agencies or organizations. It is highly recommended that prior to relying on any information provided herein that the reader should verify the accuracy.