With its ever famous National Park, popular attractions and good eats it isn’t hard to see why Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a hot spot for family vacations. As with any popular tourist destination a trip to Gatlinburg can be pricey. It doesn’t have to be though. Avoid the pitfalls and stick to your budget using these tips for visiting Gatlinburg on a budget.
Avoid The Thrills:
The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is absolutely amazing don’t get me wrong here, but at $29.99 per adult ticket and $19.99 per child it would cost our family of 6 $159.94 to visit. That’s a lot of money! The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster costs $16 for a single rider. You can see where this would add up quickly. We could spend the whole day at the park exploring and not spend a dime. I tend to avoid the thrills and opt for free things to do instead.
Save On Hotels:
The biggest expense on vacations is almost always going to be your lodging. I use Expedia to find a good deal on hotels. I can turn my points into rewards after so many. I also like Hotels.com and I’ve used Triage and Kayak in the past as well. Whichever you prefer you’re going to get your best bang for your buck using online hotel bookings like these. Make sure you book well in advance. Also consider camping at the National Park. You can save lots of money this way!
It’s All About The Timing:
The time of the year you’re planning your vacation is crucial. Gatlinburg is extremely busy during the summer months and you’re going to spend a lot more money on hotels then you would if you wait until the spring or fall. I paid $40.00 for a decent hotel during the spring but the cheapest decent hotel I could find during the summer was around $70.00. That’s a $30.00/night difference. Hotel prices on the weekends are always going to be more expensive then weekdays as well.
Save On Food:
Most decent hotels have a mini fridge and a microwave in the rooms for you to use. Food is another huge expense on any vacation. We always pack lots of snacks before we even hit the road. We always choose a hotel that has a free continental breakfast. We stayed at Days Inn Gatlinburg on The River this last time and they had a pretty good breakfast. They even had hot food like waffles and biscuits and gravy. There’s a really nice local grocery store (Food City) in Gatlinburg that we used to buy our food for lunch and dinner. They even have a hot deli. Apply for a discount card (which takes less than a minute) to save even more money on groceries. Take a left at the main light in downtown Gatlinburg and it will be a couple miles down on your left hand side.
Things That Don’t Cost A Dime:
Cades Cove– With its wide open spaces and natural beauty Cades Cove is one of the most visited areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 11-mile, one-way road passes by 19 tour stops that are marked by numbered posts. Keep your eyes peeled for bears. If you see a bunch of people pulled over in one area or there’s a traffic jam it’s a good indicator there’s a bear they’re watching. I’ve written some tips for visiting Cades Cave that you can find here.
Watching The Sunrise/Sunset on the Mountains– The Gatlinburg Overlook is a great place to watch the sunrise/sunset and it’s close but there’s several other options to choose from. For the best places to watch a sunrise/sunset in the Smokies visit Bear Skin Lodge On The River’s post about it here.
Walking Around Downtown Gatlinburg– There’s plenty of shops, sightseeing and people watching to be done Downtown.
Historic Olge Cabin– This cabin completed in 1807 belonged to William Olge whose family became one of the first European settlers in the area we now call Gatlinburg. The cabin is open to explore from 10 am to 4 pm on Mondays through Saturday. Learn what life was like for its earliest settlers. Historic antique such as a loom, spinning wheel, and other tools are on display.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park– With 8 to 10 million people visiting the Smokies every year it is the most visited national park in the country. There’s approximately 816 square miles of land to explore in the states of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Stop At A Visitor’s Center– Begin your exploration of the Smoky Mountains National Park at a visitor’s center where rangers can answer your questions, pick up a park map or newspaper or purchase books or guides. There’s four visitor’s centers located within the national park- Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Sugarlands and Oconaluftee. I recommend Sugarland’s Visitor’s Center because there’s so many cool natural history exhibits and a really cool trail that leads to Cataract Falls, one of the parks many waterfalls. For more information on the parks visitor’s center visit their site here.
Freenotes Harmony Park– This little “park” is located right next to the Historic Olge Cabin downtown. It’s a great place to relax and take a break. There’s a huge fountain if you need to cool down and several musical instruments for the kids -and adults!- to strum on. This was a big hit for the kids. They had no clue what they were doing but they had a blast doing it and that’s all that matters!
Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook– The view is magnificent here! This is a great photo opportunity so bring the whole family.
What’s your favorite free/cheap things to do in Gatlinburg on a Budget? Drop me a comment below if you can think of anything. I’d love to hear from you!