Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a favorite and important tourism destination in Tennessee with many attractions bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ober Gatlinburg is the only ski resort in Tennessee. The Gatlinburg Trolley, a privately funded public transit system, caters to area tourists. Just five miles to the northeast, Pigeon Forge is a tourist destination that caters primarily to Southern culture and country music fans. The city's attractions include Dollywood, as well as numerous gift shops, outlet malls, amusement rides, and music theaters.
A Smoky Mountain family vacation based in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge can be exciting but economically stressful without some careful planning. First, take advantage of the free things to do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many excellent free and minimal-fee National Park Service activities and programs start every year in mid-March and continue until the end of October.
Last year there were weekly campfire sessions at Cades Cove, black bear conferences at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and mountain craft demonstrations at Mingus Mill. For a complete schedule of activities, stop at the visitor center at the Gatlinburg park entrance and check out the Smoky Mountain Springfest free events.
Dollywood lets visitors arriving at the park after 3:00 PM return the next day on the same ticket at no additional charge. Dollywood has expanded so much recently that there is much more to do than can be done in a single day, especially for those who want to see lots of shows. Do all the most popular rides in the evening, when lines are always shorter, of the first day, and on the second day there will be plenty of time to see the shows and to repeat any favorite rides.
The most popular evening activity in both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg is walking or driving through town browsing boutiques, playing miniature golf, and other activities that cost some dollars, but there are other pastimes that cost no dollars, an evening drive through Cades Cove, for example, but arrive before sunset, when the entrance closes. For Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg nightlife entertainment, pick up discount tickets at each welcome center.
Drink free water with meals at Dollywood restaurants and snack stands. It's available at all of them to customers who ask for it, and it's a good way to save some money.
Save money by parking at Patriot Park rather than at Dollywood and riding the trolley to Dollywood. The trolley is cheaper and stops at the Dollywood entrance, avoiding what can be a long wait in line at the end of the day for a tram back to the car in the Dollywood lot. Another saving is the gas money it costs to drive to Dollywood, about two gallons roundtrip.
Economizing in Gatlinburg
Both economical and entertaining, the Smoky Mountains can be where to get away from it all without spending it all. Budget-friendly Gatlinburg vacation tips can help vacationers save while they play.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park, is free to all visitors, who can spend several days in time but only the costs of gas and picnic supplies in money, and the National Park Service hosts free programs and activities frequently. Stop by the Sugarlands Visitor Center for a current schedule of such events.
Save on gas by riding the Gatlinburg Trolley from one attraction to the next for free during the summer and for only a 50-cent regular fare at other times. A Pigeon Forge–Gatlinburg connection makes each destination easy to reach.
Reserve show and attraction tickets in advance at discounts online at Reserve Gatlinburg for exclusive savings. Save while visiting interesting museums or while whitewater rafting.
More Ways to Save
Shop the Back Streets. Downtown Gatlinburg is the area shopping center à la mode, but better budget deals on food and retail items are at more ordinary, less stylish establishments serving local customers.
See One Show, No More. There are many shows to see in Gatlinburg, but show prices are budget busters. Pick one to attend during the visit. Save the others for more prosperous times.
Go Hiking in the Smokies. A magnificent experience and definitely good for visitors and their budgets, hiking in the woods is free and gives everyone a good physical workout both energizing and relaxing.
Give Everyone a Stash of Arcade Coins. Arcades are plentiful in and around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. A budget-friendly activity is to give everyone some coins at the start of the trip to spend on games at the arcades, a cheap, fun way for the kids to expend some energy.
Walk Everywhere. Parking and traffic are aggravations to avoid by staying in a Gatlinburg hotel close to town and walking as much as possible. There is some free parking to be found, but the task is not easy and during the busy season sometimes impossible, and some walking will be inevitable, so why not commit to walking and save more than a few dollars?
Pack Snacks. Bring some dry food like pretzels or nuts when going out and about town. Then, whenever anyone gets hungry, break them out and satisfy their hunger before it gets to be a problem that costs money to fix.
Ride the Gatlinburg Trolley. The trolley runs all day, fares start at 50 cents, and it's a great way to save money on gas and parking.
Ask about Discounts. Ask the hotel if they can get discounted show tickets. Some shows offer special coupons to rental accommodations, restaurants too, to give to their guests. Go to shows that admit kids free. A few friendly shows admit one child under 12 free per paying adult. Comedy Barn and the Miracle Theater are two such friendlies.