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As you will see, many "free" activities are related to the parks and nature...Cades Cove, Motor Nature trail, Clingman's Dome, the Sugarland's Visitor center, hiking trails, waterfall trails, the Gatlinburg pulloff, etc. The only thing that most of these "attractions" cost are the gas to drive to them & a dollar "donation" if you want a pamplet that talks about the site.
Cades Cove Loop offers a peek at historic churches and buildings in addition to the motor nature trail you drive around the cove area. You can look for wildlife and walk through the cemetery and old buildings, churches, etc. It is FREE..except the gas to get there OR the optional brochure that you can pick up at the beginning of your tour (donation $1.00 recommended).
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail & Cherokee Orchard Road in Gatlinburg (at the end of light #8) also has some cabins/buildings that you can look in. The motor trail is somewhat narrow and winding after you pass Cherokee Orchard Road and begin the Roaring Fork Trail. It is free to drive the trail. Note: This road is closed in the winter.
Clingman's Dome is a short drive from Gatlinburg through the national park. There is a steep 1/2 mile hike to the top lookout, but anyone can enjoy the views from the level parking lot area. This attraction is also free, unless you want to pick up a brochure on Clingman's Dome (donation $1.00 recommended).
The Sugarlands Visitor center has a museum type area set up in the back with "stuffed" real animals from the area, in addition to a 20 minute video on the park. These are both free, being inside the Visitor's Center. Plus there is a short hiking trail out back that leads to a waterfall..Cataract Falls.
There are hiking trails all throughout the National Park. In addition, there are a few pulloffs (like the one on the Gatlinburg by-pass) that overlooks Gatlinburg. You can stop here and get a FREE aerial look at Gatlinburg. There are also several riverside pulloffs (like the Chimneys Picnic area) where you can walk right along the river and out onto the huge rocks in the river & catch a shady seat in the picnic area.
Shop and walk the strip in Gatlinburg. Take in the sounds, scents, and sights of the downtown district. Spend some time walking around this town and looking in the unique malls and shops. It doesn't cost you anything to window shop and take in the sights. There are also a few spots to have a seat near a waterfall or fountain in some of the malls.
Watch taffy being made on the old machines in the windows of the candy stores in downtown Gatlinburg. Sometimes you can get a free sample of the taffy.
See fudge being made in the downtown Gatlinburg Candy stores & at the Old Mill Candy Kitchen in Old Mill Square (Pigeon Forge). Sometimes you can get a free sample of the fudge.
Visit the Old Mill Shopping District in Pigeon Forge with some duck food in hand (or you can buy a bag on location for a dollar or so). Along the bank of the little pigeon river, you can feed the ducks and watch the wheel on the side of the mill turn. You can also peek in the general store and various shops, including the candy kitchen (get a FREE sample of fudge or taffy).
Tour the Old Mill and see how they make corn meal and other products. This attraction was NOT FREE, but is wallet friendly at $3.00 per person (2008 price). It is only about a 30 minute tour, but offers a unique peek at the history of the town of Pigeon Forge. Many of the raw products made here at the Old Mill are used as ingredients for the Old Mill Restaurant recipes.
Shop the antique stores in the area including Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg & Wear's Valley. It doesn't cost anything to walk around and look at all the antiques & collectibles...unless you buy. You can reminisce about times past & the way way past.
Take a drive out through Wears Valley. It is a nice scenic drive through the countryside. Along the way you will see several antique shops, a general store, crafts & arts shops, chainsaw wood carvers, a small farmer's market, a bakery, a few restaurants and several unique gift shops. Moonshine Ridge offers a shopping experience that includes FREE samples of jellies, salsas, pickles and more. Also in Wears Valley, there is a small roadside waterfall at the Walden Creek Stables INFO stop. It is not a large waterfall, but worth a peek if you are in the area.
Once you pass through Wears Valley, continue on to Townsend, TN. Here you can visit the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum. It is a FREE museum that will teach you about the history of steam logging in the Smokies. It is both an indoor and outdoor musuem. The indoor museum is housed inside the Walland depot & outside you will get to take a peek at a locomotive and watertower.
You could visit nearby Patriot Park (next to the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge) for an afternoon in the park. Here you will see a big "liberty" bell, all 50 state flags, a historic patriot missile and a picnic pavilion amongst the open fields & veteran's memorial park.
Visit the Smoky Mountain Knife Works in Sevierville. They have a 2 story indoor waterfall & river display with "animals" and outdoor scenery. It is free, being inside of an outlet store. They have a large selection of knives in addition to a kitchen store on the bottom floor. Also, on the ground floor are life size animated characters (bear & raccoon) that sing and play instruments. The National Knife Museum is on location at the Knife Works.
Visit Bass Pro Shops in Sevierville, where they have a similar indoor scene that looks like the outdoors. They have stuffed "animals" on display in outdoors scenery, including a large waterfall that empties into a BIG fish aquarium and a small stream with fish in it. Also free to visit, being inside an outlet store. Sells all kinds of fishing, camping, and hunting gear in addition to boats, atvs, clothing & MORE. Also on location is a Starbucks & the Bass Pro arcade style Shooting Gallery.
Visit the Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge and see their large display of Christmas trees all decked out with their lights and decorations. It is free to view all the trees and only costs you if you decided to buy some decorations, ornaments, and etc.
Check out Cooters in Gatlinburg. It is a small shop & "museum" dedicated to the Dukes of Hazzard. There is a small collection of Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia on location in addition to some of the cars from the popular TV series. Admission is FREE and it does not cost you anything to look. However, you may purchase a photo of yourself sitting behind the wheel of the General Lee for a small fee.
Visit the Apple Barn in Sevierville. There you will see the candy shop, general store, gift shop, fresh picked apples, apple trees, winery, creamery, cider bar and bake shop. It is FREE to visit the Apple Barn. Adults can visit the winery and sample the various wines for FREE. It is NOT free to get the cider, candies, or fried apple pies. However, it is a wallet-friendly idea, since a small glass of fresh apple cider is still less than $1.00 (2008).
Pay tribute to a local icon by visiting the Dolly Parton Statue on the lawn of the Sevier County Courthouse in downtown Sevierville.
Stop in the HUGE smokies flea market in Sevierville. It is both indoor and outdoors. You can walk through the yardsale style area tables outside or check out the commerical items inside. Inside you will find places that sell sugar gliders, quilts, fudge, t-shirts and other food items. You never know what you might find. It is FREE to visit the flea market. Note: Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday ONLY.
Pack a picnic basket and have lunch at one of the many picnic areas in the park. There are several to choose from, including the Chimneys Picnic area and the Cades Cove Picnic grounds.
Visit the Village in Gatlinburg. Shop through all the unique shops and have a seat by the multi-tiered water fountain. At night you can see a flame coming out the top tier of this fountain. The Village is beautifully decorated each season. It is a nice place to have a seat, whether it be along the brick pathway & old world style buildings or along Primrose Walk's trees & flowers.
Visit Parrot Mountain's birds in their advertising cages. Parrot Mountain had set out a few birdcages around town with birds in them as a form of advertising (in 2008). One is located in the Village in Gatlinburg (near the fountain) & the other is located in front of the Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge. It is free to take a peek at these birds in their advertising cages. It will only cost you if you decide to actually GO to Parrot Mountain after viewing these birds. Also, the birds might not be out during the colder weather as to protect the health of the birds.
Visit the Smoky Mountain Farms Jams & Jelly shop in Winery Square in Gatlinburg. Here you can sample the various jams, jellies, and syrups. It is free to visit and sample the products. You only have to pay if you decide to purchase a jar. This is something the whole family can do together in hopes of picking out the new family favorite.
Stop at the Ultimate Beef Jerky Outlet in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg to get a FREE sample of the various jerky products, nuts & gourmet peanut butters.
Visit the Salt and Pepper Museum in Winery Square in Gatlinburg. Admission is $3.00, but the cost of admission is applied towards any salt & pepper shaker purchase in the gift shop..so admission is techincally FREE if you buy a shaker set. Plus admission is FREE for kids under 12 years of age.
Visit the Arts & Crafts Loop in Gatlinburg. There you can stop in all the different shops and see the artists at work. You will see various types of crafts including pottery, photography, paintings, stained glass, jewelry, woodcrafts, candles, quilts, furniture, leather crafts, glass blowing, basket weaving, dulcimers, and MORE. It won't cost you anything to drive the loop and look in the shops. It will only cost you something if you decide to buy something, eat at a restaurant along the loop OR decide to take the trolly (small fee) instead of driving the Art & Craft loop yourself.
The Gatlinburg Community center has budget friendly pay per use fees for their amenities, which include an indoor pool and bowling alley. It also looks like they have racquetball, tennis, a skate park, frisbee golf, aerobics, fitness center and gymnasium. The pay per use fees/rates are $2 for bowling or pool use for adults & slightly less for kids/seniors.
Visit a "natural waterpark". You can go swimming in one of the local swimming holes, such as Midnight Hole, the "Y" in Townsend, or the swimming hole area near the Sinks.
Wild Bears Falls at Westgate Resort in Gatllinburg offers FREE admission to their SMALL indoor waterpark for children under 3 years of age.
Stop and take a peek at McMahan Indian Mound in Sevierville, where some Indian artifacts were discovered. It is a historic site/marker. So it is free to stop and take a look. It is located next to the Landmark Inn in Sevierville, TN.
The Sevier County Heritage Museum is a museum of local history (settlers, indians, local veterns, etc) and admission is FREE. The website says the tour will only take 30-45 minutes & they are open most days noon-5pm.
The Sevierville Historic Walking Trail is a self-guided tour that will take you by 20 places of interest related to the town's settlement and growth. You can pick up a brochure at the Chamber of Commerce in Sevierville.
Visit some of the historic markers in Sevierville, including the Sevier County Veterans Marker at the intersection of Court Avenue and W Bruce St.
See one of the few remaining covered bridges in Tennessee. The Harrisburg Covered Bridge that crosses the Little Pigeon River is only ONE of FOUR remaining covered bridges in TN and is located just outside of Sevierville. It is a nice historic peek at the area since the bridge dates back to 1875.
Vist with the stars of the Dixie Stampede in their stables. Before and after the show times...you can visit with the horses in the stables next to the stampede arena. It is FREE to stop and view the horses in the stables & will only cost you if you decide to actually go inside to see the dinner show.
There are probably EVEN MORE things to do in the Smokies region that are FREE, NEARLY FREE or BUDGET FRIENDLY. This list will no doubt continue to grow and change over time, offering visitors MORE and MORE opporunities to experience the Smokies Region and at the same time save money along the way.