17 Free Things to do With Kids in The Great Smoky Mountains

Traveling with kiddos can get very expensive. That’s why I like to do some research for free activities to throw in our schedule to keep costs down. There are so many things to do in The Smoky Mountains and many of those activities can cost a pretty penny. Sometimes we spend a day “winging it” and eating and stopping to do things that catch our eye. The only problem is that our daily budget is all but gone by lunch time. I like to find activities that are free that can burn up some of the kid’s energy without burning up all of my Benjamin’s (more like Washington’s.)

Most of the time these free museums or parks end up being the most memorable for the kiddos.

 

Clingman’s Dome

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Travel + Leisure  named Clingmans Dome one of the World’s Coolest Observation Decks. It is located in the National Park and is the highest point in Tennessee. It has views of 7 states and for 100 miles, but sadly, is limited on most days because of air pollution. Even if you don’t catch a pollution free day, it is still an amazing 22 mile view. The road leading to Clingmans Dome is closed from the first of December to the first of April, but you are allowed to hike or cross country ski to the observation deck, since it is open year round.

 

 

 

Cade’s Cove

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Cades Cove is a picturesque scenic drive located in the national park. The 11 mile loop is full of gorgeous scenery and the occasional glimpse of wildlife (white tail deer, coyote, elk, fox and black bears). While enjoying the views, you can also check out the historical structures, including barns, a mill,   5 Cabins and 3 Churches.

 

 

Newfound Gap Road

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Newfound Gap Road is a gorgeous drive and considered a must-do by visitors to the Smoky Mountains. The road is 31 miles long and drive right through the center of the National Park. Many families recommend packing a picnic lunch and stopping when they find a spot they like.

 

 

Great Smoky Mountain Arts & Crafts Community

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There are over 120 Crafters and Artisans on an 8 mile loop road (think pottery, paintings, fine art photography, leather items, baskets, etc). There are also lots of interesting restaurants, tea rooms, candy shops, and cafe’s  in this area. It is a great way to spend some time, enjoy arts and crafts of the area, and talk to the artists themselves.

Admission and Parking is FREE at the shops. It is a great opportunity to enjoy local art, and you can purchase items you want.

There are also Special Even Craft Shows held in the Gatlinburg Convention Center. These events are held throughout the year and admission is FREE. You can read more information HERE

 

 

Oconaluftee Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill

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The Mountain Museum Farm a collection of historic log buildings such as a smokehouse, barn, springhouse, and a working blacksmith shop.  These buildings have been gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains and kept here at this one location.  There is also a bookstore and a few walking trails.

You can see a video tour HERE.

 

 

Hiking Trails

People With Backpack Walking in Grassland during Daytime

 

Hiking is a great way to get the kids out into nature for some fresh air and exercise.

There are so many hiking trails in The Smoky Mountains. There are short hikes, days hikes, hiking trails leading to waterfalls, hiking trails that lead to amazing views, hiking trails in lush forest areas, and so on and so on. The trails offer beautiful scenery and views no matter what season you decide to go hiking.

List of great trails for family hikes HERE and HERE

 

 

 

Riding Bikes

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Not all areas of The Smoky Mountains are suitable for bike riding, but you can read more about great bike riding areas HERE.

 

 

 

Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum

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The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum is located in Townsend, TN. The outdoor exhibit includes a wooden water tower and vintage trains. The museum showcases artifacts telling The Little River story.

Admission is FREE, but donations are accepted.

 

 

Drive River Road by the Little Pigeon River

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Drive Little River Road by the Little River. Feed the ducks and take a few photos in this lovely area. The road actually spans 18 miles, beginning at Sugarland’s Visitor Center and ending at Cades Cove. There are signs posted to let you know where to find picnic areas, overlooks, hiking trails, and waterfalls.

 

 

Greenbriar

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Greenbriar is known as the local’s entrance into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a great spot to take your family swimming, tubing, and/or fishing. It is also the perfect place for a family picnic. Biking and hiking are also popular activities at Greenbriar.  Ramsay Cascades, Porter’s Creek, and Injun Creek Trail Heads are also located here. March and April are great times to visit the Greenbriar area to see the spring wildflowers.

 

 

 

Sugarland’s Visitor Center

The Sugarland’s Visitor Center is a great place to stop to learn all about The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There is a Museum where there are small displays of all of the animals, plants, and birds from the area. There is also a small movie theatre that shows lots of information on the history of The Smoky Mountains. There is also a gift shop. Kids enjoy the museum display and the short video (about 20 minutes). The employees are very friendly and knowledgeable if you have any questions about the National Park.

Admission is FREE, but donations are accepted.

 

 

Old Mill Square

The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge with springtime flowers

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The kids will love seeing the Old Mill which is right on the Little Pigeon River. This area is also a complex with various shops. You and the kiddos can watch candy or bread being made. Or swing by a pottery shop to see pottery being made as well. There are two restaurants and places to shop, but visiting the area and the mill itself is free.

 

 

Laurel Falls & Trail

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The Laurel Falls is one of the most popular spots to visit in The Smoky Mountains. The hike is fairly easy and visitors love taking photos at the 80 foot falls. The Laurel Falls trail is about 2 1/2 miles roundtrip and is mostly paved, but isn’t recommended for very small children. The hike takes about 2 hours, so it’s recommended to bring water and snacks.

 

 

Wears Valley Road

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Wears Valley is on the quiet side of The Great Smoky Mountains and it is the perfect place to relax. Wears Valley Road is a 15 mile road that winds from Pigeon Forge to Townsend. It is a beautiful drive. The kids actually look up from their tablets to see the beautiful mountains, meadows, and farmland.

In the Wears Valley area, you can hike Metcalf Bottoms, an easy hike only 1 mile long. The trail goes from the picnic area at Metcalf Bottoms to the Little Greenbrier School. This school is a nice way to see some history of the Smoky Mountains.

Laurel Falls trail is also located in this area.

 

**While traveling Wears Valley Road, stop at Moonshine Ridge Country Store and Café for some free samples of pickle relish, corn salsa, and/or chow-chow.

Moonshine Ridge Country Store  //  2005 Wears Valley Road  //  Sevierville, TN 37862 

Website

 

 

Roaring Fork Motor Trail

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This is a really beautiful, scenic drive and a great way to spend the day. It is an 11-mile loop.  The drive itself takes about an hour, but there are several places to stop for a hike or see historical building (or just stretch your legs or take photos). The actual road is one lane and only goes one way. It is very windy in spots.

 

 

Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook

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Such a simple activity but -wow- what a spectacular view! Definitely worth the visit! It’s a view your family will never forget.

 

 

Wear Farm City Park

 

We stumbled upon this nice city park with a great playground.  It is on Wears Valley Road just off of the main road in Pigeon Forge.  It’s a great place for the kiddos to climb and play and swing. The playground and parking are free. You can see a 360 Virtual tour HERE.

Wear Valley City Park  //  623 Wears Valley Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863  //  856.617.8831

Website

 

 

I hope this list help you and your wallet the next time you are visiting The Great Smoky Mountains. Do you have any suggestions for free things to do with kids there? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

 

 

 

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