The mountain resort city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee may seem like there is little to be desired for adults if you don’t like crowds and overpriced tourist traps.
But if you leave all of those attractions in the dust you’ll see that there are actually a lot of fun and cheap things to do in Gatlinburg for adults both in town and out in nature. If you plan accordingly and don’t fall for the flashing lights and obnoxious signs I think it’s likely you’ll enjoy your time in this city!
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About Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg started off as a tiny town – there were only around 600 residents living in log cabins in the 1800s. So, what made Gatlinburg so popular? Well, the creation of the national park in the Smokies in the early 1900s brought it some attention and allowed for many hotels featuring mountain views to increase tourism in the area. From there, man-made attractions like the famous Ripley’s branch begin to be built in hoards. drawing crowds from all over the place.
Best things do to in Gatlinburg for adults
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is widely known as one of the biggest tourist traps towns in the United States. If you’re like me and find that to be a major red flag then you may be interested in finding out my honest thoughts after spending 2 days in Gatlinburg.
I will start by saying that since visiting here I found there to be quite a few cheap things to do in Gatlinburg that didn’t feel overly touristy and still allowed me to enjoy the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains and the history of Gatlinburg!
So keep reading to find out the best cheap things to do in Gatlinburg for adults!
1. Have breakfast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp
Crockett’s Breakfast Camp is a place you can’t miss seeing due to the large skillet on the outside of the building. To me, this screamed overpriced and average food but it ended up being an excellent choice!
On our last morning in Gatlinburg, we tried Crockett’s Breakfast Camp because it was so close to our Airbnb. We were in super good spirits because as we were heading down we saw a bear cub in a parking lot across from us. It was so adorable!!
We really loved the log cabin atmosphere inside the place! We asked for the cozy table right next to the fireplace. The menus were designed to look like newspapers, I loved all the attention to detail. I got a meat and veggie omelet, toast, fruit, and of course coffee. It was a well-priced and super satisfying meal.
Make sure to get there as close to opening as possible because it fills up QUICK!
2. Sample moonshine at Sugarlands Distilling Co
Sugarlands Distilling Company is the super modern building right on the main strip that boasts it to be the #1 activity in Gatlinburg. While that didn’t lure me in the $5 moonshine tasting offer did in fact get me inside!
Once you pay for your ticket you’re led to a circular standing bar with other visitors. Your host will then walk you through 10 rounds of different moonshine flavors!
He really made it fun and started us out strong with a 135-proof shot of moonshine – the whole group had a good laugh watching each other’s faces, man it was strong! My favorite flavors were apple pie and blackberry!
They have an outside attached bar area where you can order mixed drinks which were reasonably priced. We ended up getting a seasonal drink from the list. It gave us a nice buzz right before we went on the Gatlinburg Skylift (more on this below)!
This was such a fun experience and one of the best cheap things to do in Gatlinburg for adults.
Another option that isn’t quite as cheap but is still a good deal and highly rated is this distillery hopping tour. You’ll visit 2 distilleries and a winery and at the end go behind the scenes and learn about the process of moonshine production. Generous samples at each stop are included in the ticket price which is $48 USD per person.
3. Hike Mt LeConte
One of the best cheap things to do in Gatlinburg is to go for a hike in the Smokies. There are all kinds of day hikes of varying lengths but if you want to be impressed, a full-day trek up Mt LeConte needs to be on your list!
Mt LeConte is the third highest mountain in the Smoky Mountains at 6,593 ft (2,010 meters) in elevation but it is the highest peak that is fully in Tennessee. Daryl and I decided to hike the Alum Cave to Mt LeConte Trail but the Rainbow Falls to Mt Leconte Trails is also super popular.
While I have yet to become a hiking expert I can tell you that the whole trail was insanely beautiful and the top had incredible views from 3 different viewpoints.
This is an 11-mile (17.7 kilometers) out-and-back trail that is classified as strenuous. If you want to attempt this hike I would recommend at the very least a pretty decent level of fitness but it will be more doable for those with more endurance.
Daryl and I did this midway into COVID in 2020 so our endurance levels were not close to where they had been pre-covid. We didn’t exactly realize how hard it was until it was too late. Our biggest mistake was not having time to adjust to the altitude (we had driven down from Michigan) which caused us shortness of breath quite frequently.
It takes most people 7 hours to finish but it took us around 10 hours to finish including an hour or more spent enjoying the views and eating lunch at the top.
Tips for hiking Alum Cave to Mt LeConte:
- If coming from a low-elevation place wait 2-3 days before hiking to give your body time to adjust.
- Bring at least a half gallon of water per person, lots of snacks, and lunch.
- DO NOT WEAR TENNIS SHOES, hiking boots are a must, there are lots of narrow uphill passes and a lot of the trail was wet and slick. You need a good grip.
- You can spend the night at LeConte Lodge at the top so check into this months in advance if you want to complete this hike over two days.
4. Walk around downtown Gatlinburg
Photo credits: Sean Foster, Unsplash
The length of the downtown strip is about 1.5 miles long so it’s very easy to explore the whole thing. This is a good and bad thing.
The bad is that the sidewalks will be filled with people and children no matter which part you’re on. The good is that shops stay open late and you don’t have to worry about not having time to see and do it all.
There are a lot of annoying and noisy attractions like the Earthquake Ride or Mysterious Mansion but in between those there are also cute boutiques and gift shops with high-quality items. We stuck to these types of places and the distilleries, restaurants, and wineries (more on this below).
5. Ride the SkyLift and walk the SkyBridge
Besides the Gatlinburg Space Needle, the SkyLift Park is the other obvious one of the downtown Gatlinburg attractions.
The SkyLift chairlifts will take you up 1,800 feet (549 meters) up Crockett Mountain which is where the 700 ft long (213 m) Gatlinburg SkyBridge is strung between two cliffs. It’s actually the longest cable pedestrian bridge in all of North America!
For us, this experience ended up being one of our top things to do in Gatlinburg! We had been contemplating before going if it would be as cool as it looked and we weren’t disappointed – it’s super cool so make sure to check it out!!!
We went in the early afternoon which was super beautiful because there was still fog on top of the mountains and the air was crisp, it just felt so peaceful and cozy being bundled up in our hoodies, and it was a super romantic ride up the chairlift!
Your ticket includes access to the whole SkyLift Park for $32.95 USD at the gate only otherwise if you’d prefer to buy in advance you will need to buy the one-day pass online which allows you to unlimited visits on the day you use your ticket. It costs $34.95 USD if bought at least one day in advance and if bought the day of it is $36.95 USD.
I think this price is very fair considering you get a round trip and unlimited time at the top to enjoy the views!!! The chair lift duration is a good length, I felt like I had time to enjoy the scenery and ride.
We went at the end of September and the SkyBridge wasn’t overly crowded. In the middle of the bridge, there is a glass panel you have to walk through to get to the other side. It was funny seeing which people were scared to walk over it! I took a few moments in the middle just to stare out, take a few breaths and enjoy the moment.
The SkyCenter is right next to where the chairlifts unload from, inside there’s a gift shop and the SkyCafe which has drinks and simple food choices like pizza, hot dogs, or wraps.
I would highly recommend this experience! Especially if you will not be hiking on your visit, this gives you a chance for some mountainous views.
6. Sample wines at Tennessee Homemade Wines
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Homemade Wines
Several wineries around the main strip offer free wine samples. We popped into Tennessee Homemade Wines because they are known for their southern sweet wines and sweet wines are our favorite!
You can pretty much sample as many wines as you like and you are assigned your own “bartender”, ours was super informative and kind! Seriously, there wasn’t a wine we tried that we hated which is rare for us because we are a bit picky.
The most unique wine we sampled was the White Muscadine. Muscadines are a type of grape and when used in wine has a very sweet and fruit-forward taste. This type of wine isn’t very popular but it is easier to find in Tennessee because they grow best in hot weather.
Note: Have cash on you in case you don’t buy anything, it’s appreciated if you at least tip your bartender a few dollars for their efforts.
7. Live music at Shamrock Pub
Photo courtesy of Shamrock Pub
We were drawn into Shamrock Pub from the live music that we heard from across the street. We grabbed moonshine-based cocktails and the atmosphere paired with the moonshine made me feel like I had been transported back to when moonshine was illegal in prohibition days.
Shamrock Pub has live music daily! You can check their schedule here.
8. Stay in a cozy mountainside cabin
Photo courtesy of Romantic Honeymoon Cabin
As you know, where you stay can greatly influence your trip. In our case, we chose to skimp on accommodations and went with a cheap lodge that turned out to be some of the most uncomfortable night’s sleep we’ve ever had.
I swear, that bed was seriously all springs and no mattress. We should’ve taken more time reading reviews or spent a little bit more money on something better.
That said, if you’re on a budget, try and book further in advance so there are more options to pick from. If you have more money to spend you can really pick a comfortable stay with a beautiful mountain view and many choices have hot tubs on the balconies – how romantic!
You can browse all kinds of accommodation options through booking.com which is where I tend to make the most of my reservations. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed they have cheaper and nicer options than Airbnb with great cancelation policies! If you keep reading to the end you can also see my hotel picks to get ideas.
9. Coffee from Smoky Moutain Coffee Co.
Photo courtesy of Smoky Mountain Coffee Co.
I haven’t been here personally as I had tried Berg Coffee (which unfortunately is permanently closed) but this is the coffee shop I will definitely be trying next time I am in the area!
Smoky Mountain Coffee Co has almost perfect reviews so I really don’t need to say much more than that, do I?
But to give you some additional incentives this place roasts their own coffee and uses high-quality ingredients. Besides all their lattes and coffee drinks being exceptional the massive cinnamon rolls are not something to skip out on! You can enjoy your choices out on the patio.
Parking in downtown Gatlinburg can be an issue but there is a lot of parking here as it is a small building tucked a bit out of the way of the chaos.
Other downtown Gatlinburg attractions
During our stay in Gatlinburg, we didn’t have the time to do these activities below but I wanted to include them to give you some additional cheap things to do in Gatlinburg that I think would be fun for adults.
10. Moonshine Mountain Coaster
Photo courtesy of Moonshine Mountain Coaster
This activity isn’t just for kids but also one of the things to do in Gatlinburg for adults. If you want to try something with a bit of a thrill the Moonshine Mountain Coaster is a quirky way to spend a few minutes! You can go up to speeds of 30 mph if you want you will also be in control of the brake system.
The track is over 3,000 ft long (914 m) and in total takes about 5 minutes from start to finish. You can go for a ride during the day or at night, the night version has colorful lights that illuminate the mountain landscapes.
Priced at $17 USD for adults it’s on the cheaper side of the things to do in Gatlinburg and if one ride isn’t enough, a second ride is $8 USD.
I don’t even notice this existed when we visited so we obviously didn’t end up doing this so I’m not sure if it is worth the money for such a short ride but it does look cooler than a lot of the other gimmicky attractions. If you are interested to try it for yourself you can book in advance here.
11. Walk the Gatlinburg Trail
The Gatlinburg Trail can be easily accessed from the west end of downtown so it’s one of the most convenient things to do in Gatlinburg.
It’s an easy 3.9 mi (6.3 km) out-and-back trail with a very minimal elevation gain (164 ft/50 m) that takes you right along Little Pigeon River.
It is pretty popular for runners, bikers, and dog walkers so you will want to go early in the morning if you don’t want to see a lot of people. The views aren’t anything too special but it is a nice way to get some movement in to start your day and because there is no park entry fee it’s also one of best cheap things to do in Gatlinburg.
Where to stay close to downtown Gatlinburg attractions
Photo courtesy of Standing Bear Lodge
Here are my Gatlinburg accommodation suggestions for all budgets:
Econo Lodge Inn & Suites – The top highly rated budget hotel right in downtown Gatlinburg. Rooms are very simple but clean, there is a daily continental breakfast is offered and an outdoor pool.
Quality Inn & Suites – This place isn’t updated but if you’re looking for a simple place to crash this will do, it is clean and comfortable. Note, it is pet friendly so expect to see dogs.
Blackbear Inn & Suites – A couple of minutes’ drive from downtown. The interior isn’t super updated but a cheaper option to consider with a decent breakfast and rooms with a balcony, microwave, and fridge.
Chalet Inn – Great affordable choice that is super close to downtown. Most rooms have mountain views and you can upgrade to have afireplace, spa bath, and a balcony! The grounds are well maintained and a pool. Free parking is available if needed.
Romantic Honeymoon Cabin – The ultimate cabin stay is perfect for couples, just like the name suggests! This is a 1 bedroom vacation home that has a full kitchen and washer and dryer. A safe location that is a 20-minute drive from the town surrounded by woods with mountain views in the distance.
Baymont by Wyndham – This hotel gives off a very cozy lodge feel being located right on the river there are scenic views all over the property. All rooms include a microwave, refrigerator, and coffee machine. There is an indoor pool, sauna, and gym. It is close to everything but you will need to drive.
Standing Bear Lodge – This large 5-bedroom cabin in the mountains is great for groups or if you just want a whole place to yourselves very close to Mt LeConte trails and 30 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. This home has so many great amenities like the air hockey and pool tables but the hot tub on the balcony is a stand-out! Full kitchen and dining room and sleeps up to 18 people!
Margaritaville Resort – This is the most luxurious hotel choice within walking distance of all the main downtown Gatlinburg attractions. It has an outdoor pool, fitness center, an on-site restaurant, and a spa. There are queen and king rooms you can pick from.
Final word on cheap things to do in Gatlinburg for adults
Thanks for sticking around to the end! I hope this list has uncovered some things to do in Gatlinburg for adults that aren’t a rip-off for your bank account! Gatlinburg is truly such a unique tourist mountain town and if you give it a chance you may find a soft spot for it as I did!
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