How to Visit Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on a Budget

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Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are popular vacation destinations, attracting millions of visitors annually.

These beautiful towns are nestled in the stunning Great Smoky Mountains, providing breathtaking views and a lot of fun activities for visitors of all ages.

However, with so many attractions and activities, traveling to these destinations on a budget can be a challenge. That being said, don’t fret! There are many ways to make your trip affordable so you can fully enjoy everything they have to offer.

Let’s dive into some great tips for visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on a budget.

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Pink suitcases and a hat for traveling

How to Visit Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on a Budget

Choose Your Accommodation Wisely

Choosing affordable accommodation is one of the best ways to save money when visiting Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. 

There are plenty of budget-friendly cabins, condos, and hotels to choose from in the area. You should be able to find the perfect place to fit your needs and budget with a bit of research.  

Don’t be tempted to go for the pricier options that may be closer to popular attractions. 

Often, the discounted options don’t fall that far behind, and with convenient transportation options, the distance can easily be made up.

Here are four budget-friendly places to stay in these areas:

  • Econo Lodge Riverside (Gatlinburg): This affordable hotel is located along the Little Pigeon River and offers comfortable accommodations at a reasonable price. It’s close to many attractions and offers scenic views.
  • Super 8 by Wyndham Pigeon Forge-Emert St: Super 8 is a well-known budget hotel chain. This particular location in Pigeon Forge provides clean and basic rooms, making it a cost-effective choice for travelers.
  • Creekstone Inn (Pigeon Forge): Creekstone Inn is situated along the Little Pigeon River and provides comfortable rooms with balconies offering beautiful river views. It’s a reasonably priced option in Pigeon Forge.
  • Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Gatlinburg: This hotel offers visitors affordable rates and is located in Gatlinburg, just a short drive from popular attractions. The rooms are clean and comfortable, making it a good budget choice.

Remember that availability and pricing can vary depending on the season and demand, so it’s a good idea to book in advance and compare prices to find the best deal for your travel dates.

Utilize the Trolleys

When visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, it’s a good idea to utilize the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge trolley instead of spending money on gas or parking fees.

All-day passes for the Pigeon Forge trolley are $3.00, and the Gatlinburg trolley is free.

You can easily avoid the hassle of dealing with traffic by using the trolleys. These trolleys have designated routes that can take you to various attractions and destinations in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. You can relax and enjoy the ride without worrying about navigating through congested roads.

And, since both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer convenient trolley stops near popular attractions, you won’t have to worry about finding parking spaces or paying parking fees.

Utilize Free and Budget-Friendly Activities

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge offer a wide range of free attractions and activities.

You can enjoy scenic drives, hiking, exploring the Great Smoky Mountains, and visiting historic landmarks without any cost involved.

Other exciting free activities include visiting the observation platform at Clingman’s Dome, a drive through Cades Cove, and spectating local events like parades, fairs, and live music festivals.

Here’s a list of 10 budget-friendly things to do in the area:

Gatlinburg:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Exploring the national park is free, and there are numerous hiking trails and scenic drives to enjoy the natural beauty.
  • Cades Cove: This popular destination within the national park offers free wildlife viewing and a historic loop road.
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: Take a beautiful drive through this one-way loop road and enjoy waterfalls, forests, and wildlife. 
  • Gatlinburg Trail: This is a pleasant, easy walking trail in the national park that starts near the Sugarlands Visitor Center. It’s a great way to experience the park’s beauty at no cost.
  • Ober Gatlinburg: While the attractions at Ober Gatlinburg are not free, you can purchase wristbands that include almost all of the activities they offer, including the Aerial Tramway from downtown Gatlinburg to Ober Gatlinburg. Wristbands are $49 for ages 5 to 59 and $39 for those age 60 and over. Children age four and under are free with a paying adult.

Pigeon Forge:

  • The Island in Pigeon Forge: The Island offers free entertainment, including a beautiful fountain show, live music, and wandering around the shops and restaurants.
  • Patriot Park: This park features walking trails, picnic areas, and a beautiful overlook of the Little Pigeon River, all at no cost.
  • Tanger Outlets: Even if you’re not shopping, strolling through the outdoor Tanger Outlets can be an enjoyable experience, and sometimes there are free events and entertainment.
  • Old Mill Square: Visit the historic Old Mill in Pigeon Forge and take a leisurely walk around the charming Old Mill Square area.
  • Hiking Trails: There are several free hiking trails near Pigeon Forge, including the Alum Cave Trail, Laurel Falls Trail, and Andrews Bald Trail. These trails offer varying levels of difficulty and the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Plan Your Dining Budget

Food is an excellent opportunity for budget leaks to occur. 

Consider preparing your own meals. Packed lunches are also a great option to save money and maximize travel time by avoiding stops over meal breaks.

Also, consider using restaurant coupons, food festivals, and meal deals. 

If you’re going to eat out while there, here are a few budget-friendly restaurants:

  • Big Daddy’s Pizzeria (Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge): This family-friendly pizzeria offers reasonably priced pizzas, pasta, and more. They are known for their delicious and affordable pizza.
  • Mama’s Farmhouse: This restaurant in Pigeon Forge serves Southern comfort food and offers all-you-can-eat family-style dining. While it may seem a bit pricier at first, the portions are generous, making it a good value.
  • No Way Jose’s Mexican Cantina (Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge): If you’re in the mood for Mexican cuisine, No Way Jose’s offers affordable options and a great atmosphere.
  • Little Tokyo Hibachi Grill and Sushi: This Japanese restaurant in Pigeon Forge offers hibachi grilling, sushi, and other Japanese dishes at reasonable prices.
  • Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que (Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge): For some good old Southern barbecue, Bennett’s is known for its flavorful and affordable BBQ dishes.

Choose Your Time Wisely

When it comes to vacations on a budget, timing is everything. Planning your trip outside peak season will save costs on lodgings, tickets, and attraction prices.

Also, scheduling your activities for weekdays instead of weekends attracts cheaper deals.

These times are when you’re more likely to find lower hotel rates, shorter lines at attractions, and less crowded streets.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Late Winter (Late February to Early March):
    • Late winter, just before spring break season, can be a quiet and cost-effective time to visit.
    • The weather is still relatively cool, but you can enjoy indoor attractions and shopping without the summer crowds.
  • Late Fall (Late November to Early December):
    • After the busy fall foliage season, the late fall period offers more budget-friendly options.
    • You can still catch some of the holiday season charm without the peak holiday crowds.
  • Weekdays (Monday to Thursday):
    • Regardless of the season, weekdays tend to be less crowded and less expensive than weekends.
    • Consider planning your visit from Monday to Thursday for better deals and fewer tourists.
  • January (excluding holidays):
    • After the holiday season, January is typically a quieter time with lower rates.
    • While some attractions may have reduced hours, it can be a peaceful time to visit.
  • Non-holiday weekdays in the summer:
    • While summer is generally busier, you may find less crowded weekdays between major holidays, like the Fourth of July or Labor Day.

Discounts and Promotions

One of the easiest ways to enjoy a budget-friendly trip to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge is by making use of available discounts and promotions.

Many attractions, restaurants, and services offer discounts to senior citizens, military personnel, school groups, and others.

Take the time to do some research, and you might just get lucky with great deals.

Here are some places where you can typically find coupons and deals:

  • Official Websites: Check the official tourism websites for Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. They may offer downloadable coupons and information on current promotions and packages.
  • Coupon Books: Many hotels and accommodations provide coupon books with discounts for nearby restaurants and attractions. Be sure to ask at the front desk.
  • Coupon Websites: There are several websites and apps, like Groupon, RetailMeNot, and Coupons.com, where you can often find discounts and deals for activities and restaurants in the area.
  • Social Media: Follow businesses’ social media accounts in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. They sometimes post exclusive deals and promotions for their followers.
  • Visitor and Convention Bureau: The Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Visitor and Convention Bureaus may have current discounts and deals information. You can contact them or visit their offices for more information.

Remember that deals and promotions can change frequently, so it’s a good idea to check for updates and new offers before your trip. 

Final Thoughts

Planning a budget-friendly trip to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge doesn’t have to mean sacrificing Southern charm and attractions.

Using these tips, you can enjoy everything these lovely destinations have to offer without breaking the bank.

Find a place to stay that allows you to have fun with your family, enjoy affordable and unique dining experiences, and plan your itinerary accordingly to focus on the free or low-cost attractions.

With these strategies implemented, you will be certain to have a memorable trip without feeling the pinch.

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