Haven’t got a dime to spare but still want a fun-packed day out? Then head on down to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where a great day awaits even the most cash-strapped thrill seeker. From great parks to fascinating museums, from boozy wineries to mysterious caves, from working mills to relaxed art galleries, there’s a world of fun just waiting to be had... and that’s without even mentioning Dolly Parton’s fabulously kitsch horse show. If you need some inspiration for free things to do in Pigeon Forge, check out these top picks.
1. The Old Mill
The Old Mill is one of Pigeon Forge’s best (and oldest) treasures… the landmark site dates all the way back to 1830, which makes it almost as ancient as the town itself. Despite its advanced age, the mill is still going strong, churning out all the cornmeal and flour that goes into the bellies of the hungry guests of the Old Mill Restaurant. Once you’ve done with your tour of the mill, take a breather on the charming bridge that crosses the Pigeon River… just be sure to have your camera to hand when you do; it’s one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Tennessee.
2. Patriot Park
Located within spitting distance of the Old Mill is Patriot Park, a fabulous spot to while away an afternoon. Enjoy a lazy picnic by the side of the river, take a pleasant stroll through the stunning grounds, visit the replica patriot missile, or explore the extensive nature trails…. whatever you decide to do, you’re sure to have a blast. Best of all, it won’t cost you so much as a dime.
3. The Island
If you’re in Pigeon Forge, don’t miss out on a trip to the Island, one of the city’s newest and fanciest destinations. If you want to dine out at one of the many superlative restaurants (which include Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen) or take in a ride on the incredible Great Smokey Wheel, you may have to part with a little cash, but don’t despair- there’s plenty on the Island to enjoy for free. Top of the list is the spectacular fountain show, a joyous celebration of music and light that illuminates the island every evening. Whether you’re a local to Pigeon Forge or an out- of-towner, the Fountain Show is definitely not to be missed.
4. Smoky Mountain Knife Works
If you’re a fan of curios, a trip to Smokey Mountain Knife Works should be at the top of your to-do-list. The site is home to the largest collections of knives in the world… in case you’re interested in the math, that means a jaw-dropping 1.5 million. While the site does offer quite a few of its offerings for sale, there’s no need to spend a dime to have fun- a tour around the works is completely free and will give you lots of fascinating trivia about the development and evolution of knifes throughout history. For opening details and tour times, check out their website.
5. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
No visit to Pigeon Forge is complete without at least one visit to The National Park… although with so much on offer, you’re likely to want to make it a repeat destination. Renowned throughout the world for its beauty, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park in the entire US, hosting more than ten million visitors every year- with so much on offer, it’s no mystery as to why. Overlooked by a stunning mountain range and full to bursting with waterfalls, wildlife, nature trails, glorious vistas and more, the park is one of the most beautiful spots in the country. And the best part? It’s 100% free. Visit smokeymountain.com for more info.
6. Cades Cove
Cades Cove was once home to some of the first settlers to call the US their home. These days, it’s one of Pigeon Forge’s top tourist spots. With more culture, history and picturesque mountain views than you’ll know what to do with, one thing’s for sure… a visit to Cades Coves won’t leave you disappointed. Before you leave, be sure to check out the Cades Cove Visitor Centre- it’s a mine of information about the site, area, and other spots of interest in the near vicinity. It’s also home to one of the best gift shops in town, and the ideal place to pick up a souvenir using all that money you saved from the free entry. Take a look at the Cades Cove website for opening times and directions.
7. Newfound Gap Road
Before you smirk at the idea of a road being an “awesome thing to do”, think twice… the Newfound Gap Road is not just any old road. The thoroughfare starts in Gatlinburg and winds its way up thousands of feet to reach the very highest peak in Tennessee. Along the way, it passes by some amazing spots to stop and enjoy the view, the best of which has to be Clingmans Dome, an observation tower that soars some 30 feet above the trees to offer some of the most stunning panorama’s you’ll likely see in your life.
8. Swimming Holes
Tennessee summers can get HOT… cool off be visiting one of the many stunning rivers and streams dotted around the Smoky Mountains. You might have to fuel up the car to reach them, but once you’re there, the cost for enjoying the cool tranquil waters, taking in the beautiful surrounds, and even making friends with some of the local wildlife is a big, fat zero. If you’re unsure how to find the best cooling off spots, try sticking to either the Middle Prong Trail or the Little River Trail in Elkmont- both offer plenty of swimming holes along their way.
9. Dolly Parton’s Stampede
What other state but Tennessee would offer the chance to visit a kitsch horse show owned by one of the blondest, buxomest, most talented country stars of her generation? In fairness, I don’t know for sure, but I can’t imagine there’s many … and if there are, I wouldn’t think they’re generous enough to offer the same free entry that Dolly offers her patrons. If you want to be fed and watered, you’ll need to stump up the cash, but if you’re happy just getting up close and personal with some of the state’s most majestic horses, you won’t leave disappointed. Don’t miss the website for full details of the event.
10. Gatlinburg’s Arts & Crafts Community
Yes, I’ll admit- this is a shopping center. In my defense, it’s not the kind of shopping center you’ll need much money to enjoy: at Gatlinburg’s Arts & Crafts Community, browsing is its own kind of entertainment. The community consists of the largest group of independent artisans in the country- if you’re tired of the monotony of the same old chain stores, you’ll be ecstatic to see so many unique independents all crammed into the one, 8-mile loop. With vendors offering everything from bird houses to quilts, toys to candles, baskets to photographs, it’s a feast for the eyes… and everything else. Take a look at the website for more info.
11. Sugarland Distillery
A trip to Tennessee is nothing if it doesn’t include a little moonshine, and what better way to enjoy the taste of the south than with a trip to one of the oldest distilleries in the US? Visitors to the Sugarland Distillery have the unique opportunity to take a behind- the- scenes peek at the making of the state’s most famous export… and get a free sample of the product into the bargain. Well, I say free- the city has recently introduced a mandatory $5 per person fee to sample spirits… the good news is that the distillery is fighting back with a free $5 voucher to use towards any purchase at its gift shop.
12. Pigeon Forge Community Center
If you want to blow of some steam, the Pigeon Forge Community Center is the best place to do it. With free weekly and daily passes for visitors, the center is a great spot for anyone with energy to burn. Home to several basketball courts, a racquetball court, a bowling alley, jogging courts, aerobic rooms, an indoor and outdoor pool, a child care center, and a vast array of workout equipment, you’ll not be left bored, that’s for sure. The center is open 7 days a week, but as opening hours vary, it’s advisable to call ahead. .
13. Sugarland Visitor Center
Some visitor center’s may just be a tedious combo of maps and tourist pamphlets, but not Sugarland Visitor Center. Yes, there are maps, and yes, there are pamphlets, but there’s a whole lot more to this particular visitor center than just that. With an impressive number of ranger- led programs, a free 20- minute movie about the area, and a vast selection of interactive, educational (but fun) exhibits, you could spend a whole day at the site and still leave wanting more. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also a great place to pick the brains of local experts about your itinerary. Check out the website for visiting hours and more.
14. Mountain Farm Museum
Situated just a short drive from Pigeon Forge is Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of charming (and very old) log buildings that have been collected from their original sites around the Smokey Mountains and re-positioned in one easily accessible location. Along with a house, a barn and an apple house, the collection also sports an ancient spring-house, an equally geriatric smokehouse, and a working blacksmith. Visitors to the site will get a real sense of history as they explore the grounds, which are farmed according to historic horticultural and agricultural practices. More information can be found at the National Park Service website.
15. Mt. LeConte
If you like a challenge, you’ll love Mt. LeConte. For hikers willing to brave its steep trails, some breathtaking views await at the top. Even if you don’t quite manage to reach the summit, there’s enough visual treats lower down to keep you happy… from meadows strewn with mountain wildflowers, to wondrous rock outcrops, to the mysterious Alum Cave, you won’t be left disappointed, that’s for sure. Before you decide to brave the peak, make sure to prepare properly. For some useful hints, take a look at Tennessee Hiking Report.
16. Mill Bridge Winery
If you like the odd drop of vino, make sure to stop by the Mill Bridge Winery. As one of Pigeon Forge’s newest attractions, and set just adjacent to the renowned Old Mill, the winery is the perfect place to relax, enjoy the atmosphere and sip a free sample of wine on its pretty patio. If you enjoy the wine enough to want to take some home, don’t miss a stop at the winery’s well-stocked food and wine store- although unlike the wine sample, this one will cost you. Check out the Mill Bridge Winery website for opening hours and directions.
17. Mountain Valley Winery
Yes, it’s another winery. And no, I don’t have a problem… and neither will you, if you make the effort to visit this charming little spot. Situated just past the Titanic Museum (another Pigeon Forge attraction that’s well worth a visit), Mountain Valley Winery offers visitors the chance to take a free tour of the wine making area, along with the opportunity to sample several of their award-winning wines…. again, for free. Information on tour times and opening hours is available on the winery’s website.
18. Lid'l Dolly's Factory Store
The products at Lid'l Dolly's Factory Store may be for sale, but their 100% free to browse. And browse them you’ll want to … the store’s a showcase for over 300 unique, hand- made quilts, making it the biggest retailer of its kind in the southeast. The staff are full of southern hospitality and are happy to answer any and all questions you have about the quilts (which, by the way, are all handcrafted on site). If quilts aren’t enough to keep you amused, you’re in luck- the store also stocks Southern Belle Lid'l Dolly's dresses, a tradition that dates back over 200 years. Visit Lid'l Dolly’s website for a taste of what to expect.
19. Wear Farm City Park
Wear Farm City Park is the perfect place to decamp with the family… with 5 300’ lighted softball/baseball fields, a football pitch, two playgrounds, three shelters, a basketball court, ample parking, and numerous walking trails, there’s enough on offer to keep even the hardest to please kid (or grown-up) happy. The park may be one of Pigeon Forge’s newest attractions, but its also one of its best. Visit the City of Pigeon Forge website to find out why.
20. Master's Editions Island Gallery
If you’re a fan of art in all its glory, don’t miss a visit to Master’s Editions Island Gallery, which is ideally located on Pigeon Grove’s fabulous Island. Unlike some galleries, there’s nothing snotty or highbrow about the atmosphere here; its laid- back air, relaxing vibe and friendly staff make it a great spot to browse the inspiring artwork. Although the gallery features national and international artists, a lot of the work comes from local artists, making it a great opportunity to see how the stunning natural environment of the Smokey Mountains inspires its inhabitants. The paintings, of course, come with a price, but even if you leave empty-handed, you’ll not regret a visit to this charming attraction.
Written by Benjamin Smith
Read more posts by Benjamin Smith