Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a small mountain resort town tucked into the southern Appalachian mountains, draws millions of tourists each year. Because it is a major regional tourist destination close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg can be an expensive trip for some travelers. With a little knowledge and pre-planning, though, Gatlinburg visitors may enjoy the town's offerings with only minimal expense.
Travel in the Off Season
Gatlinburg's high altitude, abundance of shade and plentiful water attractions make it a major destination during the hot summer months. Likewise, the explosion of color on nearby mountains and cool, crisp autumn atmosphere draw tourists in droves during the fall. When these peak seasons end, however, prices on everything from lodging to dining (and even attractions) plummet, sometimes to less than half of their peak summer and fall rates. Budget-minded visitors who want to experience the best of the mountain resort on a minimal budget may prefer to visit Gatlinburg during the winter months, especially January, when prices are at their lowest. There are exceptions to this general rule, though. Special events on New Year's Eve can send prices skyrocketing, and the town's romantic environment draws enough visitors around Valentine's Day that prices rise on weekends in mid-February.
Gatlinburg may be renowned for its commercial attractions, but the attraction for which it is best known is completely free to enjoy. Great Smoky Mountains National Park---an expanse of more than 800 square miles---welcomes millions of visitors each year with hiking trails, bicycling trails, camping, picnicking, scenic overlooks and, of course, breathtaking fall displays of brilliant natural color. Most activities within the park are free, as is admission itself. Some activities do come with a minimal price tag (camping, for example, costs about $14 per night as of September 2009), but these small donations are cycled back into the park for maintenance and improvements. The park also offers excellent hiking and mountain climbing opportunities, as the elevations along the mountain ridge range from about 900 feet above sea level to more than 6,600 feet. Visitors should be on the lookout for wildlife, though, as scientists estimate about 100,000 species of insects and animals live in the park, including about 1,500 black bears.
While some expenses associated with visiting Gatlinburg simply can not be avoided, they may be minimized with some basic advanced planning. Many hotels raise rates on last-minute travelers, so booking accommodations several weeks or months in advance may significantly reduce lodging expenses. Some attractions offer pre-purchase discounts, and many sell tickets directly from their websites. For flexible travelers, researching Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge for activities during planned travel dates may cut expenses because many attractions, hotels and restaurants become more expensive during major events such as the Rod Run, Jeep Jamboree and winter light displays.