Road Trip! Time to make those epic family memories with the kiddos! But you can’t even take the family out to eat without dropping some serious coin. How are you supposed to travel for the weekend/week!? Simple, just follow these basic guidelines;
- Research the best places to stay & get the best deal! Search….travago.com, expedia.com, kayak.com, Airbnb.com, pigionforgejellystone.com (they have Glamping tents, ladies…and Yogi Bear will personally deliver cookies & milk to your camp site for a small fee), etc. some are as low as $44 a night, depending on day. Always read the fine print & look out for added fees. When possible book at places that offer FREE breakfast & a pool…going out to eat for breakfast can get pricey (save $20+ a day with free breakfast) and pools are the BEST when traveling with kids. Lastly, EBATES, baby! (10% cash back on bookings on their hotels, just FYI)
- Only visit places you don’t have at home (For example- we have Cedar Point at home, thus we opted not to go to Dollywood)
- Pack Food -Toss whatever you have in your fridge in a cooler. Then, only purchase what you need. (PB & J sandwiches, veggies, & fruit were our go-to…kids literally had that for lunch every day, lol! Buying 3 loaves of bread, a jar of PB, jelly, veggies and fruit was actually cheaper than taking the entire family to McDonalds just once for a meal).
- Seek the free and splurge on three (As a family, decide on 3 things you will splurge on during your trip and then seek out all free things to do for the remainder of the trip). We found a lot of fun FREE things to do…..
Free Things to do in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge, TN
Enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
That’s right; entry into the park is FREE!!
Sugarlands Visitor Center
This was our first stop and was extremely helpful! The park is huge, so a map is a must and it is often busy, so do inquire with a ranger and heed their recommendations. There is also a free 20-minute orientation motion picture that provides an in-depth look at the Smokies and the enormous diversity of plant and animal life in the Park. Natural history exhibits include mounted specimens of park animals in recreations of their habitats and reproductions of journals kept by the first park naturalists are also on display. (Ranger talks and slide shows are presented daily from spring through fall). All FREE!
Newfound Gap Road
This is perfect for little travelers…toddlers, preschoolers, etc. The 33-mile drive from Gatlinburg to Cherokee North Carolina along Newfound Gap Road (US 441) is the only route that completely traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And has awesome pic opportunities along the way.
Rockefeller Memorial (Newfound Gap Road)
Rockefeller Memorial, which lies half in Tennessee and half in North Carolina. It memorializes the support and $5 million donated by the Rockefeller family to help establish the Park, which was dedicated here by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.
Clingman’s Dome (Newfound Gap Road)
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Only Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,647), both located in Mt. Mitchell State Park in western North Carolina, rise higher. The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top.
It’s seven miles to the end of Clingmans Dome Road and there are scenic pullouts with endless views of ridges and valleys along the way. The road ends in a large parking area from which a 0.5 mile trail leads to the summit. The trail is paved but steep, and leads to an observation tower on top.
Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen
This can be a fun free experience, but only if you have the willpower. Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen is an adorable candy shop that was founded in 1950 by Dave and Peggy Dych. The kiddos enjoyed watching the candy be made in full view. Candy makers are dressed in white uniforms, and they stirred large copper kettles while feeding taffy into hypnotic machines. This drew quit a crowd. And the best part, free SAMPLES!! That fresh taffy will have you longing for more, this is where that willpower comes into play, you might find yourself purchasing just one box, or three, lol!
Photo Ops (Hollywood Wax Museum & other various stops)
As you enter Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg your mind is blown away by the amount of things there are to do and see, there’s the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Titanic Museum, etc.
And each comes with a hefty admission price. For example, our youngest showed an interest in Hollywood Wax Museum so we inquired about the cost, it would cost us $85 for the family ($23 for adults and $13 for kids). So we made a deal, we would stop in the gift store and she could buy something with her money if she wished (kids have money from b-day & helping out around the house, beyond their chores) and we could get a pic. Sold, she loved the idea and to this day it’s her favorite pic. So don’t be afraid to just get a pic, they are FREE.
But wait, there’s more…..Checkout Erica’s Gigantic List of Totally FREE Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge
Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction
This was such a magnificent and fun family experience! Kiddos loved the fact that there was no utensils during the meal…everything was finger food! Lol! Dolly Parton’s Stampede dinner show has thirty-two magnificent horses & a cast of top-notch riders to entertain you while you enjoy your meal. There was daring feats of trick riding and competition, princesses, lots of live animals, a pitting North against South in a friendly and fun rivalry, and more. The evening was full of music, dancing, special effects and family friendly comedy. The Patriotic Grand Finale was beautiful with flying Doves of Peace, luminous costumes and fireworks, reminding you of the pride and spirit of America. This was our splurge at almost $200 once everything was said and done (we did buy the souvenir mugs for each of the kids in the beginning, did not buy the pics below) $45 for adults and $25 for kids. But when you are having PB & J sandwiches every day for lunch and free breakfast at the hotel the money saved can go to your “splurge” experience.
Old Tyme Portraits
Address: 965 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
This was one my husband wanted to do and I must admit it did end up being a lot of fun. When was the last time your entire family dressed up and had a portrait taken? This didn’t take too long and wasn’t too expensive ($35 for one, second was half off…so ya know we had to get two, lol!).
Know some additional tips and tricks to saving money on family road trips? Been to Gatlinburg and/or Pigeon Forge, what was your favorite activity? Please share in the comments.