With the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, many people around the U.S. are beginning to plan summer trips.
One area that a lot of people are interested in is the Great Smoky Mountains. You can take a road trip through the rural mountain roads and enjoy the quiet, natural beauty and streams.
Townsend is often called the “quiet side of the Smokies” in contrast to the bustling and often crowded tourist areas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Townsend offers a different perspective of the area that a lot of people enjoy.
The following are some things to know about Townsend if the Smokies are on your upcoming travel plans.
Townsend is the gateway to Cades Cove, which is one of the most popular places to visit in the United States.
Many people consider Cades Cove the most beautiful place in the Smokies. It features walking and biking paths and preserved historic churches and homes. There are picnic areas and plenty of wildlife. You might even spot a bear at Cades Cove.
Townsend is in Blount County, and it’s one of three main entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s the least trafficked of these three entrances. Another entrance is south of Gatlinburg and then there’s one north of Cherokee.
For thousands of years, Native Americans called the area home and, currently, you can visit the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center to learn more about their culture, as well as the culture of the pioneers and Appalachian communities.
Where Should You Stay?
Most people who stay in the Townsend area choose a cabin, many of which have streams running behind them.
Another option that’s relatively new and is about 30 minutes from Townsend is Under Canvas.
Under Canvas is a glamping retreat with safari-style tents. It was recently named one of the “Top 20 Southern Resorts” by Conde Nast Traveler. This resort is set on more than 180 acres of wooded terrain.
The award-winning Dancing Bear Lodge is in Townsend, with a wonderful Appalachian bistro. Dancing Bear’s accommodations can best be described as rustic chic. This full-service lodge has hotel amenities but still a very “mountain” feel.
If you want a luxury experience, Blackberry Farm is close to Townsend. Blackberry Farm is a world-renowned luxury hotel located on a 4,200-acre estate. Activities available to guests include horseback riding, fly fishing, archery, wine tastings, hiking and boating. It’s truly one-of-a-kind and often attracts celebrities who want to escape for a quiet retreat.
Little Arrow is essentially within walking distance of the entry to the national park. This outdoor resort features RV rentals, cabins and tiny homes. It’s charming and is on the river surrounded by wooded forests, with a pool and regular events held on-site. Little Arrow was selected as the “Best Glamping Resort” by USA Today.
What to Do in Townsend
Most activities in Townsend center around the mountains and the national park. The park is the most popular in the country as far as the number of visitors. It has some of the highest mountains in the eastern part of North America, like Mount Le Conte and Clingman’s Dome.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park features waterfalls and spruce-fir forests, and there are a number of preserved, historical structures located within. In 2019, the park had more than 12.5 million tourists. That’s twice as many as the Grand Canyon. Popular hiking trails include Laurel Falls, Chimney Tops and Alum Cave Trail. Other activities in the park include fly fishing, cycling and tubing.
There are other things to do in Townsend outside of the park. River tubing is one of the big reasons people go to Townsend in the summer months. You can visit one of the tubing outfitters and relax as you float along and take in the scenery. River Rat is the main tubing company in Townsend, and they offer trips on the upper and lower sections of the Little River. The lower section is serene and family-friendly; the upper is more adventurous.
If you like wine, there are several wineries and cellars in the area, like Cades Cove Cellars. You should also make time to visit Apple Valley Café and Restaurant, known for selling around 50,000 of their famous fried apple pies a year. If you want to go to Gatlinburg, it’s less than an hour from Townsend. What a lot of travelers find best for them is using Townsend as their basecamp but also spending time in Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge
Dollywood is nearby in Pigeon Forge, as is its sister amusement park Splash Country. In Gatlinburg is the newly completed Anakeesta, a mountain oasis with shopping, dining and recreation. You take a ski lift to the top and feel like you’re high above the Smokies. The restaurants all have amazing views as well.
The Gatlinburg Space Needle is a 407-foot observation tower overlooking downtown, and it gives you a 360-degree view. Wears Valley Road is an attraction in and of itself, going from Pigeon Forge to Townsend. You can take in some of the best of the mountain scenery on this 15-mile road.
If you’re more adventurous, you might want to check out The Tail of the Dragon, which is a windy and twisting 11-mile road popular among motorcyclists. Little River Road connects Townsend to downtown Gatlinburg, and during the spring and summer, you’ll see wildflowers, as well as the river and waterfalls along the way.
Overall, Townsend is a quiet and beautiful place to think about planning a trip this summer or even in the fall as the leaves change. It definitely gives you a different perspective than you get in Gatlinburg, but still proximity to many of the same attractions.