Townsend is a small town located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It’s often overlooked as visitors turn south at the Wye to head toward Cades Cove, but it has its own attractions worth exploring, from the scenic roads leading into the nearby entrance to the national park, to its own cycling and walking greenways, along with its sense of history.
This is the Peaceful Side of the Smokies, often a welcome break from the crowded areas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Townsend’s Great Outdoors & History
With an abundance of things to do, outdoor enthusiasts might have a hard time fitting in all the activities they want to experience while visiting Townsend, regardless of the season. Aside from the gorgeous views, you can enjoy hiking, camping, cycling, golf, fishing, horseback riding, and water sports such as tubing the Little River. Want to simply enjoy the outdoors? Take a scenic drive or visit one of Townsend’s great outdoor attractions, including Tuckaleechee Caverns, The Lily Barn Garden, ABR’s Visitor & Education Center, and Hedgewood Gardens.
Visitors to this part of the Smokies can find a less traveled entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and although Cades Cove is the most popular destination in the park, with many people driving from Gatlinburg along the wildly scenic Little River Road, to that famous Wye we mentioned above, this is still a more relaxed part of the area.
This area is also a paradise for photographers and wildlife spotters, and also for history. Townsend culture holds a special regard for Cades Cove, and the Cades Cove Preservation Association is here, along with Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, dedicated to preserving and recreating the storied history of the Appalachian settler and formerly Cherokee area. Another attractions for history enthusiasts is the Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum.
Townsend Shopping, Dining, and More
Several of the artisans from Gatlinburg’s famous arts & crafts community moved out to the Peaceful Side, and Townsend boasts its own unique shopping and galleries, as well as membership in the Townsend Artisan Guild. With numerous options, shopping aficionados seek out Trillium Cove Shopping Village and Apple Valley Mountain Village, along with dozens of shops and independent artisans working in the area.
For the art lover, there are several galleries in Townsend. And for dining, there are a number of options to choose from. Whether you’re seeking fine dining, a comforting coffee shop or cafe, a quick bite to eat, or to enjoy quality southern comfort cuisine, you’ll find it in Townsend.
Townsend offers several festivals a year, usually on a smaller and more intimate scale than its sisters in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Seasonal events include the Smoky Mountain Big Foot Festival, Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival, the Tennessee Pottery Festival, and hugely upbeat Scottish Festival & Games each year.
Mother nature puts on her own festival too, in June each year, with the rare and world-famous Synchronous Fireflies occurrence.
Townsend Has Something for Everyone
Townsend has plenty of fun on offer, and it’s nothing but a scenic drive from Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, whichever way you go. There are plenty of cabins in this quieter part of the Smokies too – see our listings of Wears Valley cabins. So the next time you’re ready to turn south at the Wye to go to Cades Cove, you might want to veer right instead and head into Townsend, to look around a little.
Photo Credit: Brian Stansberry
TIP: here’s how to find an affordable Gatlinburg cabin, and see all of our cabins in the Smoky Mountains, including our Pigeon Forge cabins and our Wears Valley cabins.