The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend offers a deep dive into the history and culture of the Southern Appalachians and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Cades Cove. The Center preserves the history of the Native Americans and the earlier inhabitants of this area, with displays and recreations, including an authentically created Appalachian village.
The Heritage Center is a trove of local lore, and embodies the strong cultural heritage feeling of the area’s inhabitants today, who preserve and share a great deal of knowledge of Cades Cove. This makes a great home-schooling visit and an educational experience for anyone. History doesn’t have to be stuffy and the Center is by no means averse to fun, hosting many concerts and festivals throughout the year.
Explore an Appalachian Village
The Appalachian village takes you back to a simpler time to see how people of the 1800’s lived, worked and played. The museum building is your first stop to explore the area’s people, history, and culture. Using artifacts to help tell the tales, the exhibits start with the Native American tribes who lived in Tuckaleechee Cove. Follow the historical timeline through to the creation of the Cades Cove settlement. Don’t forget to swing by the transportation gallery after that to see all the vehicles used through the years.
Once you’re ready to tour the village, simply explore all the nearby buildings at your leisure. As you do that, you’ll come across a farmhouse, barn, blacksmith workshop, church, and even an outhouse. Each structure comes fully equipped with the furniture, tools, and other belongings common back then. You can often find artisans holding demonstrations for the crowds as you walk around.
Tuckaleechee Cove is an east-west valley with the Little River running through it, and containing the town of Townsend. While the more famous Cades Cove lies to the south, with a similar east-west orientation, Tuckaleechee contains much history, with signs of human habitation dating back 13,000 years.
The limestone formations of the Cove have captured great archeological finds, and from more recent times there are many remnants of Native American settlements, predominantly Cherokee. Tuckaleechee Cove also holds Tuckaleechee Caverns, containing the tallest underground waterfall in the United States. This part of the Smoky Mountains – known as the Peaceful Side of the Smokies – is replete with history, and the Heritage Center holds the key to unlock much of it for interested visitors.
Musical Performances on Weekends
To enjoy the onsite amphitheater to the fullest, you’ll want to swing by on the weekends for the regular live musical performances. Just be sure to make reservations ahead of time to ensure you can get tickets because their seats fill up fast.
The Center even brings many musical groups together for a full day of jams by hosting concert series of all kinds, like their Sunset Concert Series.
As you listen to the musicians play live, take a moment to savor the amazing acoustics inside the amphitheater. Feel free to get up and dance in front of the stage as the tunes fill the air.
Festivals Throughout the Year
In addition to concerts, community festivals fill out the event schedule at the Heritage Center. The dates change year after year, although many events make the museum their venue of choice whenever possible.
On any given year, festivals you might find on the calendar include:
- Great Smoky Mountains Fiber Fair
- Tastes of the Smokies
- Autos Through the Ages Car Show
- Townsend Fall Heritage Festival
- Holiday Handcrafters Festival
The events bring the community together to enjoy music, food, and fun for days on end. Many of the festivals bring out artisans interested in selling their wares and showing off their skills. You may get to learn how to make jewelry, musical instruments, apple butter, and more.
Gift Shop With Souvenirs
At the end of your visit, take a moment to stop by the gift shop for souvenirs. You can find branded mugs, t-shirts and other merchandise as mementos of your trip. Often there are items from local artisans as well, in case you miss a chance to buy from vendor booths at festivals.
The Heritage Center is an unpretentious treat filled with rich memories in the making for visitors of all ages. After your visit, maybe head over to Tuckaleechee Caverns or continue exploring the byways of this part of the Smoky Mountains – see our numerous Guides to Things to Do for insider tips on features and attractions not to miss in the Smoky Mountains.
Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center
123 Cromwell Dr, Townsend, TN 37882