A quiet mountain community, Townsend is known as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” which marks a change of pace from the rest of the Smoky Mountain region. Just miles away from the bustling towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Townsend is the quintessential Appalachian town, full of rich heritage and surrounded by breathtaking nature.
Outdoor Attractions and Activities in Townsend
Townsend lies in the beautiful Tuckaleechee Cove, a mountain valley at the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, Townsend is one of just three main gateways to the National Park. With such convenient access to the Smoky Mountains, Townsend is popular for outdoor enthusiasts. From biking and hiking to golfing and fishing, there is an endless number of ways to enjoy the outdoors around Townsend.
The Little River descends from the mountains into the heart of the town, making it a natural gathering place for recreation. The clean and clear mountain waters are used often for swimming, fishing, kayaking and tubing. One such popular spot for water fun is known as “The Townsend Y.” This swimming hole is located where the Little River and the middle prong of Little River join. It’s easy to access and widely known as a fantastic spot for families to swim, sunbathe or enjoy a picnic along the sloping hills. While the surrounding nature looks so pristine and untouched, this beautiful valley has actually been inhabited for thousands of years. In fact, evidence of inhabitants as early as 10,000 years ago was unearthed at a recent archaeological dig.
Historical Attractions in Townsend
Adding to that long history is a rich Appalachian heritage and the thriving logging industry of the past. Visit the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center to learn about and celebrate the culture and history of the Smokies in the 1800s. The museum displays artifacts and highlights the major periods in the region’s history, from 3000 B.C. to 1930. Discover artifacts related to hunting, pottery, foodways, ceremony, games, medicine and trade of the Native Americans that once inhabited the lands. Learn about the pioneer life by stepping back in time to view some of their vehicles and tour the buildings where they worked and lived.
At one point in time, the majority of folks in the Tennessee Smokies were employed by the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company, one of the largest commercial lumber operations in the Smokies. From 1901 to 1939 the company built more than 150 miles of railroads in the Smoky Mountains and sawed more than 560 million board feet of timber. Of course, this land is now known as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but visitors can still travel back in time by visiting The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum, dedicated to preserving the heritage of this illustrious company. The museum, located in Townsend, collects and preserves the history of the companies and people in this region.
Even more history lies underneath the surface at Tuckaleechee Caverns, a mile-long cave system that’s known as the “greatest site under the Smokies.” Estimated to be between 20 and 30 million years old, the caverns tell the story of how the Cherokee Indians used this area as a hiding place before they were discovered in the mid-1800s. The caverns soon became a place where folks would go to cool off as they carried out their chores and even took their summer naps.
An excellent way to combine recreation and history is to take a ride on the historic bike trail, an eight-mile route right through Townsend. Grab a brochure at the Townsend Visitors Center and then follow the markers—they point out historic sites and explain important historic periods.
Townsend is also adjacent to Cades Cove, a once-thriving mountain community built in the 1800s. Today, an 11-mile driving loop takes visitors back in time as they explore a working gristmill and other historical buildings and churches.
Shopping and Dining in Townsend
Aside from its gorgeous nature, Townsend is the perfect mountain town to spend a peaceful day. Browse the town’s charming shops, art galleries and antique stores, where you’ll find one-of-a-kind items, mountain-style crafts, original art and sweet Southern hospitality accompanied by a smile. When you need a little energy, you’ll find a plethora of quaint cafes and eateries dotting the streets of Townsend. Whether you’re in the mood for something tastefully healthy, purely Southern or eclectically inspired, you’re sure to find a restaurant to fit your style and lift your spirits.
No matter where you want to explore during your vacation, the quaint town of Townsend is the perfect place to stay. Choose from many types of accommodations—cabins, hotels and bed and breakfasts abound across the landscape, as do campgrounds.
Whether you come for the bounteous nature, the rich history or the charming aspects of this quiet mountain town, Townsend will leave an impression on you that’s as deep as the coves and as high as the mountains. Come see what’s waiting for you in this valley of paradise.