Townsend: A Guide To The Peaceful Side Of The Smokies


You won’t find big crowds, fast food chains or major attractions here. (Head west if you’re looking for those things.) Townsend — located in Blount County — is a glimpse of a quieter time in the foothills. The population is just shy of 400 people. Even with the influx of visitors each season, Townsend lives up to its nickname “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies.” But don’t let the name fool you. There are still plenty of family-friendly activities here whether you’re interested in indoor or outdoor fun.

Guide to Townsend TennesseeEach month offers something to do, ranging from river tubing to popular festivals like the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival. You can also experience the culture of the region at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. Be sure to plan a meal or two at one of the first-rate local restaurants. Knoxville Moms put together this guide to let you in on a little secret: Townsend is well worth the 50-minute drive from Knoxville. Go for a day and we bet you’ll be back for more in this spot the Cherokee called the “peaceful valley.”

Townsend: A Guide to the Peaceful Side of the Smokies

Things to Do

Ride A Horse—Enjoy the beautiful views of the mountains from horseback! Davy Crockett Riding Stables welcomes people of all ages. No riding experience required.

Ride a Bicycle—There are several bicycle paths in and near Townsend. The Townsend Bicycle Trail is popular because it runs parallel to Highway US 321. It’s just three-miles long with lots of pull-offs along the river for picnics and swimming.

Swim the Wye—This popular swimming hole (also known as the “Townsend Y”) is right where two prongs of the Little River join together. The water is deep in spots, so a life jacket for little ones is a good idea. (There are areas where littles can wade, too.) Parking is ample in the area but be sure to get there early because spaces fill up fast!

Float Down a River—The Little River is also a great spot to tube! The lower river is calm and a perfect spot for a family float. Little ones can even float the river because the outfitters offer tubes with bottoms. The outfitters also provide ties to connect your floats, so you won’t have a kid heading downstream on his or her own. If you’re interested in more challenging rapids, go upstream instead. The local tubing companies are Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing and River Rage Tubing.

Explore a Cave—You’ve seen the Smokies, now see what’s under the Smokies! Tuckaleechee Caverns is a wonder of nature with millions of formations and even a waterfall. You can see it all on the 1.25-mile-long tour of the caverns.

Cross Some Cool Bridges—One of the last swinging bridges open to the public in
East Tennessee can be found in Townsend. The Dark Island Swinging Bridge is located behind the Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum. There is plenty of parking. You can cross the bridge and cross back, but keep in mind the other end leads onto private property. The beautifully restored Townsend Sunshine Covered Bridge was once a single lane river crossing for vehicles. Now it welcomes people on foot and bicycle, not to mention a fisherman or two. The bridge along with its adjacent parking area is along Highway US 321 across from the fire department. We promise you won’t miss it!

Experience History—You can absorb the history of the area firsthand at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center where you’ll find plenty of exhibits and demonstrations. You can also explore the Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum. It teaches you about how Townsend came to be. Plus, there’s a really cool train engine to see up close. Admission to this museum is free.

Wander through Wildflowers—A charming private garden tucked away behind Bethel Baptist Church is home to an array of native wildflowers. Hedgewood Gardens is typically open to the public from April to June on weekends. It is temporarily closed but the owner hopes to reopen by spring 2023. It’s worth another trip to Townsend!

Go Fishing—The Little River is a perfect spot for experienced anglers and novices to fish. If you need gear, you can pick some up at Smoky Mountain Outdoor Center (aka SMOC) or Little River Outfitters. You can even take fly fishing lessons from Little River Outfitters or R & R Fly Fishing. Keep in mind if you decide to fish inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park you will need a special fishing permit.

Go for a Scenic Drive—There are so many scenic drives in and around Townsend you probably couldn’t do them all in one trip. The Cherohala Skyway runs through multiple national forests and has some of the most stunning views. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is another good option. You’ll see a wide variety of historic buildings and wildlife and find lots of great hiking trails off this roadway. The more well-known Foothills Parkway has 22.5 miles broken up into three segments to explore. Each section offers breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Be sure to check road closure information here before you head out.

Shop for Antiques & Art—Tucked away in Townsend are a variety of shops and art galleries. Apple Valley Mountain Village is an easy one-stop shop with a few spots to browse, but there are other places worth exploring too. There are handmade crafts, home décor, antiques and more with something for every budget.

Guide to Townsend TNRestaurants

The Abbey
7765 River Road
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 448-1924
A local craft brewery located inside an old church. The Abbey boasts a family-friendly atmosphere with yard games like corn hole and Connect Four.

Apple Valley Café
7138 East Lamar Alexander Parkway
(865) 448-1232
Serving up breakfast and lunch. Save room for their famous fried apple pies and milkshakes. You can even grab a boxed lunch to enjoy by the river.

The Artistic Bean
8027 East Lamar Alexander Parkway
(865) 336-2972
The Artistic Bean roasts and brews its own coffee. A great place to hang out and refuel. There is often live music.

Burger Master
8439 State Highway 73
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 448-8408
This may look like a brand-new restaurant, but Burger Master has been serving up hamburgers, ice cream and more since 1967. It’s a family tradition for many folks to stop here!

The Chocolate B’ar
7807 East Lamar Alexander Parkway
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 448-9433
This sweet stop offers more than just homemade chocolate confections. You can also find breakfast items and pastries.

Dancing Bean Coffee House & Bakery
7142 East Lamar Alexander Parkway
(865) 738-8968
Townsend, TN 37882
This coffee house now offers in-house roasted coffees and an extensive specialty coffee menu. Dancing Bean is also serving new spiked specialty beverages available seven days a week.

Dancing Bear Lodge & Appalachian Bistro
7140 East Lamar Alexander Parkway
(865) 336-2138
Townsend, TN 37882
This award-winning restaurant is worth saving for date night. The Appalachian bistro uses fresh produce grown on-site and has a sophisticated menu. Why not stay at Dancing Bear Lodge and have a romantic getaway?

Gulf Gas Station
7665 East Lamar Alexander Parkway
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 448-9592
Fuel up your car and your body at this popular spot. Over one million slaw dogs are sold at the Gulf gas station each year!

Little River Coffee Co.
149 Painted Trillium Way
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 738-3696
This small-batch coffee roasting company welcomes you in for a cup of fresh coffee.  Chances are you’ll leave with a bag of Little River’s freshly roasted beans!

Little River Pub & Deli
7503 West Old Highway 73
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 738-3696
Located on the banks of the Little River, this pub and eatery offer more than just a great view. Enjoy craft beers and tasty food.

Towns End Coffee + Shop
7249 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 336-2741
This cozy mountain coffee shop is the perfect place to unwind and refuel for your next adventure.  Locals love it here!

Trailhead Steak & Trout House
7839 East Lamar Alexander Parkway
Townsend, TN 37882
(865) 448-0166
A popular spot for hand-cut steaks, trout and more. Reservations are accepted.

Have you visited Townsend? Don’t miss out on our 100+ Family Friendly Things to Do in the Smokies!



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