15 Best Things to Do in Townsend, TN

Townsend, TN
Jeff Kinsey / shutterstock.com

As one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains, the city of Townsend, Tennessee, promises adventure and fun for visitors.

It's a low-key, cozy town that has earned the nickname "The Peaceful Side of the Smokies" because of the few tourists that visit the location.

But don't let the size fool you. The city has many things to offer: majestic mountain views, fun rides, cultural interests, and many other engaging activities.

There is something for everyone!

Here, you'll have a grand time at this mountain paradise.

Here are the 17 things to do in Townsend, TN.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Weidman Photography / shutterstock.com

The Great Smoky Mountains is the reason why most people come to the town in the first place, so make sure it's one of the main destinations in your itinerary.

The national park is part of an ancient mountain range that encompasses Tennessee and parts of North Carolina.

With more than 800 square miles of wilderness, the park serves as a haven for more than 15,000 species of flora and fauna.

Dotting the landscape are rivers, forests, ridges, and meadows that add to the grandeur of the location.

A bridge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Weidman Photography / shutterstock.com

Because of these features, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives the most number of tourists compared to all the other national parks in the US.

Aside from exploring the many scenic vistas of the mountains, you can enjoy many thrilling activities offered by many sites within the area.

Townsend offers ziplines, river tubing, horseback rides, camping, and more.

A single weekend may not be enough for all the park has to offer, so make sure to add more well-deserved vacation days on your visit.

Camping

Camping is an ideal activity to try for those with longer vacation days.

It's a great opportunity to be with nature and experience a simpler way of life.

Within Townsend, there are many established camping grounds that you can reserve beforehand, including Little River Campground, Townsend/Great Smokies KOA Holiday, and Mountaineer Campground.

For the more adventurous people, you can try dispersed and backcountry camping.

You can set up your gear in isolated locations of your choosing and enjoy the panoramic vistas without the crowds’ noise.

For a hassle-free experience, make sure to follow the local regulations and park rules when camping outside designated grounds.

Most campers bring their own gear for their convenience, but there are outdoor outfitters within the city where you can purchase equipment anytime.

Tuckaleechee Caverns

Inside Tuckaleechee Caverns
Nature's Charm / shuttlestock.com 

This enormous cave system is truly a sight to behold.

Recognized as the highest-rated cave site by the AAA in the Eastern US, the Tuckaleechee Caverns is an ancient structure regarded as one of the greatest sites in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Stalactites and stalagmites reaching 24-feet long grow within the depths, and some peculiar stone formations can be as big as entire houses.

One of the main attractions for spelunkers is Silver Falls, a large, two-tier underground waterfalls with cool waters and amazing views.

Another favorite site during tours is the Big Room, a cavernous space that is almost as big as a whole football stadium.

You'll have to do a whole lot of walking and climbing when exploring the remarkable cave system, so make sure that you are well energized before and during the tour.

Hiking and Moutain Climbing

A trip to a national park won’t be complete without hiking the trails and climbing the challenging mountains.

Since the Great Smoky Mountains contain some of the highest peaks on this side of the US, there are opportunities for beginners and professionals alike to conquer the many summits abounding in the region.

Make sure to bring the appropriate gear and knowledge to ensure a safe and fun expedition.

More manageable hiking trails are available for those who don't have the time and energy to go mountain climbing.

Townsend serves as a starting point for trails like Lumber Ridge Trailhead, River Walk, and Spruce Flats Falls trail, which all end up to scenic destinations within the area.

Along the way, try spotting various landmarks, animals, and plants of the Great Smoky Mountains.

There is a surprise waiting in every corner if you keep an eye out!

Mountain River Fishing

Abrams Creek In Townsend
Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Snaking within the valleys of the park are the many rivers teeming with aquatic life.

Running through Townsend is Little River, a cold mountain river brimming with fish.

Hike for a few hours, and you'll also spot other bodies of water like Abram Creek with as many creatures for fishing.

Most people prefer fly fishing, catching the invasive brown trout that live in the lower-elevation areas of the mountains.

All these rivers have been open for fishing since 1934, but you still need to secure a license before wading into the waters.

You can buy one from the many local stores or online.

Bringing your own equipment is recommended to help you with costs, but if there are any issues with your lines, you can visit the many fishing outfitters in the area.

Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

Outside view of Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center
Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Townsend is the location of the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, a facility dedicated to celebrating the rich history and culture of societies that lived within the area from ages ago.

The most significant group of people in the region are the Native Americans, inhabiting the Great Smoky Mountains from as early as 3000 B.C.

The heritage center features artifacts from these ancient Cherokee clans, ranging from hunting weapons, ceremonial implements, and pottery.

In addition, there are exhibits that showcase the early colonial settlers’ daily lives and practices.

The historic village within the center has a sawmill, smokehouse, cantilever barns, and other structures that these groups used.

Dedicate a few hours of your trip to this site and get to know the area's rich history and its people.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont

Falls in Great Smoky Mountains Institute
kurdistan / shuttlestock.com

For those who want to better understand the ecological diversity of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is a must-add destination.

Located at 9275 Tremont Road, the facility offers youth, adults, and learners opportunities to understand the land and the diverse flora and fauna inhabiting it.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
jadimages / Shutterstock.com

There are many programs and activities that promote stewardship of the area's biodiversity and conservation efforts for the life abounding in the park.

These include photography workshops, family adventures, guided hiking expeditions, and summer camps.

By participating in one of these events or even just visiting the exhibits within the facility, you'll gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Great Smoky Mountains’  wildlife.

If you want to bring home a piece of the Great Smoky Mountains, then a visit to the Cades Cove Gallery is a must.

The store features many photographs by Barry Spruce that showcase the region’s nature and wildlife.

He also offers guided tours that allow you to explore Cades Cove and take pictures of the roaming animals under his guidance.

With him, you’ll learn more about the area's history, its various plant and animal species to watch out for, as well as photography tips and tricks.

Bring your images back to the gallery, have them printed and framed, and take them home as a one-of-a-kind remembrance of your trip.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove in Townsend
Rico van Manen / shuttlestock.com

Ten miles southwest of Townsend is Cades Cove, an isolated, verdant valley surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains.

It's one of the most visited locations in the area, with its picturesque meadows, majestic landscapes, historic buildings, and abundant wildlife.

Black bears and deer are just some of the many mammals roaming the grassy fields of the valley.

A gravel road in Cades Cove
Keith Briley Photography / shuttlestock.com

You can try spotting one while driving the scenic 11-mile highway that traverses Cades Cove.

There are also other activities to try at the location, such as horseback riding, camping, and hayrides.

Some tours allow you to visit key locations within the area for those who want a more organized trip.

Cades Cove Cellars

Wine lovers will surely have an amazing time at the Cades Cove Cellars.

Established in 1984, this local institution makes rustic and lush wines that embody the majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

You can sip a sample from these fruity beverages for free, participate in a tour of their facility to see the winemaking process, or attend wine festivals where some of the area’s best bottles are showcased.

Don't forget to make a stop at their gift shop!

You'll find bottles of premium wine, accessories, crafts by local makers, and many other quality items to bring home.

River Tubing

Pigeon River in TN.
Andy Stacy / shuttelstock.com

Brave the rapids of the park's rivers by going tubing!

Many stores within Townsend, such as River Rat Tubing, offering equipment and trips to the various bodies of water nestled within the mountain valleys.

You'll have an exhilarating experience riding the currents, bumping against rocks, and getting splashed by the crisp, cool waters of the rivers.

Any experience level is welcome.

Little River, with its gentle and mellow channels, is perfect for kids and beginners.

For more advanced and daring individuals, whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River is an adventurous option.

Don't worry about equipment or accommodations, as river tubing businesses are equipped with tubes and life vests, and they usually have their own riverside rentals dedicated for customers.

Gift and Souvenir Shops

Before leaving Townsend, pay a visit to the numerous gift and souvenir shops scattered around the city.

You'll find quality woodworks, home decor, paintings, themed furniture, and other items that are unique to the Great Smoky Mountain area.

You just might find something truly one of a kind while browsing stores like Tennessee Sally's, Mountainside Primitive and Home Decor, and Cabin Treasures.

The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum

A train in The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum
I, Brian Stansberry, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the past, Townsend and other nearby areas had thriving lumber and railroad industries.

The Little River Railroad & Lumber Company Museum was established to celebrate this heritage and preserve it for future generations.

A Frick steam engine in The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum
romarti / Shutterstock.com

Here, you'll find exhibits, artifacts, and collections that show a vivid picture of the Native Americans and pioneers that lived in the region a long time ago.

There are also many programs that you can be a part of to get a more engaging, hands-on museum experience, such as tours of the restored train engine used for past logging activities.

Mountain Festivals

Schedule your trip around the festive events held regularly in Townsend or the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Townsend Heritage Festival and Old Timers Day celebrate tradition and crafts of Appalachian cultures, with exhibits, bluegrass concerts, and many activities held during spring or fall.

During the Tennessee Pottery Festival, you'll get a chance to see pottery experts from the area make their intricate crafts at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

Don't miss the Hot Air Balloon festival if you're a fan of balloon rides, good music, as well as delicious food and drinks.

For those who want a magical experience, an annual viewing of synchronous fireflies takes place every summer.

The thousands of warm yellow lights blinking in unison is truly an incomparable sight to behold.

Horseback Riding

Horses in Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee
DanaForeman / shuttlestock.com

Explore the picturesque ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains by horseback riding.

There are stables within and around Townsend that let you ride their horses and give you tours to various nearby locations.

With a seasoned equestrian’s assistance, customers of any age and experience level will have fun visiting the many sites within the park and the town.

Davy Crockett Riding Stables, Next to Heaven Ranch, and Cades Cove Riding Stables are just some of the facilities that offer horseback riding.

Final Thoughts

As the gateway to one of the most visited parks in the US, Townsend has many attractions and activities in store.

Hiking trails, fast rivers, interactive museum—there's something for everyone!

So make the most out of your next getaway to this scenic, underrated paradise by referencing this list for your itinerary.

You'll surely have an experience as great as the Great Smoky Mountains themselves.

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