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Townsend, Tennessee – the side of the Smokies you’ve never visited (but should)


Your perfect ideas for a weekend in the quiet side of the Smokies

Many Atlantans just know of Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg collectively as “the Smokies” but there are a distinct few that know of a more low key side of The Smokies. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Townsend, Tennessee, just a short distance from the hustle and bustle of Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg is the perfect spot to unwind and relax.

Where to stay in Townsend, Tennessee 

Little Arrow Resort in the Smoky Mountains features glamping tents, cabins and campers!
You can rent an Airstream at Little Arrow Resort the Smoky Mountains

Little Arrow Resort – home of Luxury Cabins, Glamping, Camping and Tiny Homes in the Smoky Mountains

Can camping be a choose your own adventure? Yes, when you visit Little Arrow Resort in Townsend, TN on the edge of Gatlinburg. You won’t find the hustle and bustle of the entertainment town, quite the opposite. If you are looking for a relaxing, peaceful stay you’ll want to stay at Little Arrow. 

Tiny homes are great for couples to rent in Townsend (at the edge of the Smoky Mountains)

So what’s the adventure? Choosing from their many kinds of accommodations. At Little Arrow they have tiny homes, upscale tents for glamping, Air Streams, cabins or feel free to bring your own lodging on wheels (just make sure you reserve your space ahead of time). As you can imagine these are all spread out on the same property, so you won’t be skinny dipping in the hot tub. In fact, cabins don’t have hot tubs, but do have decks if you want to enjoy the outdoors. 

We stayed in one of their cabins over a weekend and it was a fabulous getaway for us. The cabins are modern, yet rustic enough to feel like well, you are in a cabin. These luxury cabins in the smokies of Tennessee come with everything you need to cook – refrigerator, stove, oven. I wondered if all the neighbors would keep us from sleeping in but they didn’t – we slept wonderfully each night in our Smoky Mountains TN cabin. 

Little Arrow has a lovely playground for kids, streams on site for relaxing and it’s own private hiking trail. But that’s not even the best part! The best part is that you are just a stone’s throw from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains! 

What is there to see and do in Townsend, TN / Smoky Mountains? 

Cades Cove drive in Townsend, TN 

Cades Cove – 11 mile loop in Smoky Mountains

This 11 mile loop is not far from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains. Make sure to stop at the entrance to pick up a map and ask any questions of the guides. Though you don’t need a map as this is  just a loop, it is good to know what to look for along the way. Or don’t, and just relax and take in the majestic views as you drive the trail. It does say you can walk the Cades Cove trail in the Smoky Mountains, but given the amount of cars we saw when we were there, I would not recommend doing that. 

Protip: This is a very popular thing to do on holiday weekends. So if you are heading up there, plan accordingly. We spent about the double the time we should have because it was so crowded. 

Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend, TN 

By far, the best thing we experienced in Townsend was the Tuckaleechee Caverns. The Caverns, were discovered by two kids, Bill Vananda and Harry Myers. Not sure how they did it, but the pair kept it a secret for years before opening it up to the public in 1953. The stalactite and stalagmite formations create enormous formations that visitors come from great lengths to see and touch. Tuckaleechee are one of the few caverns that let visitors touch the formations. 

550 underground in Tuckaleechee Caverns

Though it is one of the largest caves I’ve experienced, only about twenty percent of the cavern has been made safe for the public. “The Big Room,” a massive open area that stands 150 feet deep and 300 feet across, has stalagmites that measure in at 24 feet high alone.

The caverns are more than just a magnificent formation for tourists. They actually are an integral part of the US military. The caverns are the most sensitive seismic station on Earth. Visitors can view in the plain sight, the equipment that the US military uses to detect nuclear testing across the globe. Tuckaleechee Caverns are monitored 24-7.

Note that they don’t take reservations or do online ticketing. They are completely old school, so you just have to show up and take your chances, but the good thing is, they do tours just about every hour so you won’t have to wait long. 

The best waterfall hikes in Townsend, Tennessee

Besides the “choose your own kind of rustic retreat” at Little Arrow in Townsend, we just loved the proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains. So here are some excelling trails to explore when you are in this town in Tennessee. 

Short Trail in the Smokies –  Spruce Flats Falls Trail. Just a one and half mile trail. Don’t mistake the short distance to mean easy. I’m in relatively good shape but felt out of breath. Also, you should note that if you are visiting outside of DST (daylight savings time) you better make sure you start this hike no later than about 4 pm. It gets dark rather quickly on these trails and you don’t want to get stuck out there! 

Long Hiking trail in the Smokies – Laurel Falls. This trail near Townsend gets its name from all of the mountain laurel that blooms in late spring. It is often touted as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Smokies, it is divided into a top and bottom section with a walkway in between. 

Brews – try a sampling at Blackberry Farm Brewery in the Smokies

You may have heard of Blackberry Farm,  but did you know they have their own brewery. This is a cannot miss when you visit Townsend. At any given time the brewery will have about a dozen beers on draft. The mango wheat was a favorite but they have pilsner, IPAs, stouts and more on draft. 

Where can you eat in this quiet town of Towsend? 

It’s true that Townsend is not far from the Piegon Forge and Gatlinburg. So, you could drive there for a meal if you like but don’t overlook these two amazing spots when you visit the Smokies. 

Apple Valley Cafe in the Smokies (Townsend,TN) 

Apple Valley Cafe in Townsend, Tennessee has amazing food

This lovely spot in the heart of the Towsend in the Smokies is a wonderful pick me up after a hard day of hiking. You need to get the fish sandwich or barbecue sandwich and pair that with their signature Apple Pie Milkshake.  The mac and cheese is totally worth the calories and you earned it by hiking them off already anyway, right? So go ahead and indulge. 

Dancing Bear Lodge – Upscale dining in Smokies (Townsend, TN) 

Get the “Lunchable” at Dancing Bear in the Smokey Mountains

Looking for a more romantic spot? Have no fear – Dancing Bear Lodge has you covered. Sure, being casual is what it’s all about when you are “roughing it” in a cabin or camping. But sometimes you want to get a litte fancy, right? And after all, it’s your vacation. 

Seafood stew, Elk and gelato at Dancing Bear Lodge in Townsend, TN

The most interesting item on the menu is an appetizer called “The Lunchable” which includes shrimp cocktail, ham and jam biscuits, and deviled eggs. We dined on a special – the Seafood Hot Pot with scallops and fish and the Elk Chops and loved them. 

Note that most restaurants in this part of the Smokies in Tennessee do close early, so if you get a hankering for something past 9 pm, you may be dining on fast food. 

Townsend TN is the laid back side of the Smoky Mountains. Excellent hiking, glamping and cabins await for the adventurous!

Watch our video from Townsend TN – The Quiet Side of The Smokies!

About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!