It may be dubbed the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” but there are undoubtedly lots of fun things to do in Townsend, Tennessee.
The charming mountain town doesn’t have the same large strips of attractions like nearby Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. Instead, you’ll find a lot of outdoor activities like river tubing, hiking trails, and mountain biking. There are plenty of reasons why Townsend is one of the best places to see in Tennessee, and these outdoor activities are one of them.
In this guide, I share all the most popular activities in Townsend along with a few hidden gems. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- 19 Best Things to Do in Townsend
- Cades Cove
- Spruce Flats Falls Trail
- Vee Hollow
- Townsend Historical Trail
- Company Distilling
- Tuckaleechee Caverns
- Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro
- Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center
- Townsend Visitor Center
- Little River Railroad & Lumber Museum
- Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing
- Apple Valley Mountain Village & Cafe
- Foothills Parkway
- UTV Rentals
- Townsend Wye
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Cades Cove Cellars
- Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop
- Townsend Abbey
- FAQs About What to Do in Townsend
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19 Best Things to Do in Townsend
Explore one of the most popular scenic routes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Cades Cove is a beautiful valley in the Great Smoky Mountains. The 11-mile loop is a popular route for visitors to the National Park. It’s a great place to see wildlife like black bears, white-tailed deer, and turkeys. The route has scenic stops as well as areas where visitors can see historical buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Cades Cove Loop is incredibly popular during the summer, fall, and on weekends, so keep in mind that vehicles can get backed up at these times. Also, the National Park Service closes Cades Cove to vehicle traffic on certain days during the summer to allow visitors to explore on foot and on bike.
Vehicle-free days are perfect for getting an even closer look at this area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Overall, expect to spend between 2 to 4 hours at Cades Cove, possibly more.
Spruce Flats Falls Trail
Hike this easy-to-moderate trail through the forest all the way to the peaceful waterfall at the end.
One of the best things to do in Townsend is to try out the hiking trails. The Spruce Flats Falls Trail is a must-visit for anyone up for an easy to moderate hike. The trail is 1.8 miles out-and-back and begins at the Tremont Institute.
The terrain is rocky and uneven in places. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath and also watch my footing carefully in a few spots. The waterfall at the end was worth the effort.
Families with children can hike the Spruce Flats Falls Trail if the children are used to somewhat challenging hikes. I would not recommend trying this hike with a child in a carrier.
Thrill seekers, try out your mountain biking skills on the 14 miles of trails at Vee Hollow.
Vee Hollow has 14 miles of bike trails for those who are interested in mountain biking. There are a range of paths in Vee Hollow, and there’s an appropriate trail for every skill level. You can even try out some moves in the skills area if you want to practice without being out on a trail.
The trails at Vee Hollow are free for anyone to use. You can bring your own bike or rent one from the shop. Anyone from a beginner (like me) to an expert can find something to enjoy at Vee Hollow.
Townsend Historical Trail
Hike or bike along this greenway running through Townsend.
Another option for hiking and biking is the 10-mile Townsend Historical Trail. The greenway runs along the main road in Townsend, but it’s up to you how much of it you tackle. The trail is relatively flat and easy, but remember you’re right next to the Great Smoky Mountains, so there are some hills.
The Townsend Historical Trail allows you to see both the scenery and several of the top attractions in the area. The Townsend Historical Trail is one of the best hiking trails in the area for those who want a more leisurely hike experience. For those biking, an e-bike can help you over some of the larger hills.
Sip on a flight of award-winning whiskey or bourbon at this Tennessee distillery.
Bourbon and whiskey connoisseurs will love stopping by Company Distilling – it’s a great place to hang out while in Townsend. The spirits produced at Company Distilling include bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, rye, gin, and more. Plus, one of the founders is Master Distiller Jeff Arnett who previously worked with Jack Daniels.
The location has a bar and restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere and there are even a few mocktails available for anyone in your group who isn’t planning on drinking. Different events like live music and trivia take place several nights a week.
Marvel at the unique cave formation at the highest-rated cave in the eastern United States.
Tuckaleechee Caverns is a cave located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Of the more than 10,000 caves in Tennessee, Tuckaleechee Caverns is the most popular cave with visitors.
The site is one of the most active caves in the world that’s open to the public. The cave also has unique cave formations and the tallest underground waterfall found in the eastern part of the United States. Plus, Tuckaleechee Caverns is home to an incredibly sensitive seismograph that’s monitored by the United States Department of Defence.
Tours of Tuckaleechee Caverns take visitors through areas that are relatively large and open. In fact, the “Big Room” is the size of a football field. I don’t like being in small, enclosed spaces, but I didn’t mind walking through Tuckaleechee Caverns.
Fun Tennessee fact, Tennessee has more caves than any other state!
Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro
Savor a dinner at this farm-to-table restaurant and finish your meal with s’mores around the firepit.
Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro is one of the best places to go in Townsend for an amazing culinary experience. The farm-to-table restaurant is located in a beautiful wooded setting at Dancing Bear Lodge.
The menu at this local restaurant changes seasonally, but you’ll always find dishes made with fresh, local ingredients. Order the Appalachian lunchable if it’s on the menu to try out a charcuterie-style assortment that includes country ham and pickled vegetables.
For the perfect end to your dinner at Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro, you can make s’mores outside at the firepit.
Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center
Learn about the unique cultural heritage of East Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Located near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is dedicated to showcasing the rich culture and history of the area.
The permanent galleries at the heritage center include everything from items created by Native Americans to artifacts related to Appalachian music. Visitors can also see the historic village with restored structures from a range of time periods.
The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center also hosts events and festivals throughout the year. And, you can book a Cades Cove Heritage Tour here to take a guided bus tour of the popular scenic route.
Townsend Visitor Center
Stop by to find out the current status of the trails you plan to hike and learn about cool events happening in the area.
The Townsend Visitor Center is located right near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a good stop for finding out the status of trails you want to hike. The staff is friendly and can give you updated information you won’t find anywhere else as well as great suggestions for things to do in Townsend.
The Townsend Visitor Center has a few interesting exhibits about local history on display, and there’s a gift shop with National Park merchandise. You can also get your National Park Passport stamped here.
Little River Railroad & Lumber Museum
Discover the role of lumber in the history and development of Townsend.
The Little River Railroad & Lumber Museum preserves and displays equipment that was used by the lumber industry in the area. The Little River Railroad & Lumber Company was one of the largest companies logging in the Smokies before the national park was formed.
The museum is small, but interesting if you want to learn more about what the Smoky Mountains were like in the past. It’s also a great place for those interested in the history of rail or lumber.
Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing
Float down the river, and enjoy some time swimming in the cool water.
Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing offers tube rentals and transportation for tubing routes in Townsend. The company has two outposts where visitors can start their adventure on the Little River.
Outpost A is a relaxed route with just a few small rapids. It’s the best option for small children and those who are looking to sit back, take in the views, and maybe stop at a couple of swimming holes. The outpost is also dog-friendly.
Outpost B is a bit more adventurous. There are more intense rages here, but you’ll still find beautiful views and areas for swimming. Children under 6 and dogs are not allowed on this route for safety reasons.
Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing allows you to switch between the two options. It takes about an hour to tube each route, and you can easily spend an afternoon or even an entire day on the river.
Apple Valley Mountain Village & Cafe
Stop by this friendly spot to do some shopping, try out the fried apple pies, or sip a cup of coffee.
Apple Valley Mountain Village & Cafe is a popular spot for visitors. In the Mountain Village, you’ll find a store with outdoor gear and a general store with fudge, cider, and other fun items.
There are also two food options in the Mountain Village. The Dancing Bean Coffee House, a charming coffee shop, has kombucha and bubble tea in addition to coffee. And, the Apple Valley Cafe serves hearty food like burgers and sandwiches. Of course, you have to try the fried apple pies.
Take a scenic drive through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.
For breathtaking views, take a drive along the Foothills Parkway. The entire national parkway is supposed to run a total of 72 miles. Despite being authorized in 1944, only 22.5 miles of the Foothills Parkway have been completed.
Funding issues, challenges protecting wildlife, and inhospitable terrain have made the construction of the Foothills Parkway difficult. Still, the sections that are open are worth exploring. You’ll want to stop at the viewpoints along the way, to admire the beauty of the mountains and take photos.
Take a drive through the Great Smoky Mountains on one of these fun vehicles.
You can see the scenery from your own vehicle, but it’s also a lot of fun to book a UTV rental to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding area.
There are several options for renting UTVs in Townsend like Rocky Top Adventure Rentals and Townsend Life Outdoor Adventures. You can typically either choose from an off-roading UTV or a street-legal UTV.
Keep in mind that there are only specific places where it’s ok to ride a UTV. The rental company you choose can point out the spots for you. One thing that surprised me when I tried a UTV rental was how loud the vehicle was. However, the open air and the novelty made the experience a lot of fun.
Some UTVs are even large enough for up to 4 people, so this would be a great thing to do with several friends.
Escape from the Tennessee summer heat in the cold mountain water at this local swimming hole.
The Townsend Wye is a popular local swimming hole located near the intersection of Lamar Alexander Parkway and Little River Road. It’s the perfect place to spend the day picnicking, swimming, and tubing. All while surrounded by gorgeous, peaceful scenery.
The spot is family-friendly, but make sure that young children are wearing a life jacket. Some areas are deeper than you’d expect. You can either bring your own tubes or rent them nearby if you want to go tubing at Townsend Wye.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
See for yourself why Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited National Park in the United States.
It’s impossible to mention things to do in Townsend without talking about Great Smoky Mountains National Park because one of the three entrances to the park is located in Townsend.
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can spot wildlife like black bears, explore hiking trails, and admire the beauty of the mountains. A few of the most popular scenic drives in the park are Cades Cove, the Newfound Gap Road, Clingman’s Dome, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Visitors can also enjoy horseback riding, fly fishing, and camping among other things in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Cades Cove Cellars
Sample the muscadine wine or one of the many other options produced at this Townsend winery.
Cades Cove Cellars is a winery with a tasting room where visitors can sample the wines made in the facility. In the summer visitors can sit outside on the porch and during the winter, there’s a fire in the fireplace inside the shop.
Wine samples are free at Cades Cove Cellars. And, you should try out a wine slushie while you’re there. Cades Cove Cellars is the perfect break from all the outdoor activities in Townsend.
Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop
Admire handcrafted dulcimers and other Appalachian folk instruments.
Wood-N-Strings sells mountain dulcimers handmade by Mike Clemmer as well as instruments made by other skilled artists. The shop is only open a few days each week, but it’s worth stopping by to see the beautifully crafted instruments here.
Wood-N-Strings also sometimes hosts events where you can listen to mountain music. You’ll find the shop owners at Dulcimer events in the area as well.
Try out craft beer at this local spot housed in a unique setting.
Townsend Abbey, located at the Heartland Chapel, is a welcoming pub where you can enjoy craft beer. The pub serves everything from pretzels and cheese to sandwiches and flatbreads.
Townsend Abbey has a family-friendly atmosphere with games like corn hole and Connect Four that everyone can play. There’s usually live music on the weekends. Even when there are no special events going on, Townsend Abbey has a great view of the river to enjoy while you eat a meal and have a drink.
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FAQs About What to Do in Townsend
What is Townsend, TN is known for?
Townsend, TN is frequently called “the gateway to Cades Cove” due to how easy it is to access the valley from the town. Townsend is also known for being one of the quieter towns near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Is Townsend, TN worth visiting?
What towns are close to Cades Cove?
Townsend is the closest town to Cades Cove. Wears Valley, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg are also not far from Cades Cove.
That’s all for my guide to things to do in Townsend. Hopefully, you were able to find lots of activities to try out. As you plan your trip to Townsend, be sure to check out my guide to when to visit Tennessee.
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