Townsend, Tennessee is known as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies” due to the low-profile, laidback lifestyle of the locals. Here, mom and pop shops and locally-owned restaurants still thrive and it has the feel of a small town with the conveniences of the modern world.
This is a great place to explore the outdoors, and the Townsend entrance to the national park is the least busy of the three, which is testament to the town’s easygoing way of life. Although it’s a place to relax and unwind, there’s still plenty to do in Townsend if you know where to look, and we’re going to help you along with a list of the 6 best things to do while in Townsend.
Go to the Cades Cove
Cades Cove offers some of the best nature and wildlife views of the Great Smoky Mountains. The cove itself is circled by the Loop Road and driving on it means you’ll likely spot wild animals like coyotes, bears, raccoons, turkeys, groundhogs and even white-tailed deer. Be sure to bring your camera with you because you’ll be snapping away at all the new and exciting sights offered by this unique loop road.
It’s worth noting though that motorists aren’t allowed to drive on the loop road until 10 AM on Wednesdays and Saturdays. However, this ordinance only lasts during the spring/summer season which goes from May until late September.
Do a Day Trip of the Tuckaleechee Caverns
Tennessee is home to the largest collection of natural caves in the entire country. Everywhere you turn, you’re bound to come across one of the 8,350 registered caves in the region but Tuckaleechee is special because it has the largest concentration of intricate cave systems. The caverns in this area are thought to be around 30 million years old and they’re so breathtakingly beautiful that you’ll want to snap a picture at every turn.
Daily tours of Tualeechee last for about 1 hour and 15 minutes during which you’ll go through an intricate cave system that runs along an underground river. There’s also an impressive combination of stunning stalagmites and stalactites. This is in addition to other picture-perfect natural rock formations like columns, chimneys and cavern draperies.
While there, make sure to snap a picture of the “Big Room” and “Totem Pole” a 12-foot tall stalagmite. There’s also the 200 ft. Silver Falls rock formation which, as the name suggests, looks like a cascading waterfall. From there, you’ll be taken to the “Elephant Rock” rock formation which is out of this world.
Raft Along the Smoky Mountain River Rat
Tubing is a favorite among locals and it’s not hard to see why. The river flows at the perfect pace to enjoy closed bottom and open bottom tubes. There are also two river experiences to take in while you’re tubing through the river. Both sections are great for families but the one you pick will depend on your children’s age and your comfort level. The upper section is designed for ages 5 and above while the lower section can accommodate ages 2 and up. The first options offer swimming holes and adventure rapids, while the second one comes with awesome scenery, relaxing rapids, rope swinging, and rock jumping. Once you go tubing down the rapids, you’ll want to come back time and again to this fun and exciting activity.
Hike the Spruce Flats Falls
Spruce Flats Falls is located in the Spruce Flats Falls Trail which spans over two miles. Don’t let the short distance fool you because this is one difficult trail. That’s because it includes some challenging rocky section and steep climbs, especially towards the end.
This is a calm and peaceful hike that’ll center you and bring you back into balance with nature. The low-key location means that not a lot of people come here so you’ll be able to enjoy the songs of nature without interruption.
Getting to the Spruce Flats Falls trailhead is not easy, which is why we’re going to provide you with some helpful directions:
- Start your drive at the Sugarlands Visitor Center
- Drive on Little River Road while keeping west for 17.6 miles
- Once you get to the Laurel Creek Rd. and TN-73 intersection, turn left and keep on Laurel Creek Rd
- Drive towards Tremont and Cades Cover
- After driving for 0.2 miles, go left to Tremont’s Great Smoky Mountain Institute.
- Drive up this road for another two miles
- Turn left to Middle Prong
- Pick your spot at the Institute’s parking and start making your way through the trails
Visit the Gregg-Cable House
The Greg-Cable House is a historic landmark of the Smokies. It’s situated in the Cades Cove area and holds the record for being the first frame house to be constructed in the area. The structure itself is large enough to host two families and is currently in use as a place of business.
In the past, children were required to help out in the family store or farm and formal education wasn’t considered valuable. Even Cades Cove girls were known as hard workers who focused their attention on home duties and chores and worked in the fields instead of going to school.
Walk the Swinging Bridges
UPDATE 2019: The bridge is closed
These two unique Swinging Bridges are a favorite Instagram snap spot for locals and tourists alike. There’s the Dark Island Swinging Bridge which has a path and parking spot nearby and is thus easier to reach, and a more concealed second bridge which is a bit harder to find.
You can take magnificent photos of the mountain scenery and the running river below from both bridges and we’re sure you’ll get a few postcard-worthy snaps.
It was an interesting time, and the Gregg-Cable house offers a glimpse into that fascinating past. Although it has been refurbished since it was first built, the house still remains true to its original design and it’s a wonder how they’ve managed to preserve if for so long.