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The 4 Reasons Why I Love Townsend, Tennessee

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Townsend, Tennessee is one of those towns that I had no idea existed until I started browsing around Google Maps. I wanted to plan a little getaway to the Smokies and took to one of my favorite tools to look for towns to spend a couple days. It didn’t take long to spot Townsend (it is practically next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park after all), nor to decide that it was going to be a great place to spend a few days. However, as I researched more into this little Tennessee town, I knew it was going to be a special place for a visit. I’ve got a fondness for small-towns, which Townsend Tennessee fits to a T. Hopefully, this guide to Townsend helps you plan a trip to the place known as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies”.

It Really Is The Peaceful Side of the Smokies

Townsend advertises itself as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies” and they couldn’t be more right. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has three main entrances to the park. The small, quiet town of Townsend, Tennessee gives access to Cades Cove and the “eastern” side of the park. The bustling, tourist hub of Gatlinburg draws tens of thousands more people each year and serves as the main access point for the park. Cherokee, North Carolina is the only major access to the park from the North Carolina side.

A painted concrete wall along the road into Townsend which reads Welcome to the Peaceful Side of the Smokies
The sign greets you on the way into town!

The vast majority of visitors to the national park will stay in either Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge or Cherokee. That’s despite Cades Cove being one of the primary destinations inside the park for visitors each year. Townsend, Tennessee has managed to keep its smaller feel, and quieter nature. For me, that is a huge selling point when deciding where I want to setup to visit the national park. Visitors can also find one of the best museums dedicated to life in this part of the country as well, at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. Even during our visit in the fall of 2023, we practically had the entire place to ourselves.

There were very few people on our morning hike in Cades Cove in September

With all that being said, the “peaceful side of the smokies”, can still get busy during the summer season. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in the summer. Yet, when we visited at the beginning and end of the summer in 2023, it still wasn’t even as close to as busy as it’s more famous neighbor. So put that down as one of the biggest reasons why I love Townsend, Tennessee.

You Can Enjoy A Wide Range of Festivals During the Year

In addition to wanting to make a nice trip to the Smokies, we lucked into planning that trip at one of the best times of year to visit Townsend Tennessee. The city hosts multiple festivals throughout the year, including being the site of the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival and Games. For those with Scottish ancestry, this is a wonderful way to connect with that history. Members of Scottish clans from across the South and the US, descend on Townsend for two days of celebration. Our trip in 2023 was the first time I had ever attended such an event and it was awesome. Even if you don’t have a connection with Scottish culture, it can be a lot of fun to attend. This year’s festival is May 18th-19th, so don’t miss it!

A sheep dog herding sheep during the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival and Games held in Townsend Tennessee
The sheep dog demonstration was fascinating!

If you don’t find this article til after May, then perhaps a fall festival will be more to your liking. The Townsend Fall Heritage Festival is held in September each year (Sept 27th-28th in 2024). The weather is hopefully starting to cool in the mountains, making it a great time for a family trip. You’ll be able to enjoy bluegrass music, tasty Appalachian cooking, old-fashioned games for the kids, and other traditions born from the mountain life. Plus, you can support a large number of small businesses through the arts and crafts booths setup at the festival as well.

These are probably two of the biggest festivals that happen on the peaceful side of the smokies each year, but they aren’t the only ones. The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage center hosts a Winter Heritage Festival in January which shows how the hardy people in the area survived winter. Hot air balloon fans should make a trip in August for the Great Smoky Mountain Hot Air Balloon Festival! Motorcyclists looking to tame the Tail of the Dragon can stay in Townsend, TN during the annual Smoky Mountain Bike Week during the last week of September/first week of October. Finally, before the chill of winter sets in you can enjoy the Grits and Grains Festival the first week of November to get your fill of delicious southern foods and spirits!

Multiple Iconic Scenic Drives Nearby

Townsend Tennessee serves as a fantastic base if you’re looking for the regions best scenic drives. That goes for both scenic drives on two wheels or four! Townsend is located directly off of the newly constructed Foothills Parkway. These 34 miles of beautifully scenic parkway connect Wears Valley, Tennessee (and US 321) to US 129 in Chilhowee. Which is great, because US 129 is home to perhaps one of the most iconic scenic drives in America.

A sunset captured on the Peaceful Side of the Smokies along the Foothills Parkway near Townsend
You can view an amazing sunset up on the Foothills Parkway!

Just south east of where the Foothills Parkway meets US 129 is the start of the Tail of the Dragon. This challenging stretch of road is a destination all on its own. It features a staggering 300+ turns over just 11 miles of asphalt. While that might be a relatively short stretch of road, you’ll definitely be taking your time to enjoy it. Even better, once you get to the end of the Dragon, you can make your way to the Cherohala Skyway. Combining these two routes gives you over 120 miles of beautiful roads to traverse and makes for a pretty awesome day of driving.

Alternatively, its possible to do a loop around and through Great Smoky Mountain National Park. When you reach the end of the Dragon, head towards Bryson City/Cherokee instead of Robinsville. This will get you onto US 441 and through the national park via Newfound Gap. You can even take a small detour and hike to the top of Clingmans Dome which is the highest point in the park!

These fabulous scenic drives are all easily accessible if you’re staying in Townsend Tennessee. As an added bonus, since you’ll be on the peaceful side of the Smokies, you won’t have quite the same crowds of bikers/drivers as some of the other cities on these routes might have. It’s really a win-win situation in my book!

Townsend Has Wonderful Weather Year-Round

Wonderful is obviously a subjective term. However, when I think about having wonderful weather, I think it’s important that it doesn’t mean “perfect”. Townsend certainly isn’t just perfectly clear skies and warm days all year round. However, in the multiple visits I’ve made, the weather has been a big part in helping create enjoyment during our visits.

Summertime in the mountains is generally cooler than lower elevations. This means that it rarely gets above 90, with many days having highs in the mid to low 80s even. It’s also the rainiest time of year, meaning that there is plenty of chance those hot days get cooled off with some rain. The warmer months are also a fantastic time to explore the river running through town or nearby lakes.

Visit Townsend to get amazing views of the Smoky Mountains on the Foothills Parkway
Both of our trips in 2023 featured amazing weather. You could see for MILES on the Foothills Parkway!

Fall and Spring are also absolutely wonderful. Spring can still have a number of chilly days or nights, but snow is usually gone. It’s one of the best times to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park, especially Cades Cove. The weather is almost always welcoming, and animals across the area are coming out of the chills of winter. That makes wildlife viewing top notch! Fall obviously is the best time of year (and busiest) to visit. Warm days aren’t gone yet, but cool nights have arrived. However, it’s the transformation of color which is the star. Townsend is one of the best places to explore the Smokies during the gorgeous color changes that engulf the mountains in October and November.

Winter also has some wonderful weather, if you don’t mind the cold. Townsend is low enough elevation to not get a ton of snow, but it does happen. This means that you might luck into a peaceful winter wonderland, right on the peaceful side of the Smokies. Outside of these cold snaps though, the weather is still good enough to enjoy the outdoors and do some hiking during the least busy time of the year.

What Else You Need to Know About Townsend Tennessee

No guide to Townsend would be complete if it didn’t include a recommendation on where to stay or where to eat during your trip. Two great hotels which are right in the heart of town are the Tremont Lodge & Resort, and the Townsend Gateway Inn. Both of these are small, independently owned and operated hotels. So not only will you get a beautiful place to stay, but support a small business too! As far as tasty eats go, you’ve got to try The Abbey at Heartland Chapel. The building is gorgeous, the food is delicious, and its located right on the river. We had a wonderful dinner here in the fall with live music as well!

I’m a big fan of small towns in all of their various forms. Townsend is such a fantastic place to stay when making a trip to America’s most popular national park. There is so much to explore nearby, but also right in town if you come for one of the festivals. Hopefully, this guide to Townsend has convinced you to stay on the peaceful side of the Smokies next time you visit!

If you love small towns as much as I do, then consider checking out Brevard, North Carolina to enjoy the NC side of the Smokies as well! To stay up to date with each post, please follow me on Instagram or Facebook! Alternatively, sign up for my newsletter using the box at the bottom of the page! If you loved this post, then pin it and check me out on Pinterest as well!

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One Response

  1. Great reasons to love Townsend but it doesn’t want to be known as the a Festival Town. That is a shame that it is focused on for one of the 4 things you love in your article. It makes life there hard for the locals and also for emergency services. Festivals are being pushed onto the town by a group that is self serving and not considering Townsend residents.

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