With approximately nine million visits per year, Smoky Mountain National Park is Americas most visited National Park. With that kind of traffic, it’s not surprising that the towns surrounding the park can be a little hectic, to say the least. In stark contrast to the surrounding nature, you’ll find mini golf courses, go-kart tracks, all-you-can-eat buffets, and traffic, traffic, traffic! For those looking to stay in a town with a more relaxed feel, there is an exception. We recently stopped in Townsend, Tennessee for a few days to relax, get some work done, and enjoy the park.
Townsend is situated right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountain National Park and feels like an oasis compared to some of the larger towns in the area. In fact, their motto is “the quiet side of the mountain.” It has a slow, relaxed, small-town feel, with easy access to some of the most popular spots in the park. It also has all of the amenities for those who want to relax but don’t want to rough it.
For the meat eaters, we recommend the Trailhead Steakhouse. In this rustic setting, you’ll be able to order many classic American staples like burgers, steaks, and trout. As usual, we were starving when we arrived so we immediately ordered the fried tomatoes, a southern staple. They were delicious. Our hostess informed us that they are known for their fried tomatoes. We can see why. For entrees, we suggest the ribeye steak and tiger shrimp. Both were cooked perfectly and we even went home with left-overs. There nothing like a steak and shrimp omelet to fill you up in the morning. The service there is one of the best parts. They treat you like a local, which is exactly what we wanted. We recommend making a reservation as they have limited seating and get quite busy.
If you are looking for some familiar southern fair with a fresh garden to table to twist, Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro is a must. This Appalachian-inspired experience will bring you the seasons freshest flavors whether you’re on a romantic date night for two, or out with the whole family. We also recommend stopping here if you’re in the mood for a craft cocktail.
If comfort food is what you’re after, don’t miss the Apple Valley Express Cafe. Build your own burger and make it a masterpiece at their topping bar that includes over 30 burger toppings. This modestly priced cafe is light on the wallet but you definitely won’t leave hungry. After your meal, hop over to the general store to satisfy your sweet tooth with some home-made fudge.
If you need a pick-me-up we recommend stopping at the Dancing Bean Caffe located just across the parking lot. You can grab a smoothie or a cup of locally roasted organic coffee to wake you up. They also offer an array of fresh baked goods, including house-made sticky buns.
There’s no shortage of sleeping options in Townsend. We decided on Little Arrow Outdoor Resort. Little Arrow is located (literally) just steps away from the entrance to the National Park. The resort is full of different styles of cozy accommodations including tiny homes, cabins, luxury tents, and RV sites. It’s all situated on a rustic mountainside right on the Little River. We decided to treat ourselves to one of the Luxury Tents. We’ve never stayed in a tent like this before. Complete with all of the amenities that you would expect in a cabin, these canvas-walled structures offer the best of both worlds. Little Arrow is a great option for those traveling with their families. They have a swimming pool, hot tubs, a clubhouse full of coffee and board games as well as a funky playground for the kids.
All across town, you can find different types of lodging options for all budgets and types of visitors. There are campgrounds on the water, RV parks, full-blown hotels, luxury cabins and more.
You can camp just minutes from town in the famed Cades Cove Campground inside Smoky Mountain National Park. Sites range from $21-$25 a night. There are no hookups available in the campground but there is cold running water flush toilets. In fact, there are several campgrounds inside the park depending on where you would like to set up your base camp.
If you are more of a hotel kinda person, there is a Best Western that offers rooms for around $110 a night.
The Smoky Mountains boast an annual rainfall of 55 inches in the valleys and up to 85 inches on some of the peaks. This is more rain than anywhere in the United States except for the Pacific Northwest, qualifying these upper elevation areas as temperate rainforests. During years with more rainfall, these areas can receive upwards of eight feet of rainfall per year.
As is common with mountainous areas, temperatures can vary 10-20 degrees from low lying areas to mountain tops and weather can change very quickly. For this reason, it is important to pack appropriately when venturing into the park.
The park is fairly accessible by car. Which is one reason, aside from the beauty, that it is so popular. When we visited, the area was receiving a lot of rainfall so we wanted to find things to do that would keep us dry. We drove the famous Cades Cove loop. This 11-mile paved loop takes you through a picturesque valley surrounded by lush mountains and wildlife. There are several historic buildings from the early eighteen hundreds that you can stop and visit. While driving the loop you have many opportunities to get out and stretch your legs. There are several trailheads right off the road. We hiked to Abrams Falls, a beautiful 20ft high waterfall. The hike is roughly 5 miles round-trip and we had it all to ourselves. During certain days of the week, the Cades Cove Loop is closed in the mornings to motorized traffic so cyclists can enjoy the loop in peace.Smoky Mountain National Park is a large park with a seemingly endless trail system. We recommend visiting the Visitors Center in Townsend to gather some intel before setting out into the park.
One of the things that makes the Smokies unique is the extensive caverns and caves below the mountains. Exploring some of the caverns is the perfect activity for a rainy day. One of the largest and highest rated caverns in the area are the Tusckaleechee Caverns located in Townsend. Dubbed the ‘Greatest Site Under the Smokies,’ these caverns are roughly twenty to thirty million years old. The highlights of the tour are the “big room” that is so big that you can fit a football stadium inside, and SilverFalls a 210-foot waterfall that flows down through the cavern.Once you’ve seen the park stop by the Smoky Mountain Outdoor Center for all of your outdoor gear needs. They have everything you need for a day in the mountains and more. Rent a bike and ride the trail into town, or ride along the river. Speaking of the river, SMOC will get you hooked up with everything you need for a relaxing day tubing the Little River.
Go check out the quiet side of the mountain! We had a wonderful stay.
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