Townsend, TN: A Smoky Mountain Getaway


Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Grant

This article is gonna be a bit different from most of our other articles. We typically like to fit a ton of activities into a visit somewhere new. We like to make a point to really dig into an area and see everything the place has to offer. But our trip to Townsend, TN had a completely different focus.

We needed to get away. The roughest time for us as teachers is the time from September Break (third week in September) to Thanksgiving Break. It is the longest stretch without time off and is always crammed with things to do… stuff we have to do both personally and professionally.

Sunlight trying to break through the clouds in the Smokies.
Sunlight trying to break through the clouds in the Smokies.

Several years ago, we decided to rent a cabin up in the mountains and just spend the weekend relaxing. We have made a tradition of doing the same in the past few years. For this trip, we chose Townsend, TN for a Smoky Mountain getaway.

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Townsend, TN

Townsend, TN is located in Eastern Tennessee, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Location-wise, this is a perfect spot for getting away from Knoxville. From Atlanta, it takes a bit more to get here than the towns in North Georgia, but it is no more difficult to get to than Gatlinburg.

This area advertises itself as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies” and the nickname is well-deserved. Compared to nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, there’s not much to Townsend. Indeed, there’s not much to the town other than a few gas stations, a couple of grocery stores and a handful of local tourist attractions.

Sunset in the Smokies
Sunset in the Smokies

In short, it’s quiet, especially in the late Fall. We found most of the attractions, like Tuckaleechee Caverns and the Little River Railroad and Lumber Museum, had very limited hours if they were open at all. There are several tubing outfits and campgrounds along the Little River as you head into Great Smoky Mountains NP. The campgrounds appeared to be open, but tubing was closed in mid-November. So, there is a bit more to do in the summer, when the weather is warmer.

Since we weren’t looking to do much, it was a perfect getaway for us. Our primary focus was on relaxation and there was plenty of that to be found in Townsend.

Where to Stay in Townsend

We rented a perfect cabin off Vrbo called the Bear View. Located just minutes off the main road, this cabin provided the peace and quiet we needed.

The living area of the cabin.
The living area of the cabin.

A studio, the cabin had everything we were looking for in terms of amenities. The bed was comfortable, the couch had power reclining for both of us and the TV was great for watching football on Saturday (can’t miss college football!). The WiFi was OUTSTANDING (100 MB/s).

Most importantly, the cabin has a comfortable hot tub under the covered porch. While we don’t mind an uncovered hot tub, a covered hot tub is better for enjoying in the rain.

This is the view from the deck and hot tub of the mountains near Townsend. It did not get old.
This is the view from the deck and hot tub of the mountains near Townsend. It did not get old.

A nice propane grill rounded out the amenities, allowing me to spend some quality time cooking over a fire. Living in a condo, I miss grilling. I typically only get to grill when we take the camper out. Bonnie also appreciates it when I take over cooking responsibilities.

My only note about this cabin is the drive up. It is STEEP. I would be concerned about getting up and down in any kind of snow or ice. Otherwise, we found this to be a great spot to relax.

Nothing like a tasty beer while grilling out at the cabin.
Nothing like a tasty beer while grilling out at the cabin.

Where to Eat in Townsend

There are several restaurants along the main drive through Townsend, so if cooking is not in your plans, there are options for a few days.

After consulting TripAdvisor, we decided to try the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro and make it a date.

We arrived a bit early for our reservation and were glad we did. The bar is extensive and we were happy to sit and enjoy a cocktail before dinner.

Father Thyme, one of the signature cocktails at the Dancing Bear.
Father Thyme, one of the signature cocktails at the Dancing Bear.

We started dinner with barbecue oysters and jalapeño cornbread. The cornbread, in particular, was amazing. It had been cooked over a wood fire and had a delicious hint of smoke.

Bonnie had the Blue Cheese Crusted Double Cut Pork Chop and I had the Appalachian Hot Pot, a seafood and sausage stew. Dessert was a Whiskey Apple Crumble.

Appalachian Hot Pot
Appalachian Hot Pot

Everything was scrumptious. The best part, though, was looking at the clock after dinner and realizing how long we had been there. We had completely lost track of time and that felt great.

What to Do in Townsend

While we made a point to do a little as possible, we did get out and enjoy Great Smoky Mountains NP. I mean, c’mon, we can’t be that close to a national park and not spend some time seeing the sights.

Foothills Parkway

The Foothills Parkway, part of the park, is supposed to be a 72-mile scenic parkway stretching across the northern side of Great Smoky Mountains NP.

Sunset overlooking Wears Valley from a newly-opened section of the Foothills Parkway, part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Sunset overlooking Wears Valley from a newly-opened section of the Foothills Parkway, part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Originally authorized by Congress in 1944, the road remains unfinished. That said, the Park Service JUST opened a section of the parkway (about a week before our visit), so now drivers can traverse the western-most 33 miles of the parkway.

The new section was particularly difficult to bridge, but boy was it worth it. We drove the newly opened section from Wears Valley over to just west of Townsend.


The views are tremendous. We went up for sunset before heading to dinner at the Dancing Bear.

Go. Drive the road. You won’t be disappointed. Just remember that the sun sets a bit earlier because of the mountains.

Cades Cove

Just down the road from Townsend is the entrance to the park right by Cades Cove. When I say just down the road, I mean about 10-15 minutes driving to the park and another 20 minutes along Laurel Creek Road to get to the cove.

Lawson Cabin in Cades Cove
Lawson Cabin in Cades Cove

Cades Cove was an isolated mountain settlement from around 1818 on and you can easily see why. A broad valley protected by mountains on all sides, the park service protects several early homestead cabins, three churches and a working grist mill.

A drive through Cades Cove is like stepping back in time. The road is one lane, one way and moves slow. There’s plenty of wildlife and you will often find deer, turkeys and black bear frequenting the valley.

The road through Cades Cove
The road through Cades Cove

There are also plenty of great hikes in the cove but just know the nearby mountain are steep. Back during our first trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2010, we hiked the Rich Mountain Loop. It was a great hike, but boy did the uphill kick our butts. 

For those with a capable vehicle, there is also the Rich Mountain Road, which is open most of the year. It is an unimproved road that heads back into Townsend. It had just closed before we got there otherwise you would be reading a lot more about it.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to love about Townsend. The town is quiet, doesn’t have all of the crowds and mess of Gatlinburg, but still provides easy access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Selfie in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Selfie in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We really enjoyed our time here. It was just a quiet, long weekend, but it recharged our bodies, our minds and our souls.

We would certainly come back here to spend more time exploring the Foothills Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

We decided to get away for a quiet weekend in the mountains. We found the perfect Smoky Mountain getaway in Townsend, just outside Great Smoky Mountains NP.
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