Top Things to Do Townsend, TN: A Parent’s Guide to the Peaceful Side of the Smokies
Greetings, fellow parents! Are you planning a family trip to Townsend, TN, in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains? Well, you’re in for a treat! This charming town offers countless activities and attractions for kids and adults. So, buckle up, and let’s explore the top things to do Townsend, TN!
As you enter the town, you’ll see signs advertising Townsend as “the peaceful side of the Smokies.”
Explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
First things first, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must-visit! As the most popular destination in the United States, this gem boasts breathtaking scenic views, incredible wildlife, and numerous hiking trails for all levels of hikers.
Hiking Trails for the Whole Family
- Grotto Falls – A moderate 2.6-mile round trip hike leading to a picturesque waterfall where you can walk behind the cascading water.
- Spruce Flats Falls is a slightly more challenging 2-mile round trip hike with a beautiful waterfall reward.
- Cades Cove Loop Road – A leisurely 11-mile one-way loop road that takes you through lush meadows, historic buildings, and opportunities to spot white-tailed deer, black bears, and other wildlife.
Float Your Worries Away with River Rat Tubing
Ready to make a splash? Head over to Smoky Mountain River Rat for an unforgettable river tubing experience. Rent tubes for the whole family, grab your life jackets and let the gentle currents of the Little River carry you away. It’s the perfect way to spend a hot summer day soaking up the sun and enjoying the natural beauty of Townsend, TN.
Tubing is a prime attraction in Townsend, TN, and it’s an adventure you won’t want to miss on a hot summer day! There are several tubing companies in Townsend, all sharing the same river. In this guide, we’ll focus on River Rat Tubing, the largest and most established.
River Rat Tubing is located at 205 Wears Valley Rd., Townsend, TN, right at the town’s entrance when coming from Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. The main office (Outpost A) is your starting point for the tubing adventure.
Though the minimum age for tubing is 2, we recommend caution when bringing very young children. There are some small drops along the way where it’s possible to flip or fall. Our experience shows that kids as young as 5 can enjoy tubing without issues.
With a wristband, you can enjoy unlimited tubing all day long. Many visitors like to tube in the morning, grab lunch at a nearby restaurant and return for an afternoon float.
The main office features small bathrooms and changing rooms. You can also find helpful accessories for purchase, such as paddles and tube connectors to keep your child’s tube attached to yours.
Once you’ve checked in, collect your tubes outside and head down to the river. River Rat Tubing offers traditional and solid tubes without a hole in the middle, perfect for kids or pets.
Townsend is an excellent destination for family-friendly tubing, as alcohol is prohibited on the river. The 2-mile journey takes around 2 hours, offering a mix of calm, relaxing floats and some faster, rougher sections.
To stay close to your group, be prepared to do some paddling. Rocks and other obstacles can slow or redirect you. At certain points, the river splits into two channels, and having a paddle helps you choose your preferred path.
Midway through the trip, there is a deep, slow section with a tall rock on the right, perfect for climbing and jumping off.
Tips for Tubing with Kids in Townsend
- Wear water shoes to protect your feet from the rocky riverbed.
- Bring a lanyard-type waterproof phone protector to keep your phone safe.
- Purchase a paddle from the gift shop; it’s helpful when you get stuck or want to navigate around obstacles.
- Arrive in your bathing suits to save time, as the bathroom/changing rooms can get busy.
We hope these tips make your tubing adventure in Townsend, TN, with River Rat Tubing a fantastic experience for the whole family!
Pro tip: Check out the visitor center for information on guided tours, special events, and additional trails.
Discover the Depths of Tuckaleechee Caverns
Delve into the Tuckaleechee Caverns, a fascinating underground world that will leave your kids in awe. This guided tour takes you through the “Big Room,” with soaring ceilings, glistening formations, and an impressive underground waterfall called Silver Falls. At a constant 58 degrees year-round, it’s a great option for a hot summer day!
Don’t forget to swing by the gift shop for a unique souvenir to remember your underground adventure!
Saddle Up for Horseback Riding
What better way to explore the peaceful side of the Smokies than on horseback? Check out these local stables for a family-friendly ride:
- Cades Cove Riding Stables
- Davy Crockett Riding Stables
- Located near Cades Cove is the Cades Cove Riding Stables.
- In the Sevierville area just north of Pigeon Forge is Deer Farm Zoo which also has a large petting zoo. We’ve been to both of these, and the petting zoo is one of our kid’s favorites.
Swimming at the Townsend Wye
One of the highlights of passing through Townsend is the opportunity to take a break and cool off at the Townsend Wye, a popular swimming spot where the Little River and Middle Prong of the Little River converge. This picturesque area offers shallow, clear waters perfect for wading and swimming and smooth rocks for sunbathing and picnicking.
Remember that the parking at Townsend Wye can get quite busy, especially during the warmer months and weekends. Arriving early in the day or visiting on a weekday can increase your chances of finding a parking spot. Also, remember to practice water safety and watch children at all times while swimming, as the water flow can be fast.
Taking a refreshing dip at the Townsend Wye is a fantastic way to break up your scenic drive from Knoxville to Gatlinburg. The area’s natural beauty and soothing waters provide a welcome respite from the journey and create an enjoyable experience for the whole family.
Take a Step Back in Time at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center
Immerse yourself in local history at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. This interactive museum showcases the region’s Native American, pioneer, and early settler history, complete with historic buildings, cantilever barns, and more!
Watch for special events like Old Timers Day and live music performances in summer.
Catch a Glimpse of the Past at the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum
Choo-choo! All aboard the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum! This small museum is a perfect quick stop for train enthusiasts of all ages. Explore the history of the railroad and lumber industry in the region, marvel at the impressive model trains, and snap a family photo with the antique steam engine.
Little River Railroad operated in Townsend from the early 1900s until the 1930s. With only a few pieces of equipment, it’s much smaller than most railroad museums. But it’s worth a quick stop if you have any train fans in your family.
For a more thrilling adventure, consider white-water rafting at River Rat Tubing.
7. Scenic Drives and Lookouts on the Foothills Parkway
For those who prefer to take in the beauty of the Smokies from the comfort of their car, the Foothills Parkway offers some of the most stunning scenic drives in the region. Stop at various lookouts to capture beautiful views and family photos with the majestic mountains as your backdrop.
Located just north of Townsend, the new Foothills Parkway has great views above the Townsend valley. The above picture was taken from an overlook looking towards Townsend.
If you’re up for a longer drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway is another picturesque route worth exploring.
Spend the Night in Townsend
Dancing Bear Lodge
This upscale, rustic lodge offers comfortable accommodations, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a serene atmosphere surrounded by the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. Guests rave about the exceptional service, cozy cabins, and on-site amenities.
For more accommodations near Townsend, explore our guide to cabins in Tennessee.
Tee Off at the Golf Course
For parents who enjoy hitting the links, Laurel Valley Golf Course in Townsend offers a challenging 18-hole course with breathtaking mountain views. Don’t worry; there’s plenty of fun for the kids, like mini-golf at Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini Golf in nearby Gatlinburg!
Feast on Good Food and Local Flavors
After a long day of exploring, there’s nothing like sitting down to a delicious meal. Townsend has something for everyone, from classic American fare to local Appalachian cuisine. Don’t miss out on these tasty dining options:
- Bear Appalachian Bistro – Treat yourself to a farm-to-table dining experience featuring locally sourced ingredients.
- For a scrumptious breakfast, check out our list of the best breakfast restaurants in Gatlinburg.
The Abbey Restaurant is a popular eatery located in Townsend, TN. It is known for its delicious food, charming atmosphere, and friendly service. The restaurant offers a diverse menu that includes a variety of dishes, such as steaks, seafood, sandwiches, and more.
Guests can enjoy their meals in the cozy dining area or on the lovely outdoor patio, which offers a relaxing setting with beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.
Apple Valley Cafe is a charming eatery in Townsend, TN, known for its welcoming atmosphere and delicious food. This family-friendly cafe offers various dishes, including mouthwatering burgers, sandwiches, salads, and breakfast options. Their homemade desserts, such as the famous fried apple pie, are also a must-try.
Cozy Up in a Cabin or Go Camping
Big Meadow Family Campground is located next door to River Rat Tubing and has sites on the river (across a small one-lane road). If you’re staying here and tubing, you can walk right over to the tubing main office.
While it doesn’t have a pool or the other amenities of the KOA, it has a great location on the river. You can even climb down the river’s bank for a swim. Big Meadow also offers RV storage. We have used the storage option before; they will even tow the RV to your site before you arrive.
KOA Townsend is located at the eastern end of town. As usual with KOAs, it has many activities for the kids, such as a pool, playground, and outdoor movies.
Q: What are some fun things to do nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg?
A: While you’re in the area, don’t miss out on the many fun things to do in Pigeon Forge with kids and our top picks for activities in Gatlinburg. From amusement parks and dinner shows to museums and ziplining, there’s never a dull moment in these bustling mountain towns.
Q: Are there any fishing opportunities in the area?
A: Absolutely! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has abundant fishing spots teeming with brown and rainbow trout. Check out our guide to fishing trips in Gatlinburg, TN, for insider tips on the best fishing locations and regulations.
Q: Can we expect snow in Townsend, TN, during the winter months?
A: While snowfall in Townsend is less frequent than in higher elevations, you may still experience the magic of a snowy day in Tennessee. For guaranteed winter fun, head to nearby Gatlinburg and enjoy snow tubing and other snowy activities.
Q: What are the most visited locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
A: Some of the most visited locations within the park include Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome (the highest point in the park), and the abandoned town of Elkmont. Don’t forget to stop by the Townsend Visitors Center for maps, brochures, and expert advice on planning your visit.
Q: Are there any interesting facts about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
A: Did you know the park is home to over 1,500 black bears? That’s approximately two bears per square mile! The park is also the most biodiverse park in the National Park System, with over 19,000 documented species. Talk about a treasure trove of natural wonders!
Q: What are Townsend’s top things to do for history buffs?
A: In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center and the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum, history enthusiasts should not miss visiting Cades Cove, a historic valley featuring well-preserved homesteads, churches, and a working grist mill.
We hope you found our guide to things to do in Townsend, TN, helpful and inspiring. Now go ahead and start planning your family’s unforgettable Smoky Mountain adventure!