20 Things To Do In Townsend, TN

- This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure.

Tucked away beneath the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee, the small town of Townsend serves as the unofficial gateway to a staggering amount of attractions. Despite a population of less than 1,000 people, Townsend is home to historic landmarks and leading cultural institutions that wouldn’t feel out of place in large Tennessee metros such as Nashville or Memphis.

Minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the serenity of Cades Cove and the captivating formations of the Tuckaleechee Caverns, Townsend is the perfect travel destination for avid outdoor enthusiasts while also looking out for travellers looking to soak up small-town charm, a slice of eastern Tennessee culture and a lively festival scene that keeps this humble Southern town entertaining and worthwhile to visit.

Townsend, Tennessee

20 Things To Do In Townsend

1- Experience The Allure Of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the top things to do in Townsend TN.

Shared by Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, attracting well over 14 million visitors on average every year.

The entire park covers an area of more than 522,419 acres (211,415 ha) and boasts a staggering amount of wildlife and picturesque lush mountains which are usually hidden behind a veil of mist, giving the national park its smoky appearance.

For the ultimate Smoky Mountains experience, consider hiking a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail, which cuts right through the national park as it winds its way down south from Maine to Georgia.

2- See The Stunning Rock Formations Of The Tuckaleechee Caverns

Stalactite And Stalagmite Formations In The Cave
Exploring the Tuckaleechee Caverns is one of the unique things to do in Townsend TN.

Dubbed the “Greatest Site Under The Smokies” due to its stunning formations, the Tuckaleechee Caverns is a truly unmissable Tennessee attraction just 3 miles (4.8 km) outside downtown Townsend.


The cave system sits beneath the oldest mountain chain in the world and is rumoured to be as old as 30 million years, with the Tuckaleechee Caverns rated as one of the best subterranean cave systems along the East Coast of the United States.

Used by members of the Cherokee People as early as the 1600s, the cave system boasts several impressive natural features, including the tallest underground waterfall along the East Coast and the famous “Big Room”, an enormous cavern that can almost fit an entire football field.

The Tuckaleechee Caverns are at 825 Cavern Rd, Townsend, TN 37882.

3- Explore The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is the perfect destination in Townsend for travellers who still haven’t satisfied their Smoky Mountain fix, showcasing the mountains’ natural history and human impact through a wide array of impressive exhibits and display items.

Managed as a non-profit, the centre got its start in 2006 when it was officially opened to the public and has grown into one of the region’s top cultural institutions, with more than 17,000 square feet (1,579 m2) of exhibition space under its roof.

The centre is great for learning about Tennessee’s Native American tribes or the many Appalachian communities that call the Smoky Mountains home, with tools, artefacts, musical instruments and furniture of the mountains and its people on display throughout the centre.

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is at 123 Cromwell Dr, Townsend, TN 37882.

4- Learn About Townsend’s Early Settlement At The John P. Cable Mill

Built by local farmer John P. Cable in 1867, the John P. Cable Mill is a historic 2-story grist mill which offers visitors a rare glimpse into Townsend’s 19th century past.

The mill is surrounded by the stunning landscapes of Cades Cove and is reminiscent of a bygone era in Townsend when the town’s residents would look forward to “mill days” when Cable and the other millers brought their freshly milled grains to market.

5- Take A Scenic Trip Along Cades Cove Loop Road

Home to the aforementioned John P. Cable Mill, Cades Cove is a spectacularly beautiful part of eastern Tennessee renowned for its rolling hills, evergreen mountains and wildflower meadows best experienced by taking a drive along the Cades Cove Loop Road.

The looped road stretches for roughly 11 miles (18 km) and circles the entire cove, allowing passengers to take in Cades Cove in all its glory and spot animals such as black bears, turkeys, groundhogs and coyotes.

Free to use, the Cades Cove Loop Road can be found just 16 miles (25 km) outside downtown Townsend and is touted as one of the highlights of any visit to this idyllic corner of Tennessee.

6- Cool Off At Spruce Flats Falls

Easy to reach thanks to the 1.6-mile-long (2.5 km) Spruce Flats Falls Trail, Spruce Flats Falls is a popular cascading waterfall and swimming spot tucked away beneath the thick forests of the Smoky Mountains.

The falls tumble about 30 feet (9 m) down a rocky hill into the sizeable pool below and can be found inside the borders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with the waterfall a fairly popular swimming spot during the warm summer months among hikers looking to cool off.

7- Stop By The Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival

Hot Air Balloons In Blue Sky
Attending the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival is one of the things to do in Townsend TN this weekend.

For a colourful spectacle that’s unmatched anywhere else in eastern Tennessee, be sure to stop by Townsend during the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival, when dozens of hot air balloons take to the evening sky above Townsend.

The festival got its start in 2017 and pairs the colourful balloon displays with live entertainment and great food options to create a truly festive atmosphere in the heart of the Smoky Mountains.

Typically organised during mid-to-late August every year, this Townsend staple is perfect for mingling with the locals and is the ideal way to cap off a summertime visit to eastern Tennessee.

8- Hop Aboard The Townsend Historical Trail

While less flashy than other Townsend attractions, the Townsend Historical Trail offers visitors the perfect mix of history and nature as this 9-mile-long (14 km) trail passes by some of Townsend’s most important landmarks.

The short trail runs the entire length of the town and is available for hiking, biking and inline skating, with useful markers dotted along the way containing valuable information about important landmarks.

9- Reconnect With Nature At The Townsend River Walk and Arboretum

On the banks of the Little River near downtown Townsend, the Townsend River Walk and Arboretum is the ultimate urban outdoor space where visitors can enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its diverse plant life on a much smaller scale.

The attraction boasts a 10-mile-long (16 km) hiking trail which passes by the arboretum’s colourful blooms, trees and floral displays, all of which are accompanied by informative signs detailing their species and useful facts about each plant.

The Townsend River Walk and Arboretum can be found along E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882.

10- Tour The Little River Railroad Museum

Established in 1982 as a non-profit seeking to preserve the history of the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company, the Little River Railroad Museum is the go-to venue in town for historians hoping to learn more about Townsend’s rich railway heritage.

The museum sits in downtown Townsend and boasts an impressive line-up of railway memorabilia, artefacts and old photographs spread out across the museum’s numerous buildings and exhibition spaces.

Among the Little River Railroad Museum’s star attractions are its old locomotives, a log loader dating back to 1925 and the original Walland Depot building, which was moved to the museum’s grounds in 1983.

The Little River Railroad Museum is at 7747 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882.

11- Trek The Cades Cove Nature Trail

Cades Cove
Hiking the Cades Cove Nature Trail is one of the free things to do in Townsend, TN.

For a slower-paced sightseeing experience of Cades Cove, be sure to plan a visit to the Cades Cove Nature Trail, a scenic 2-mile (3.2 km) looped hiking pathway that’s renowned for its stunning beauty, small crowds and excellent wildlife-watching opportunities.

The trail serves as a car-free alternative to the popular Cades Cove Loop Road and can be accessed near the start of the Cades Cove Loop Road not too far from the Cades Cove Visitor’s Center.

One of the town’s top-rated cultural institutions is the popular Townsend Artisan Guild Gallery, which showcases the artwork and crafts of talented local artists at the Townsend Art Center.

The guild and gallery were both formed in 2007 to promote visual art in the region and to educate aspiring artists of all ages through a range of informative workshops and art classes available to the public.

The gallery also serves as an exhibition space for local artists to showcase their works to a wider audience, with original paintings, ceramics, pottery, jewellery, glassware, photographs and fibre arts available to the public for purchase.

The Townsend Artisan Guild Gallery is at 7719 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882.

13- Try Local Flavours At The Grains & Grits Festival

A proudly Southern festival pairing gourmet culinary delicacies with fine spirits, the Grains & Grits Festival provides visitors with a fun and relaxing atmosphere that’s perfect for meeting Townsend locals and enjoying the town’s tight-knit charm.

Still fairly new on the list of Townsend attractions worth checking out, the festival is hosted at the Townsend Visitor Center and is a 21-and-over event with shuttle services to and from several inns, motels, resorts, campsites, lodges and hotels in and around the town.

The festival is excellent for trying out the local food and spirit-distilling scene, with live entertainment on tap for a fun evening out and about among Townsend’s friendly locals who are known for their Southern hospitality.

The Grains & Grits Festival is hosted at 7906 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882.

14- Get Helpful Travel Tips At The Townsend Visitor Center

The home of annual the Grains & Grits Festival, the Townsend Visitor Center is the proverbial town square of this small Tennessee town and is used for all sorts of public gatherings and special events throughout the year.

Doubling as an information hub, the visitor centre is great for finding out useful information about upcoming events, available accommodation options or local dining spots.

There’s also a shop inside the visitor centre selling books, snacks and quirky gifts, with the centre’s Exhibit Room used for showcasing the works of talented local artists.

The Townsend Visitor Center is at 7906 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882.

15- Take A Trip Along The Foothills Parkway

Foothills Parkway In Fog
Driving the Foothills Parkway is one of the best things to do in Townsend TN.

Famous for being the oldest unfinished highway project in Tennessee, the Foothills Parkway is an incredibly scenic stretch of roadway that’s been continuously marred with delays during its 80-year-long construction period.

Construction began on the parkway in 1944, with just over 72 miles (116 km) of the Foothills Parkway in place as of late that’s intended to link Interstate 40 along the Pigeon River with US Route 129 near the Little Tennessee River once it’s finally completed.

Even though the Foothills Parkway is still unfinished, a large stretch of the parkway is open and accessible to the public, treating passengers to spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains foothills.

The Cades Cove Gallery is a world-class exhibition space for the vivid nature and wildlife photography of Barry Spruce, who has spent more than 20 years capturing the serenity and captivating allure of Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Opened in 2017, the gallery sells everything from framed metal prints to custom greeting cards, making the gallery the ultimate destination for picking up thoughtful gifts to share your Townsend experience with friends and loved ones.

The Cades Cove Gallery is at 7843 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882.

17- Grab A Bite To Eat At Apple Valley Mountain Village

A general store, café, gift shop and burger bar all rolled into one, the Apple Valley Mountain Village is the most popular hangout in Townsend, wining and dining locals and travellers since opening its doors in 1992.

Housed inside an eye-catching barn-like building, the venue dishes up quintessential Tennessee hospitality with flavour-packed budget-friendly meals to greet new Townsend arrivals or wish them safe travels when parting ways.

The Apple Valley Mountain Village is at 7138 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882.

18- Be Wined And Dined At Cades Cove Cellars

Established during the 2010s by the local Reed and Birkholz families, Cades Cove Cellars is an up-and-coming winery with a mission of placing eastern Tennessee on the proverbial map as a premier world-class winemaking region.

The winery showcases more than 80 years of winemaking expertise and produces everything from traditional Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir to sweet dessert wines and crafty blended concoctions.

Open for wine tastings and special events, Cades Cove Cellars even boasts an on-site gift store where visitors can pick up unique items after sipping on wine slushies on a summer’s day.

Cades Cove Cellars is at 7126 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Townsend, TN 37882.

19- Sip On Tennessee Bourbons And Whiskeys At Company Distilling

Seasoned Brandy
Tasting whiskey is one of the cool things to do in Townsend, TN today.

Renowned for its maple-aged bourbon and Tennessee-style straight rye whiskey, Company Distillery is a world-class spirit distiller situated right in the backyard of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The distillery first began crafting and serving its smooth spirits in Townsend in 2022 and is billed as a gathering space for the over-21 community where visitors can grab a bite to eat, mingle with locals or sip on Company Distillery whiskeys or bourbons.

Company Distilling is at 8351 TN-73, Townsend, TN 37882.

20- Go Tubing Along The Little River

Cutting right through the heart of central Townsend, the Little River’s calm waters are never too far away from Townsend’s adventure tour operators who regularly organise tubing trips downriver during the warmer months.

Tubing is the perfect water activity to enjoy along the lazy-flowing Little River, which doesn’t have the rapids necessary for fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping white-water rafting.

If you’re planning on hitting the Little River aboard an inflatable tube, be sure to book through a trusted tour operator or inquire about available Little River tubing tours at the Townsend Visitor Center for the ultimate Little River tubing experience.

Plan Your Trip

best car rental

Rent A Car – Find the best car rental rates at Discover Cars. They compare car hire companies to provide you with the best deal right now.

Find A Hotel – If you’re curious about this article and are looking for somewhere to stay, take a look at these amazing hotels.

Previous article20 Things To Do In Potsdam
Next article20 Things To Do In Duck, NC
Jessica Shaw
Jessica Shaw is a storyteller who has lived in four U.S. states - Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois - and has visited many others. She loves history and nature and is a big fan of road tripping.