Discovering Another Side of the Smokies with Townsend and Blount County, Tennessee

While Townsend and Blount County, Tenn., are known as the "peaceful side of the Smokies," don't think that is code for "dull" or "boring" because it is anything but that.
Located about 30 minutes from Gatlinburg, if you are looking for something different, this area is worth exploring.

Here are just a few things you can discover...

It’s only 11 miles, but it is the most visited place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Cades Cove loop is much more than just a scenic drive, ride or walk; it’s an outdoor museum of sorts, preserving the early history of the land before it was acquired to become a national park. Along the route, you’ll see homesteads, barns, cabins, churches and more from the 1800s. The loop is also the top site to see wildlife. It’s not unusual to see deer, and spot the occasional black bear and more during your trek. If you want to get further into the outdoors, the five-mile round trip hike to the 20-foot Abrams Falls is popular among hikers. There are also other hiking trails to choose from as well.

In Townsend, you don’t want to miss stopping in the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. Here you can view exhibits depicting the history and lives of those who once called East Tennessee home. Be sure to check out the Historic Village featuring 11 historic structures from cabins to a smokehouse to an outhouse and more. The museum also offers guided tours of Cades Cove, perfect for couples and groups, through Cades Cove Heritage Tours.

If you are in the mood to explore more museums, head to the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum. The museum documents Townsend’s time as a logging community. The museum buildings display various photographs, documents, memorabilia  and small artifacts from this time. Outside, you can view the larger exhibits like a vintage caboose.
In nearby Maryville, there is the Blount County Historical Museum with various displays and exhibits that include everything from the zany (you can view a piece from the world’s largest elm from Greenback, Tenn.) to the historically interesting (East Tennessee was one of the Underground Railroad routes, and the town of Friendsville played an important role in aiding runaway slaves.) Next to the museum is the Cades Cove Museum at the Thompson-Brown House. The home itself is one of the oldest two-story, dog-trot log buildings in Tennessee and inside on display are artifacts and items of all kinds from descendants of Cades Cove.
Prior to his stint as a public official, San Houston taught school in 1812, in a one-room log cabin located about three miles north of Marysville. Still sitting on its original site, it is the oldest school in Tennessee, built two years before Tennessee became a state.

Make some time to pop in  the Wood-n-Strings Dulcimer Shop in Townsend. While it isn’t a museum, the shop does preserve and promote Appalachian Mountain Music through its handcrafted dulcimers. Plan your visit right and enjoy some free music during “Pickin Porch.”

Take a dive along Foothills Parkway. Turn off of US-321 near Walland to begin the scenic drive. At 18-miles, the parkway holds the distinction of being state's oldest unfinished highway project.

Did you know there are 700 known caves in Tennessee, and you can explore one of them in Townsend. Not only are the formations interesting in Tuckaleechee Caverns, but so is the story of how the caverns were discovered.

Need to spend more time outside? There are many ways to fulfill that particular need in this area.  Check out the fly fishing  class offered through Little Rivers Outfitters. Go horseback riding or zip lining at Next To Heaven Mountain Adventures. Just have to get in a round of 18? Check out Laurel Valley Golf Course. The public course is both scenic and challenging.

Dining and Resting

From BBQ plates to Smoky Mountain Trout Cakes and nearly everything in between, there is truly something for every craving (and budget) Be sure pick up some chocolates (or other goodies) at the Chocolate B’ar.

There is also a variety of options when it comes to accommodations. Cozy up at a bed and breakfast, stay at a hotel or rough it at a campground.