I was looking for somewhere I could switch off for few days and relax, and what better place to do this than “the Peaceful Side of the Smokies” in Townsend, Tennessee?
Less than an hour’s drive south of Knoxville, Townsend sits at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Blount (pronounced “Blunt”) County, which also includes the towns of Alcoa and Maryville, offers fun and relaxation for the entire family.
Touring Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A brilliant place for me to start my tour was Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A “cove” in Smoky Mountain terms is a relatively flat valley between mountains and ridges. Cades Cove is in a luscious green valley surrounded by gorgeous scenery. After stopping at the visitor center to rent a bicycle, I rode the 17.7-mile one-way loop road that circles the cove.
Barely into my journey, I pulled off the road to take a photograph of my surroundings. Just as I was about to set off again, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a black bear, approximately 15 meters from where I stood! I was mesmerized. Although quite a bit smaller than I’d imagined a black bear to be, it thankfully kept its distance and simply strolled at an unhurried pace through the woods and continued on its way. In addition to bears, wildlife in the park includes deer, wild hogs, wild turkeys and raccoons.
Prior to it becoming part of a national park, people live in Cades Cove. By 1850, the population had reached 685. Even after the area became a national park in 1934, a few people continued to live there, and the last remaining resident did not leave until 1999. More than 80 historic residences, many of original log construction, remain in the park today.
Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center
After a delicious lunch at Barbob’s Burgermaster Drive-in in Townsend, I visited the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. As I toured the historic village, I learned what life was like in an Appalachian community in the early 1900s. Exhibits show early transportation, examples of Appalachian lifestyle and Native American artifacts, giving me a glimpse into how the Cherokees lived.
Tour the Tuckaleechee Caverns
Later in the day, I headed to Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend. The caverns, which were carved over tens of thousands of years, are estimated to be between 20 million and 30 million years old. Known as the “Greatest Site Under the Smokies,” the caverns are a must-see.
The highlight of my 1.6-kilometer guided tour through the caverns was the Big Room, which is about 122 meters long and 91 meters across and has stalagmites measuring 7.3 meters high. Simply stunning!
Relax at Gracehill Bed and Breakfast
At the end of the day, I made my way to Gracehill Bed and Breakfast, also in Townsend. High on a hilltop, Gracehill offers 360-degree views of the national park as well as luxurious accommodations. With a glass of wine in my hand, and incredible views as my backdrop, how could I not sit back and relax on the balcony?
Be sure to include Townsend, Tennessee, on your list of “must visits.” You won’t regret it.