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Great Smoky Mountains National Park stretches across more than 800 square miles of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The northwestern half of the range gives way to a series of elongate ridges known as the “Foothills” that includes a not-quite finished scenic and lightly traveled road called Foothills Parkway.

As of 2018, the scenic Foothills Parkway comprised 33 miles connecting U.S. 129 and U.S. 321. With minimal traffic compared to other Smoky Mountain highways, the parkway offers “an easy, scenic connection for tourists between the Tail of the Dragon and Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.” When completed, the Parkway will be a 72-mile-long road traversing the western and northern perimeters of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and will extend from Interstate 40 east of Cosby, TN to its western terminus in Chilhowee, TN. Read about the plan.

Also hidden in the area is Townsend, a picturesque town known for its history, outdoor adventures, mom and pop shops and artists.

Let’s explore the Foothills Parkway!

smoky mountains in the fall

The completed southern sections of the parkway provide a great connecting route for tourists heading to the Tail of the Dragon from the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. It also is part of what locals call the Great Smoky Mountain Loop, a 141/153 mile, an all-day tour that takes visitors to some of the best spots the mountains have to offer.

There are many scenic stops to make along the way including Parson Bald Overlook where visitors can see Parson Bald mountain on the right and Gregory Bald on the left. Parson Bald stands at 4,732 feet tall; Happy Valley Overlook; Look Rock, which is the tallest point on the parkway; and Great Smoky Mountains Overlook with its panoramic view of the mountains; this area has one of the largest parking lots.

The crest of the Great Smokies runs in an unbroken chain of peaks that rise more than 5,000 feet for more than 36 miles. Elevations in the park range from 876 to 6,643 feet – at Clingman’s Dome.

Townsend is worth a stop – for the day, a weekend or a week.

Rich in history, and archaeologically dating back to 2000 B.C., Townsend is known as “peaceful valley”- the Cherokees named it long ago. The first English settlers arrived here in the 1700s.

Townsend is known best for its pristine mountain views, along with festivals throughout the year. Townsend is one of the smallest of the Smoky Mountain towns – a  tiny outpost with about 500 residents. It is frequently referred to as “The Quiet Side of the Smokies.”

Visitors often use Townsend as a home base for hiking expeditions, making the town a popular spot for adventure seekers and lovers of the outdoors. Fly fishing, golf, bike riding, hiking – there is so much to do.

Check out the hikes from Townsend.

Golfing Townsend

golf course

Wild Laurel and Laurel Valley Golf and Country Club near the Laurel Lake Nature Preserve and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Townsend. “The charming and scenic views of gorgeous natural artistry change beautifully with the seasons.”

Laurel Valley Golf comprises 18 holes make up the golf course designed by Edmund B. Ault. There also is a fitness center and swimming pool at the clubhouse accenting the entire area.” Visitors often seen a bear or two or some white-tailed deer while out and about on these courses.

Wild Laurel’s 18-hole course is the crown jewel of Wild Laurel. The club is working toward its Audubon Certification to ensure the conservation of the wildlife’s habitat. It too was designed by Edmund D. Ault and features Bermuda fairways and bent grass greens.

There’s also a full-service tavern with an ever-changing seasonal menu and catering available for any celebration. The bar has an extensive and well selected wine list, cocktails and the ice-cold beer.

Wild Laurel Golf Course, 702 Country Club Road, (865) 738-3134. Laurel Valley Golf, 702 Country Club Drive, (865) 738-3134.

Townsend Festivals

“From arts to gastronomy to the celebration of the largest spectacle of synchronous fireflies in the Western hemisphere, Townsend is home to an impressive number of festivals and events for numerous occasions. Kicking off the new year, the Winter Heritage Festival is held in late January. With a full program of music and activities, this event will leave you with a greater appreciation of the area’s culturally and historically rich heritage. If you’re planning a trip during the spring, be sure to check out the Townsend Spring Festival and Old Timers Day in early May.  Check out all the upcoming festivals on the town’s event page.

Want some indoor activities?

Townsend has those too.

There are a few galleries in town for browsing the work of local artists and maybe even making a purchase of a one-of-a-kind piece.

Check out the Apple Valley Country Store for a wide range of charming knick-knacks that are made locally, along with mountain clothing, famous fudge a coffee house and a café offering “pancakes, burgers and sandwiches.” Don’t forget the fried apple pie; it’s a must!

More restaurants include The Riverstone Restaurant, featuring “down-home American grub in a rustic, wood-paneled dining room with a fireplace and Old West vibe;” Trailhead Steak & Trout House; Little River Pub & Deli, known for its beer garden and great food; Smokin’ Joes – it’s the south, there must be barbecue!; and the Burger Master Drive-In, where visitors can get “cold treats” and “hot treats.”

Woodcarving is very popular in the area. It can be quite fascinating to watch the wood carving process and see exactly how the pieces are made. Also check out local pottery, which makes a great souvenir. Visitors can try their hand at being creative themselves.

If you want to learn a little more about the history of Townsend, there are some local museums including The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center where visitors learn all about the history of the area with plenty of exhibits and demonstrations. Among the center’s permanent exhibits are Native Americans of East TN Collection and the East TN Mountain Culture exhibits. Directly behind the main building is our Historic Village; a collection of historic buildings and barns brought there from around the region. The museum also regularly holds concerts and events.

The Little River Railroad and Lumber Museum is another excellent place to learn about the history and economy of the Townsend area.

Founded in 1982, the non-profit corporation was created to preserve the heritage of the Little River Lumber Company and the Little River Railroad.

The larger artifacts, including Shay 2147, a vintage caboose (L&N Class NE “Little Woody”), two vintage flatcars, a portable Frick steam engine, one of the original “setoff” houses (used for logging families in the mountains), a wooden water tank that was used in Walland and a log loader are displayed on the grounds.

In 1983 the original Walland Depot building was moved to the site, and now contains the primary collection of photographs, papers, tools and other smaller artifacts Alongside the depot platform, museum volunteers have constructed a replica of the Elkmont Post Office which houses the Gift Shop.

A one-time visit is free, however visitors also can become a member with a tax deductible donation – for a year or a lifetime.

The museum is located at 7747 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, (865) 661-0170.


Live music lovers should head to Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop located in town. The shop regularly plays host to performances on Friday nights from some of the most talented artists in the area on the beautiful outdoor porch. There are also a variety of local events held throughout the year, so be sure to check local calendars before your trip here.

Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, 123 Cromwell Drive, (865) 448-0044.


Small buildings along a dirt road in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Townsend is one of the three main gateways to Cades Cove, one of the most popular destinations in the Smokies. A 20-minute drive south of Townsend, A 20-minute drive south of Townsend, the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is worth every second spent there. The loop is closed to motor vehicle traffic each Wednesday, from June 17th through September 30th. A bike is a great way to get all the way around. If you didn’t bring one, visitors can rent one at Cades Cove Trading Co.

Wildlife, wildflowers, and wildly diverse hiking trails (for all ages and levels) are abundant here. Check out our blog post on Cades Cove. Bikes can be rented here if you didn’t bring one. There’s also horseback riding.

Whether you prefer to commute by four wheels or two, this scenic drive exhibits numerous historical buildings and several 360-degree views.

Book a Stay Near Townsend and the Foothills Parkway

Black Bears and Biscuits Lodge - A Cabin in Wears Valley

You’re going to need a cozy place to lay your head after all the Townsend area adventures. Let American Patriot Getaways find the perfect cabin for you in nearby and beautiful Wears Valley.

Book online using our web site, or give our friendly Reservation Staff a call at 800-204-5169. Get started planning your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains and the charming town of Townsend.

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