The last town you drive through before you enter the Smokies via Blount County is Townsend. Many people drive straight through the town in a rush to get to the park, but these people are missing out on a gem. Here are some of the best reasons to slow down and explore Townsend.
There are dozens of great places to stop to get a quick bite to eat. Burgermaster offers up fresh burgers, sandwiches, and ice cream. Its unique building is hard to miss. There are also places to get barbecue, a steak or even home-cooked style meals. One thing you won’t find a lot of in Townsend are chain restaurants. Because of strict grease disposal guidelines, many chains stay out of the area, which is great for local businesses.
The locals are always friendly and willing to give great advice to tourists. Forget about Tripadvisor or Yelp. If you want to know anything about the area, resort to asking the locals. Plus, you never know who you’re going to run into. One antique store keeps pictures of all the celebrities who have come through on the walls- and they’re running out of space. On a fateful trip through Townsend seven years ago, I stopped to eat lunch at the Carriage House Restaurant. While dining, I noticed a rock god was sitting in the corner eating lunch. That’s how I got to meet Robert Plant. Cue public freak-out…
Great Places to Stay
There are plenty of quaint places to stay in Townsend. If you’re more into camping, there are numerous places to pitch your tent or park the camper. My personal favorite is the Townsend KOA. They offer a lot of activities for guests, including movie nights, games, and tractor rides. If the river water is too cold to take a dip, there is a pool on the property. KOA even allows their guests to have guests, so don’t worry about trying to cram everybody into the haul-behind. And if you aren’t the camping type, KOA has “cabins” for rent, complete with air conditioners and access to the bathhouse.
Several years ago, the road through Townsend was consistently bogged down with traffic. The reason? One of the biggest archaeological digs in the history of the state was taking place right on the side of the highway. In the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, some of the artifacts retrieved from the dig are on display. Here you can also visit historic buildings, and the center even hosts concerts featuring traditional music from the mountains. You’ll also find the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum in Townsend. This museum aims to preserve the legacy of the Little River Railroad.
So the next time you’re heading up to the mountains, slow down. You never know what you’ll find or who you might run into in this seemingly uneventful town.