Home to Smoky Mountain River Rat, Townsend is a small city that lies in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. Known for being one of three gateways into Great Smoky Mountain National Park — the other two being Gatlinburg, TN, and Cherokee, NC — Townsend is home to 448 people, and has a rich history to go along with its beautiful scenery. So why does River Rat call Townsend home? What is so great about this small mountain town? We’re here to tell you just a few of the great things you can find if you visit Townsend, Tennessee.
Townsend is often lumped in with Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg by visitors from out of town. While it is in very close proximity to both locations — many travelers pass through on their way to both — it has its own distinct characteristics that make it quite unique.
The first residents of the area were Native Americans, whose traces can be dated back to 2000 B.C. The Cherokee inhabited the area for roughly 200 years — between 1600 and 1800 — before moving westward to avoid the expanding European colonies. When the first settlers arrived at the Little River, the Cherokee had already left the area.
In the year 1900, Colonel Townsend purchased 86,000 acres along the Little River and promptly formed the Little River Lumber Company. A sawmill was built, and the town of Townsend began to grow. The railroad quickly made its way to the area, and the town began to experience rapid growth. The growth of Townsend played a large role in the logging industry’s expansion into the Smokies. The resulting deforestation helped lead to the establishment of Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the 1930s. The forming of the park and the resulting decline of Townsend’s lumber industry led many businesses to switch their focus to tourism-related endeavors.
Today, Townsend is known for its beautiful scenery, nature-geared activities, and rich history. A short drive will put you right on Foothills Parkway, where you can see the beautiful mountainous views up-close! Townsend also has many fantastic, inexpensive food options that span all varieties. If history is what you seek, then check out the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, or the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum. And of course, come see us at Smoky Mountain River Rat!