After three full days of exploring the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains, we were in no rush to leave. I was getting used to putting the boys to bed each night then soaking in the indoor hot tub at the Cherokee KOA. But there was so much more to do and see. So it was onward to the Tennessee side of America’s most visited national park.
We chose the Townsend/Great Smokies KOA because of its great online reviews, its proximity to Cades Cove and the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and its close (but not too close) proximity to the zaniness of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
We had reserved a deluxe patio site back in January, and when I booked the site it was one of two left in the campground for the fourth of July weekend. It was in the front of the campground near the playground, the pool, and the camp store. It was busy and bustling in our area, but the proximity to the playground and pool were good for our kids. If you want peace and quiet, the sites by the river would be better. These deluxe sites are lovely, particularly the large stone fire pits and attractive landscaping.
The playground was designed by the folks who design playgrounds for Disney. It quickly became kid headquarters each afternoon when we returned from our adventures in the park.
The pool was also a perfect place for a refreshing post-hike dip.
If you want to book a riverfront site at the Townsend KOA we advise that you book VERY early. This is a popular campground and we spoke to several families who have been coming here for decades. This friendly couple booked their riverfront site well over a year in advance.
The campground also has a packed schedule of activities. We didn’t make the apple pie eating contest, but you better believe that we made the super soaker hayride. General Manager Mark Chipperfield rallied the troops and explained that he had high expectations for our performance in battle.
Mark was one of the friendliest general managers that we have met in our travels, so we didn’t let him down. We would head into battle with this guy any day. As long as he provides the hayride and the buckets of water.
There are great adventures to be had both on the campground and in the mountains around it. The 11 mile, one way loop road around Cades Cove is one of the park’s most famous attractions. It provides a magical window into the region’s agricultural past, and its beauty is breathtaking. There are many stops along the way, some with spectacular views and some with historical homes, mills, churches, and graveyards. This flat valley area surrounded by mountains is also a great place for spotting deer, foxes, and bears.
In spring and summer the road is closed to automobiles every Wednesday and Saturday morning until 10 a.m. so that hikers and bikers can enjoy its natural beauty without traffic.
The Townsend KOA is also close to dozens of world-class family hikes. We left early one morning for the North Fork Auto Road and hopped on the Trillium Gap Trail. Destination? 1.5 miles out and 1.5 miles back to Grotto Falls. This hike is unique because you get to walk behind a waterfall.
We went on July 4th, and the falls were very crowded. But all of the hikers were happy to be out in the fresh air celebrating their freedom. Hiking in one of America’s greatest National Parks was a perfect way to spend Independence Day.
The campground is also a fairly short drive to Newfound Gap Road (which cuts through the park and crosses state lines) and all of its magnificent attractions. We drove the long and winding road to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park, for the short but vigorous hike up to the observation deck. It was a bit of a bust. We were socked in by the fog.
So we decided to head back down to earth where the weather was dramatically different. We ended up enjoying a delicious and adventurous lunch at Chimneys Picnic Area, which was highly recommended by our Missouri podcast correspondent, Kerri Cox. We loved Chimneys. Thanks Kerri. We owe you a picnic lunch!
Our family adventures in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been amazing. But our boys always love their time at the campground best. We spent each afternoon and evening back at the KOA enjoying activities at the pavilion…
tubing on the Little River…
listening to impromptu jam sessions by our neighbors.
and we also indulged at the campground’s very own bakery/ice cream/fudge shop. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but they offer free samples of the fudge. Try to control yourself.
The Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is blessed with many good campgrounds. But some of them are great. The Townsend KOA is one of the great ones. Maybe it’s because of its location on the river, or its proximity to Cades Cove, or its great managers and team.
If you are looking for a campground that is close to all of the action, but also peaceful and relaxing, you couldn’t make a better choice than the Townsend KOA.
We have been frequent KOA customers over the last five years, but this was a sponsored trip. Our opinions are always are own.
We are glad to see you had a great time in Townsend. You experienced it differently than we did since you have the lively little campers, but Townsend KOA was a great place to experience that part of the Great Smoky Mts. I guess we are also a little relieved to see that you enjoyed it since we had given it such high marks. We have to come in the summer when the temperatures are warmer and you can enjoy the river tubing, the water was way too cold when we were there. Camp on!
Glad you enjoyed Chimneys! Your words and pictures are making us relive our trip to the Smokies and making us realize all the beautiful places we missed out on. Looks like you’re having a splendid journey.