One thing is true about visiting the Smoky Mountains; there are ample places to stay and this is true of RV parks. Pigeon Forge, Gaitlinburg, and Sevierville are all very well known destination spots in the Smoky Mountains but they were not what we were looking for when we selected our destination. We were looking for a place close to the Smoky Mountain National Park. We were looking for a place close to fishing and other water activities. We were looking for quiet place to lay our heads after hours of exploring. We found Townsend, Tennessee and Big Meadow Family Campground. Both provided exactly what we wanted and were looking for in a vacation destination.
Townsend calls themselves the “quieter side of the mountain” and I can attest that after a few trips over to the more popular Smoky Mountain destinations (Pigeon Forge, Gaitlinburg, and Sevierville) it is quieter, less commercial, less touristy, and generally smaller. Big Meadow Family Campground is not the only full service campground in Townsend but it was the right choice for us. From my observations I saw a lot of older couples vacationing with grandchildren, families just like ourselves, and even vacationing couples all enjoying their time at Big Meadow Family Campground. We also noticed that many people at the campground are repeat customers who come back over and over.
Big Meadow is a family run business. They have 78 full hook up sites, 25 of these are gravel pads with the rest being concrete, 58 sites are pull through leaving only 20 back in sites. The grounds are beautiful and very well maintained. Security and safety of all guest seemed to be a very high priority of the owners. To enter the park you have to use a key pad to pass though a locked gate.
During our check-in we were advised that there is a strict 5 mph speed limit in the campground. I can’t begin to tell you how many times we are told about a speed limit and we see people speeding through the campground during our stays but this campground actually enforced the speed limit. I, as a parent with a little girl who has only just recently begun riding a bicycle by herself, really appreciate the safety I felt during our stay at Big Meadow Family Campground.
The other rule explained to us at check-in was that the gates locked at midnight and unlocked at 7:00 a.m. This rule impacted us only once. We had planned an early morning departure to drive over to Clingman’s Dome and wanted to leave by 6:30 a.m. The night before we moved our trucks to the front of the campground just outside the locked gate. The morning of our departure we walked a short walk to our trucks and went about our site seeing.
The campground has a splash park, a gazebo with a fire pit, a dog park, and a playground with a large pirate ship climbing structure. The little girls in our group loved playing in the splash park and found it a perfect place to make friends and cool off after our long days of exploring. The only negative thing that I can say about any of these amenities is that the girl’s clothing got stained after a short play on the playground area. I have no idea what they touched but it was a stain that did not come out of their clothing. But to be fair, it is a playground and they are little girls.
Our campsites were equipped with water, electric (both 30 and 50 amp service) sewer and cable television. The only thing that the sites did not have was a fire ring. Campers could make a fire at their campsite if they had a fire pit and made it on the gravel or concrete (not in the grass). Other campers during our visit made fires at the fire-pit in the gazebo but we never felt the desire to add extra heat to the already humid temperatures.
We utilized the campground laundry room several times during our stay and found it to be clean and easy to access. In addition to the laundry room members of our group used the men’s shower. All reports from the shower room were very positive (large, clean, spotless, bug free, really, really nice were all words used to describe when I asked). We were also invited to a Sunday Morning Church Service held on site at the campground.
We arrived on a Thursday early evening just ahead of a round of storms, which we could not seem to shake on our trip. Our check-in process went smoothly as we were shown to our sites, given a list of cable television stations, explained the rules of the campground, and introduced to the family cat, RJ. The rain caught up with us before we could even make it to our site and unhitch. Yet another wet hitch/unhitch.
We had saved grocery shopping for our week’s stay till we reached Townsend. So, on the first night with little food in our campers and the sky’s dumping inches and inches of rain on us, we sat out to find a local restaurant. We found the Montre Real Mexican Restaurant. The food was good, the staff were friendly and the prices were reasonable. It rained the entire meal so we said good night and turned in early. The sound of rain falling on the camper sang us to sleep that first night.
We did use the IGA for our grocery needs. The butcher there was kind enough to special cut some meat for us as they did not have what we were looking for packaged. The store had our basic needs plus a little more but I would say if you are wanting something a little out of the norm you might want to stop at a store in a larger town.
Smoky Mountain National Park is only a few short minutes from the campground and within fifteen minutes to Cades Cove. We found a back scenic road that connects Cades Cove to Townsend that was a breathtaking and exciting trip to make. (We learned later this road, Rich Mountain Road, is the original route to Cades Cove.)
Outside the national park, floating down the Little River is a popular pass time. There are multiple outfitters very close to Big Meadows Family Campground. Two of the outfitters are literally within walking distance to the campground and offer a mile or so float downstream. The water level of the Little River changes frequently so I think any given day the experience can be different. I promise to give you more information on floating the Little River in a later post!
All along 321 highway is a bike path that we used to bike to Burgermaster’s Drive-In for ice cream. Not only was the ice cream amazing (super smooth and creamy) they also had this 1950’s theme. I learned about “wet nuts.” which is a dessert topping you can add to ice cream that is basically chopped walnuts in maple syrup. Burgermaster may not have had my favorite sundae available (a turtle) but I added wet nuts to my chocolate sundae and it was pretty good!
We partook in wine tasting at Cades Cove Cellars and then stopped into Apple Valley Country Store and Cafe for some shopping and a fried pie. We actually met some fellow Missourians in the parking lot of Apple Valley who were stopping by to grab a few fried pies on their way home to Missouri. We purchased our pies from the store and I wish we had ordered them fresh from the cafe. Next time.
We also stopped at several other small shops and eateries along the way. Some of our favorites were: GSM Outfitters, The Boy purchased his first pair of Chacos from them. We were very impressed with the product knowledge and helpfulness of the owners. The local fly shop in Townsend is the Little River Outfitters. If you plan to fish in the Smoky Mountains I highly suggesting going in and talking to them, they have a huge selection of fishing gear and give some great advice . Jake’s on the River is just a cool little retail shop, and PawPaw’s Kajun Kitchen has the best catfish we’ve ever had; and we have had a lot of catfish.
Keep checking back, we have more reviews and stories to share from our time in the Smoky Mountains.