Townsend, Wears Valley, Maryville

The quiet side of the Smokies

Removed from the hubbub, serene Wears Valley links Pigeon Forge (at Stoplight #3) to rural Townsend, which prides itself on being the "quiet side of the Smokies." (Technically, half of Wears Valley lies in Pigeon Forge, and the other half belongs to Townsend. But we think it has a distinct personality.) Townsend promises great tubing and swimming holes here, plus a less-traveled entrance to the national park.

1. Black Bear Ridge Resort: www.blackbearridgeresort.com or 1-888-889-7865

  • Highlights: Super luxury cabins with leather couches, designer furniture, flat-screen TVs, and well-stocked game rooms. Some units feature indoor pools and/or saunas. Resort features wedding chapel, salon, limo service, community pool, in-room massage, gift baskets upon request. Unobstructed views of Bluff Mountain. Can book groups of up to 200. Great off-season discounts of up to 50%.
  • Resort community: 140 cabins ranging from one to eight bedrooms (sleeps up to 22), closely situated on clear-cut hillside. Wide roads. Similar floorplans.
  • Location: Wears Valley, about 10 minutes from Pigeon Forge.
  • Price of one-bedroom cabin: $99-$289, plus $50-$200 cleaning fee (varies by size)

2. Butterfly Gap Retreat (Editor's Choice―most unusual): www.butterflygap.com or (865) 984-6021

  • Highlights: An undiscovered gem. Strikingly modern guest houses―you can't really call them cabins―add an unexpected twist to this 900-acre preserve, which borders the scenic Foothills Parkway. Contemporary interiors (a walk-in shower room, a pull-out bed on a screened sleeping porch) feel inviting. A lake, nondenominational chapel, and reception hall (with pivoting walls for indoor/outdoor parties) set this place apart. Note: Children and pets are not permitted.
  • Resort community: Five guest houses tucked in the woods offer plenty of privacy. The owners will bring breakfast to your door―or leave all the fixings for cooking your own. Designed and built by a local family (including two twentysomething sisters who hammered away with carpenters), this is a popular wedding spot. Weekends book in advance, so check availability during the week or in the off-season.
  • Location: On the outskirts of Maryville, about 20 minutes from Townsend. You won't want to drive into town for meals, so bring groceries or make advance arrangements for their on-staff chef to prepare dinner.
  • Price of one-bedroom cabin: $175-$195

3. Cove Mountain Realty & Resorts (Editor's Choice―Budget): www.covemountain.com or 1-800-245-2683

  • Highlights: Reasonable prices, excellent variety, commitment to service. Great small gems, including a 1-bedroom with sauna and mountain views starting at $125. Online booking with live chat feature.
  • Cabins: 187 individually owned cabins
  • Location: most on side roads in quiet Wears Valley
  • Price of one-bedroom cabin: $110-$165. Reservation fee: $35; no cleaning fee or hot tub fee.

4. Dancing Bear Lodge: www.dancingbearlodge.com or 1-800-369-0111

  • Highlights: The sister resort to Blackberry Farm, Dancing Bear Lodge (formerly known as Maple Leaf Lodge) features walking trails, bike rentals, and a concierge that will help arrange other activities. A new restaurant (one of a few here with a license to sell beer, wine, or liquor by the glass) serves continental breakfasts and three-course dinners. Front desk staff on site 24-7.
  • Resort community: In addition to the main lodge (12 rooms), this resort offers 17 cabins on property, with flat roads and proximity to Townsend's quiet community. All clustered near the parking area, you won't get lost trying to find these cabins. Wheelchair-friendly.
  • Location: Townsend (close to Cades Cove, The Wye, a famous local swimming hole, the ghost town of Elkmont, tubing and fly fishing on the Little River)
  • Price of one-bedroom cabin: $150-$375, plus $50 nonrefundable deposit and $250 refundable damage deposit

5. Tanasi Lodge (Editor's Choice―Best Views): www.summitcabins.com or (865) 207-4961

  • Highlights: One-of-a-kind lodge on the summit of Hatcher Mountain, with sunrise or sunset views from 10 of its 11 bedrooms. Ample decks and lots of windows maximize the 360-degree vistas. Leather sectionals, granite countertops, contemporary decor. Pet friendly ($50 fee per pet, with prior approval).
  • Cabins: Just two cabins built and owned by a Knoxville couple. Tanasi sleeps 26 to 28. Dreamcatcher, next door, sleeps 12 to 14. Road to summit has sketchy, steep gravel section for last a quarter mile.
  • Location: Wears Valley, halfway between Pigeon Forge and Townsend. Close to a less-traveled entrance to the national park.
  • Price: Tanasi Lodge rents for $750-$1,200 per night. Dreamcatcher rents for $225-$325 per night (depending on occupancy and season), plus $100-$150 cleaning/supply fee