The 10 Best Tennessee Mountain Towns to Visit

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There’s something nostalgic, even romantic about Tennessee mountain towns. For me, they’ve always conjured up images of log cabins, quilts, and sitting by the fire while savoring spectacular scenic vistas.
This has definitely been our personal experience while exploring the mountains in TN, and we’ve visited numerous Tennessee towns that fit the bill.
But what we love most about the state of Tennessee (and the Smoky Mountains area in particular) is that there’s always a ton of fun things to do outdoors.
With Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest, and access to the Appalachian Trail, you could spend months exploring Tennessee hiking trails, waterfalls, and historic sites.
Our favorite towns in Tennessee offer access to these astounding outdoor attractions, as well as charming downtown areas, great restaurants and breweries, museums, and more. 
Read on for our in-depth guide to the best Blue Ridge Mountain towns in Tennessee, from tourist hotspots like Bristol, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge to small towns like Erwin, Townsend, and Wears Valley.

Best Tennessee Mountain Towns Guide

(Arranged Alphabetically)

  1. Bristol TN
  2. Erwin TN
  3. Gatlinburg TN
  4. Johnson City TN
  5. Pigeon Forge TN
  6. Pittman Center TN
  7. Sevierville TN
  8. Townsend TN
  9. Walland TN
  10. Wears Valley TN

READ MORE: Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains? A State-by-State Guide

Things to Do in Bristol - Bristol Sign
Bristol TN/VA Sign, photo by Emma Gallagher

1. Bristol TN

Size: 32.83 sq miles • Population: 27,530 • Official Website

One of the main charms of Bristol is that it straddles the border of Tennessee and Virginia. Downtown Bristol’s main street has you going from one state to another as you explore its museums, breweries, and restaurants

Even if you’re not a big country music fan, don’t miss The Birthplace of Country Music Museum to learn about the “hillbilly music” of the Blue Ridge region.

Bristol Caverns is a family-friendly Bristol attraction. The well-lit cavern is reasonably accessible (including paved pathways), and they offer informative cave tours to that help you get the most out of the experience. 

The Bristol Motor Speedway is obviously a huge attraction for NASCAR fans, but they also have a number of special events that almost anyone can enjoy.

If you visit during the Winter, check out their Pinnacle Speedway in Lights, which is regarded as one of the most dazzling Tennessee Christmas light shows

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Bristol TN/VA

Eastern Tennessee towns - Erwin TN
Photo courtesy of

2. Erwin TN

Size: 4.13 sq miles • Population: 5,994 • Official Website

The town of Erwin, the county seat of Unicoi County, though small has so much to offer its visitors.

Surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest, Appalachian Mountains, and Great Smoky Mountains, Erwin TN offers all the hiking trails and outdoor adventures you could hope for. 

There are a few gorgeous  Tennessee waterfalls to seek out (Rock Creek Falls, Martin’s Creek Falls, and Still Branch Falls), as well as a chance to day-hike a section of the Appalachian Trail

Opened in 1982, he Unicoi County Heritage Museum houses pottery unique to the Blue Ridge Mountains region, and railroad memorabilia that helps to bring the area’s history alive. 

Downtown Erwin offers many shops and boutiques selling local arts and crafts, and there are an impressive array of Erwin restaurants to choose from, including Italian, Japanese, and Mexican cuisine.

READ MORE: The 7 Best Train Rides for Christmas in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Best Tennessee towns - Gatlinburg TN
Main Street Gatlinburg

3. Gatlinburg TN

Size: 10.41 sq miles • Population: 3,726 • Official Website

Gatlinburg TN is a great base for anyone who wants to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park while remaining close to restaurants, bars, Smoky Mountains hotels, and lots of family-friendly attractions. 

From this famous Tennessee mountain town, folks can explore amazing Smoky Mountain waterfalls, miles and miles of hiking trails, Cades Cove, and the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

The mountain town of Gatlinburg is like a nature-lover’s theme park, with many of the best Gatlinburg attractions offering spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. 

Our favorites include the 407-foot-tall Gatlinburg Space Needle (which offers a fabulous 360º panorama) and the Skylift at Skypark (which features the SkyBridge, North America’s longest pedestrian cable bridge).

Both provide stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the lush valley below. Look closely, and you might even see a Black bear!

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg TN

Mountain towns in Tennessee - Johnson City TN
photo courtesy of

4. Johnson City TN

Size: 43.75 sq miles • Population: 71,278 • Official Website

One of the larger Tennessee mountain towns, Johnson City offers the modern conveniences of a small city as well as proximity to an excellent array of outdoor activities. 

The 9.6-mile Tweetsie Trail takes cyclists, runners, and walkers along the former East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad. Tannery Knobs is also great for biking, with 40 acres of trails for all levels of expertise.

Buffalo Mountain Park encompasses 725 acres of former USFS land, and remains a dense forest perfect for hiking, picnicking, or simply enjoy the tranquility of nature.  

There’s tons of family-friendly fun to be had in Downtown Johnson City TN, including the Children’s Adventure Park and a trampoline park called Quantum Leap.

Avid Arts enthusiasts will also enjoy Downtown JC’s Wildabout Walkabout, which features 15 bronze sculptures made by students from the Eastern Tennessee State University Department of Art and Design.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Fairs in TN to Visit

TN Towns near Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge TN
Photo courtesy of

5. Pigeon Forge TN

Size: 13.82 sq miles • Population: 6,215 • Official Website

Nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge is a fantastic family vacation destination that demands a spot on the best mountain towns in Tennessee list.

There are plenty of outdoor activities as well as shows to catch, restaurants to dine in, and endless shopping options. 

Nature lovers will enjoy Jeep tours and wildlife tours through the Smokies. For those who prefer to stay in town, there are concerts, standup comedy, magic shows, and several moonshine and wine crawls. 

One of the most popular attractions in this East Tennessee town, the Dollywood theme park is 0pen year-round, live music, rides, and special events to celebrate each season. 

You’ll also find numerous Pigeon Forge museums, including the Titanic Museum, Beyond the Lens Interactive Museum (for budding scientists and adventures), and the Hollywood Wax Museum.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places to See Christmas Lights in Tennessee

Tennessee small towns - Pittman Center TN
Emerts Cove Covered Bridge, photo courtesy of Town of Pittman Center TN City Hall

6. Pittman Center TN

Size: 6.01 sq miles • Population: 461 • Official Website

This tiny little mountain town in Tennessee is home to The Greenbriar entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

So all that the national park has to offer is right at your fingertips, including the Greenbriar Picnic Area, the Greenbriar campground, and some of our favorite Tennessee hiking trails.

Our favorites include the Porters Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls and the Ramsey Cascades Trail, a moderate 8-mile hike that takes you past some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park

There are lots of activities here for outdoor enthusiasts, such as hiking, swimming, bird and wildlife watching, and  golf. But one of the coolest attractions near Pittman Center TN is Emert Cove’s covered bridge.

Frederick Emert, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, found this beautiful cove in 1784. Folks like to wander across the covered bridge, and if you go a mile or so further you can even visit the cemetery where Emert is buried. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Great Smoky Mountains Campgrounds to Visit

Best mountain towns in Tennessee - Sevierville TN
Sevierville TN

7. Sevierville TN

Size: 24.25 sq miles • Population: 18,662 • Official Website

The Eastern Tennessee town of Sevierville is most famous for being the hometown of Dolly Parton, but the area offers a lot more for those into outdoor adventuring.

With GSM National Park right in the town’s backyard, there are some great trailheads nearby, such as Abrams Falls, Alum Cave Bluff, and Arch Rock. There’s also the Sevierville Greenway, which has miles of trails to walk around.

If you prefer to be soaring above the forest, check out one of Foxfire Adventure Park‘s ziplining tours

In Downtown Sevierville you’ll find many shops offering local crafts and artisanal items, as well as the Cherokee Trading Post, a General Store, and restaurants that cater to every taste and budget.

Of all the towns near the Smoky Mountains, this is one that should definitely make your must-see list!

READ MORE: 20 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in the Smoky Mountains

Appalachian mountain towns in TN - Townsend
Little River photo courtesy of City of Townsend TN

8. Townsend TN

Size: 1.99 sq miles • Population: 574 • Official Website

Seeking quainter, slower-paced small towns in the Tennessee mountains? Don’t overlook tiny Townsend TN, which practically oozes with homespun charm. 

Known as one of the gateways to Cades Cove in the National Park, Townsend offers ample chances to do some epic hiking, add some waterfalls to your list, or (if you visit in Summer) try some river tubing.

Said to be the “Greatest Site Under the Smokies,” Tuckaleechee Caverns are a 6-minute drive from Townsend. These caverns are 20-30 million years old and have a cave the size of a stadium and a 210-foot waterfall (Silverfalls). 

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is great for learning about the area’s history, with historic buildings and a Cherokee Collection, while the Little River Railroad Museum also covers indigenous people and pioneers. 

Downtown Townsend has some wonderful locally-owned shops rich with Appalachian cultural traditions, as well as an array of restaurants, breweries, boutiques and more.

READ MORE: 10 Best Caverns and Underground Caves in Tennessee

Best Tennessee towns - Walland TN
Photo courtesy of Historical General Store Museum

9. Walland TN

Size: 1.52 sq miles • Population: 519 • Official Website

Though small in population, the tiny town of Walland TN packs plenty of charm and beauty. It’s located between the towns of Maryville and Townsend, which is often called the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies.” 

In addition to the amazing outdoor adventures you expect from the area, there are some great attractions in Walland. For antiquing, Rivermill Antiques and the Antique Outlet Mall are both a picker’s paradise.

The Historical General Store Museum, “T.H. Ellis Grocery” is a definite highlight for history buffs and those who love old fashioned Appalachian knick-knacks.

This charming little place will take you back to a simpler time in Tennessee history and satisfy your appetite for mountain town folklore

Set beside a woodland and pretty creek, this is a great place to get perfect photos of a true Tennessee small town.

East Tennessee towns - Wears Valley TN
Photo courtesy of

10. Wears Valley TN

Size: 69.7 sq miles • Population: 6,486 • Official Website

Located between Pigeon Forge and Townsend, Wears Valley is a quintessential mountain town and a lesser-known jewel of the Smokies. It makes for a perfect getaway for families who love the outdoors.

There are several fine Wears Valley attractions, including Headrick Chapel, which was built in 1902 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Metcalf Bottoms picnic area is a lesser-known green space that also offers easy access to the Cades Cove and Elkmont sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Visitors to Metcalf Bottoms can access several great hiking trails, some of which hug the Little River.  There’s also an old schoolhouse, a graveyard, and the Walker Sisters’ Cabin

We recommend taking a Tennessee Shine Co. Moonshine Distillery tour, panning for gold at the Family Friendly Gem Mine, or visiting the aforementioned Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.  –by Emma Gallagher











Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

Born in Britain, writer/photographer Emma Gallagher lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC on a permaculture homestead with her husband, Jonathon. While traveling the world for 13 years, she fell in love with the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge region when she lived at an artist retreat in Burnsville NC before moving to Brevard. Today Emma lives near Stone Mountain State Park and Doughton Park volunteers at the Surry County Fiddlers Convention, and cares for the gardens at the Reeves Downtown School of Music in Elkin. She's also a volunteer for the Elkin Valley Trails Association, which maintains segment 6 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.