Mention the Great Smoky Mountains and you likely think of Gatlinburg, Dollywood, or Pigeon Forge. But one area of the Smoky Mountains that may not come to mind is what’s referred to as the “peaceful side of the Smokies” in Townsend, TN. Just south of Knoxville between Maryville and the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Townsend is a quaint stretch of town dotted with local shops, small river outfitters and motels. At last count in 2017, the population hovered around 450 full-time residents.
As the road through Townsend narrows and begins to gently wind along the Little River, just before the national park entrance, you’ll come upon Little Arrow Outdoor Resort. The property, formerly known as Tremont Outdoor Resort, has been a well-known spot among the RV crowd for some 40 years, but it had fallen into disrepair and was up for auction. Many things could have come of this beautiful piece of land bordered on one side by the Little River and the park on the other. But thankfully, Brad and Carmen Simpher banded together with some family to purchase the property with the intent of keeping it a campground in name only.
Visitors to Little Arrow Outdoor Resort will now find a bustling resort with food trucks, fresh coffee and a multitude of accommodations suitable from the most rugged camper to the least likely to spend a night in the woods.
Tiny Home Away From Home
The Simphers gave the property a much-needed facelift without taking away what visitors have loved about camping there for generations. The property received a coffee shop, upgraded bathhouses, a revamped swimming pool with a pavilion and a camp store worthy of a shopping spree. They also created a tiny home community.
These roughly 400-square-foot rental homes feature everything you love about home, including stainless steel appliances, flat-screen TVs, fresh towels and sheets, wood flooring, and yes — heat and air conditioning. But the homes also offer something you may not have: mountain views out every window, a covered patio next to an outdoor fire pit, and the smell of fresh mountain air gently blowing through the propped-open door.
“My brother-in-law manufactures tiny homes, and we love the small imprint they leave on the environment,” says Carmen. “They are so much more unique than a hotel room, and with the younger generation wanting to be more outdoorsy now, they can enjoy it without having to rough it.”
Carmen says that having the tiny homes are an important addition to their variety of accommodations, which include tent camping sites, RV sites, glamping tents, Airstreams and cabins. “Our RV sites tend to cater to the retirees, but the tiny homes, Airstreams and glamping tents are younger families. Our goal is to cater to people who love the outdoors.”
A Family Affair
While the Simphers live in Townsend full-time now, they only relocated to East Tennessee a few years before, when they decided they were ready for a change from life in Jackson, MS. Carmen’s brother-in-law is from Knoxville and has a cabin in neighboring Walland. The Simphers vacationed there for 20 years and had the idea to do a tiny home vacation community.
“My sister saw an auction sign in front of this property,” Carmen remembers. “It was very run down, and initially we thought it was too much to do. But we kept pressing forward and knew it was time to do something different.”
After purchasing the 50-acre resort — which still has 30 acres of undeveloped land — the family embarked on five months of heavy construction. They gutted the store, the bathhouses and an outbuilding that is now the Point and Feather Coffee Lounge. They polished up the cabins, revamped the RV sites and added the tiny homes.
The resort is truly a family affair, from the folks who vacation there to the ones who run the place. Carmen is the CEO, her husband Brad is the CFO and unofficial IT and pool maintenance guy, their son Brandon is head of security and assistant facilities manager, and their daughter Cassie takes care of marketing.
Even the name Little Arrow is a testament to the family’s change of direction in life. “With an arrow, you have to pull it back to shoot forward,” Carmen says. “In order to do this project, we had to pull back before we could go forward. But now we are making a place where people can make memories. You don’t remember a hotel room stay, but you always remember camping.”
Two of each type of accommodation are dog-friendly, and the Simphers will even dog sit for you while you are out. “We walk them and love on them,” Carmen says.
There are river access points from the property, and the entrance to the national park is within walking distance from Little Arrow. The resort has a church service on Sunday mornings in the summers and food trucks on Saturdays. One Saturday morning last fall, campers awoke to the smell of coffee and to find a barista from Maryville-based Heirs Coffee set up in the parking lot making lattes by the fire. You’ll also find a basketball court, community garden, a massive teepee for the kids, horseshoe pits, dog park, two bathhouses, a large community fire pit and more.
When you cross the river to leave Little Arrow, take a left and you are immediately immersed in the undisturbed beauty of the national park with the entrance to the popular Cades Cove just 11 miles away. Turn right, and about four miles down the road is the Dancing Bear Lodge, which has an award-winning, chef-driven, farm-to-table restaurant called the Appalachian Bistro. Dancing Bear also has an assortment of fun bungalows and cottages for overnight stays.
Just outside Dancing Bear is the Apple Valley Mountain Village, which features a general store (think fried pies, fudge and souvenirs), Apple Valley Cafe (fresh biscuits, burgers and sweet tea), the Mountain Store, (a new North Face pullover and Kava bag) and The Dancing Bean Coffee House (black walnut mocha and a house-made sticky bun.)
And all of this is 30 to 45 minutes from everything there is to love about Gatlinburg, the Foothills Parkway and Pigeon Forge. Those amenities are close if you want to venture to them, or you can stay on the peaceful side and enjoy a cappuccino by the fire.
Little Arrow Outdoor Resort is located at 118 Stables Drive, Townshend, TN 37882. Learn more about the resort, amenities and reservation information at camplittlearrow.com.
For more vacation ideas, visit our travel archives HERE — and start planning your next getaway!