Swimming / Tubing in the Smokies
swimming and / or tubing on the Little River near Townsend
Sit Back and Relax as you Tube Through the Smokies
Chances are if you've been to the "quieter side of the Smokies" (aka Townsend), you've seen the various tubing spots dotted along the side of the highway clamoring for your business. While I'm sure many of those places provide a great experience, we were a bit daunted by the crowds during COVID so wanted a tubing experience that was a bit more removed from people than the river section that is squarely in the town section of the Little River.
We decided to order our own tubes off of Amazon prior to our trip (for $12) but we also noticed that there are several locations in Townsend where you can purchase a tube for roughly the same price.
What you'll need: tube, waterproof bag, two cars (for pickup and dropoff), towels, snacks, water, waterproof shoes (Keens, etc), your keys
What you'll do: check the water level here (you'll want to ensure the water is 1.5 feet or you will be walking through the rocks or along the road). Then head towards the Park from Townsend. You will get to "the Wye" (pronounced like the letter "y"), which is the meeting of the Little River and the Middle Prong of the Little River and where many of the tubing companies in Townsend start there tubing trips.
At "the Wye", the road also splits to form a "y," with one road going to Cades Cove and the other going to Elkmont and Gatlinburg. You will head to the Left towards Gatlinburg. We went a couple of miles up and dropped a car on a pullout on the shoulder. We then took the other car about a mile further to start (don't forget the keys to your car to get back!). 1 mile of road took us about 2.5 hours by tube when the water was ~1.5 feet high. This tubing trip is NOT for young kids given the size of rapids / rocks. Remember to lift your bottom up when waters get shallow and things get rocky.
If you are not a 'tuber' or if you have younger kids that are not quite old enough for tubing, you can simply enjoy the river on its rocky shores, or swim at "the Wye" itself. If you head to "the Wye", you'll find it's own parking lot and port-a-pots.