Posted by Leif Palmer in Gatlinburg
Many of us who live here in the Great Smoky Mountains tend to look down on Gatlinburg. But that's not because we don't like the city. In fact, it's the opposite. Looking down on Gatlinburg in our neck of the woods means finding a high-altitude vantage point from which you can literally look down on the sights of the town. In that context, looking down is a good thing, and fortunately for visitors coming to town, there are more places than ever that offer tremendous views not only of downtown Gatlinburg but also the nearby Great Smoky Mountains range as well.
In this post, we'll point you in the direction of a number of attractions and other non-commercial locations where you can hit the heights and reward yourself with some pretty cool views. And in most cases, you'll discover other things to do there to.
Let's start with one of the sites that's been around the longest. This downtown attraction-at the intersection of Parkway and Historic Nature Trail-has been standing tall over the city since its completion in 1969. Two glassed-in elevators transport guests from the ground level, up more than 400 feet, to the attraction's observation deck. From there, visitors can feast on 360-degree views of the city and the Great Smoky Mountains in the distance. While you're at the top, you can take advantage of free viewfinders to zero in on some of your favorite landmarks in Gatlinburg and beyond. The attraction also includes a number of Higher Learning exhibits that deliver nuggets of facts and history about the city and the mountains.
At the time of its construction, the Space Needle was the second highest tower in the state of Tennessee, and it is currently the fifth tallest. In addition to the observation deck, the attraction includes an immense 25,000-square-foot arcade called Arcadia, Captured-an escape game, and the iris Theater, which is home to live entertainment. The Gatlinburg Space Needle is open 365 days a year.
Now we'll take you from one of the oldest viewing sights in Gatlinburg to one of the newest. SkyBridge is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America and is wowing visitors with its views of the area and a few other unique features as well. The bridge itself stretches 680 feet across a deep valley overlooking downtown Gatlinburg, and it allows guests to walk at their own pace, back and forth. At its midpoint, the bridge is 140 feet above the ground and has 30 feet of floor panels made of glass so that you can see straight down to the valley floor below.
However, SkyBridge is just the newest component of Gatlinburg SkyLift Park. The original piece was the SkyLift, which has been carrying guests from downtown Gatlinburg, up the hillside, to the top of Crockett Mountain, via chairlift, since 1954. In fact, that's how you get up to SkyBridge in the first place. While you're on the mountaintop, you can also enjoy SkyDeck, an expansive viewing platform overlooking downtown Gatlinburg and the Smokies. It also has outdoor seating areas, a waterfall and a fire pit. The newest component of the park is SkyTrail, a scenic walkway that circumnavigates the crest of the ravine and connects to the far end of SkyBridge, which then takes you in a full loop back to SkyCenter. At this mountaintop rest area, you can enjoy the views, take photos, shop and access food and beverage vendors.
This is another of the newer Gatlinburg attractions, from head to toe. It overlooks downtown Gatlinburg on the opposite side of the Parkway from SkyPark, and it's more on the northern end of downtown. But Anakeesta has a lot in store. The entire complex emphasizes interaction with nature, so in addition to amazing views of the city and the Smokies, there are a lot of other features that will hold your interest.
It all starts with the journey from downtown street level to the top of Anakeesta Mountain via either the scenic Chondola (it's like a chairlift) or one of the Ridge Ramblers, passenger trucks that offer scenic guided tours through the forest on their way to the summit. Once you're at the top, fun options abound. They include the 60-foot-tall AnaVista Tower, which has panoramic views of locations as far away as Kentucky and glass floor panels that let you peer down to the lush Vista Gardens on the ground below. Also look for a treetop skywalk, dueling ziplines, treetop adventure challenge course, mountain coaster, gem mining, treehouse village play area and more.
No, you don't always have to pay an admission to enjoy spectacular views of downtown Gatlinburg and the Smokies. One free way to take in the sights is to drive the Gatlinburg Bypass, which connects the south end of the Spur to the north end of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The whole drive is beautiful, but when you get closer to the south end of downtown Gatlinburg, you'll come across several pull-over spots where you can park and look out over the city and enjoy some pretty cool mountain views too.
You really can't see much of downtown from the ski resort itself, but the cable car ride to the top of the mountain and back is a worthy attraction in its own right. The system was installed in 1973, and since then, millions of visitors have taken the 2.1-mile ride from downtown Gatlinburg, 1,500 feet up to the top of Mt Harrison. Each gondola-style car accommodates as many as 120 passengers. When in operation, rides depart every 20 minutes and provide a safe way for Ober Gatlinburg guests to access the top of the mountain, especially during winter weather conditions.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in the Smoky Mountains. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.