Since 1954, Gatlinburg, Tennessee's SkyLift Park has been the go-to destination for breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains. Residents and tourists alike would ride the infamous chair lift 500 vertical feet above downtown Gatlinburg's scores of restaurants and moonshine watering holes.
Following the 2016 wildfires, which damaged a portion of the park, riders weren't able to step off the chairs and onto the viewing area. But in May of 2019, the new and improved SkyLift Park reopened and unveiled another, even more nerve-racking, sweaty-palm inducing venture: a walk in the clouds known as the SkyBridge.
Now, the SkyLift Park is adding a new scenic trail just in time for Fall. The half boardwalk-half walking path offers breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains. The new trail is set to open in Fall 2020.
"The elevated boardwalk located on the East side of the SkyTrail is coming along nicely! The trail will connect both sides of the SkyBridge and give everyone an opportunity to get more out of their scenic Smoky Mountain experience at the SkyLift Park," reads a post on the Gatlinburg SkyLife Park Facebook page.
What is the Gatlinburg SkyBridge?
At 680 feet, the Gatlinburg SkyBridge is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the U.S. To walk across the bridge, you'll need to board the chair lift (a thrill ride in itself), which will take you to the top of Crockett Mountain. The bridge is five-feet across and 140 feet above the ground at its highest point, which features glass-floor panels to make you feel as though you're literally walking on air.
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Now that the stats are out of the way, let's get to what you really want to know: What's it like to walk across? Well, that depends on your relationship to being hundreds of feet in the air with a few dozen of your closest friends. Personally, I don't love heights. Or bridges. So this was definitely a face-your-fears moment. My palms were sweating pretty profusely as I took my first step onto the wooden planks. But by the time I reached the mid-point (and took that stomach-churning stroll across the glass panels) all I could focus on was the incredible view.
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Don't worry, you can walk the bridge at your own pace. I certainly did, while gripping the handrails as if my life depended on it. The SkyBridge is very secure (it holds more than 200,000 pounds), but that knowledge isn't much comfort when the bridge is bouncing up and down as your fellow travelers make their way across. Thankfully, the only thing in real danger is your phone if you get a little too careless during selfie-time.
The SkyLift Park offers plenty of recreation once you've taken the walk across the bridge. The SkyDeck, known as the "best seat in town," has plenty of seating for you to relax and take in the breathtaking sights and the SkyCenter sells snacks and drinks. There's even a gift shop so you can commemorate your visit with a souvenir.
The cost of admission allows unlimited trips up and down the mountain all day. I opted to take a ride up again and watch the sunset from the SkyDeck. Now that I was a SkyBridge pro, I took a more leisurely stroll to really take in the panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains. There's even a diagram that tells you the names and heights of the mountains in the distance -- the famous Rocky Top, Mount LeConte, Clingmans Dome and more. Gathered around the diagram, a group of tourists joined a proud Tennessean for an impromptu performance of the Volunteer State anthem "Rocky Top."
"Rocky top you'll always be home sweet home to me/ Good ol' Rocky Top, Rocky Top Tennessee"
I couldn't help humming the song to myself as I took another trip across the sky and back down the mountain as the lights of downtown Gatlinburg lit up for another perfect Tennessee evening.
The Gatlinburg SkyLift Park is located at 765 Parkway in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It's just a few miles from Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and minutes from the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The cost of admission is $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors, $14.95 for kids and free for children 3 and under.