Gatlinburg, Tennessee draws visitors from all over the world and is known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to my job, I go to the area multiple times a year and with plenty of hiking, food and sightseeing opportunities; I never get bored when I’m in town. This year, my work schedule was tighter than usual so I didn’t have the opportunity to hike a trail when we visited in August, but, I did have a few hours off one afternoon to visit a new attraction downtown – the Gatlinburg Skybridge.
For as long as I can remember, the yellow ski-lift that took visitors on a round trip ride up and down the side of the mountain was a staple of the Gatlinburg skyline. Two years ago, my mom, sister and I went for a ride after it was rebuilt due to the forest fires of 2016. I remember the ticket attendant being so excited to tell us that the new lifts could seat three people across instead of just two; the standard that had been around as long as the old lift itself. This year, the Skybridge was added to span the valley and I think will become a tradition for tourists and returning visitors alike – it opened on May 17, 2019 and stretches 680 feet across the valley. Along with the bridge, there’s also a visitor center and lookout area when you get off the lift at the top.
The ride to the top of the mountain has literally been a tradition since 1954, when the lift first opened. I for one, always enjoy the ride even though I’m afraid of heights. On the way up, you go over the Little Pigeon River and glide up the mountainside, only this time, your eyes are probably on the bridge above you! Plus, if you have a group of friends or family with you, there’s a great shot about half way up the mountain where you can have the folks on the lift behind you smile for a photo with the Space Needle, mountains and Park Vista in the background. Here’s an example…
At the top, an attendant will tell you when to flip the rail up and jump off so you can enjoy the shop, bridge and sitting areas at the top. (Also, be sure that all your belongings are secure during your ride! I’m embarrassed to admit that I lost my favorite pair of sunglasses on the Anakeesta lift last year.) *Insert blushing emoji*
The ride back down is my favorite. Unlike the busy streets below, the quietness of the mountains are very relaxing and the views are amazing. If you like to take pictures of skylines and panoramic views, you’ll love the variety of shots you can take on the ride down!
When you hop off at the top, there are two ways to access the bridge. You can walk up a set of steps outside by the man made waterfall or you can go inside the shop, up a set of stairs and out the back door. We went through the gift shop – for one, it was August and we enjoyed the A/C (even if it was just for a minute) and two, folks who were coming back from the bridge told us that way had less steps/stairs than the outside option.
The bridge itself was a great experience. Even though I’m afraid of heights, walking across did not bother me. The bridge did bounce and sway a little, but I noticed that it was dependent on how many people were on the bridge and where you were. To me, the movement only became noticeable towards the middle.
Another neat photo opt the bridge offers is a set of three glass panels half way across. Folks do everything from laying down or sitting on the glass to capture the perfect dynamic for their photo. Of course, some folks opt to not walk across the glass and just head back across. If you decide to the glass thing is just too much, I wouldn’t feel embarrassed by it. The moment is about the view and enjoying it! And you can enjoy the gorgeous mountains from anywhere on the bridge.
When you get to the other side there’s a deck where you can buy bottled water and soda (cash only), sit on one of the benches for a rest, or, take in the view by the deck rails. There’s also a placard with all the mountains on it so you can pick out landmarks in front of you, learn the names of the mountains and how high they are.
Inside the shop, you can purchase snacks, beverages and souvenirs. Also take note that there are restrooms on both the top and bottom level of the shop. So, if there’s a big line at the one downstairs, it might be worth taking the steps upstairs to check out that one, or vise versa.
The Lookout Points
Before you head back down the mountain, there are two great places to take photos around the gift shop area. First, there’s a lookout point facing the bridge just left of where the outdoor steps are and second, you can walk around the line to get back on the lift to the front of the lookout area and find black bear monuments with the city of Gatlinburg down below. Unfortunately, we didn’t see those spots until we were already in line to ride back down, but they would make for some great group or single photos.
Conclusion: I loved my afternoon at the Skylift and Skybridge. Whether you’re a new visitor to Gatlinburg or have been many times, this is a great way to take in the beautiful mountains surrounding the city. We paid $23.95 for an adult ticket and it was worth every penny. I would do it again! Plus, once you paid for a ticket, you can ride the lift as many times as you want that day by showing your stamp, or, your receipt if your stamp washed off. If you’re heading to Gatlinburg, put the the Skybridge and lift on your list of things to do!