What a year it’s turned out to be! As with most people we know, our travel opportunities have been few and far between, but our appreciation for the great outdoors and our beloved home state is stronger than ever. Hiking and exploring local parks kept us sane through the tightest shutdowns and the suspension of many social events. As we all rally around small businesses and the treasured features of our communities, we hope everyone will continue to be intentional about taking the daily steps that will help everyone be as safe as possible while celebrating and reclaiming the seasons of change and growth around us.
We recommend making the effort to see the vibrant autumn colors before they go and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park simply can’t be beat in this category. Since it’s an adjacent go-to for folks near and far, we drove up to Gatlinburg to scope out the newest features and favorite locations you won’t want to miss if you get the chance to stop by that famous mountain destination. It’s also an ideal spot to spend Christmas or make a little winter getaway.
Here’s what we think you should see when you go:
The New Skytrail at Gatlinburg Skylift Park
Set to open to the public in a few short weeks, we were able to get a sneak peek of the most impressive new view in Gatlinburg. This quarter-mile elevated boardwalk traverses the mountain summits which curve around the record-breaking Skybridge, which was constructed in 2019 and is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America. Both attractions are part of the exciting expansions at SkyLift Park which was built around the first scenic chairlift in the South, an iconic and must-do experience for visitors since 1954. Tickets can be purchased online and in person, and once redeemed, you have all-day access up and down the mountain until the park closes. (Purchase includes admission to SkyBridge, SkyTrail, SkyDeck and SkyLift; order and find more info HERE.)
Somewhere in your itinerary, you must make room for a trip around this magical pocket of wilderness. A lush and peaceful valley, it was Cherokee hunting ground until European settlers began a community in the cove in the 1820s. Make sure to take your time navigating the scenic 11-mile loop; you won’t want to miss the historic churches, log homes or the working mill nestled throughout the woods. We like to drive, but bicycling is also allowed. There are frequent sightings of native animals and this latest time we even saw a black bear peacefully foraging among the fallen leaves, mere yards away from the road. Admission-free entry to the loop begins at 8am; traffic is one-way. Allow at least 2 to 4 hours round trip by vehicle, or plan to stop and explore the area’s hiking trails along the loop. Find more info on Cades Cove HERE.
Tennessee Cider Co.
If you’re in need of a refreshing swig, we loved the vibe at Gatlinburg’s first cidery. Billed as “merchants of spirited wet goods,” they make amazingly crisp small-batch ciders with an occasional wine or seasonal mead thrown in. Apples are pressed onsite daily and free samples are available for all the delicious flavors on draft, like Strawberry, Carmel Apple, and Hibiscus. VIP tastings are popular along with growler refills. Located directly across the street from our traditional breakfast spot (the legendary Pancake Pantry) you can’t miss their inviting storefront and tasting room. (They are now offering shipping; visit their online shop HERE.)
Anakeesta’s New AnaVista Tower & Cliff Top Restaurant
Located in the heart of Gatlinburg, the Anakeesta mountaintop park is keeping it classy while unrolling their most impressive expansion yet. In addition to the already beloved gardens, treehouse playgrounds, Chondala rides, and network of rope bridges, their new 60ft. observation tower, AnaVista, is the highest point in downtown and boasts 360º views, some of which reach as far as Kentucky. The recently opened Black Bear Village also has a splash pad, live music events and a taproom, bar, and Cliff Top Restaurant that encourages visitors to spend their dinner hours admiring the sunset. A basic ticket gets you quite a lot of bang for your buck while activities like the Dual Zip-line course and Mountain Coaster are available for an additional cost. Somehow both secluded and welcoming, Anakeesta truly feels like an escape into a unique Tennessee paradise. Learn more HERE.
The Greenbrier - A Food and Spirit Outpost
This last location was totally new for us and blew us away. Just a few minutes' drive away from downtown Gatlinburg, The Greenbrier introduces itself as a high-end “Food and Spirit Outpost” housed in a historic early 1900s hunting lodge restored and refurbished with rustic luxury. You can order the most impressively presented craft cocktails in their bar or bourbon room, or dine on steaks that have been dry-aged for more than 200 days. Seasonal desserts include a mouth-watering Pumpkin Cheesecake When quarantine temporarily closed their doors earlier this year, the chef took the advantage of two solitary weeks in which he retooled and perfected their signature dishes, and by golly, it shows. Staff members are glad to be open once again and were delightfully playful in sharing tidbits of a few hair-raising legends. Locals say the cheeky ghost of a jilted woman haunts the building by regularly flickering the lights, locking doors, and other unexplainable but documented phenomena. (Spirit Outpost indeed!) Less ephemeral visitors have sighted out the massive picture windows of the dining room whenever a friendly family of black bears come to appreciate the delicious smells of the smoking meats. The Greenbrier Whiskey Society gathers monthly and the chef’s table can be booked in a private room for special occasions, so there is something for everyone. It’s easy to see how this special place will be giving visitors reasons to return each time they are in the area. You can check hours, catering availability, and join their whiskey society via their website, HERE.
That’s all for now, stay safe and keep enjoying life, folks. It’s the only one we’ve got!
- Jess and Sean and Co.