It is a rare day when I leave the comfort of my beloved Georgia coast, but sometimes the mountains are calling and I must go. This past weekend, my husband Kurt and I took our annual trip to the Great Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and what an adventure it was.
Each year, we look forward to so many things: Seeing the mountains in full color with the changing leaves, eating pancakes at our favorite place in the historic village downtown, sipping hard cider and enjoying all the great restaurants, and while we loved every minute of those activities, this year we ventured out and tried something new: Anakeesta.
A family theme park located above, and in the heart of, downtown Gatlinburg, Anakeesta literally means “the place of high ground” in the Cherokee language, and that’s no joke. Anakeesta is situated on a 70-acre mountain 600 feet above the city of Gatlinburg. It’s been around for a few years now, and we’d always seen the skylift from our hotel balcony, but had never explored it.
I have to say, once we made it to the top of the mountain alive, we really enjoyed it, but that skylift ride up the mountain made us so thankful to have our feet on solid ground again, I think we would have been happy with anything once we arrived.
I’ve ridden skylifts before, and despite the beautiful day, this one was super steep, continuously high and it took a really long time. There’s no safety harness, just a simple bar separating you from the ground itself. You’re literally dangling on a cable, and your imagination can run wild if you let it. It didn’t look near as bad when we were standing in line, but once we were on it, there was no going back.
Thankfully, for those of us who don’t like heights, they have a big truck that will take you up and down the mountain on paved roads with guardrails. We definitely opted for that route on the way down, and if you ever visit, I highly recommend taking the truck.
The skylift wasn’t the only adventure we had that day. Treetop Skywalk was our next feat. Imagine 880 feet of hanging bridges suspended 50 to 60 feet in the air. We walked the length of three football fields in the trees. Talk about a bird's eye view. People kept stopping mid-bridge to take photos and all I could do was keep my eyes facing forward, put one foot in front of the other and pray that the good Lord would let me see another day.
I had done a little shopping beforehand, and bought a cake stand with Santa Claus on top. I walked across every bridge, holding that Santa cake stand all the way, wishing I had planned a little better, so I could hold on with both hands.That’s a memory I’ll shake my head at this Christmas when I’m filling the cake stand with goodies.
As if we hadn’t had enough adventure for one day, we decided to climb AnaVista Tower, set on the highest point of the mountain. There were 84 steps to the top, and it is Gatilinburg’s highest point. Kurt stayed in the center of the tower close to the handrails once we made it to the top, but being the daredevil I am, I stood on the glass floor panels for about five seconds and decided I’d quickly step back to safety. The 360-degree mountain views from the top were truly spectacular.
On the way down the mountain, we saw a black bear in the wild, plus a mama bear and three cubs near our hotel the day before. It was a mountain trip to remember, but I’m happy to be home now in the flatlands.
Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a private chef and the author of the best-selling memoir “Some Kinda Good.” Featured in Forbes, on Food Network and ABC, she writes about Southern, coastal cuisine, locally sourced and in season.
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