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Gatlinburg SkyBridge: We crossed all 700 feet of USA's longest footbridge

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4 days ago Brenna McDermott
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Just before I stepped out onto the glass panel portion of the Gatlinburg SkyBridge, my feet and my brain were having a friendly disagreement about the idea.

My feet wanted to stand on glass and look down because it sounded fun. My brain thought standing on glass 150 feet above the ground was a terrible idea. 

Thousands of visitors will have the same dilemma while crossing (or not crossing) the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, which opens Friday at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reports the Knoxville News Sentinel, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. 

My feet won the argument.

a bridge going over a fence © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc.

The SkyBridge Gateway

The 700-foot-long bridge, which runs parallel to Gatlinburg's main strip, looks small from the ground level at the entrance to Gatlinburg SkyLift Park.

As we rode the lift up to the top of Crockett Mountain – in itself a bit of an adrenaline rush – the clouds hung low over the mountains and the temperature dropped.

We hopped off the lift at the top, about 1,800 feet above sea level, crossed a brick patio and headed up a few dozen steps to the bridge platform.

The view from there illustrated that the bridge, which spans the length of more than two football fields, had a significant dip in the middle.

My brain wasn't hot on that dip, either.

The 5-foot-wide bridge no longer looked small, so that was a plus. But the valley underneath it no longer looked close either.

Crossing the SkyBridge

The bridge is secured with thick metal wires the size of my upper arm and anchored by more than 1 million pounds of concrete.

Marketing coordinator Marcus Watson said if 500 people who each weighed 400 pounds were standing on the bridge, it still wouldn't near the weight limit. 

That said, long bridges sway and this one rocked enough to make my legs wobble during the first and last quarter of the walk. 

We left the swaying behind as we neared the middle of the bridge, which hangs 150 feet above the forest below.

Keep a tight grip on your phone during selfie time or you'll never see it again. 

a train on a track near a metal rail: Glass-floor panels in the middle of the Gatlinburg SkyBridge on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. The SkyBridge is North America's longest pedestrian suspension bridge and offers panoramic views of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. © Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel Glass-floor panels in the middle of the Gatlinburg SkyBridge on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. The SkyBridge is North America's longest pedestrian suspension bridge and offers panoramic views of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.

Standing on glass above Gatlinburg

I've been skydiving, zip lining and parasailing, but my stomach still dropped as my toes stopped just short of the three glass panels. 

It didn't help that, in an almost cinematic fashion, the wind picked up at that moment. 

Photographer Brianna Paciorka had already walked out onto the glass in front of me – backward, mind you – to capture my expression. So, to save face, my foot-brain debate was brief and I took my first step.

There will be plenty of people who will turn back before standing on the glass, I'd guess. That's fine – you still get to experience the great view. 

But if you do step onto that glass, defy your brain.

I took a breath, planted my feet and looked down. Underneath me was a 100-foot-tall tree. Eventually, my brain righted itself and I was able to enjoy the view down.

Don't get me wrong; I was trying to be as light-footed as possible, and my adrenaline was pumping for the rest of the walk.

Even with low-hanging clouds, we had a great panoramic view of the park and downtown Gatlinburg. Including time for photos and video, we crossed the bridge in about eight minutes. 

SkyBridge will likely land on the bucket lists of many adventure seekers, but it's not just an adrenaline rush.

It's a chance to get a mountaintop view for those of us who will never hike Mt. LeConte. My feet and my brain agreed the view was worth it.

Before you go

Gatlinburgskylift.com

Opens to public: 1 p.m. May 17

Address: 765 Parkway, Gatlinburg TN

Hours: open daily; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. (10 p.m. after Memorial Day)

Admission price: ages 12-64, $19.95; ages 4-11, $14.95; ages 65+, $17.95

Stay connected with business reporter Brenna McDermott

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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Gatlinburg SkyBridge: We crossed all 700 feet of USA's longest footbridge

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