There is one landmark in Gatlinburg that you can see from miles away. I am talking of course about the Gatlinburg Space Needle.
The Space Needle has been dominating the Gatlinburg sky line since 1969. Like I said, it can be seen from miles around, so finding it is not an issue. Officially, it is located off the old Airport Road (now Historic Nature Trail Road) at traffic light #8. As with just about everywhere in Gatlinburg, there is no free parking here, but there are two parking lots, for a fee, right next door. If you are staying in town, it is an easy walk from most hotel rooms located on and around the strip.
The first thing that you may notice as you enter the Space Needle complex is how huge the structure is. It is not just a ride up the space needle. There is a massive 25,000 square foot arcade, laser tag, old time photos, and a ton more that you can do. As far as getting tickets to go up to the top, the prices are really not too bad at all. The current price is 8.50 for adults and 4.00 for children 5-12. 4 and under are free. Compared with what you will pay for other views around town, this is a pretty decent bargain.
There are two elevators that will whisk you up for a total of 407 feet to the top of this structure. The ride up really gives you an idea of just how high in the air you are going. The elevators are glass-sided, so you can see out all around you. Obviously, you will see the structure through the elevator, but it is also really neat to see the town get smaller and smaller quickly as you make your way higher into the sky. What you see also changes as you go up, as your point of view changes your focus from the bustling city of Gatlinburg to the mountains that soon will be all around you.
The ride itself takes roughly a minute and a half to reach the top. Its a fairly smooth ride. The elevators hold about 20 people each. Even though the elevators themselves are large, it can feel a little tight when they are busy. If you are the claustrophobic type, just wait for the next elevator to thin out the crowds. Everyone worries about getting stuck in an elevator, and at that height, it could really be a problem. No worries, not only is the thing very safe, but there are stairs the whole way down if needed.
When you get to the top, you will have wonderful 360 degree views. The platform that you come out on is a hexagon. You can walk a circle all the way around to get great views of the mountains, Gatlinburg, and the surrounding area. They also have free viewfinders at the top so that you can really get close to everything from your bird’s eye view. I love that the viewfinders are free here and they are spaced all around so you can see the scenery from different viewpoints. If this is not going to be something that you do often, I would say that it can be good to bring you own binoculars so that you can see exactly what you want to see when you want it, but it is not a necessity. You can take your time at the top. Nobody is going to rush you down. Though you can walk around the platform at the top, there is no place to really walk around like there is at the top of the sky lift.
A large number of you that travel to the Smokies are doing so with a family, and probably some younger kids or rambunctious teenagers. You don’t have to worry about them at the top. They aren’t going to fall off the railing and down 407 feet to the street below. Keep an eye on them for sure at the top, but there is not really any safety hazard. Elevators will run about every 3-5 minutes, so when you want to come down, you really won’t have to wait long. Keep in mind that the attraction can close in extreme weather, so if we are in the midst of a lightning storm, you probably won’t be able to go up. But I guess that is just common sense.
Overall, I definitely think this landmark is worth checking out at least once. If you have done it but it has been many years, go up and see just how much everything has changed. It is really amazing to see how much the area has built up over the years, the new landmarks that you can see from the top, and old ones that have long since disappeared. It’s also cool to compare pictures you have taken in different years to see just how much everything has changed. This is definitely one to put on your must-do list.