- Tracey Teo For the AJC
The Great Smoky Mountains have attracted outdoorsy folks with something to prove for decades, and now there’s one more reason to make the trip. Anakeesta, Gatlinburg’s newest attraction, is a mountain adventure park that opened in September. Hop on a chondola (chair-gondola) for an exhilarating 15-minute ride to Firefly Village, a treehouse-themed village at the mountain summit. From there, your adventure begins. Dare a friend to soar through the trees on dueling racing zip lines, or stroll along the vertigo-inducing treetop canopy walk that has 16 bridges suspended 40 feet in the air. A high-speed mountain coaster is coming soon.
Every year, thousands of whitewater rafting enthusiasts flock to the Ocoee River in east Tennessee to ride the wild, roller coaster-like rapids, just like Olympians did in 1996 when the dam-controlled waterway hosted the whitewater events for the Olympic Games. As part of the Olympic White Water Challenge, guides from Ocoee Adventure Center help experienced rafters navigate Class III to IV rapids on the upper Ocoee. It’s a big sopping wet, stomach-churning party on a raft that bounces past verdant forested hills blooming with mountain laurel, but you might be so busy hanging on that you miss the scenery.
4651 U.S. 64, Copperhill. 1-888-723-8622, ocoeeadventurecenter.com.
Some of the most heavenly sights in Tennessee are underground. Cumberland Caverns, a National Natural Landmark, is a natural limestone cavern with more than 32 miles of rock formations, waterfalls and pools. Brave thrill-seekers sign up for Higgenbotham’s Revenge, a spelunking adventure named for a surveyor who was trapped there for a harrowing three days in 1810 when his torch went out. It requires squeezing through narrow passages and splashing through muddy trails, but some think it’s worth it to uncover the mysteries of this subterranean labyrinth.