From the outside, Professor Wonder?s WonderWorks Pigeon Forge laboratory appears to have flipped completely on its head. When visitors enter the upside-down edifice, they must first pass through the psychedelic spinning lights of the Inversion Tunnel, which turns the building right-side-up so that families can embark on a day of entertaining educational activities.
More than 100 interactive exhibits spark excitement around natural phenomena. The facility houses a replica of an astronaut's space suit that visitors can climb inside, a gallery of mind-bending illusions, and a caf? where human beings transform food into energy through the process of digestion. There's even a display that allows guests to experience the aftershocks of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, as well as one where they can lie down on a bed of 3,500 sharp nails without receiving so much as a scratch. Additional activities include the Indoor Ropes Challenge Course, which exercises bodies and minds as challengers navigate four stories of swinging beams and suspension bridges, and the The Wonders of Magic, a variety show starring illusionist and Merlin Award winner Terry Evanswood.
Jim and Jeanette Greiner have been helping people escape the concrete ecosystems of everyday life since 1971. That's the year that they founded Wildwater, and as its name suggests, it started as a rafting outfitter that led groups down the rushing waters of the Chattooga River. Today, Wildwater's trained guides still navigate a number of rivers?the Ocoee, Nantahala, and Pigeon, in addition to the Chattanooga?but they've expanded their reach to the land as well. The company offers canopy tours with a combination of ziplines and elevated bridges, inviting guests to take a thrilling trip through the treetops. If clients prefer to stay within a few feet of the ground, they can opt for jeep tours that explore paths beyond the main roads.
Since Wildwater's team values the beauty of the natural environment, they embrace eco-friendly practices intended to help protect the areas they explore. Each of the company's locations strives to minimize its impact by using solar-powered water heaters for the showers, composting leftover food, and painting all of the outdoor equipment with chlorophyll.
As a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee's School of Architecture, Jon Felderman savored free time away from his office job in downtown Knoxville. Ditching his button-down shirt and tie, Jon headed to the Pigeon River on the weekends during the spring of 1996 to begin his training as a river-rafting guide. In just a year, Felderman's skill and enthusiasm had earned him promotions from river guide to trip leader and then to river manager—all while he maintained his full-time architecture job. Finally, in 2004, the inexorable draw of nature inspired a massive change: Jon abandoned the rigors of city life for good, founding his own rafting company, Big Creek Expeditions. Staffed by experienced guides who share Jon's love of the great outdoors, today the company leads trips down both the upper and lower Pigeon River and orchestrates rafting and camping packages for overnight expeditioners.
By engineering an indoor, upwards-facing wind tunnel, the brilliant minds behind Flyaway Indoor Skydiving have managed to recreate the adrenalized thrill of freefalling sans the previously required airplane. In the studio’s unique flight room, ersatz divers hover several feet above ground as wind-powered force neutralizes the effects of gravity around them. While a typical outdoor skydive lasts only about a minute, Flyaway delivers a minimum of three straight minutes of simulated freefall, ensuring massive endorphin rushes and flashbacks to past lives spent as a Canadian goose. Before liftoff, the facility’s experienced trainers fill visitors in on everything they need to know about body control, safety procedures, and effective screaming techniques. Classes begin every 30 minutes and operate on a first come, first serve basis. Height and weight restrictions apply.
The career thrill-seekers at Outdoor Adventures of the Smokies guide quests into the Smoky Mountains by a variety of means, including helicopters, safari wagons, and ziplines. Aerial views of Tennessee's rolling farmlands and vast oceans overwhelm the senses as hot air balloons hoist at least four riders aloft from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains National Park. The lower Pigeon River's gentle class I and II rapids sharpen the skills of beginner whitewater rafters as they spend 90 minutes maneuvering frothy crests. Up to 12 land-bound adventurers can pile into monster trucks for five heart-racing laps around a track with two large hills, two petite mounds, and two traffic lights that turn yellow at the last second.
Two miles might seem like a negligible distance when you’re driving a car. But when you’re skydiving from two miles above the earth, you relish every foot that separates you from the ground. As the only safety net for their patrons, Skydive East Tennessee’s licensed instructors escort divers up to 11,000 feet into the sky, where they enjoy aerial views of the Smoky Mountains, make white beards out of fluffy clouds, and embark on 45-second freefalls. Before ever stepping foot into the company’s aircraft, the seasoned staff goes over all the details of the trip, ensuring jumpers know exactly what to expect as they leap from the plane and finish their fall with a scenic 5-minute parachute ride. A camera crew can document the whole experience, from the instruction period to the landing, and assembles the footage into a keepsake DVD set to music.