Anakeesta is a mountaintop oasis in the Smoky Mountains. With a chondola (chair lift style) ride up and down, a canopy tree walk, a restaurant, zip lining, shops, and nature walk, visiting Anakeesta is an adventure from start to finish.
Anakeesta is Cherokee for place of high ground. It’s cost inclusive, with only zip lining, gem mining, and the mountain coaster having additional fees. The chondola rides, canopy tree walk and kids play area are included in your admission cost. Don’t worry- if the chair lift style makes you nervous with little ones (of for yourself, no judgement!), there are enclosed cabin options.
Anakeesta offers two main dining options as well as an ice cream shop selling Blue Bell ice cream. The BBQ food truck sends irresistible scents wafting through the air. Which is a probable fact, seeing as how they have to keep their smoker in cage to keep the bears from stealing your potential lunch!
The restaurant is open air, with breathtaking views from every seat. A cool mountain breeze and fans keep the dining area cool and comfortable. Options include the brisket salad, a delicious combination of tender brisket and fresh greens.
It is one of the great sorrows of my life (ahem, overdramatizing) that we didn’t get to visit the Blue Bell ice cream shop on our visit, but we will be returning and I will refuse to leave without it! #BlueBell4Life
Firefly Village is the idyllic mountain top town with shops and restaurants that you enter as soon as you step off the chondola. It feels like a quaint small town, with a small waterfall, creek, adorable bridges, and sweet buildings in a coordinating style that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Within Firefly Village you’ll also find a beer garden, scenic views, and a few gorgeous places to just sit and enjoy the mountain breeze while watching the clouds drift by.
The canopy tree walk consists of 16 suspended bridges and 14 platforms, going as high as 60 feet off the ground. If heights aren’t your favorite, the tree walk is still accessible. The high railings, shady path and eye catching views draw your eyes out and up, not down.
The Treehouse Playground is a fun kids play area, and a great way to get them to run off some energy before sitting down to lunch or riding the chondola down. This whimsical mini-village offers netted tunnel bridges, cute treehouse, a maze, and even an educational section on the nest of the American Goldfinch.
Another fun options for kids is the gem mining area. Select a bag of dirt, and dip it into the ‘river’ while panning for the jewels hiding in the dirt. Walk away with a sparkly collection that will forever encourage your kid to pick up random pieces of gravel in every parking lot you enter for the rest of their lives so they can add it to their ‘rock collection’. Gem bags begin at $6.95.
Vista Gardens walk is a mountaintop botanical garden, complete with gnomes, a pergola, a gentle stream, and lots of informative signs. Follow these exquisite walking trails to get a new view of the Smokies, surrounded by lovely flowers and landscaping.
The Memorial Forest Walk is a breathtaking tribute to all that was lost in the Gatlinburg wildfires of 2016. The south side of the Anakeesta mountain was scorched, and serves as the backdrop for the photo series that immortalizes the horror of wildfires and the hope that comes from regrowth, all while paying respect to those who fought the fire and the region that is regrowing as well.
Anakeesta has begun their expansion, with quite a few new aspects to explore coming between now and 2020. The Vista Garden Walk is growing to include 5,000 new flowers, 800 new shrubs, 250 trees, gazebos, and a sculpture. This is part of an active reforestation to help recover from the wildfire. New dining and shopping options are coming, as well as an overlook to provide more seating, an airstream beer trailer, and a spot for live music (starting this summer, 2019!) Military truck rides offer a new way to reach Anakeesta. But the part I’m most excited for is the Bearventure Kids Challenge, a 120 feet long challenge course that includes a path for parents to walk alongside in case a little one needs a helping hand along the way. The other addition I’m thrilled to see is the new observation tower, a centerpiece of the park offering an unparalleled 360 degree view of the Smokies. You can learn more about the timeline for the expansion efforts here.
Planning on visiting Anakeesta? Here are a few tips to help make your trip go smoothly.
- Weekdays are slower crowd-wise
- Try to wear…not flip flops. If your shoes don’t have a back, you have to remove them for the chondola chair lift ride. The Canopy Tree Walk is also more accessible if you’re wearing hardier shoes; though I did it in flip flops, it would’ve been easier in different shoes.
- Be patient during the chondola ride- it isn’t just a way to get to the top of the mountain, it’s a part of the experience. Enjoy the breezes, take in the sights, and be prepared for quite a few stops along the way. This is simply to allow those in enclosed cabins and those with mobility restrictions time to embark and disembark the chondola.
- Take all the photos. It’s so gorgeous everywhere you look, and you’ll want to remember everything.
- If you live in Sevier county or one of the surrounding ones, make sure to keep an ear out for county days discounts. In May, they offered $5 admission for surrounding counties. It’s a can’t miss deal!