An aerial view of Anakeesta — Photo courtesy of Anakeesta
In an area teeming with arcades, miniature golf courses, and other tourist traps, a destination showcases Gatlinburg’s natural beauty—and is quickly becoming a must-visit when in Tennessee. Anakeesta opened in September 2017 with the expectation of welcoming 250,000 guests per year. Last year around 1.2 million people visited the majestic amusement park in the mountains.
The idea for Anakeesta was born when three couples, all friends with no theme park experience, combined their expertise including land planning, landscape architecture, marketing and owning a zip line business. The result was a welcome addition to this Tennessee city that has long been a family-friendly vacation destination.
Anakeesta’s founders knew their creation would be well received, but even they are blown away by the response. The destination expansion has exceeded their expectations as they continue to plan for the future.
Chondola Ride in Anakeesta — Photo courtesy of Anakeesta
Anakeesta guests can’t miss the huge flower, chair, and other photo ops at the park entrance along Main Street in Gatlinburg. There, visitors can ride an open chairlift 600 feet up (look for bears below) to the main part of Anakeesta.
If you’re hesitant to take the chairlift, there are a few enclosed cabins that can accommodate six guests. There is also an option to drive up the mountain in a passenger truck.
The outdoor adventure park high above downtown Gatlinburg features a mountain roller coaster, duel zip lines, a tree house play area and many other activities to fill a day. Here are five things you should know about Anakeesta and what you can see there.
Stroll North America’s longest tree-based pedestrian walkway at 880 feet. The suspension bridges hang 50 to 60 feet in the air and are surrounded by the natural beauty of trees, mountains and animals. The bridges sway and move as you walk along the path that takes guests from one end of the park to the other. This experience is included in the entrance fee.
This is the highest point in downtown Gatlinburg (and it’s also home to the city’s tallest bar). The tower offers panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains, and you can even see as far as Kentucky. However, you have to work for the views.
There are 86 steps to climb to get to a large viewing platform on top of the tower. Once you’re up there, you’ll agree the exercise is worth it. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can climb onto glass panels that give guests a bird’s-eye view of the gardens 60 feet below. This experience is included with park admission.
If you find Anakeesta beautiful during the day, now’s your chance to see beauty in a whole new light. Opening in November 2022, Astra Lumina is a unique nighttime experience that transports you among the stars amidst the surrounding beauty. You can embark on an enchanted night walk that includes projections, lighting and music. This is an additional experience, but you can save a few bucks by purchasing your tickets in advance.
Cliff Top Restaurant in Anakeesta — Photo courtesy of Anakeesta
The view, music and food
Everything in Anakeesta is planned around the spectacular view and seating where you can take in the natural beauty. The property is dotted with plenty of rocking chairs, benches, and fire pits perfectly positioned for taking in the surroundings.
Various live music acts keep the crowds entertained throughout the day, making this a great place to hang out with friends, listen to some tunes and watch the sun go down. There’s also a variety of places to enjoy dining, from quick service restaurants to elegant sit-down restaurants. Offerings include ice cream, pizza, smoked meats and American specialties.
Anakeesta was supposed to be a densely forested park, but that changed in November 2016 when a fire destroyed more than 15,000 acres of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Gatlinburg. Each individual tree was charred, giving the Anakeesta developers a blank canvas and the opportunity to create and design a special garden.
It is an experimental sensory garden with the sounds of Mother Nature, rushing waterfalls and musical garden bells. There is also a Memorial Forest Walk dedicated to the brave men and women who helped fight the historic fires of 2016 and the resilience and restoration of the Smoky Mountains.