In an area packed full of arcades, mini-golf courses and other tourist traps, one destination is showcasing the natural beauty of Gatlinburg – and quickly becoming a must-visit location while in Tennessee. Anakeesta opened in September 2017 with the expectation of welcoming 250,000 guests a year. Last year, about 1.2 million people visited the majestic theme park in the mountains.
The idea for Anakeesta was born when three couples, all friends, who had zero theme park experience between them combined their expertise, including land planning, landscape architecture, marketing and owning a zip line company. 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 expansion of the destination has exceeded their expectations as they continue to plan for the future.
Guests of Anakeesta can’t miss the massive flower, chair and other photo ops at thepark entrance along the main drag in Gatlinburg. That’s where visitors can take an open chairlift 600 feet up (keep a lookout for bears down below) to the main part of Anakeesta.
If you’re hesitant to take the chairlift, there are a few closed cabins that fit six guests. There’s also the option of taking a passenger truck up the mountain.
The outdoor adventure park high above downtown Gatlinburg has a mountain coaster, dueling zip lines, a treehouse play area and plenty of other activities to fill a day. Here are five things to know about Anakeesta and what you can see there.
Take a stroll on the longest tree-based pedestrian walkway in North America at 880 feet. The hanging bridges are suspended 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 make your way along the path, which takes guests from one end of the park to another. This experience is included in the price of admission.
This is the highest point in downtown Gatlinburg (and it’s also home to the city’s highest bar). The tower offers a panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains, and you can even see as far away as Kentucky. You’ll need to work for the views, though.
There are 86 steps you need to climb to get to a large observation platform atop the tower. Once you’re up there, you’ll agree it’s worth the exercise. If you’re feeling extra brave, you can step out on glass panels that allow guests to get a bird’s-eye-view of the gardens 60 feet below. This experience is included in park admission.
If you think Anakeesta is beautiful during the day, now’s your chance to take in the beauty in a whole new light. Opening in November 2022, Astra Lumina is a unique nighttime experience that puts you among the stars in the surrounding beauty. You’ll be able to embark on an enchanted night walk, which includes projections, lighting and music. This is an add-on experience, but you can save a few dollars if you buy your tickets ahead of time.
The views, music and food
Everything at Anakeesta is planned around the spectacular views and offering places to sit and take in all the natural beauty. The property is dotted with plenty of rocking chairs, benches and fire pits perfectly positioned to admire the surroundings.
Various live music acts entertain the crowds throughout the day, making this a great spot to relax with friends, hear some tunes and watch the sunset. There’s also a variety of places to enjoy food, from quick-service spots to elegant sit-down restaurants. Offerings include ice cream, pizza, smoked meats and American favorites.
Anakeesta was meant to be a densely forested park, but that all changed in November 2016 when a fire destroyed more than 15,000 acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Gatlinburg. Every single tree was charred giving Anakeesta’s developers a blank canvas and a chance to create and design a special garden.
It’s an experimental sensory garden with the sounds of Mother Nature, cascading waterfalls and musical garden chimes. There’s also a memorial forest walk dedicated to the brave men and women who helped fight the historic fires of 2016, as well as the resilience and restoration of the Smoky Mountains.
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