Surrounded by the Smoky Mountains, filled with captivating entertainment, and visited by more than 11,000,000 people each year, there’s no denying Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a popular vacation destination…and it just keeps getting better. Discover the magic in the mountains at Gatlinburg’s newest outdoor attraction: Anakeesta, a 55-acre aerial adventure park with unique views of the Smokies and fun-filled activities for all ages. From the leisurely ride up to the whimsical treehouse-themed village to the zipline journey down past the tree canopy trail, adventure awaits atop Anakeesta Mountain.
For more than 100 years, the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, a determined group of women who poured their hearts and souls into the city of Gatlinburg and passed down that diligence to present generations, watched over this mountain and the surrounding area. In 2014, Bob and Karen Bentz and their family took over that responsibility, ensuring the fraternity that they would continue their efforts to enrich the community and protect the land. Embodying the true heritage of the Smokies, a Cherokee name referring to high ground was chosen to testify to the authenticity of the elevated experience Anakeesta offers. In fact, creating memorable mountaintop experiences for the whole family isn’t just a goal; it’s a promise — one that Anakeesta intends to keep.
576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Journey to Anakeesta Mountain
Begin your journey at Anakeesta Chondola Station just across the Parkway from Ripley’s Aquarium; there you can select a 4-person chair or a 6-seat gondola cabin — hence the coined term “chondola” (difficult to read but fun to say!). Excitement will rise as you sit back and relax during your 600-foot ascent to the top of Anakeesta Mountain.
With 104 quad chairs, 8 gondola cabins, and the ability to carry around 1,000 passengers per hour, this scenic ride will last about 14 minutes, giving you plenty of time to really enjoy the lovely views. Additionally, the Chondola is the only way to enter Anakeesta, thereby making it the only way to leave, which means you’ll get not 1 but 2 opportunities to see the beautiful landscape and city lights in a whole new way.
When you first arrive at Firefly Village, childhood memories will come rushing back as you admire the storybook architecture throughout the entire alpine village. There’s even a flowing creek with a quaint little bridge and a friendly bear statue to greet you in the center. Indeed, Bob and Karen visited many European countries to get the look just right!
For the Kids
Great for kids of any age, the Treehouse Village Playground features 5 treehouses and a charming bird nests area, where children can learn about the American Goldfinch. Keeping everything connected, the fun bridges help you monitor the little ones. From climbing through a netted tunnel to discovering the way out of a maze in the trees, hours will pass like minutes at this playground. For an extra-special experience, hang around after dark to see the play area magically light up — to the eye of a child, there may even be a few fairies present!
With an interactive waterfall and sluice, your little ones can find the precious gemstones they’ve always wanted and recover ancient fossils for their collections. Grab a few bags of surprises at the Anakeesta Mining Company, conveniently located next to the playground, and start making discoveries with your kids! After all, a family that mines together…stays together, right?
Shop, Shoppe, Shopping!
Don’t forget to bring home a few souvenirs from Firefly Village. Head to Catching Fireflies for children’s clothing, unique toys, and soft plushies or women’s apparel, fine jewelry, and home goods. At the very least, pop in for a bit if only to glimpse the touch of mountain charm at this adorable boutique!
Next up is the Great Outdoors Trading Company, where you can find local arts and crafts as well as top-notch outdoor gear. Readers get ready because this mountaintop shop also boasts books filled with Smoky Mountain facts and tales. They even carry the eco-friendly Blue Planet sunglasses line; with every purchase, a pair of prescription glasses is donated to an individual in need.
Dinner and a View
After running around with the kids and completing your shopping quest, a delicious meal with beautiful scenery is just what you need to fuel up for the adventures ahead. Who wouldn’t enjoy a view of Mt. LeConte while they dine outdoors at the Anakeesta Summit Smokehouse? At this restaurant, using a special seasoning blend and smoking for hours on end creates a tender, juicy meat with Smoky flavor that can’t be beat!
A Taste of the Menu
- BBQ & Blue Cheese Potato Chips
- Crispy Onion Rings
- Hickory Smoked Wings
- Pulled Pork Belly Buster Sandwich
- Mighty Mountain Melt
- Nathan’s Cheesy Dog
- The Double Porker Hotdog
- Chicken Tenders and Smiley Fries (for Firefly kids!)
One of the highlights at Firefly Village is Pearl’s Pie in the Sky, an ice cream shop with sweet treats well worth the wait! With a rotating selection of scrumptious pies and other baked goods, plus milkshakes, sundaes, and weekly ice cream flavors, this eatery alone is reason enough to make repeated visits to Anakeesta. They even give you 2 complimentary ice cream toppings — yum!
Looking for the best chargrilled burgers and draft beers in town? Well, a brand-new restaurant and bar with made-to-order options is coming to Anakeesta in 2018! With the ability to seat up to 240 people, this new dining space will be a great place for group meals and game-day parties.
A Stroll Through Nature
How many can say they have gone for a stroll 40-60 feet above the forest floor? Well, you can count yourself among the select few after going on the Tree Canopy Walk — a quarter-mile trail with 16 hanging bridges woven between the towering trees (don’t worry, the staff arborist keeps them happy and healthy). As you make your way along the trail, you’ll come across multiple observation platforms, perfect for spotting bears below and birds above. Even better, hang around past sundown to witness the natural nightlife of the Smoky Mountains firsthand, with a trail of lights to lead the way.
Take it slow on the Forest Memorial Interpretive Trail, a walk of remembrance for those who fought the 2016 fires that spread throughout Gatlinburg and affected many beloved families as well as more than 15,000 acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along the path, you’ll find commemorative plaques and a soothing wind chime meant to encourage hope and strength in the local people together with Anakeesta guests.
Excited to see the fabulous flora of the Smokies? Then the Garden Walk (new in 2018) will be the perfect trail for you! Starting at the top of the Memorial Interpretive Trail and meandering towards the Treehouse Village Playground and Tree Canopy Walk, you’ll be greeted by gorgeous flowers and surrounded by incredible landscaping with every step.
Excitement Around Every Corner
Ready for a thrill like no other? Head over to the Adventure Post to begin your Dueling Zipline Adventure and race with friends and family through the trees! In addition to zipping around the canopy, you’ll have 2 opportunities to rappel 60 feet down onto a cushioned platform. After you return to the summit via the mid-station Chondola, venture back to the outpost for Anakeesta goods, including fun tees with cool, catchy phrases — like “May the Forest Be with You” — for the whole family. Bonus: an additional zipline to extend the tree-soaring adventure will be completed in 2018!
Also coming in 2018 to Anakeesta is the Single Rail Mountain Coaster, a rollercoaster on the forest floor you can control down the mountain. That’s right, you can go slow or move fast (up to 25mph) — it’s completely up to you! As a family friendly attraction, you can choose to fly solo or pair off with a friend or family member (kids can ride, too).
Smile! Photos at Anakeesta
With panoramic views galore, and the perfect twilight view from the Sunset Deck (coming in 2018), you’ll have plenty of epic selfies to choose from when the day is done. For a few professional shots, stop by Smile! Photos at Anakeesta to pick up your favorite photos from your day of adventures on the mountain. With 3 captured moments (at the Chondola base station, on the chairlift up the mountain, and at Tower 2 on the Dueling Zipline Adventure) to choose from, it may be too difficult to decide, but fret not because you can simply buy them all! For special photography sessions, drop by the Information Booth at Firefly Village so a member of the Anakeesta staff can set up your Smoky Mountain snapshots!