Since Anakeesta opened this past September, we’ve been patiently waiting for an opportunity to visit this new and exciting attraction. We jumped at the chance to go when we were afforded that chance in January with an extended weekend–our first winter vacation. The only thing that held us back a bit was the fact that it would more than likely be a bit chilly since you are taken another 600 feet above Gatlinburg (more on that later). The following is our account and honest review of Anakeesta, which is another name for “place of the balsams” or “place of high ground”.
Picture and Chondola Ride
When you first start your journey at Anakeesta, a photographer will snap your picture, and you will have the choice of deciding if the photo was worthy enough to make the $25 purchase–which we did. Then, you are to wait in line until your method of travel up the mountain arrives; ours was the chondola, which to us, was slightly less frightening as the open-air chairlift, which is a bit of a phobia for the wife and me.
The chondola and chairlift do not stop for you so you have to mind your step getting in, even though it goes slow enough for you to embark. The chondola seats 6, but 4 adults is probably a more comfortable number; six is a better estimate if there are kids in your party. The journey up the mountain plods along slowly and takes about 15 minutes. At the halfway point, the doors open–and then close–at a platform that serves as a point where zipliners go when they finish a part of their adventure that begins at the top.
Once you reach the top, you are now entering the Firefly Village area–a place that currently has three shops that include a few merchandise shops and Pearls Pie in the Sky for sweet treats. This is a nice little village that also has a fire pit that was ideal for a cold morning such as this one. As you walk around Firefly Village, the one thing you cannot ignore is the absolutely breathtaking Smoky Mountain views previously unseen by anyone prior to the development of Anakeesta. It is necessary to take whatever video or photo-taking hardware with you before visiting; in this case, the snow-capped mountains made for a one-of-a-kind experience I had been looking forward to prior to this trip since I had never seen them in the winter. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Despite the small number of shops available, this is a picturesque area that will be expanding later as they will be adding more retail and restaurants, being that they are still in Phase 1 of development. Stay with me here, because there is more to describe about Anakeesta that shouldn’t deter you from reaching for your wallet to visit Gatlinburg’s newest adventure.
The owners of Anakeesta used the devastating fires of November 2016 to tastefully memorialize the people whose lives were affected by the event. Along the way, there are displays that featured the work of Nashville photographer, Jeremy Cowart, who photographed families lying down on a white mattress with the charred remains of their homes surrounding them. They are stories of inspiration, and the project, which is known as “Voices of Gatlinburg”, garnered media attention for the generosity that was displayed in creating this work. At the top of the walk are wind chimes that play the notes of “Amazing Grace”, which evokes a reaction that is both emotional and eerie.
Tree Canopy Walk
Just before you reach the Tree Canopy Walk is the Treehouse Village Playground, which is mainly for children, but we were told that the adults get more excited than the kids do–and we could clearly see why. We meandered through this little playground-in-the-trees like we were still innocent little eight-year-olds, but unfortunately not quite as nimble as we once were.
The Tree Canopy Walk was next, and I was surprised at how unfazed I was by this; my wife, however, was a slightly shaken at first, but she managed–like myself–to adjust to walking over a rope bridge even if it feels a little like someone else is bouncing and swaying purposefully behind you–which I was not doing. This is actually quite a long trek as you go from bridge to bridge some 16 times before reaching the end. I know both of us were surprised at how quickly we marched through the Canopy Walk; we marked our progress when it appeared we had just finished and saw how far we had actually traveled. This was quite an experience, and pretty exhilarating if you’re not too fond of heights. Don’t be afraid to look down, though, because the spring and summer should provide a pretty fair chance to see some Smoky Mountain black bears roaming.
Ha! No, we’re not quite ready for this yet. The cold was a factor, and coming from someone that’s a bit nervous about a chondola and chairlift, it’s no surprise we didn’t do this attraction. If you want the full thrilling experience, there is an additional cost to ride the ziplines: $14.99 per person. For more information about the Dueling Ziplines and the entire Anakeesta attraction, visit the main page here.
I should mention the Gem Mining that is just before the Treehouse Village Playground that the kids should enjoy as well. I can’t speak much of this, but a full description can be found at the Anakeesta website that I provided.
As I mentioned earlier, Anakeesta is not done expanding their attraction up on the mountain. They have another Restaurant with Bar and a dining pavilion that is set to open in the Spring of this year. The bar will feature local craft beers on top, and its location will provide diners with stunning mountain views while enjoying their favorite food and beverage. Also coming soon in that same time frame is a mountain coaster, so if you’re looking for another mountain coaster to tackle with an even better view, then this figures to be one of the better ones in Gatlinburg and the surrounding area. Finally, an amphitheater is planned for some outdoor entertainment to go along with the experience at Anakeesta. Overall this is a place that caters to the whole family, and there’s plenty of fun things to do here now to justify going before everything is complete.
Even though it was a bit chilly up on Anakeesta Mountain to start the day, this was a memorable experience, and we are sure to visit again once the added attractions are completed this year–and a bit warmer, I might add. Whether you’re a selfie taker or an adventure-seeker, or you just want to get away to a place for relaxation and whimsical shopping with fantastic views, I suggest you check out Anakeesta to see why they say there’s magic in the mountains. See you again soon and be sure to check out my entire trip report soon. Thanks for reading!