Anakeesta is the word the great Cherokee Nation used meaning high ground, and today this indigenous term is also the namesake for the Great Smoky Mountains newest and most innovative family adventure theme park. Anakeesta adventure park spans over seventy acres of pristine Smoky Mountain forest, much of it having never been logged, this family theme park is an experience like no other.
Guests to Anakeesta begin their adventure by taking the Chondola (the first of its kind in the United States) where they will rise six-hundred feet above Gatlinburg and arrive at Firefly Village. Not only does the Firefly village feature spectacular overlooks of the surrounding mountains and Gatlinburg area, but a wealth of adventures and attractions awaits family members of all ages and abilities. As Anakeesta Marketing Director Michele Canney notes, “When creating this theme park the owners, Karen and Bob Bentz put so much thought into making this park truly family friendly for all ages. They envisioned a park that truly has something for everyone, from younger families with little ones to family groups traveling with Grandparents. They are proud that Anakeesta has numerous options and attractions that appeal to the whole family spectrum, no matter the age.”
The Bentz’s are proud of the wonderland they have created at Anakeesta where the whole family can be immersed in the great outdoors and can enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Great Smoky Mountain in numerous ways. Whether enjoying a leisurely Chondola ride from downtown Gatlinburg, relaxing in Firefly Village or soaring down the mountain on dueling ziplines, there is truly something for everyone in the family to experience at Anakeesta!
Anakeesta – A Dream Realized… A Legacy Continued
Anakeesta is a dream realized for owners Karen and Bob Bentz, who were fortunate to have the opportunity to purchase this mountain, over fifty-five acres of pristine forests from the Phi Beta Phi Fraternity in 2014. The Pi Beta Phi came to the Gatlinburg area in the late 1800s with a mission of literacy and helped the emerging arts and crafts community market and sell their artesian crafts. This fraternity owned what is now Anakeesta for over 100 years. They decided on the 100-year anniversary to sell the property and were looking for specific buyers dedicated to preserving the heritage and natural wonder of the land. (In fact, most of this remained untouched by the logging industry from the late 1800s to present day).
Current owners, Bob and Karen Bentz, turned out to be the perfect buyers. They have a strong connection to the mountains and the Gatlinburg area. Karen is a native of Knoxville, and Bob grew up spending his summers in the Great Smoky Mountains. Both graduates of the University of Tennessee Knoxville, they served as park rangers in the national park before going on to receive their masters of landscape architecture. Anakeesta is a dream realized for the Bentz’s and their creation of legacy and homage to the Great Smoky Mountains.
The Bentz’s worked diligently with designers and a highly accredited team create a theme park like no other. As Director Canney describes, “There was extensive master planning that went into the creation of this park. The creators even went to Europe to visit the ‘Best of the best’ in outdoor adventure parks and put lots of research into designing Anakeesta. Much of the whimsical feel of the park comes from sketches created by the Bentz’s themselves. As Canney notes, “This is a legacy project for the Bentz’s. They wanted to create an authentic adventure experience that is closely connected to the national park and the surrounding community.
Conservation and sustainability and being true to the land have been a big part of the vision of the Anakeesta from the beginning. Efforts to work with the land, not take it over, have been a top priority throughout the entire process.”
The Anakeesta Adventure begins at the foot of the mountain where visitors can hop on the incredible Chondola, electing to ride in either an open-air chair or an enclosed gondola car. This impressive fixed grip transportation system is the first of its kind in the United States! It features 102 quad chairs and eight, six-person Gondola cabins.
Guests can revel in the spectacular views of Gatlinburg and the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains as they rise 600 from Gatlinburg to the summit of Ankeesta Adventure Park. The Chondola arrives at the Summit at the whimsical Firefly village with numerous amenities and many more adventures await.
Tree Canopy – A Walk of Great Heights
Anakeesta takes a forest stroll to new heights with their phenomenal Tree Canopy Walk. The canopy walk is situated within the old growth trees on the northern ridgeline of the park.
Visitors can stroll along a series of sixteen connected sky bridges that rise forty to sixty feet off the forest floor. Truly immersed in nature, guests will feel among forest friends as they walk with and observe numerous animals and wildlife Each sky bridge leads to a new observation platform with Interpretive signs to educate and inform about the surrounding nature and wildlife.
A great way to take in the mystery of these ancient mountains and sport forest animals and plants, such as a bear, deer, birds and much more. This canopy walk gives visitors of all ages and abilities a chance to walk among treetops.
Children’s Tree House Playground & Gem Mine
Offering something for all ages and abilities, the Children’s Tree House Playground is a magical experience that the little ones will not forget. From climbing through tube net and to conquering an elevated log walk child will enjoy this one-of-a-kind playground.
Designed specifically to help young ones practice and execute different physical skills and learn about nature around them, this tree house playground is truly like no other. Youth can even play and learn about the American Goldfinch as they discover the elevated bird’s nest. They can even practice problem-solving skills by navigating a maze constructed within the bird’s nest.
Just adjacent to the playground, Anakeesta also has a gem mine. An interactive waterfall and sluice allow kids and family members of all ages to search for treasure sifting for precious gemstones or fossils.
One of the premier attractions of Anakeesta Adventure Park is their “Dueling Zipline” attraction. This state-of-the-art zipline system allows visitors to zip over one thousand feet through the treetops, side-by-side. Rising one-hundred and fifty feet above the forest floor, Anakeesta features three different dueling ziplines where guests can experience a birds-eye-view of the majestic Smokey Mountains and take in the natural wonder soaring through the trees.
This adventure even includes two challenge points, where guests can experience a sixty-foot controlled descent by rappelling from one cushioned platform to a cushioned platform below. This incredible adventure ends with a short downhill hike to a mid-station for the Chondola where they will catch a ride back to the summit to continue their adventures.
Anakeesta adheres to and exceeds all requirements to ensure safety following industry safety standards set by ACCT and ANSI. Experienced and trained guides assist all adventure seekers every step of the way with equipment transfers and all hook-ins.
Anakeesta Rail Running Mountain Coaster (Opening Summer 2018)
Opening in the summer of 2018, Anakeesta’s newest attraction is the Anakeesta Rail Runner Mountain Coaster. This single-rail mountain coaster will be the first of its kind in the United States, featuring one thousand, six hundred feet of downhill twists and turns.
Riders get to control their speed on as the twist and turn, racing down the mountain and experience picturesque mountain forests and views. Track cars can reach a top speed of twenty-five miles an hour as thrill seekers soar through tunnels and over bridges down the mountain at a four-hundred-foot vertical drop. This coaster is family friendly, and riders can ride solo or adults can ride tandem with a small child.
In Anakeesta’s sustainable efforts to work with the land this Mountain coaster was created and designed for low impact on the forest floor. It sits just about 18 inches off the forest floor at most points along the track and was designed after a similar coaster in Austria.
The nexus of the park and spectacular summit features the whimsical and thrilling Firefly Village. This part of the park was designed for all ages to relax, shop, eat or just unwind and take in the phenomenal 360 panoramic views at various overlooks.
Firefly village features several delicious eats to choose from Anakeesta’s Smokehouse, Pearl’s Pie in the Sky, and opening this summer Clifftop Restaurant. Visitors can delight in the signature food of the south and relish some delectable southern Barbeque at Anakeesta’s Smokehouse. The menu includes slow-cooked pork and brisket and all the fixings that make a barbeque meal complete. In addition, wraps, salads, and savory melts are offered.
Dessert is good any time of day, so whether you want to polish off a hearty meal or you just want to delight in a sweet treat, Pearl’s Pie in the Sky is the perfect spot. Firefly villages signature dessertery will take you back in time, to the 1940s, and guests can select from a wide variety of scrumptious pies, baked goods, and hand-dipped Blue Bell Ice Cream.
Retail therapy is real, and Firefly village satisfies shoppers with two novelty shops, The Great Outdoors Trading Company and Catching Fireflies. Both shops feature an impressive array of unique goods, momentous, and much more.
The Great Outdoors Trading Company sales an array of Appalachian artisan crafts such as pottery, jewelry, soaps, home goods and much more. For the outdoor guru and history buff, they feature a huge variety of books on the Great Smoky Mountains and area. Of course, The Great Outdoors Trading Company is also everyone’s one-stop-shop outdoor gear and apparel. Don’t miss unique items, such as “Blue Planet” sunglasses. This outdoor eyewear line gives back to those in need with every purchase.
For the youngsters in the group, Catching Fireflies is the perfect store to let their imagination run wild. This boutique offers a one-of-a-kind line of children’s clothing, costumes, plush toys and other momentous. Kids can even purchase everything they need to create their very own Fairy home or garden!
Firefly Villages newest attraction will be a beautiful botanical garden walk designed for guests to experience the wonder and beauty of flowers and plants.
True to their roots in forestry and their dedication to conservation and sustainability, the Bentz’s felt strongly that Anakeesta should have several interpretive trails for guests to hike and learn about the brilliant ecosystems, history, and heritage around them. Anakeesta Marketing Director Canney explains, “Our interpretive trails and dedication to education really set us apart from other area parks. These trails specify leaves of the forest, animals, history and so much more. Anakeesta is truly committed to preserving the history and heritage of the Great Smoky Mountains as well as conserving the forest for many generations to come.”
Perhaps the most profound trail is the Forest Memorial Trail. This interpretive trail pays homage to all who experienced and were affected by the horrific wildfire that occurred in Gatlinburg on November 28th, 2016. For Anakeesta this fire really hit close to home as it scorched a good portion of their property located on the south side of the mountain.
The trail tells the story what happened the night of the fire, and how it affected the land and people in the Gatlinburg area. Hikers will stroll through the charred remains of this forest and learn more about the courageous firefighters who battled one of the worst fires that the state of Tennessee has ever had and understand the resilience and restoration of the forest and the Smoky Mountain People as they have risen from the ashes of this tragedy to power on.
The newest interpretative nature trail created at Anakeesta features a wide variety of learning posts. From information on the Migration patterns of Monarch Butterflies to learning about the history of Gatlinburg. As Director Canney concludes, “Here at Anakeesta we love weaving in an educational component, with fun and adventure telling and sharing the story that binds us to the legacy of these mountains.”