Read Now, Travel Later
COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.
Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!
Choices are a fickle thing. There is always the fear of making the wrong choice no matter how carefully we choose. Fortunately, while sitting in the ridiculously comfortable Adirondack chair with one of the best views of the Great Smoky Mountains, I realized Anakeesta was the right choice.
The first time I visited Anakeesta I was unprepared for just how gorgeous it would be at the top. My first stop was food where I took in the endless views while finishing off a delicious meal. My second visit I was at least prepared; I brought a book and sat for an hour in a comfy chair. By my third visit, well, let’s just say I don’t think I’ll ever take those views for granted because I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet.
Here are ten thrilling things to do at Anakeesta in Gatlinburg, TN, listed in no particular order because everything up there is a pretty good time.
- Hop on a Chondola to the Top
- Ride the Ridge Rambler to the Top
- Explore the Treetop Skywalk
- Fly on the Dueling Zipline Adventure
- Take the Kids to the Treehouse Village
- Ride the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster
- Enjoy Food with a View
- Do Some Shopping
- Go for a Scenic Walk
- Relax and Enjoy the Views
- Is Anakeesta Handicap Accessible?
- What are the Anakeesta Prices?
- How Do I Get to Anakeesta?
- Where Can I Stay While Visiting Anakeesta?
Hop on a Chondola to the Top
What in the world is a Chondola? A Chondola is a chairlift ride with open-air chairs that can seat 4 people and two fully enclosed gondolas that can seat 6. The chairlift seats have a safety bar that locks into place as your feet dangle in the air during the slow 30-minute climb to the top of the mountain.
The fully enclosed gondola can comfortably seat 6 people on two benches facing each other. When the doors close and lock the gondola is fully sealed until your arrival at the top. The all-glass windows allow the riders to enjoy the views during the slow climb.
Riding the Chondola is included in the price of admission and riders can choose the chairlift or gondola. However, be warned the gondola only comes around about once for every thirty or so chairlifts so you might be waiting awhile. I, for one, always chose the gondola because I’m afraid of heights and not sure I could handle half an hour on a chairlift!
Ride the Ridge Rambler to the Top
You might be wondering what could possibly be more exciting than riding a chairlift or gondola to the top of a mountain. The Ridge Rambler is that answer.
The Ridge Rambler is a converted dually truck with comfortably forward-facing seats beneath a cover on the truck bed. Passengers load onto the Ridge Rambler behind the Chondola and begin a slow trek winding up the mountain.
Riding the Ridge Rambler is included in the price of admission.
Explore the Treetop Skywalk
Considering I’m afraid of heights I was quite shocked at just how much I absolutely loved the Treetop Skywalk. A series of swinging bridge zigzagging nearly 800’ from tree to tree, and about 50’ above the ground, was a thrilling experience.
The bridges have a tight mesh rope sidewall about 40” tall with thick rope handrails to hold onto. I never took my hand off that handrail! Each bridge stretched about 40’, connecting observation decks that wrapped around each tree.
While walking the bridge for the third time everyone suddenly came to a stop and started pointing. A small black bear was wondering through the thick foliage on the ground 50’ below us.
Exploring the Treetop Skywalk is included in the price of admission.
Fly on the Dueling Zipline Adventure
If you’re not first, you’re last. Of course, while zipping through the beautiful canopy at Anakeesta beside your best friend or favorite sibling it almost doesn’t matter who reaches the bottom first.
The Dueling Ziplines have three sections descending about half the mountain. At each end the riders rappel off the platform to a path where they continue the adventure. My favorite part, though? Once you’re done ziplining you hope back on the Chondola mid-station and go back up again!
The Dueling Zipline Adventure requires an additional purchase. The zipline adventure is $29.99 for Adults, $27.99 for Seniors age 60+, and $25.99 for Children age 4-11. Visitors can ride the zipline again on the same day for an additional $14.99.
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Take the Kids to the Treehouse Village
I feel like my entire childhood would have been different if I would have had the Treehouse Village in my backyard. A series of wooden planks, bridges, and tunnels connect various tiny houses for children to explore. In each house an educational panel teaches about the flora and fauna of the Great Smoky Mountains.
The Treehouse Village is located near the entrance to the Treetop Skywalk. Give the kids a few minutes to play and then go for the adult version to enjoy yourself!
The Treehouse Village is included in the price of admission.
Ride the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster
Remember that part about me being afraid of heights? I was never a fan of rollercoasters, although once I succumbed to peer pressure I always had a great time. The Rail Runner Mountain Coaster offers that thrilling experience without the fear of heights.
Starting at the top of the mountain the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster descends 400’ through a series of twists and turns. The single-track line is pretty low to the ground and with top speeds around 25 mph you really feel like you’re flying across the forest floor.
Visitors can ride solo or tandem with a small child, but each rail runner cart is limited to 270 pounds total combined weight of the riders. Once at the bottom you’ll hitch a ride back to the top and, hopefully, do the ride again!
Riding the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster requires an additional purchase. The first ride for a single rider is $12.99 and each additional ride on the same day is $6.49, while the first ride for a tandem rider is $14.99 and each additional ride on the same day is $7.49.
Enjoy Food with a View
Rooftop restaurants have nothing on the views from the restaurants at Anakeesta. At Clifftop Grill & Bar start with the homemade pretzels or their Ultimate Nachos, grab a sandwich or one of their signature Smoky Mountain Burgers, and finish it off with a refreshing craft beer.
After ordering your food at the entrance let the hunt begin for a table with a view. Actually, all the tables have a view. Some of the seating is semi-indoor with a roof and walls to keep chilly winds away, but the rest of the seating is outdoor on a deck overhanging the side of the mountain with breathtaking views of the local landscape.
The Bar at the Top of the World is a spacious area for adults to grab a drink and enjoy the breathtaking views. There is a seating area at the long bar and tables scattered around outside.
After finishing off that wonderful food walk over to Pearl’s Pie in the Sky for dessert. Grab an ice cream, milkshake, or sundae. Go for the fresh baked cookies or brownies. In the cooler months enjoy a hot apple cider or hot chocolate.
Do Some Shopping
You might not think a mountain top attraction would also be a great place for shopping. Let me just warn you: be ready for some shopping.
The Great Outdoors Trading Company offers a lot of items from local artisans. Pottery, woodworking, clothing, and jewelry are just a few of the options. Catching Fireflies was an interesting boutique shop with plush animals, jewelry, women’s apparel, unique gift ideas, and Bridgewater Candles.
Go for a Scenic Walk
I think at the very least the paved path through the heart of Anakeesta would make a wonderful place to just go for a scenic walk. On chilly days the firepit near the middle will provide a bit of warmth while relaxing in the ridiculously comfortable Adirondack chairs.
Speaking of those ridiculously comfortable chairs, would you like to know about my favorite place at Anakeesta? Near the top of the trail is a scenic overlook to rival the best the Great Smoky Mountains has to offer. Several picnic tables sit back from a row of Adirondack chairs with a breathtaking panorama view of Mount LeConte and the surrounding landscape. That was my favorite place to sit for about an hour. You might want to take a book with you like I did.
Vista Gardens started out as a botanical garden with winding paths and beautiful sculptures. After the devastating 2016 wildfires that burned a good portion of the mountain where Anakeesta is located the gardens have become the site of a reforestation project and an opportunity to learn about sustainable practices for these kinds of attractions.
The Memorial Forest Walk is a stretch of the main path through Anakeesta that includes several panels detailing the 2016 wildfires. The memorial walkway displays photographs and information about the wildlife that destroyed nearly 15,000 acres through the national park and Gatlinburg.
Relax and Enjoy the Views
Anakeesta is an exciting place to visit for some outdoor recreation, but it can also be one of the most relaxing places to visit in Gatlinburg. There is no denying that Parkway has become a concrete jungle of slowly moving cars and crowded sidewalks about ¾ of the year.
For about $40 per person Anakeesta is a wonderful escape for that hustle and bustle. The ride on the Chondola or Ridge Rambler starts the adventure to the top with the Treetop Skywalk, and Vista Gardens already included in the price of admission.
Once at the top stroll through the Firefly Village shopping area and stake out a chair at the scenic overlook. Stay as long as you like without any pressure to move on. When you get hungry head down to the Clifftop Grill & Bar for a meal you can eat there or bring back to the scenic overlook.
With some of the best views in Gatlinburg I would say Anakeesta is one of the best places to visit just for the sake of visiting. If you’re willing to pay $30 a day to keep your car in a concrete parking garage, wouldn’t you pay the same to keep yourself on top of a mountain surrounded by gorgeous views?
Is Anakeesta Handicap Accessible?
Most of Anakeesta is handicap accessible for people with wheelchairs or difficulty walking, but not the entire attraction. The Chondola has a 32” wide opening and the bench seats can fold up to accommodate wheelchairs. They also offer free use of wheelchairs once at the top just in case you don’t want to take your own in the Chondola.
Once at the top the Clifftop Grill & Bar, Bar at the Top of the World, Great Outdoors Trading Company, and Catching Fireflies are all accessible. The paved path through the middle of Anakeesta to the scenic overlook is also accessible.
Unfortunately, areas like the Treetop Skywalk and Vista Gardens are not accessible. The Ridge Rambler is also not accessible. But during my visits I had also noticed the staff work above and beyond to help anyone with difficulties walking. They stopped the Chondola ride for a few minutes to help an elderly man with his walker off the chairlift, helped him unfold the walker, and sent him on his way to explore the attraction!
What are the Anakeesta Prices?
Anakeesta’s website states, “It’s not family-friendly unless it’s budget-friendly.” Bold statement for a mountain top attraction in Gatlinburg, but a statement that holds true. Anakeesta is one of the most affordable attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Price of admission is $21.99 for Adults, $19.99 for Seniors age 60+, and $17.99 for Children age 4-11.
The price of admission includes riding the Chondola or Ridge Rambler to the top and back again, Treetop Skywalk, Treehouse Village, Vista Gardens, and Memorial Forest Walk.
How Do I Get to Anakeesta?
Getting to Anakeesta is easy, but it’s hard. The only way for visitors to reach the attraction is to ride the Chondola or Ridge Rambler to the top. The ticket office and ride station at the bottom is located near the end of Parkway across the street from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
There are two fairly large public parking lots surrounding the Anakeesta ticket office, but these spots go fast on popular days in Gatlinburg. There is another public parking lot and a public parking garage one block east. If all else fails there are lots of public parking lots between Parkway and River Road heading toward the other end of town.
Where Can I Stay While Visiting Anakeesta?
Remember the old game of pin the tail on the donkey? Stop anywhere on Parkway. Close your eyes. Spin around three times real fast and point your finger. I guarantee when you open your eyes you’ll be pointing at a hotel or resort.
Baymont Gatlinburg on the River is a fantastic hotel on the quiet end of downtown Gatlinburg. The hotel has riverfront rooms with balconies, a rooftop terrace with a narrow view of Mount LeConte, and an indoor swimming pool. It’s about a ten minute walk to Anakeesta.
Quality Inn and Suites has rooms with a fireplace and jacuzzi tub. Okay so not every room had that but I never thought I’d see it at all at a Quality Inn! This hotel would make a wonderful budget-friendly place to stay. It’s located behind the Baymont so it’s also just a ten minute walk to Anakeesta.
Another budget-friendly option, and one of my personal favorites, is the Sidney James Mountain Lodge. Granted, the furnishings in the rooms could use an update. But the bed was comfortable, location fantastic, and the two-story indoor pool is unmatched in Gatlinburg. Located near the end of Historic Nature Trail visitors can walk or drive down Cherokee Orchard Road to Anakeesta without all the traffic.
Holiday Inn Express Downtown is one of the highest quality hotels in Gatlinburg. Rooms include two double beds, a king bed, or a king suite, making it a great option for solo travelers, couples, or families. The location on Historic Nature Trail is just a five-minute walk to Parkway and a short drive to Anakeesta.
Hampton Inn has one of the best free hot breakfast spreads of any hotel chain I’ve visited. The comfortable and modern rooms are just the start of a great stay here; the indoor swimming pool, outdoor hot tub, and secluded patio finish it off. Located on Historic Nature Trail this hotel is a short drive to Anakeesta or a five-minute walk to Parkway.
Bearskin Lodge on the River is located along River Road, my favorite place in Gatlinburg for finding lodging. On this end of town it’s easy to get in and out via the Gatlinburg Bypass, the national park is just minutes away even on the worst of days for traffic, and it’s easy to get anywhere in town along River Road. The hotel has large, beautiful furnished rooms and suites that are perfect for solo travelers, couples, or families alike.
Old Creek Lodge is another premiere rustic hotel along River Road. All of the spacious rooms have comfortable furnishings and a balcony over the creek. With this location the hotel is just a 15-minute walk to Anakeesta and less than five minutes to Parkway.
A favorite of mine that I’ve stayed at many times, and through many brand changes, is the SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western. It’s located on the opposite side of the creek from the Bearskin Lodge so it’s still a great location for anything you want to do in town. The Creekside rooms are large and all have a private balcony for enjoying the peacefulness away from the hustle and bustle of Parkway.
Out of Town
Looking to get away from all the hustle and bustle of Parkway? Bent Creek Golf Village is my favorite place to stay just twenty minutes from Gatlinburg. The resort has one-bedroom villas each with a full kitchen, living room, and balcony. Some of the villas are connected so large groups or families can stay together. It was certainly one of the most peaceful places I’ve stayed in Gatlinburg.