It takes a certain kind of attitude to stand atop a mountain, looking out over one of the true visual wonders of the world and think, “You know what this needs? More height.”
The folks at Anakeesta are that kind of innovative thinkers. So they begin the 2020 season with a $6 million expansion that will take an already spectacular mountain viewing experience and kick it up a notch.
In January, Anakeesta officially announced a new, one-of-a-kind observation tower that will become the tallest point in downtown Gatlinburg. Perched on the summit of the mountain, visitors will enjoy breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding states.
“Our iconic tower will be the crowning element on top of Anakeesta mountain,” Anakeesta co-founder and co-owner Bob Bentz, who also designed the tower, shared. “Visitors travel from all over the world to enjoy the beauty of the Smoky Mountains and now they will be able to experience 360-degree panoramic views right in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg.”
“Just when we thought the views couldn’t get any better, Anakeesta gives us views like never before,” Mark Adams, CEO/President of the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, explained. “This expansion is going to give our visitors even more reasons to come to Gatlinburg.”
It’s the latest salvo for what has quickly become one of the top destinations in Sevier County. Anakeesta opened in September of 2017 to positive reviews but in many ways the offerings at Gatlinburg’s theme park felt like the first phase in a multi-step process, it was cool in a contemporary adult way that many of the attractions in the area weren’t. Anakeesta certainly embraces mountain culture, but in an artsier, less theme park vein than many other attractions.
Still, in many ways, it felt unfinished like the appetizer for something greater coming.
While the tower is rightfully grabbing most of the expansion attention, the new Smokehouse and Brewery restaurant will seat close to 300 guests who can delight in Southern BBQ favorites. Diners will be surrounded by fabulous mountain vistas from a glass-enclosed, climate-controlled indoor area or a spacious outdoor patio. The new restaurant will also serve local craft beers at an inside bar and a walk-up window.
“This restaurant is truly unique. Where else can you dine and enjoy the sun setting over the Smoky Mountains or watch the clouds roll in through the valley below?” Bentz said. “Every seat from the Smokehouse restaurant will offer views of Mt. LeConte, the highest mountain peak that is completely within Tennessee.”
While the tower and restaurant grab expansion top billing, there’s another development that will benefit families that visit Anakeesta. The park is billed as a family friendly getaway that offers “shopping, dining and fun outdoor entertainment” for those who ride 600 feet up the mountain on the Chondola’s open-air four-person chairlift or enclosed gondola cabin or the Ridge Rambler Adventure Truck. But, there hasn’t been a lot for families will smaller children to keep the youngsters entertained.
That changes somewhat with the addition of a new family-friendly water feature, designed to resemble a Tennessee mountain creek complete with a waterfall that will help kids of all ages keep cool. Additional walk-up windows will offer frozen yogurt and pizza. Guests can enjoy listening to live music from a new stage, relax together by two additional mountaintop firepits, and unwind at Vista Garden’s new coffee and snack shop – all while overlooking the forested peaks and valleys of the country’s most visited national park.
“We listen to what our guests want and their feedback has inspired many of these exciting additions,” Michele Canney, Anakeesta VP of Marketing and Sales, explained. “More places to eat, adding areas for families to play and discover nature, and creating spaces to relax and enjoy these incredible views is what is important.”
Anakeesta is also adding a new play area for families to enjoy, featuring whimsical treehouses connected by a net challenge course and areas to swing and relax. Finally, a new accessible boardwalk will be built to extend Anakeesta’s botanical garden walkway. The trail winds its way into the beautiful Vista Gardens, where the new, yet-to-be named, observation tower will stand.
All of these exciting additions will complement existing activities like the Children’s Treehouse Village Adventure, BearVenture play area, Dueling Ziplines, Rail Runner mountain coaster and the Treetop Skywalk. At more than 800’ long the Treetop Skywalk is the longest tree-based bridge in North America with a spectacular series of suspension bridges hanging 50-60 feet in the air between trees. The ziplines and the mountain coaster are additional costs and are not included in the price of admission.