What Does Anakeesta Mean? Does the Theme Park Live Up to Its Name?

Anakeesta's Chondala

Anakeesta is the Cherokee word for Place of the Balsams or a Place of High Ground (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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In theory, Anakeesta is one of my favorite places in the Smokies.

It’s an excellent place to view the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a great place to stop and eat or get an alcoholic beverage while taking in that great view. And It’s a perfect place from which to view the City of Gatlinburg at night.

It’s classy. It’s cool. Perhaps it’s even the best place for ziplining.

It has beautiful scenery and specialty cocktails – two of my favorite things in the same place.

At night, the Chondola ride down the mountain may be the most peaceful, relaxing ride in the county.

It’s everything you’d want in a mountain theme park for adults. Certainly, it’s a great place to have a good time.

The only issue?

It’s frequently crowded … like very crowded. Like I’d-rather-chew-my-own-arm-off-than-get-on-that-Chondola crowded.

I’ve tried to take my family to Anakeesta a few times recently only to make it to the parking lot, survey the crowd and call for a plan B.

In fairness, one of those times was during local discount days. The parking lot looked like a mosh pit. We went to Ober Gatlinburg instead and enjoyed a lesser experience but with a much smaller crowd.

Still, Anakeesta is certainly worth it if you can find a day when the crowd isn’t overwhelming.

What do you need to know to tackle Anakeesta?

Let’s find out by first talking about what Anakeesta is, what it isn’t, and whether or not it lives up to its name.

Read Also: Anakeesta vs. Ober Gatlinburg: Which attraction is better?

Anakeestas Ridge Rambler
While Anakeesta does have a few attractions that can be purchased separately like the Ridge Rambler mountain coaster, it doesn’t have what many would consider to be “traditional” theme park rides (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is Anakeesta a theme park?

First, you’ve probably arrived at this article to find out what the word Anakeesta means. But I’ll tell you what it does not mean, first.

Anakeesta is not the Cherokee word for theme park

Please keep in mind that I am saying this as a fan of Anakeesta. But I remain perplexed about its marketing strategy.

Anakeesta bills itself as an outdoor family theme park. Unless the theme is not having a lot of rides, I don’t think Anakeesta fits the bill.

First of all, judging by the lead of this very story, Anakeesta remains incredibly popular despite any nits I may pick with the marketing plan.

Second, there are two rides at Anakeesta – both of which cost extra – Anakeesta’s Dueling Zipline Adventure and the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster.

There is the new Anavista Tower, Treetop Skywalk, gem mining and a Children’s Treehouse Village Playground. In addition, there is the TreeVenture Challenge Course.

In other words, it’s not like it’s devoid of family-friendly activities. I just think it falls short of the lofty description of “theme park” even though it has spectacular views of Mt. LeConte.

Pork Nachos at Anakeesta
Anakeesta, for the most part, is an al la carte experience. Pictured: Pulled Pork Nachos from SmokeHouse (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Does Anakeesta cost money?

So … Maybe answer the first question?

Easy, son. I’m on a roll. I’ll tell you what else the word Anakeesta doesn’t mean … cheap.

Yes, Anakeesta costs money. And depending on the size of your family and how much they want to see and do – potentially a lot of money.

You pay admission to the park – which includes riding the Chondola or taking the people-moving-truck-turned-passenger-vehicle known as the Ridge Rambler.

Note: Be sure to check Tripster for discounts on admission.

Once in the park, you can pay for the gem mining, the coaster and the zip line which are each al la carte.

Of course, shopping at places like the Great Outdoors Trading Company and eating at one of the many dining options are extra as well.

Too many times Anakeesta feels like you pay a cover charge just to get in and spend money.

Glass panels at Anavista tower
One of the premier attractions at Anakeesta is the new AnaVista Observation Tower (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is Anakeesta worth it?

OK. We’re still waiting for an answer to the first question but now we want to know … you say you like Anakeesta, but you’re kind of ripping it right now. What’s up with that?

Fair point. I do love Anakeesta. It’s not cheap but I really do enjoy the vibe they’ve created on top of the mountain.

I love the view from the Cliff Top Restaurant. Truthfully, I love sitting there at dusk and watching the sun dip below the mountains. I may prod Anakeesta a little bit, but it is truly one of the great spots in the Smokies.

Chilling in an Adirondack chair at the top of Anakeesta mountain while the family enjoys the play areas is hard to beat. It really is a premier Gatlinburg attraction.

They also have Pearl’s Pie. I like any place that has a facility dedicated to pie. I am team pie forever. Cake takes a back seat.

Read Also: Is Anakeesta worth the money? An honest review

An aerial view of Anakeesta
Anakeesta is known for its unrivaled views of the Smoky Mountains and impeccable landscaping. Pictured: An aerial view of Anakeesta from the AnaVista Observation tower (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What does Anakeesta mean?

Now let’s get back to the matter at hand: What does Anakeesta mean?

Anakeesta is the Cherokee word for Place of the Balsams or a Place of High Ground.

I wanted to verify this but Google Translate doesn’t have the Cherokee Language available. When asked to detect the language, Google thought it might be Finnish. In case you’re wondering, Anakeesta, in Finnish, means Anakeesta.  

The summit of Anakeesta Mountain is a special place, with its views of the heart of downtown Gatlinburg as well as the local mountain ranges rippling across the region.

“Anakeesta rock was formed over 200 million years ago and is mostly slate,” according to the Anakeesta website.

“You can see Anakeesta rock high above Gatlinburg at Chimney Tops, Charlie’s Bunion and Mount Kephart in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.”

Views from the Anakeesta Chondala
Trees affected by the woolly adelgid can be viewed while on Anakeesta’s chondala (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Place of the Balsams? What does that mean?

That is an incredibly perceptive question. Yes, the balsam woolly adelgid is an invasive species that made its way to the Southeast United States in the mid-1950s via infested nursery stock.

According to the National Forest Service, the insects – which are relatively harmless in their native homeland of Europe – have been eliminating fir trees from the ecosystem due to the adelgid.

Forestry and National Park Service officials address the insects to try and stop or slow the spread. Still, the mountain views throughout the park can be marred by their work.

Anakeesta employs a staff Arborist named Daniel Laine. He speaks for the trees at Anakeesta.

“His knowledge of insect and disease issues along with his professional approach to tree care has been instrumental in the continual recovery from the Gatlinburg wildfires and ensuring the health of our trees for future generations,” the Anakeesta website states.

Read Also: Why are there so many perished trees in the Smoky Mountains?

Have you visited Anakeesta? What did you think? Does it live up to its name? Let us know in the comments.

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

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