Dollywood is a 160-acre park with over 50 rides and attractions right outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This things to do in Dollywood article will get you started on the essential attractions, food, and rides the park has to offer. We went for the rollercoasters but discovered it’s more than a rollercoaster park, it’s a top-tier theme park. Coming in at #6 for US Theme Parks, Dollywood beats out some Disney properties and it is the first entry on the list that’s not Universal or Disney.
They say Dollywood is America’s friendliest park, and we’d have to agree. It featured attractions that spanned all ages, with positive and encouraging messages throughout the park. We weren’t bombarded with branding but inspired to be all-around good human beings and celebrate life in the Smoky Mountains.
Map to Dollywood
Dollywood hands out maps at the gate with 116 different locations enumerated. That’s entirely too much for a newbie to keep track of. Our interactive Dollywood map only has the top 30 attractions that we describe in our Dollywood guide. It also has features like embedded pictures and descriptions if you click around. Plus, you can even navigate around the park with Google Navigator if you want. So click around as you read this guide and load a copy when you visit the park. You never know when it might come in handy. If it doesn’t load, just hit the refresh button😉.
13 Best Rides at Dollywood
There are many criteria one could use to determine the “best ride” in Dollywood. However, we chose something very simple and straightforward. We’re listing every ride with a height restriction and a TimeSaver option (more on that later). It turns out there are only 13 such attractions in Dollywood, which is a manageable number. There are other quality rides in the park, such as Dare Devil Falls and Blazing Fury, that some could arguably swap onto this list, but I chose my criteria, and I’m sticking to it.
- Tennessee Tornado – The backstory behind this coaster is that it’s a powerful tornado ripping through the old mine car coaster that used to occupy this spot. It’s twisty, turny fun featuring a 110′ inversion loop.
- Wild Eagle – The first “winged coater” in America, built in 2012. That year, it won Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards for the best ride. This is the ride you see on all the branding pictures, and it feels like you’re an eagle flying over the Smokies.
- FireChaser Express – A steel coaster that features both forward and backward travel. The backstory is kind of fun about a volunteer fire station chief and a crazy gas station / fireworks stand operator (a bad business model, to be sure).
- Mystery Mine – In 2007, this was the park’s single largest investment to date, featuring dark ride elements, special effects, and the steepest drop of any North American coaster at that time. Not only is it high G, but it’s also immersive with an elaborate backstory about traveling through a haunted and hazardous mine. The reviews were outstanding, with Theme Park Insider awarding Mystery Mine the “Best New Theme Park Attraction” award for 2007.
- Drop Line – In many ways, Drop Line is just another drop ride, but you get amazing views of the Smokies before plummeting more than 20-stories down.
- Dragonflier – The newest coaster in Dollywood based on the flight of a dragonfly. It’s smooth and flowing without major drops, loops, or inversion and all-around good clean fun. The individual seats offer great views of the park during your “flight”.
- Thunderhead – A wooden coaster built in 2004 featuring 22 turns and 32 crossovers. There’s a certain quality to the shake, rattle, and roll of a wooden coaster that you either love or loath, so plan accordingly.
- Smoky Mountain River Rampage – A water ride guaranteed to get you wet based on a rafting trip through the Smokies. Every park has one, but Dollywood’s perfectly fits the park’s theme.
- Lightning Rod – A hot-rod themed coaster built in 2016. This was the fastest wooden coaster in the world, with speeds topping out at 73-mph. Over the years, upgrades converted more than 50% of the track to steel, technically making a steel coaster, which is fine with us because it had a remarkably smooth ride for a wooden coaster. It features a magnetic launch system and won the “Best New Ride of 2016” from the Golden Ticket Awards. We thought it was Dollywood’s most thrilling coaster with its many drops and turns.
- Barnstormer – A screaming swing ride very similar to the classic pirate ship rides. However, it’s themed on barnstorming through the Smokies (which Jenn did on her romantic getaway to Sevierville). It does go high enough to give you that free-fall feeling and well worth it if the line is short enough.
- Dizzy Disk – It’s a spinning disk with seats around the perimeter, which moves back and forth on a track and makes you dizzy. I wish I could muster more excitement for this one, but there is a height restriction and TimeSaver option, so I’m putting it on the list.
- Sky Rider – It’s like Dizzy Disk in so many ways. You spin in circles and get dizzy, but 70′ in the air. Also, it’s on the list for the same reasons.
- Waltzing Swinger– A flying swing ride with specially designed seats so kids can ride next to their parents. That kind of sums it up, but it made the list because of height restrictions and TimeSaver.
How to Avoid Lines at Dollywood
This is in no way an exhaustive list, but then again, this is a newbie’s guide to Dollywood, so there’s that. Here are four simple strategies for avoiding lines at Dollywood:
- Start Early (and hit the “Big Four” first) – Show up at the park before it opens and be one of the first people through the gate. Head up to the top of the hill and ride the “Big Four” coasters first (Tennessee Tornado, Wild Eagle, FireChaser Express, and Mystery Mine).
- Use the Dollywood App to check on wait time – This is a great way to tell if a ride with notoriously long lines (looking at you, Lightning Rod) has a reasonable wait. In fact, go ahead and check the lines at Lighting Rod and Thunderhead as soon as you finish the “Big Four” and decide accordingly.
- Get a TimeSaver Pass – For about $45/person, you can get a pass that will let you skip the lines at up to 8 attractions. It’s also included with a stay at a Dollywood Resort property, which is a pretty cool perk. If you really love rides, start early and get a couple of rides in before the lines form. That way, you save your 8 for scans later in the day.
- Avoid Summer Weekends and Holidays – If there are fewer people in the park, you’ll have shorter lines. It’s simple math.
The Best Food at Dollywood
Dollywood has all of the theme-park food you could hope for, but two dining options stand out above the rest – Cinnamon Bread and Aunt Granny’s Buffet.
- Cinnamon Bread – Simply put, this is a big loaf of the gooiest, sweetest cinnamon rolls you could imagine. Super crave-worthy! When there are t-shirts for food, it’s something special. You can get it at the Grist Mill or Spotlight Bakery, but the lines are shorter at the bakery.
- Aunt Granny’s Buffet – An all-you-can-eat family-style restaurant featuring country favorites. It’s a great deal for the mid-$20 price point, considering it’s in a theme park and includes unlimited drink refills. The food quality is good enough to win Amusement Today’s 2017 Golden Ticket Award for Best Theme Park Food and make USA Today’s top 10 list. The only knock is the long wait, but you can put your name on the list and explore until they text you, so it isn’t bad. Just make sure you go before your full-on hangry.
Smoky Mountain Crafts and History at Dollywood
No trip to Dollywood would be complete without immersing yourself in the Smoky Mountains experience. The park is so immersive that it’s bound to happen. However, there are three Smoky Mountain attractions you have to check out.
- The Grist Mill – You saw this entry already for Cinnamon Bread, but did you know this was the first working grist mill built in Tennessee in over 100-years?
- Ride the Dollywood Express – A working coal steam engine from the WWII era, you travel through the park and back in time. Be sure to check the departure schedule because there are long gaps between trips.
- Visit Craftsman’s Valley – Sure, you’ll probably walk through here sooner or later, but take time to look into the functioning blacksmith shop and foundry, candle shop, leather shop, and woodcarver, and you might see artisans practicing their trade.
Dolly Parton Attractions at Dollywood
It’s hard to separate Dolly from Dollywood, and why would you want to. Her music fills the air, and so does her unbridled optimism. There are three “must-see” Dolly attractions at the park.
- Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home – Visit a replica of Dolly’s childhood home that was decorated by her mother.
- Chasing Rainbows Museum – Learn the rags-to-riches story of Dolly through interactive exhibits and behind the scene collections.
- Dolly’s Home-on-Wheels – Take a stroll through Dolly’s old tour bus and imagine what life must have been like on tour.
Parting Thoughts on Things to do in Dollywood
Well, we’ve reached the end of our things to do in Dollywood guide and have touched on the outstanding Dollywood resorts, amazing shows, or even the attached waterpark Dollywood’s Splash County. With all these activities and more, it’s easy to imagine coming back and spending more time at Dollywood. If you’re planning a Dollywood vacation, other nearby activities include:
- Walking tours of Gatlinburg
- Hiking in the Smokies
- Visiting waterfalls near Gatlinburg
- Touring Cades Cove Loop
The Smokies are America’s most visited National park. Why not add on a trip to one of America’s best theme parks while you’re in town?
Like it? Pin it for later on Pinterest!