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Dollywood owls
Can't pass an adorable photo op at Dollywood.

Dollywood is Gonna Get You: 10 Reasons to Visit Dolly’s Wonderland

Top priority of our 2021 Summer Road Trip, our visit to Dollywood gave me a whole new appreciation for the park’s famously blonde and blingy namesake. Attractions, entertainment and dining are perfectly sprinkled around 160-acres to keep everyone from four to 64 entertained all day. Here’s our 10 reasons to put Dollywood on your family’s adventure list:

1. Super slick park entry

Landing in Dollywood on July 3rd, we expected ridiculous lines. But with over 50 attractions and a sprawling footprint, we rarely waited more than 10 minutes. After an extremely efficient parking experience and tram ride to the gate, we flashed our pre-purchased tickets and were ushered into Showstreet. Full of breakfast and uninterested in an early souvenir stop, we followed the crowd toward Jukebox Junction. Quick tip: If you have a rider under 50″, stop by the Measuring Center to get an official measure and wristband so they’re not questioned all day!

family selfie on Showstreet Dollywood
Obligatory family selfie on ShowStreet in Dollywood.

2. Don’t underestimate the coasters

Initially thinking of Dollywood as more of a Smoky Moutain themed park than full of thrilling rides, we were literally blown away by our first stop of the day, the Lightning Rod. “How intense could a wooden coaster with a 48″ height requirement be?”, we chided. Turns out a world record holding 73MPH! At over three minutes and almost 3/4 of a long, this coaster separates the thrill seekers from the carousel riders. I lost my breath laughing, my mother-in-law ran out of words, my dad almost passed out and our daughter screamed like she was being chased by an axe murderer!

after lightning rod dollywood
My hair and her face say it all after our first ride on the Lightning Rod.

3. Lots of rides for all sizes

After counting our limbs upon exiting the Lightning Rod, we joined Bo and Papa in one of the four original areas called Fun Country. Filled with carnival style rides, grandparents had a chance to recover proper blood flow while the kids enjoyed short lines and easy fun. We broke down and purchased the refillable cup, which came in handy for the rest of the muggy July day. After little dude became frustrated with being questioned about his 42″ status, we had to beat feet back to the aforementioned measuring center and also rented a stroller for the day.

unimpressed with baby ride
When a thrill seeking 4-year-old is denied entry to 42″ rides.

4. Train ride retains the park’s roots

Next up was a ride on the Dollywood Express in the Village. Beginning as a humble railroad park in 1961, then growing during ownership transfers, the park boomed when Dolly Parton became a partner in 1986 to “do something great” in her hometown. Keeping true to the park’s origin, the steam engine provides guests with a tour and history of the park. Our four-year-old loved the “Choo Choo” of the train, the older kids were anxious to return to the station and continue with the rides.

Dollywood express
Kids loved the train ride nestled between grandparents.

5. Mountain Park moves with nature

Unlike most theme parks that bulldoze the land, Dollywood’s attractions meander through the rolling Smoky Mountain foothills. While this does mean a more intense workout, it also provides more shade and opportunities for surprises while completing the big loop around the grounds. Demonstrations in Craftsman’s Valley from blacksmiths and leatherworkers provide an educational break between the thrills. Cinnamon Bread baked with flour from the Grist Mill in Owen’s Farm is the perfect sweet treat for listening to the live entertainment.

Dollywood Grist Mill
The first Tennessee grist mill constructed in a century; this stunning landmark is the location of the delicious cinnamon bread everyone needs to nosh.

6. Dining with dozens of bald eagles

One of the most enchanting experiences in the park was munching on some BBQ surrounded by the largest group of bald eagles in the US. Their accommodations allow them to pick mates and privately nest thus contributing offspring to wild populations. Incapable of surviving if released, the squawks and dances at Dollywood’s Eagle Mountain Sanctuary provided my favorite show in the park.

eagles at Dollywood
Baby Dino checking out his feathered relatives at the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary.

7. Delicious snacks around every corner

Like all great theme parks, Dollywood boasts some top-notch snack options. Early in the day, we shared a plate of fried chicken and southern sides at Aunt Granny’s. By late-afternoon, the aroma of BBQ became unbearable, and we treated ourselves to an array of smoked meats. After passing dozens of signs for cheesecake on a stick, I got my sweet treat while the kids picked out sugary boosts to take them through the night.

cheesecake on a stick
After chasing the cheesecake on a stick all day, we finally found it at the Showstreet Sweet Shop.

8. Seriously unique rides

After wrapping up with our feathered friends, we entered the expansions that really put Dollywood on the map. Each ride has a unique thrill crafted in country theme. The Tennessee Tornado gets the blood pumping with a whopping 3 loops in a row. Completing the full ride forward and then backwards, the FireChaser was a family hit requiring 3 visits. With a height requirement of 50″, the Wild Eagle is so intense that a wheelchair is kept at the exit for guests too weak to walk.

firechaser at Dollywood
The Firechaser was definitely a family favorite.

Occupying a fairly small footprint, Mystery Mine wows with 90-degree vertical rides up and down leaving us wondering what chaos was coming at every turn. The herniated disk in my neck found the massive Thunderhead and smaller Whistleblower coasters a little jarring. But nestled together, they allow bigs and littles a few passes while adults rest bones on shady benches.

sunset on coaster
Sunsetting through Whistleblower wooden rollercoaster.

9. Second land full of rides for little ones

After completing the main loop, grandparents headed back to the puppies leaving us to close down the park. This left us to cap of the day Wildwood Grove and discover our favorite ride of the day. Suspended from the track above, with a height requirement of 39″, our whole family loved the sweeping curves and exciting drops of the Dragonflier so much we had to ride it three times too!

Little dude was elated to ride “big” Dragonflier coaster.

10. Seriously enchanting nighttime show

As beautiful sunset faded to twilight, the kids enjoyed the variety of carnival style rides while crowds gathered in Wildwood Grove. A delightful dance party entertained the kids until the sky was dark enough for the light show. Instead of fireworks, a ballet of drones filled the sky choregraphed to country favorites. After a perfect day full of thrills for us all, delicious food and beautiful scenery, we seamlessly egressed with the crowds and headed for more adventure.

Have you been to Dollywood?

Normally I end a post with “Missed Opportunities”, but Dollywood is so perfectly laid out, I can’t see any regrets. But we had such a great time in Pigeon Forge, we’ll definitely be back. Did we miss anything? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below:)

kids smiling on a ride
A day full of smiles for a completely reasonable price at Dollywood!

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