Dollywood, the Dolly Parton-inspired theme park in Pigeon Forge, TNhas become one of best amusement parks in the usa for families. Located in the stunning Great Smoky Mountains, the park has more than 50 rides, daily musical performances, and an iconic coal-fired steam train that runs along its periphery.
Next door is Dollywood Splash Country, a 35-acre water park. And with a new Dollywood resort slated to open in fall 2023 (HeartSong, which joins Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort), families can plan a complete Dollywood vacation.
My family recently visited Dollywood, and wow, what a trip! Read on for more details on our adventure and answers to your biggest questions, such as: What are the best rides in Dollywood? What age is Dollywood aimed at? Is Dollywood suitable for small children? And if you’re looking for even more family-friendly theme parks, check out our Guide to family amusement parks and water parks.
Rides for toddlers and young children
The Country Fair section offers classic rides that will appeal to younger guests. Fly on the amazing flying elephants or travel in a hog car on the parade of pigs (both rides have no height requirement). If your child is 36 inches tall, they will be able to access most offers in the Wildwood Grove area. Frogs and fireflies is a nice roundabout, and the big tree swing is like those pirate ships rocking back and forth. THE Dragonfly (for children 39 inches and taller) is a great introduction to roller coasters. It’s fast and has an open-air design, but it’s also smooth and not too scary. My 8 year old daughter says this is her favorite ride at the park.
Catch thrills on several roller coasters, including Big Bear Mountain. Photo courtesy of Dollywood
Rides for older kids and thrill seekers
The winner wild eagle possibly the craziest ride I have ever done. This flying roller coaster, which leaves riders’ feet dangling, reaches heights of 210 feet before plummeting at speeds of over 60 miles per hour. Not to be outdone is the Lightning rod, a wooden roller coaster that hurtles down a 165-foot drop. Great Bear Mountain, which opened in May 2023, is the longest roller coaster in the park and features music on board. And there are plenty of rides that aren’t too extreme or too tame. My 11 year old son’s favorite is the Mystery Mine, a steel roller coaster that travels through an abandoned mine with fun trapdoors and upside-down turns. Our whole family loved it too Burning Furya firefighting themed indoor coaster.
I recommend it dollywood express train ride for an experience you won’t get at other theme parks. The five-mile journey aboard this coal-fired steam train hits all the right nostalgia buttons and gives you picturesque views of the park.
TimeSaver passes can let you skip lines at rides like the Mystery Mine.
I’m not going to lie – the lines for the rides were much longer than I expected. Granted, my family visited me during spring break, but locals told me it was becoming the norm as Dollywood grew in popularity. According to park employees, Thursdays in the fall are the best time to go. On other days, you may want to consider purchasing TimeSaver passes.
TimeSaver passes allow fast-track access to 15+ rides and shows in line, but they aren’t cheap: At the time of publication, they were $60 per person for five attraction admissions and 80 $ per person for unlimited entries. Our family received TimeSaver passes as guests of the DreamMore resort, and they probably shaved 20 minutes of lines that were normally over an hour long. So the value of TimeSaver passes really depends on park attendance. Try to arrive when the park opens, as the crowds build up throughout the day.
If you’re looking for a break from the rides and lines, Dollywood offers several musical acts each day. From a capella bands and solo rockers to traveling banjo players and comedians, we’ve seen some serious talent on display. Concerts usually last around 30 minutes and take place on stages throughout the park. There is also a wings of america show featuring birds of prey like hawks and owls. Additionally, Dollywood is home to a 30,000 square foot aviary for bald eagles called the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary.
Savor southern specialties at Miss Lillian’s Smokehouse. Photo courtesy of Dollywood
Dollywood Foods and Stores
The usual theme park fare—pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, and plenty of goodies—are all available. Dollywood also relies on the barbecue. We were happy with our sandwiches and our turkey legs from Hickory House BBQAnd Miss Lillian’s Smokehouse cooks other southern dishes like fried chicken and wieners. All over the park there are ice cream vendors and funnel cakes, but for the ultimate Dollywood experience, head to the flour mill for cinnamon roll (a pull-out concoction served with apple butter). Beware: there is usually a line at the door for this famous treat, freshly prepared each day.
Looking for a souvenir? There are tons of specialty shops eager to sell you everything from airbrushed t-shirts and Christmas decorations to leather goods and classic toys. I had to drag my 8 year old son out of a store selling wall to wall Squishmallows. THE Dollywood storewhich doubles as an exit to the park, features a wide assortment of trinkets featuring Dolly Parton herself.
A giant eagle sculpture greets you at the entrance to the Wild Eagle roller coaster.
A day pass to Dollywood (at press time) costs less than $90 for ages 10-61 and less than $80 for seniors and children ages 4-9. Children 3 and under are free. For a better deal, consider a two-day pass: it’s only $20 more than a one-day pass, and your second visit can be any time within a five-day period. Or opt for the three-day pass, which is just $10 more than the two-day pass and $30 more than the one-day pass, and your three tours can take place over five days.
Know before you go
Dollywood is generally open from March to December, with variable hours depending on the day (see the 2023 calendar here). The days also vary depending on the season.
Food and outdoor coolers are not allowed inside the park. Lockers are available for $10-$15 per day.
If the rain ruins your day at Dollywood, you can request a rain voucher from Guest Services. They are valid until the end of the season.
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Splash Country is home to many great waterslides, including RiverRush. Photo courtesy of Dollywood
Open May through September, this water park is the place to go when summer rolls around in the Great Smoky Mountains. Although the theme park has a handful of water rides, Dollywood Splash Country offers giant slides, water playgrounds, and tube rides.
Fire Tower Falls is the tallest and fastest slide in Splash Country, propelling riders straight down a 70-foot drop. In the meantime, RiverRush is the only water coaster in the state. Accommodating four people per tube, it twists, turns and goes through tunnels – essentially like a roller coaster with rushing water.
If you’re looking for something more low-key, there’s a wave pool and a 1,500-foot lazy river. Kids of all ages love it Bear Mountain Fire Towera multi-level water play area with seven slides and a dump bucket filled with 1,000 gallons of water.
You will have to buy separate tickets to enter Dollywood Splash Country, or multi-park tickets that allow you access to both the theme park and the water park. Splash Country tickets are much cheaper than theme park tickets, and TimeSaver H20 passes for some water rides are available at an additional cost.
Enjoy fun activities like roasting marshmallows at DreamMore Resort.
DreamMore Dollywood Resort
There is a lot of family hotels in Pigeon Forge to choose from, but if you visit Dollywood, the DreamMore Resort is your best bet. As a guest, you get early Saturday entry, TimeSaver passes, a free trolley to and from Dollywood (parking costs over $22, FYI), and access to all the fun hotel amenities. These include both an indoor and outdoor pool, a playground, story times and live music, free lemonade in the afternoon, and s’mores by the fire at night. There is also an arcade on site and a very nice day spa.
The Dollywood complex has many cool Dolly Parton memorabilia.
While our room at this Dollywood resort was nothing fancy, it was comfortable and clean. The hotel itself, however, is very charming, with a log cabin vibe and lots of cool Dolly Parton memorabilia. My daughters and I spent a good 20 minutes staring at a wall displaying Dolly’s many album covers, and we were intrigued by the locked wooden box housing an unreleased song written by the country idol. (Dolly says the box will be opened in 2045, just before she turns 100.)
Our family had two excellent dinners at Song and Hearth hotel restaurant, where everything is buffet style (handy for us, as I could eat Louisiana mussels while my kids ate chicken fingers and salad). DM Pantry is the hotel’s take-out location, where you can get Starbucks coffee, baked goods, snacks, and pizza.
Be careful with HeartSonga new Dollywood resort slated to open in fall 2023. Like DreamMore, it will offer many amenities and perks for families visiting Dollywood.
Unless otherwise stated, photos by the author