America’s Most Amazing Theme Parks: No. 9 Dollywood

Dollywood is a theme park jointly owned by entertainer Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment. It is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Hosting over 3 million guests in a typical season – mid-March to the Christmas holidays – Dollywood is the biggest tourist attraction in Tennessee.

Amazing Theme Parks Dollywood
Photo via Pigeon Forge

In addition to standard amusement park rides, Dollywood features traditional crafts and music of the Smoky Mountain area (similar to Silver Dollar City owned by Herschend Family Entertainment).

The park hosts a number of concerts and musical events each year, including appearances by Dolly Parton as well as other national and local musical acts. It is also the site of the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.

Amazing Theme Parks Dollywood
Parade of Many Colors – Photo via Dollywood

Dollywood is the largest employer in the area with over 3,000 employees.

The History of Dollywood

The original park opened in early 1961 as a small tourist attraction owned by the Robbins brothers and named  “Rebel Railroad.” It included a steam train, general store, blacksmith shop, and saloon. The train ride let visitors experience “attacks” by Union soldiers, train robbers, and Indians. 

Amazing Theme Parks Dollywood
Photo via CardCow.com

In 1970, Art Modell, who owned the Cleveland Browns football team, bought Rebel Railroad and renamed it “Goldrush Junction.” The park retained the railroad, added an outdoor theater, a log flume ride, and a church. 

Amazing Theme Parks Dollywood
Goldrush Junction Pigeon Forge, TN – Photo via CardCow.com

In 1976, the Herschend family bought Goldrush Junction and renamed it “Goldrush” for the 1976 season. In 1977, they renamed it “Silver Dollar City Tennessee,” making it a sister park to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. The Herschends spent about $1 million upgrading the park  and added other improvements over the years.

Amazing Theme Parks Dollywood
Photo via Theme Park Review

In 1986, Dolly Parton, who grew up in the area, bought an interest in Silver Dollar City Tennessee and as part of that purchase, the park reopened for the 1986 season as “Dollywood.”

Amazing Theme Parks Dollywood
Photo via Dollywood Insiders

With the reopening of the park as Dollywood in 1986 came the new Rivertown Junction area which included Smoky Mountain River Rampage, a whitewater rafting ride; Back Porch Theater; Aunt Granny’s Dixie Fixins’ Restaurant; and Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home, a replica of the cabin that was Parton’s childhood home.

Amazing Theme Parks Dollywood
Photo via Dollywood

Also new was “Rags to Riches: The Dolly Parton Story,” a museum displaying articles and mementos from Dolly’s life and career. Park attendance doubled to more than a million guests during the first season as Dollywood.

Expansions through the Years

Expansions, additions and refurbishments started in 1987. Those expansions and additions continue with something new and exciting opening almost every year since the renaming of the park to Dollywood.

The park is now more than double the size it was in 1986. Dollywood has definitely become known as a “family” park and Dollywood dedicated 2013 to encouraging families to spend time together.

You don’t have to be a country music fan to love Dollywood. In addition to the theme park, Dollywood also features Splash Country Water Park, DreamMore Resort and Spa, Pirates Voyage and Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner show.

Photo via Dollywood

Dollywood is known for its one of a kind rides like Dollywood Express, a five mile ride aboard a steam engine through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

This year Dollywood opened the biggest expansion ever, Wildwood Grove that features 11 new rides.

The Areas of Dollywood

Dollywood is organized into themed areas: Showstreet, Rivertown Junction, Craftsman’s Valley, The Village, Country Fair, Timber Canyon, Wilderness Pass, and Jukebox Junction reflect the historical eras and culture of East Tennessee, while Owens Farm and Adventures in Imagination explore Dolly Parton’s life and imagination.

Photo via Dollywood

Many attractions focus on the history and culture of the Southern Appalachian region. Wildwood Grove is a whimsical hidden area that lies beyond an ancient hollow log and into a hidden land, Wildwood Grove beckons the explorer in everyone. You can let curiosity be your guide as you journey ever deeper, past sparkling creeks, through a charming village, and under the mighty limbs of the great Wildwood Tree.

One thing everyone that visits Dollywood agrees on – the park’s focus is family with rides, attractions and shows to fit every member of the family, no matter how young or how old.

  • Showstreet – Attractions include Showstreet Palace Theater, Celebrity Theater, and Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.
  • Rivertown Junction – Attractions include Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home, Back Porch Theater, and Smoky Mountain River Rampage whitewater rafting ride.
  • Craftsman’s Valley – Attractions include Dollywood Grist Mill, Valley Theater, Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, Wings of America Theater, Robert F. Thomas Chapel, Calico Falls Schoolhouse, Tennessee Tornado coaster, Blazing Fury coaster, Daredevil Falls flume ride, and craft exhibits.
  • The Village (formerly Village Square) – Attractions include the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge Dollywood Expresssteam train, Heartsong Theater, Village Carousel, and Costner and Sons Magic Shop.
  • The Country Fair (formerly Fun Country) – Rides include Dizzy Disk, The Amazing Flying Elephants, Lemon Twist, Shooting Star, Sky Rider, The Waltzing Swinger, Piggy Parade, Busy Bees, Lucky Ducky, Dolly’s Demolition Derby, and The Scrambler.
  • Timber Canyon (formerly Thunderhead Gap) – Attractions include the Mystery Mine coaster, the Thunderhead coaster, Drop Line, Whistle Punk Chaser, and Lumberjack Lifts.
  • Jukebox Junction – Attractions include the Rockin’ Roadway car ride and Pines Theater. Also featured is Lightning Rod, which holds the record as the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world.
  • Owens Farm (Daydream Ridge 1987–1999, Dreamland Forest 2000–2010) – Attractions include Barnstormer (ride)|Barnstormer]], a barn and plane styled giant swing attraction. It also includes soft play areas and a splash pad.
  • Adventures in Imagination (formerly Dollywood Boulevard) – Attractions include Dolly Parton’s My People! show at Dreamsong Theater and the Chasing Rainbows Museum.
  • Wilderness Pass – Attractions include the SkyZip zip line attraction, The Plaza at Wilderness Pass, Wild Eagle – America’s first winged coaster – and FireChaser Express, a dual-launch coaster that launches forward and backward.
  • Wildwood Grove — Opened in 2019- attractions include the Dragonflier,a suspended family coaster, The Mad Mockingbird, a swing ride, The Wildwood Tree, a 50 ft tall lighted tree, qnd Till and Harvest, a Mexican inspired restaurant.

Photo via Dollywood

Annual Events

  • Festival of Nations offers cultural events by performers from around the world.
  • Barbeque & Bluegrass presented by BUSH’S is a bluegrass music and barbecue festival.
  • Summer Celebration (formerly Great American Summer) includes Night of Many Colors, a nightly fireworks display set to music; Night Experience, night performances and rides in the dark; and new shows, such as DRUMLine Live! and iLuminate.
  • Harvest Festival presented by Humana features Southern Gospel music, professional craftsmen, and Great Pumpkin LumiNights.
  • Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana is a nine-time award winner of Golden Ticket’s Best Christmas Event and features seven holiday performances, 5 million Christmas lights, Glacier Ridge (in which part of the park has froze over), and a nightly parade.

Dining at Dollywood

Dollywood has restaurants, a bakery and sandwich shop, a sweet shop, a food truck and a multitude of grab and go options all across the park. You can choose from full-service restaurants to buffets and quick service stands. 

Allergy dining is also taken care of at Dollywood. Just inform the host/hostess when you arrive at any of the restaurants of your dietary needs and they will do their very best to accommodate you.

Gluten Friendly Offerings:

  • Front Porch Café – any of the sandwiches on the menu, all salads, select side items, Grilled Chicken Entrée can all be prepared gluten friendly. Just ask to speak to one of the chefs and they will gladly prepare a customized meal to fit your dietary needs.
  • Victoria’s Pizza – Cheese Pizza, Fruit Cup
  • Bakery – Udis Blueberry Muffins and Brownies
  • Grandstand – Southern Salad can be prepared to be gluten friendly
  • Miss Lillian’s BBQ Corner – Hickory Smoked Turkey Leg, Ear of Roasted Corn

Vegetarian Options:

  • Front Porch Café – Entrée Salads. Veggie Burger, Veggie Melt Sandwich, select side items
  • Lumber Jack’s Pizza – Cheese or Roasted Vegetable Pizza, House & Caprese Salads
  • Victoria’s Pizza – Cheese Pizza, Side Salad, Fruit Cup
  • Miss Lillian’s & Aunt Granny’s – Salad Bar and select side items on the Hot Bar
  • Grandstand – Southern Salad can be prepared to be vegetarian friendly

Dairy Free Snacks:

  • Dippin’ Dots – Rainbow Ice

Splash Country Water Park

Located adjacent to Dollywood theme park, Dollywood’s Splash Country features a variety of water attractions for both the thrill-seekers and pool-loungers in the family.

Photo via Dollywood Splash Country

Dollywood’s Splash Country water park features 35 acres of water slides, attractions, pools and play areas, all set in a unique Smoky Mountains setting.

Splash Country opened in 2001. Dolly’s Splash Country was an addition to the Dollywood  theme park built into the natural terrain of a 25 acres mountainous area adjacent to the theme park. The park opened with attractions such as Mountain Waves wave pool, Raging River Rapids, the Downbound Float Trip lazy river, The Butterfly, Little Creek Falls, Wild River Falls, and Mountain Scream, and has been adding water attractions ever since.

Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort

Located less than 3 miles from Dollywood, DreamMore Resort attracts visitors looking for easy access to the theme park. The resort, which opened in 2015, houses more than 300 rooms and suites, many of which were designed with families in mind (some accommodations feature bunk beds).

Photo via DreamMore Resort

Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort is home to indoor and outdoor pools, a boutique store, a spa, a kids club and a fitness center. There are also two on-site eateries at the hotel. Song & Hearth serves up traditional Southern fare while The DM Pantry offers sandwiches, salads, snacks and drinks.

Guests appreciate how close this resort is to the theme park, the discounted theme park tickets and the complimentary shuttle available to the theme park. Guests also receive early entry to the park on some days, complimentary TimeSaver for less time waiting in line, a designated entry point for guests of the resort and in-room package delivery for purchases made throughout the resort and park.

Dollywood Smoky Mountain Cabins

Guest renting one of the Smoky Mountain Cabins are entitled to many of the same benefits as those staying at DreamMore Resort, as well as discounts to other local attractions.

Photo via Dollywood Cabins

Some of the cabins can sleep 10 or more people so are ideal accommodations for large families or multiple families sharing the cost. 

Did you have the chance to read America’s Most Amazing Theme Parks – The History of Amusement Parks where you can learn how it all started! Also, don’t miss: