The 10 Best Things to Do and See at Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge Tennessee
Everyone loves a good dose of Dolly Parton, don’t they!? Even if you’re not a fan of her music, you must love her and what she stands for. Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dollywood is a taste of Dolly like nothing else! This clean and friendly amusement park is a great place to spend a single day or a few days if you have the time!
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Dollywood – The Gift of a Lifetime
Last summer, my husband offered me the best birthday gift: an opportunity to plan a long weekend wherever I wanted to go. Of course, I chose Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I live in Michigan, so the trip took about 10 hours. We had a great time stopping along the way at random points of interest.
I love the Roadside America app, which lets you plot your route and shows you all kinds of quirky and interesting sights and stops. Using the app, we stopped at several places to snap quick pictures.
Once we arrived in Pigeon Forge, we headed for our hotel. Since we were watching our pennies, we chose the Park Grove Inn, about 10 minutes from Dollywood and situated just a block off of the main thoroughfare through town with all of the best attractions in Pigeon Forge. Parkway Drive has anything and everything you could want in entertainment outside of the Dollywood Theme Park.
We had fun with just a few activities since our time was limited. The Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Feud Show was a rip-roaring good time. The food was plentiful and decent, and the show was terrific, including a stage floor that opened to a large pool and featured stunning high dives and even a cameo by some long-jumping dogs! The music was toe-tapping, and the show had us laughing throughout!
10 Dollywood Favorites
Dollywood first opened in 1986 and now proudly hosts upwards of 3 million visitors every year!
And without further ado, let’s talk about the ten best attractions within Dollywood that you can’t miss!
1. Smoky Mountain River Rampage – The Best Ride to Get Wet!
The first thing we did upon entering the park was to visit the Smoky Mountain River Rampage. There was no wait, so we walked right through the queue and hopped onto the ride! This ride is family-friendly and not too scary for even the timidest riders! Your whole family will have fun on this one!
If you are roasting hot in the Tennessee summer sun, you’ll get a chance to cool down with the splashing water on the ride. Beware! You will get wet, so plan accordingly. I was wearing denim shorts, and they remained wet throughout the day. If you choose to ride this one, I recommend wearing lightweight clothes that will dry quickly or a cover to keep you dry!
The Smoky Mountain River Rampage isn’t the only way to cool down by getting wet. After you brave the rapids on this ride, head over to Daredevil Falls, Dollywood’s log-ride style experience that ends in a 60-foot drop!
2. Dollywood Express – the Last Working Coal Train
The Dollywood Express was my favorite ride in the park. If you want to experience the sounds, smells, and general atmosphere of life in the Smoky Mountains, then this is your experience. Hop aboard for a 20-minute tour through 5 miles of mountain landscape, complete with beautiful views of the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.
If you’re lucky like we were, you might even get a peek at some of the local wildlife. We were surprised to see several turkeys meandering through one of the open areas that the train circles around. We have turkeys at home in Michigan, but somehow these turkeys added a touch of authenticity to the ride.
Be aware before you board that you may get coal soot, dust, and fragments on you and in your hair, as this is a real coal-burning train. The Dollywood Express uses two engines equipped with 110-ton coal-fired steam engines.
These two engines were used during World War II and were repurposed for use at Dollywood. One of these engines will use 2 tons of coal and 4,000 gallons of water in one day! Click HERE to learn how a steam engine works.
Partway through the ride, your engineer will let the whistle blow for an extended time. There is nothing quite like the sound of a steam engine’s cry. When you are wandering the park, listen closely, and you’ll hear the mournful sound periodically throughout the day.
3. Chasing Rainbows Museum – A Peek at Dolly’s Life
A trip to Dollywood is not complete without a stroll through the Chasing Rainbows Museum. This spectacular attraction showcases Dolly’s memorabilia from her earliest years and humble beginnings to her early career in country music and television, and eventually to where she is today, reigning as one of the world’s favorite musical artists and celebrity icons.
After a brief welcome and intro from Dolly herself, delivered as a hologram, you can wander through the museum and see every keepsake and token you can imagine, including her multi-colored coat, which inspired its famous song. You will see her many gowns, costumes, and relics from various movies and award shows and get a peek at her rub shoulders through pictures with just about every other star you can imagine!
The Chasing Rainbows Museum was one of my favorite attractions at Dollywood. Park officials have announced that it will be closed for the 2022 season. The statement on their website is this:
“Chasing Rainbows Museum will close for the 2022 season as we take time to reimagine future possibilities for the attraction. By offering a special glimpse of some of Dolly’s most unique memorabilia, Chasing Rainbows has provided guests with countless memories throughout its history. We are excited about telling Dolly’s story in a new way in the future; we will share additional details about the experience at a later date.”
I can’t wait to see what they come up with next to celebrate Dolly and her spectacular life story!
4. Harmonies of the Heart – Dollywood’s Show to Make You Sing!
Harmonies of the Heart features two of Dolly Parton’s nieces, Jada Star and Heidi Lou. Also performing are Dolly’s cousin Shelley and a Parton family friend Barry J. Throughout the show, this very talented foursome tells stories of their “Aunt Granny,” who we know as the great Dolly Parton herself. The music is live, the talent is impressive, and you will be entertained and informed.
A mini highlight for me was when one of the performers caught my eye during the show and lipped, “I LOVE your hair.” I always love to be noticed and heard, and getting a mini shoutout from the stage absolutely made my day!
The Harmonies of the Heart show is the most epic musical show in the park and takes place inside a comfortable air-conditioned theater. Keep your eyes and ears peeled as you wander through the park for outdoor concerts that include talented musicians playing and singing everything from country pop to bluegrass to some old gospel music faves.
We loved the Wild Roots Band and the Tones, who have quick pop-up performances of about 15 minutes. Don’t miss The Kingdom Heirs and the Dreamland Drive-In for a more ample opportunity to relax and enjoy the sounds of the south. We had lunch outdoors while listening to A Brighter Day and popped in on the Smoky Mountain String Band while we wandered. These shows all have one thing in common: the amazingly talented artists effortlessly provide live entertainment effortlessly!
5. Craftsman’s Valley – Artisans Abound
If rides aren’t your scene, you’ll love Craftsman’s Valley. This spectacular area of Dollywood showcases the talents of the Appalachian people handed down from their roots to today. You will find examples of the very best in mountain-blown glass, leatherworks, black smithery, candle-making, and wood carving. Enjoy the sights and sounds of artisans at work as you stroll through this section of the park.
Stroll through the various shops and enjoy the beautiful craftsmanship of these artisans. You can take home a reminder of your time in the Great Smokey Mountains with a hand-blown glass Christmas ornament from Mountain Blown Glass, one of your very own candles from Old Flames Candles, a leather hat or keychain from Smoky Creek Leather, or any number of other small trinkets from one of the craftsman shops in Craftsman’s Valley. Or treat yourself to an epic piece of art as a centerpiece in your home décor.
I sure would have loved to take home a hand-carved wooden mantle or outfit a cottage in the woods with a gorgeous, hand-carved wooden door.
6. Eagle Mountain Sanctuary – Taking Care of Our National Bird
While you are cruising down the clean lanes and roadways of Dollywood, take a walk down the path that leads to Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. The Eagle Mountain Sanctuary is the largest of its kind in the United States and homes over 70 non-releasable Bald Eagles in a 400,000 cubic foot enclosure.
All Eagle residents in the sanctuary are permanently disabled and cannot survive in the wild. Because they cannot return to the wild, the Eagles call this enclosed and shady mountainside their home. The American Eagle Foundation (AEF) care for the Eagles in the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. There have been several breeding pairs over the years that participate in the AEF’s Captive Breeding program, which serves to care for and release the eaglets of some Eagle Pairs in captivity. You can read all about the American Eagle Foundation HERE.
The current pair of nesting eagles are Grant and Glenda. They have an area of the sanctuary dedicated strictly to them. You can peek in on Grant and Glenda, and all of the eagles in the sanctuary through the live webcam HERE.
7. Wings of America Birds of Prey – Educating Visitors
Once you’ve seen the magnificent Bald Eagles enjoying their carefree life in the sanctuary, you’ll want to make a point to catch a viewing of the Wings of America birds of prey show. The show takes place in an open-air theater nestled in the heart of Craftsman’s Valley and right next to the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary.
The theater seats over 300 guests and educates over 100,000 people per year on various birds of prey and raptors. Our visit ended with a photo op with one of the resident Bald Eagles who call this place home. Because I am a true Bald Eagle lover, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have my photo taken!
8. Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home
This little gem is a must-see when you’re in Dollywood. Take a short (and I mean short) wander through a replica of Dolly’s two-room Tennessee Mountain Home to see how she lived in her early years. The home may not have had running water, electricity, or a lot of square footage, but there was no lack of love between these walls. With the lack of space, one wonders how ma and pa found the time and energy, not to mention some privacy, to keep making those Parton babies!
I’m guessing there was not much need to tell the kids to “go outside and play,” as we moms do nowadays! The outdoors and the mountainsides were undoubtedly the best playgrounds for kids like Dolly, growing up in these tiny, impoverished mountain homes.
9. A Church Service on Sunday at the Robert F. Thomas Chapel
If you’re lucky enough to be at Dollywood on a Sunday like we were, be sure and stop into the Robert F. Thomas Chapel for a sweet, down-home southern worship service. This darling little chapel is named in honor of the doctor who delivered our beloved Dolly and depends on a local minister to come in each Sunday morning at 11:30 during the regular season to host an actual church service.
The visiting Pastor chose Tucker from the crowd to ring the little church bell announcing that church was about to begin. This little moment was one of the fun things we will all remember from our Sunday in the park.
10. Black Bear Trail – A Kiddie Ride for Everyone!
This ride is two full minutes of good, clean fun! These sweet black bears are perfect for the kiddos and even for an occasional mom. I am not a thrill-seeker, so I took a little spin around it to get a feel. All the kids and parent/kid duos around me were having a blast! Since I didn’t have a kiddo with me, I’m sure I was quite the spectacle for those watching. But hey – a good time is a good time.
A highlight of the ride was the lovely views of the park’s nearby rides that offer a bigger thrill for the braver riders. The Dragonflier coaster is very close, and you can hear the joyful shrieks as the riders zoom by! Eek!
If you prefer bigger thrill rides than the kiddie rides offer, then be sure and check out one of these nine fantastic roller coasters, all actively working at any time of the year: Blazing Fury, Dragonflier, FireChaser Express, Lightning Rod, Mystery Mine, Tennessee Tornado, Thunderhead, Whistle Punk Chaser, and the Wild Eagle.
As I was writing this review and researching Dollywood’s history, I found a delightful surprise! This trip wasn’t my first time visiting the park as I initially thought. I discovered that Dollywood was formerly named “Silver Dollar City.” I had a brief visit there with my family in 1979 when I was an adorable 8-year-old girl.
According to Coasterpedia.com, “The park first opened in 1961 called Rebel Railroad. Its main attraction was a coal-fired steam train [Now Dollywood Express]. The attraction was renamed Goldrush Junction in 1970, and additional attractions opened that year. The park’s name was shortened to just Goldrush in 1975 before being purchased by Herschend Family Entertainment in 1976 and renamed Silver Dollar City. In 1986, Dolly Parton became a co-owner, and the park was renamed Dollywood.”
Planning Your Visit
You may wonder when the best time is to visit Dollywood. After all, Dollywood is a popular destination, and it may get busy! There is good news! Dollywood makes it easy to come at almost any time of year. The park is open from
If you are looking for a way to spend your holidays, then one of the special events Dollywood offers is the Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration. Is spring your thing? then come on down to enjoy the Flower and Food Festival, which runs from mid-April through early June. The Harvest Festival runs from the end of September through October. This festival features enormous carved pumpkins, dazzling light displays, and all of your Dollywood favorites. Be sure and get a taste of that oh-so-deliciously famous cinnamon bread baked in Dollywood’s fully-operational Grist Mill, built in 1982.
Wrapping It All Up
My little family found Dollywood to be a clean and beautiful park, full of friendly faces and down-home southern charm. If you are a thrill-seeker, you will find plenty of options to get your adrenaline flowing with one of the nine working coasters in the park! But if you prefer a milder day of people-watching, good honky-tonk music, and some down-home craftsmanship, you and your entire family will be thrilled with your time at Dollywood.
If you have any questions about your visit, leave a comment or reach out through my Facebook page! I love to interact with my readers.