Insider's Guide to Dollywood®

September 25, 2021

Is there anything more joy-filled than a theme park vacation hosted by quadruple threat and country superstar Dolly Parton?

Get ready to celebrate life, music, and the southern spirit at Dollywood® parks and resorts. 

With over fifty rides ranging from record-breaking roller coasters to kid-friendly teacups, and a unique Appalachian charm that can only be found in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, a Dollywood vacation is as good as it gets.

Whether you are a lifelong fan of the ‘Smoky Mountain Songbird’ or a recent convert, Dollywood, Tennessee offers a rousing tribute and unbeatable theme park journey for guests of all ages.

To ensure you don’t miss a moment of country magic, craftsmen demos, or down-home cooking, follow along with our insider tips and tricks to plan your Dollywood trip today!

toddler skipping in front of Fire Station Number 7 at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

About the Park:

Much like the legendary blonde herself, Dollywood has had a rich and storied history. Initially called the ‘Rebel Railroad,’ this beloved theme park is sixty years old and was built to showcase the Smoky Mountain way of life. 

Today, Dollywood is ranked as one of the world’s best theme parks by USA Today and Tripadvisor. The park is divided into eleven distinctly themed areas:

  • Showstreet
  • Rivertown Junction
  • Craftsman’s Valley
  • The Village
  • Country Fair
  • Timber Canyon
  • Wilderness Pass
  • Jukebox Junction
  • Owens Farm
  • Adventures in Imagination
  • Wildwood Grove

Fun Fact: As you may have guessed by now, Dollywood is heavily inspired by Ms. Parton’s rural Appalachia upbringing. 

In fact, eight of the eleven areas are designed to reflect the history and culture of Eastern Tennessee. 

However, the park’s newest additions: Wildwood Grove, Owens Farm, and Adventures in Imagination, are more abstract explorations of Dolly’s vivid life and creativity.

ground view of Robert F. Thomas Chapel in the fall and autumn at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

When to Go:

Like many theme parks, Dollywood operates on a seasonal schedule and is open from late March through December. 

Although we’d never say there’s a wrong time to visit Dollywood, crowds tend to swell in the summer vacation months. However, spring, late summer, and fall are all great options depending on your weather preference.

On a more granular level, Dollywood’s crowds wax and wane with the seasons as well. According to Dollywood, the best days to visit during each season are as follows:

  • Spring - Thursdays 
  • Summer - Wednesdays or Thursdays 
  • Fall - Weekdays
  • Christmas - Weekdays

Pro Tip: Dollywood is home to six of the South’s largest festivals! These festivals, including the show-stopping Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas, are integral to the quintessential Dolly experience.

If you can plan your Dollywood getaway in conjunction with one of their seasonal festivals, we highly recommend it.

Close up of Two Kids riding FireChaser Express at Dollywood - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

Buying Tickets:

 

Pre-purchasing your Dollywood tickets is a superb way to streamline your vacation planning and save both time and money. Choose from many different ticket options, from one to three-day park passes that include entry into both Dollywood and Dollywood Splash Country.

Ticket Packages:

The rustic appeal of the Smoky Mountains is quite intoxicating. However, you’d be hard-pressed to encounter all of this area’s incredible attractions, entertainment, and natural beauty in just one day. 

Enhance your Dollywood trip by combining your theme park fun with a Dollywood Vacation Package. 

With a more extended stay in this little mountain town, you can bundle your tickets and enjoy nearby Pigeon Forge attractions such as:

Hotels:

Searching for hotels in Dollywood? Regardless if you stay in bustling Pigeon Forge or picturesque Gatlinburg, there are plenty of options to assuage even the pickiest traveler. 

As a general rule for a family-friendly trip, we prefer lodging in Pigeon Forge. In contrast, Gatlinburg accommodations are an excellent pick for older kids or adults looking to cut loose. 

Pro Tip: For the authentic Appalachian experience, we love the homespun character of a Smoky Mountain Cabin Rental.

Inside the Park:

Dolly may be working 9-5, but that doesn’t mean you have to! Dollywood’s park hours may fluctuate, but we always suggest arriving at least an hour early to get a jump on ride wait times. 

Not traveling with kiddies? A little known park fact is that many youngins leave mid-afternoon for naptime so that you can find yourself with a much less crowded park come late afternoon.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to consult the official Dollywood calendar to keep abreast of park hours, schedule changes, and seasonal events!

ground view looking up at the The Waltzing Swinger ride at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

Apps & Passes:

Ready to soak in the Broadway-level entertainment and friendliest park atmosphere this side of the Mississippi? 

Be sure to have the Dollywood App downloaded and ready to go on your phone or mobile device. 

This app is a surefire way not to miss a minute of Dollywood fun as it lets you:

  • Effectively navigate 150 acres of Dollywood attractions, rides, museums, and theaters
  • Receive up to the second notifications on show schedules and performance times
  • Monitor popular ride wait times 
  • Take advantage of exclusive dining & shopping promotions

TimeSaver Pass:

Visiting Dollywood park during the busy season and anticipating high levels of crowds? Then, the TimeSaver Pass could be your new BFF! The TimeSaver pass allows you expedited access to lines on select rides as well as reserved seating for select live shows.

Seasonal Pass:

Looking to make Dollywood a time-honored family tradition? You can effortlessly upgrade your one-day ticket to a seasonal pass on the day of your Dollywood visit to secure some year-round Dolly in your life!

roller coaster ride at dollywood in pigeon forge

Photo Credit: Dollywood / Facebook

Can’t Miss Attractions:

Holy heavens! There is simply so much to see, hear, and do within Dollywood’s 150 acres it can be pretty intimidating. 

However, like the blonde bombshell once said, “you'll never do a whole lot unless you're brave enough to try.” 

So summon that southern bravery and prepare yourself to tackle our list of ‘Can’t-Miss Dollywood Attractions:

  • Lightning Rod - Hybrid wood/steel coaster that was once the world’s fastest 
  • Wild Eagle - A tantalizing wing coaster with a jaw-dropping 110 ft loop
  • The Dolly Parton Museum - An electrifying collection of Dolly memorabilia, costumes, and music awards
  • Eagle Mountain Sanctuary - Marvel at the largest exhibit of non-releasable Bald Eagles in the US
  • ‘My People, My Music’ (show) - A staple performance that illustrates Dolly’s life and story through music and includes members of her family among the performers
  • Smoky Mountain River Rampage - This river rafting adventure is guaranteed to leave you soaked
  • FireChaser Express- The nation’s first dual-launch family coaster
  • Dollywood Express - Take a ride on the oldest park attraction in the park, an authentic vintage steam train!

Pro Tip: Obviously, the number one ‘can’t miss attraction is the lady of the hour herself - Ms. Dolly Parton! 

And for all those wondering, yes, she does frequent the park. Generally, she visits a few times each Spring for the rollout of new attractions.

dollywood with christmas lights in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

Festivals:

Part of the distinctive appeal of Dollywood is its variety of seasonal festivals and events throughout the park season. While all of these special events capture Dolly’s effervescence and spirit, none more so than Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas

In our humble opinion, this holiday-themed extravaganza illuminates the very best of Dollywood, including five million twinkling lights, Christmas fireworks, and a famous 50 foot Christmas tree. 

What’s New:

The latest and greatest additions to Dollywood include a butterfly-themed paradise called Wildwood Grove and the Flower & Food Festival

Wildwood Grove is a beckoning forest oasis that marks the most significant expansion in the park’s history. Ideal for entertaining younger guests, it includes a swath of child-friendly rides such as the Black Bear trail, Frogs & Fireflies, and an interactive play area, the Hidden Hollow. 

The Flower & Food Festival was integrated into the park’s schedule in 2020 and serves up loads of Instagram-worthy topiaries, garden displays, plant sculptures, cooking demonstrations, and first-rate dining events.

Pro Tip: A standout attraction of the Flower & Food Festival is the cheerful ‘Umbrella Sky’ installation which features a colorful arrangement of umbrellas magically suspended among the park’s infamous Showstreet.

People and performers at BBQ and Blue Grass Festival at Dollywood - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

Food & Drink:

Dollywood is known for its southern culinary delights. While we would never suggest skipping any of their exhilarating rides, a day spent solely noshing here would be well worth it! 

There are plenty of gastro delights to be enjoyed here, from sit-down restaurants to full-service buffets to quick bites. Our top tier favorite Dollywood restaurants and dishes are:

  • Massive (3lb serving) apple pie from Spotlight Bakery
  • Iconic cinnamon bread from Grist Mill (try with the apple butter)!
  • Smoke or fried chicken buffet from Miss Lillian’s Smokehouse
  • Slow-cooked pit ham from Granny Ogles Ham & Beans
  • Footlong corn dog with tater twirls from Dog & Taters
  • BBQ pork sandwich from Craftsman Valley

entrance to dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA

What to Bring:

Aiming to execute a perfect Dollywood day? A well-stocked backpack is the answer! Tennessee weather (not to mention cranky children) can be unpredictable. But, by packing a fully loaded knapsack, you significantly reduce your odds of an ill-timed tantrum or rain-soaked meltdown. 

Our ‘save the day’ non-negotiable theme park survival kit always has:

  • Portable phone charger
  • Water bottle 
  • Any necessary medications
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Poncho/raincoat/umbrella (weather dependent)
  • Bandaids
  • Stroller (if required)

The golden-haired queen of the country has quite an inimitable legacy, but perhaps none brings greater joy into the world than Dollywood. 

Hosting over two million guests each year, this esteemed park is more than just exhilarating rides or talented blacksmith craftsmen.

The Dollywood difference is evident in everything from a park attendant’s smile to the comforting twang of real bluegrass musicians jamming. At Dollywood, guests are family, and it is this warm, inviting nature that makes Dollywood feel like home.

Isn’t it time you take a vacation that creates memories worth repeating? Start planning your own memorable Dollywood Vacation now and save money with our Ultimate Guide to Dollywood®: Coupons, Discounts, and Deals.

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