The 10 best rides at Dollywood for the whole family

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Dollywood is more than just a theme park. It’s a complete vacation destination that combines rides and attractions that showcase the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains while also honoring the music, artistry and cuisine of those who call the Knoxville, Tennessee, area home.

Dolly Parton’s brainchild has more than 50 rides that weave in and around the foothills of the Smokies. They range from “fun for all ages” to “fast and furious,” so everyone in your party will find a favorite at this family-friendly theme park. To help you plan for your next visit, these are the best rides at Dollywood.

Dollywood Express


Location: The Village.
Rider requirements: No minimum height requirement.

The authentic steam locomotives that power the Dollywood Express date back to the 1930s and 1940s; they were built for use in World War II, making it the oldest attraction at Dollywood.

On this peaceful 20-minute journey through the park, you will see some of Dollywood’s most popular attractions, while taking in gorgeous views of the mountains that border the park.

The conductor shares interesting facts and park history along the 5-mile ride, making it a great “first ride” if you have never visited Dollywood and want to familiarize yourself with the park. After that first visit, it’s sure to become an instant classic.

Mystery Mine


Location: Timber Canyon.
Rider requirements: Must be at least 48 inches tall to ride.

Mystery Mine is an indoor/outdoor roller coaster that travels through an abandoned coal mine. When you board the coaster and descend into the pitch-black depths of the mine, you quickly realize the mine isn’t abandoned but rather haunted by the miners who once worked there.

Though it only reaches a top speed of 43 miles per hour, Mystery Mine’s two vertical lift hills, beyond-vertical drop and multiple inversions make it one of the more intense rides at Dollywood.

Big Bear Mountain


Location: Wildwood Grove.
Rider requirements: Must be at least 39 inches tall to ride.

Big Bear Mountain is the longest roller coaster at Dollywood, coming in at about three-quarters of a mile. There are no loops or massive hills on this family-friendly coaster, but there are multiple tummy-tingling twists, turns, airtime hills and high-speed launches. As the name suggests, the coaster follows the story of a bear spotted in the area.

When you ride Big Bear Mountain, you become part of the search team looking for the “Big Bear.” You can hear his growls many times during your ride, but he always seems to stay one step ahead. Regardless of whether you spot him, your whole family will have a bear-y good time on this coaster.

Related: My ‘9 to 5’ sent me to sleep in Dolly Parton’s $10,000 tour bus suite — here’s what it was like

Lightning Rod


Location: Jukebox Junction.
Rider requirements: Must be at least 48 inches tall to ride.

Like all of the attractions in Jukebox Junction, Lightning Rod has a 1950s flair. The ride was inspired by Parton’s own childhood in nearby Sevierville, Tennesee. She has said it reminds her of “those colorful cars cruisin’ up and down Main Street in downtown Sevierville back when I was in high school.”

Lightning Rod’s train cars look like hot rods, and they move like them, too. Rather than a traditional lift hill, Lightning Rod launches riders up a 20-story lift hill at 45 miles per hour. The ride only gets faster from there as it climbs toward a top speed of 73 miles per hour. This coaster is definitely one for thrill seekers.

Rockin’ Roadway


Location: Jukebox Junction.
Rider requirements: No minimum height requirement. Riders under 42 inches must be accompanied by someone 14 or older.

Rockin’ Roadway is adjacent to Lightning Rod. If you are traveling with younger kids who are scared off by the towering coaster, they can take a more leisurely ride along a scenic country road and still catch a glimpse of Lightning Rod as it speeds by.

Rockin’ Roadway allows kids to get behind the wheel of a colorful Corvette, Thunderbird or Cadillac — even if they are years away from getting their license.

FireChaser Express


Location: Wilderness Pass.
Rider requirements: Must be at least 39 inches tall to ride.

Double the launches means double the fun. On the family-friendly FireChaser Express, you launch forward at the start of the ride then launch backward for your return trip to the loading station. The train cars are themed to look like fire engines, and riders become volunteer firefighters, charged with keeping the Smoky Mountains safe from forest fires.

This coaster is mild enough that riders of all ages should be brave enough to take on the challenge.



Location: Timber Canyon.
Rider requirements: Must be at least 48 inches tall to ride.

If the terms “relentless” and “roaring” get you excited to hop on a coaster, Thunderhead is the ride for you. This massive wooden coaster features a 100-foot drop and hits a top speed of 55 miles per hour as it rushes through the Tennessee wilderness.

Thunderhead may look intimidating from a distance, but it is designed to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. If your child is ready for their first “big kid” wooden coaster, Thunderhead is an excellent choice.

Lumberjack Lifts


Location: Timer Canyon.
Rider requirements: Must be at least 40 inches tall to ride. Riders under 48 inches must be accompanied by someone 14 or older.

Lumberjack Lifts is one of the few attractions at any theme park that is powered by its riders. Groups of two strap in and use a rope between them to pull themselves to the top of a 30-foot tower. When you get to the top of the tower, you are treated to views of the park and surrounding mountains. You can take in the sights or let go of the rope and travel slowly to the bottom of the tower and do it all over again until your time is up.

This ride tests your strength and competitive spirit should you choose to challenge members of your group to see how many times you can ascend to the top of the ride.

Wild Eagle


Location: Wilderness Pass.
Rider requirements: Must be between 50 and 78 inches tall to ride.

Wild Eagle earned its name not only because it is the country’s first winged coaster, but also because you will soar high above the Smoky Mountains during your ride. Riders sit on either side of the coaster track, so there is nothing above or below you; this leaves you free to fly through the countryside. After climbing to the top of a 210-foot light hill, you come soaring back down at speeds of up to 61 miles per hour.

Bonus: rides for young kids


Location: Country Fair.
Rider requirements: No minimum height requirement.

The Country Fair area of Dollywood is themed after a small-town fair with rides and games designed for families to experience together. There are a lot of family-friendly rides in this area. The Amazing Flying Elephants, Busy Bees, Lemon Twist, Lucky Ducky and Piggy Parade are all intended for toddlers and preschoolers to ride all by themselves — even if they are too short (or too frightened) to get on some of Dollywood’s other rides.

Bottom line

Dollywood is well-known for its Southern-style country cooking, sensational live entertainment, family-friendly atmosphere and world-class ride lineup. Whether you are looking for thrills or something with a little more relaxed pace, you’ll find it at Dollywood.

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